Should Adjuncts Should Be Paid $15,000 per Course?

[Co-published at Hit Coffee]

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has proposed that adjuncts should get paid $15,000 per course.

[O]rganizers 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.

I also teach 3 classes per term, but after 12 years in the business I still don’t get paid $90,000 year. And I have advising, committeework, recruitment, and research expectations on top of the teaching load.

These are folks who think that an advanced degree creates an entitlement, an obligation on others. It doesn’t. And it misunderstands the issue of value.

“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.

This is word salad. Over 20 years ago Paul Krugman pointed out that “Most people who use the term “competitiveness” do so without a second thought.” In Rhoades’ claim, who is in competition with whom, and how does paying adjuncts more than necessary to get qualified ones enhance that competitiveness?

Here’s the ugly truth about adjuncts: there are far too many people willing to be adjuncts for far too many years–their problem is not stingy colleges and universities but the number of other would-be adjuncts competing for the same positions.

What will happen to that number if the pay were to go from around $2500 per class to $15,000 per class? The pool of adjuncts would increase again. People get burned out and quit on adjuncting in part because of the low pay, making room for others to get adjuncting gigs. But if someone can make $60,000/year for teaching 4 classes, instead of $15,000/year for 6 classes (which is not uncommon), they’re not going to clear the field so quickly, and there’s going to be more competition for jobs.

Employing institutions are also going to increase their standards for whom they hire. That guy with the MA and no publications who’s been teaching American Government for us for years? Sorry, we want a PhD with a publication as our adjunct.

And then there’s the question of who pays for this; ultimately it’s going to be the students and/or taxpayers, and they’re not going to get more value for their money. The SEIU doesn’t care about that, though. It’s not their job to care where the money comes from. It’s only their job to gain more dues payers by feeding frustrated academics’ sense of entitlement.

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About James Hanley

James Hanley is Associate Professor of Political Science at Adrian College and a Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. The views expressed here do not reflect the views of either organization.
This entry was posted in Economical Musings, Teaching and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Should Adjuncts Should Be Paid $15,000 per Course?

  1. I think your notion that this entire debate stems from a sense of entitlement for having completed an advanced degree is correct. My former employer actually shunned adjuncts in favor of hiring more teaching fellows with bachelors degrees – it turns out people who are less distanced from the material of say, an intro course or a required programmatic course in a field they have a bachelors degree in, are better teachers, even if their knowledge of that particular field is not as deep as that of someone with an advanced degree.

  2. lancifer666 says:

    Since I currently get between $2,500 and $2,800 (per course) to be an adjunct at IUPUI I would LOVE to get paid $15,000 per course.

    But it “aint” gonna happen in Indiana at the state institutions. It is pretty ridiculous though, when I take the time to calculate my per hour pay.

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