Crisis at the Boiling Point

A new SEIU/Adjunct Action report released today called A Crisis at the Boiling Point tells an important story of what’s happening in academic labor by documenting and analyzing just how much work part-time faculty are doing, when they are doing it for free and how federal employment laws often fail to protect the contingent workforce. The report also offers recommendations and actions that faculty, students and concerned members of the community can take to begin to reclaim our higher education system.


Hundreds of instructors took part in the project this year; 160 Boston-area adjuncts completed an initial survey in July and over 300 faculty members teaching at a combined 238 colleges and universities completed the national survey in the fall. Respondents include faculty teaching at every type of degree-granting institution: non-profit, state universities, community colleges and for-profit colleges and universities, both faculty teaching on physical campuses and at on-line institutions. Faculty responded to the national survey from 32 states with the highest percentages coming from Massachusetts (20 percent), New York (14 percent), and California (14 percent). In addition, over 40 in-depth interviews have been completed with faculty to gather detailed data on working conditions.

Institutions of higher education can and do take advantage of contingent faculty’s precarious status under current employment laws and dedication to their profession to get long hours of teaching work for little—and at times delayed—payment in return.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the federal law setting minimum wage, overtime, and timely pay standards for both hourly and salaried workers, currently does not cover contingent faculty—regardless of how poorly or how infrequently they are paid—simply because they are teachers. In addition, eligibility for important federal programs under the Family and Medical Leave Act and Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program depends in part on the number of hours worked, limiting or complicating adjuncts’ access to those benefits. The long hours contingent faculty work outside of the classroom often outnumber the hours worked in the classroom, but laws and regulations often fail to set accurate standards to account for all hours worked.

Respondents were asked to calculate the number of hours they work, and among those who provided sufficient data, approximately:

* 16 percent are paid below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour;

* 24 percent are paid below $10/hour; and

* 43 percent are paid below $15/hour.

* 38 percent of respondents are paid below $455 per week, the minimum salary that almost all professional employees must receive to be deemed exempt under the current Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) regulations. If teachers were not carved out of the FLSA salary basis requirement, those respondents could potentially access the legal protections against wage theft under the FLSA.


Many work full-time hours and most put in a significant amount of time outside the classroom, even being asked or assumed to work unpaid.

* Although by definition an adjunct is “part-time” 40 percent say the work more than 40 hours a week for their university employer(s).

* Almost all respondents say they are asked or expected to perform work outside the classroom and 28 percent indicated that they spend more than 20 hours a week on work-related tasks outside of the classroom.

* When asked if they have ever been asked or expected to perform work that they were not paid for by their academic employers, 73 percent of survey respondents stated “yes” or “maybe.” Examples of unpaid work they have performed, include: advising students enrolled in the major or minor; writing recommendations; attending trainings; presenting talks on campus; advising student groups; attending student events; sitting on committees; planning and presenting at orientation or informational meetings for the department; and designing or developing new courses.

* 18 percent said they have received a late paycheck in the last year.

The public shouldn’t be in the dark about how colleges and universities really work. This report gives faculty, parents and elected officials new insight into what’s happening on campus to ensure they have a voice about the quality of education students receive. Issues like unpaid work, long hours, access to Federal programs and employment law protections are part of a broad need for change on campuses across America.

Download and read the full report and recommendations here.