Around three-fourths of US faculty in higher education today is made up of adjunct professors, many of whom feel they are not being paid fairly — the driving forces behind the first-ever National Adjunct Walkout Day.
The part-time instructors typically make between $20,000 and $25,000 per year as opposed to tenured professors who often make a six-figure pay check. Some institutions do not offer adjuncts health benefits, and it is not unusual for them to be left out of the decision-making structure, creating a situation where adjuncts effectively have no voice.
Rachel Gebreyes, writing for The Huffington Post, reports that former adjunct professor Robert Craig Baum, during an interview on HuffPost Live, said he supported the walkout because of the “unstable” conditions part-time professors are facing.
“There is absolutely no guarantee that work will continue. There’s no way that we can plan our courses or advise our students as well as rely on any sort of sustainable income,” Baum said. “Even though the income is already so low, we oftentimes don’t receive pay on time, and we also don’t have access to the people who can negotiate — either a union or an on-campus rep.”
Baum added that some who protested quietly in fear of repercussion.
Another part-time professor, Basak Durgun, does not have an office and sometimes meets students in the campus’ food court. Her backpack, she says, is her office. Last semester when she experienced important challenges with students, such as plagiarism and mental health, she had to deal with them in the classroom in front of other students.
American Public Media, in a piece by Amy Scott for the program Marketplace, relayed that it is illegal for employees in Virginia to wall off their jobs, so adjuncts at George Mason are having “teach-ins” to talk with students and faculty about their less than suitable working conditions. Other than private space, the instructors want to be paid for prep time and to receive a cancellation fee when classes have to be cut at the last minute.
At Seattle University, adjuncts make up over half the faculty and have been struggling to form a union. Larry Cushnie, a political science professor with a PhD, makes $48,000 in his full-time position, but has no idea what he will be teaching next year.
The average pay for a part-time professor in the US is about $2,700 per course. Provost David Wu at George Mason says the university relies on adjuncts and not only because it saves the school money. Since the school is close to Washington, D.C., George Mason takes advantage of part-time instructors who work at the State Department or companies like Lockheed Martin.
At Northern Virginia Community College’s Alexandria campus, students joined in on the protest by starting petitions, holding town meetings, and joining teach-ins. The president of the student government, Annie Birge, knows some faculty members who prefer the adjunct positions, but she knows that others are trying to support their families and worry when they have classes cancelled or have to find jobs at several different schools. Birge says that all this has an impact on the education students are getting, according to Susan Svrluga of The Washington Post.