Adjunct professors get poverty-level wages. Should their pay quintuple?

From The Washington Post:

It’s been true for a long time now that academia — or at least the part of it that teaches students — relies heavily on the labor of adjunct faculty. As the number of tenured professors has fallen, universities have filled more than half of their schedules with teachers who work on contract. And no wonder: They’ll work for less than half what a full-time professor makes, at a median wage of just $2,700 per course, with scant benefits, if any.

Now, a union that’s been rapidly organizing adjuncts around the country thinks that number should quintuple. Last night, on a conference call with organizers across the country, the SEIU decided to extend the franchise with a similar aspirational benchmark: A “new minimum compensation standard” of $15,000. Per course. Including benefits.

Since getting into the game a few years ago, the Service Employees International Union has won elections covering about 24,000 contingent faculty across 25 campuses. That’s fitting, considering that the union specializes in organizing low-wage sectors, like property maintenance and home health care — as well as fast-food workers, where it’s run a high-profile campaign for a $15 an hour wage.

A minimum wage for adjuncts?

At the moment, the $15,000 number sounds even more outlandish than $15 did when fast food workers started asking for twice the federal minimum wage. But organizers argue that if you’re teaching a full load of three courses per semester, that comes out to $90,000 in total compensation per year — just the kind of upper-middle-class salary they think people with advanced degrees should be able to expect. (Most adjuncts teach part-time, which would put them at $50,000 or $75,000 per year.)

“It’s not a path to competitiveness to pay knowledge workers bottom-level wages,” says Gary Rhoades, head of the Department of Educational and Policy Studies at the University of Arizona, who has assisted in various adjunct organizing efforts, including the SEIU's. “Thquestion of what they should be paid is taking away from the fact that they are paid way too little, and here’s a target we’re going to go for.”

Read the full story here.