For many of us, there is that one teacher and/or professor who helped us think outside the box and dream the impossible. In my personal case, I had an adjunct professor who worked in government encourage me to think outside the box and pursue a career in policy. If it wasn’t for her, I would have never thought about the legal field and pursued a law degree. Despite many university presidents receiving enormous salaries, adjunct professors and faculty continue to get the short end of the stick. Education is perhaps one of our nation’s greatest treasures. However, with recent budget cuts and funding issues, our university educational system may be in crisis mode with the lack of salary and benefits for adjunct faculty.
Most adjunct professors work part-time and/or full-time in their field, in addition to teaching. However, did you know that some adjuncts at several universities are not making enough money to stay above the poverty line? That some are on welfare or homeless? Despite the fact that 76% of American university faculty are adjunct professors as reported by the New York Times, most adjuncts make an average of $2,700 per course and receive no health care benefits. In addition, with roughly 40% of academic positions eliminated since 2008, most adjunct professors will not find a tenure-track job.
You may be asking yourself, why would a person who has invested so much in their education and career want to enter a field that views them as disposable?
Easy answer: they love academics and want to invest in the next generation. However, some adjunct professors are starting to feel humiliated when it comes to the poor treatment they receive and low salaries they earn. Professor Rebecca Schuman recently wrote for Slate magazine a piece entitled “Getting a literature PhD will turn you into an emotional trainwreck, not a professor.” In her piece she stated, “By the time you finish-if you even do- your academic self will be the culmination of your entire self, and thus you will believe, incomprehensibly, that not having a tenure-track job makes you worthless. You will believe this so strongly that when you do not land a job, it will destroy you.”
So, the next time you meet someone who is an adjunct professor, continue to encourage them, thank them, and advocate on their behalf for better salaries, benefits, and working conditions.