The workers’ rights movement has exploded in the last few years, with fast food, agricultural and other workers staging strikes and other nonviolent actions to demand increased wages, benefits and better working conditions. One group of workers that has received far too little attention is adjunct college professors—those who are hired on a temporary basis, as needed.
According to data collected by the Chronicle of Higher Education, adjuncts at one college and two universities near my home in Southeast Florida earn between $1,380–$3,000 to teach a 15-week, three-credit course. My own university’s published rates range from $1,500–$3,000. A national survey found the average pay for a three-credit course to be $2,700.
Given that the typical equation for calculating preparation and grading time for a three-credit course is three hours for every one hour of class time, it’s safe to assume that adjuncts put in a good 135 hours during a semester. That works out to just over $10 an hour for someone making the lowest rate and about $22 an hour for the higher rate based on the rates listed above.
This is appalling, and it puts many adjuncts in the same camp as 42 percent of workers in the U.S. who earn less than $15 an hour, according to Forbes. The American Association of University Professors has noted that of the more than 30,000 adjunct professors who would like to obtain a full-time academic position, more than 60 percent hold one or more other jobs.
These wages are not nearly ample enough to afford the basic necessities of life in the U.S. According to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator, a living wage in Miami is $11.45 per hour for a single adult. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) estimates that in New England, an adjunct professor would have to teach 17–24 classes a year to be able to afford a home and pay for utilities. Teaching four classes per year would cover only the grocery bill for a family of four.
The work is also unstable, as classes can be canceled at the last minute if enrollment is not adequate. One adjunct even described her class being canceled the morning it was to start.
In addition to these low wages, adjuncts do not receive any kind of benefits. Many times, they are not even allotted a space on campus to meet with students, or if they are, it might be one without a computer or phone. A report from the University of California at Berkeleyfound that nearly a quarter of all adjunct professors receive some form of public assistance, like food stamps or Medicaid. Many must, as grown adults, live with their families and struggle to afford basic food requirements. One adjunct professor reported, "I lived off of fried potatoes and onions for the semester. I actually lived better as a grad student than I do now."