An Open Letter to All Parents Facing the Burden of College Tuition:
We are highly troubled by how the culture of temporary workers in higher education disrupts students’ learning and their families’ economics. Our situation as professors is directly linked to the ever-rising cost of tuition that you and your children will be paying off—perhaps for decades. Seventy to seventy-five percent of professors teaching college students are contingent, which means that:
- some lack office space and access to computer and library services;
- many have contracts lasting only one semester;
- many have to teach at multiple schools and/or hold part-time jobs;
- many lack basic faculty rights and freedoms (such as protesting unfair working conditions);
- many have no voice in their colleges’ governance committees;
- most are not paid a living wage (the national average is $3,000 per course);
- most have no means of promotion or advancement;
- all are non–tenure track, meaning that they lack the job security, stability, academic freedom, and other rights that define tenured and tenure-track faculty status.
Since contingent faculty deserve a more secure, fair employment status, university policies must be revised to allow the majority of professors to participate more robustly in student support and learning. Then, and only then, will students be able to learn from and engage with their professors most effectively.
Our students are the reason we should be teaching. Policies aimed toward enhancing student learning are often disconnected from the economic realities of the college experience. That the majority of faculty are treated as cheap, renewable labor harms our students, many of whom have adjunct faculty or TAs for first- and second-year courses—arguably the most formative time of their college careers. We are not demanding six-figure salaries, universal tenure, small teaching loads, and frequent paid research leave for adjunct faculty. Instead, we advocate reducing the burden of tuition by reprioritizing institutional budgets so they’re distributed to faculty, TAs, support staff, and working students—not property, coaches, senior administrators’ salaries, or other elements not directly related to education. For current data on university budgets and pay inequity, see the American Association of University Professors’ recent study, although we regret that it does not cover salary information for adjunct faculty.
We are all a part of higher education’s culture of contingency, regardless of whether we’re students, parents, staff members, TAs, or professors. The working conditions listed above mean that adjunct and other non–tenure track faculty must often choose between their desire to teach and their desire to deal with the financial realities of what is, essentially, full-time part-timing. In such cases, students suffer when we have to curtail office hours, grade and comment on their writing when we have 70-80 (or more) additional students across several campuses, and otherwise splinter our time and attention. Ultimately, this is about making us better, more accessible teachers for our students, which requires helping us feel more professionally and financially stable at the university.
We encourage you to sign and then share this petition with everyone concerned about the increasing contingency of college faculty and the increasing financial burden of tuition. Then, when you’re on a campus tour this spring, ask an advisor, administrator, or tour guide the questions below. If you know students who are already enrolled, contact their schools to voice your concerns about how precarious faculty working conditions create untenable student learning conditions. For more information about adjunct faculty issues, see New Faculty Majority and Adjunct Action Network, among many other websites about higher education. See also John Warner’s eloquent and timely piece for Inside Higher Ed, “An Open Letter to Parents and Prospective Students,” in which he stresses the importance of faculty above all other factors affecting students’ college educations.
Thank you for your time and attention to an issue affecting virtually all faculty and students at our nation’s universities.