Is Adjunct Pay an Issue at HW?

There was an interesting exchange over on Don’s Desk regarding Adjuncts and pay. President Laackman wrote about a NY Times article on exploitive internships, drawing a response from an adjunct named Xavier. Don responded:

I view employees differently, but I am seeking to understand your point of view. You state that we exploit our employees. Is this truly the view of our employees? Do our full-time faculty feel exploited? Do they feel, as you assert, horribly paid? I would like to see the evidence. In my one-on-ones, I ask faculty what they would like to change about Harold Washington. No one, to date, has raised his or her pay as an issue.

You may mean adjuncts are exploited. Do you have data to support that statement, or is it based on the opinion that they should be paid more? Do we exploit someone if they choose to come to us because they are attracted to our mission, but they could make more money elsewhere? Am I exploited because I left the business world and chose to work here because I am attracted to Harold Washington’s mission? I do not feel exploited – in fact, I feel privileged.

I don’t know if adjuncts are paid too little (or too much.) I often take an economist’s point of view and believe in the power of markets to provide us evidence of individual preferences. Do adjuncts work for us because they prefer Harold Washington and working in our environment, or because they prefer to earn what we pay over the other options available to them? I don’t know (and suspect they teach at HWC for many reasons) but I am looking for evidence that we have a market failure. One way to understand if this is the case is to understand how well we are meeting students’ needs. I’d like to see the data that tells us that paying adjuncts more will lead to better outcomes for students. That is a case worth arguing.

I may be missing the point on exploitation. I am open to being educated. I look forward to your response, particularly if you have evidence to ground our dialogue in facts.

I tried to reply four times (losing my whole response twice!), but couldn’t manage to get it to post for some reason (Blogger!). Had I been smarter, this is what I would have posted over there:

Hi, Don. Long time reader, first time commenter.

I am sure that ft faculty haven’t complained about our own pay, and I’m also sure that adjuncts haven’t brought it up (it would take a mighty bold person to say, “I’d like to be paid more” in their first meeting with a new president, wouldn’t you say?).

I do, however, know of one ft faculty member, who mentioned the atrocious adjunct pay as one of the three things he’d like to see changed in his conversation with you, so I know it came up at least once. I’d suggest that it’s a huge problem in a hundred different ways. In the interests of space, though, I’ll only mention a few here in support of Xavier’s general point.

First, regarding the data, I’m guessing it will be hard to find any since low pay for adjuncts is a problem that is pretty consistent across institutions. Still, I’m sure there’s a regressive analysis to be done somewhere with a comparable institution, their higher paid adjuncts and our lower paid ones. In the absence of one, we’ll have to agree that our inability to provide data favoring the proposed change ought to weigh fairly equally with the dearth of data saying that low pay for adjuncts contributes positively to students outcomes; I’m pretty sure you don’t have any studies backing that point in your pocket, right? So, in regard to data on the effects of adjunct pay on outcomes, we’re about even. Which leads us to some speculative hypotheses.

I’d venture to guess that these days most of our adjuncts come to us for the experience more than anything else, a judgment I base on the steady decline in applications for adjunct positions from 2003 through now and the consistent lack of teaching experience among those applicants. We used to receive stacks of 50 or so resumes monthly. Now, it is rare to hit double digits over the course of a semester. This semester, I’ve received one application to teach Philosophy courses with us. One.

Furthermore, the average experience for the applicants is usually close to zero, and the number retained for more than a year is around 60% or so in my department (by my best estimate). I’d guess it’s similar (or worse) in the others. That’s a pretty beastly turnover for a challenging teaching job.

The fact that a few adjuncts endure it seems hardly good evidence that it is a market wage. Make five phone calls: Oakton, Triton, Harper, South Suburban, and Moraine Valley. See what they pay their adjuncts. Then tell me what our balance of “affordability and quality” is relative to our neighbor/peers. Then make five more: Columbia, School of the Art Institute, UIC, Northeastern, and a school of your choice–Illinois Institute of Art, DePaul, Loyola, Chicago State, Governor’s State, whatever. Ask them what they pay. Draw some conclusions about what effects those rates have on the candidates “in the market.”

We get a lot of people who are new to teaching, and give them crucial experience that they go on to use elsewhere. We’re like the Tampa Devil Rays of Chicago colleges–lots of great prospects who learn with us and then sign elsewhere in free agency because they can only get paid a true market rate elsewhere.

I won’t get into whether that rises to the level of “exploitation,” but I have no doubt that we could make our current adjuncts better (and so positively affect outcomes for students) simply by relieving some of the financial strain that taking a teaching job at CCC entails (in opportunity cost alone). I could have been a better adjunct, when I was one, if I could have worked one less shift in the bar where I earned my rent and food money. And that’s without even thinking about those adjuncts we could have kept on, those who would have applied, and so on. Yes, I ended up a full time faculty member, but I quit teaching twice because I couldn’t afford to do it, and I only ended up back at HWC after I quit because there were still openings at the last minute, when I decided that I would just scramble a little harder to keep philosophy in my life. Any guesses why those openings existed? I have one.

But, just to make sure that I’m not alone here, I will definitely spread the word that anyone who thinks adjunct pay is an issue should definitely be sure to raise it with you. I’ll tell them that you’re curious about it, and I’ll be curious to hear what comes of it.

Thanks for the opportunity. And 1.6 was funny.

Keep up the great work. They’ve been consistently interesting reads.


So, am I wrong? Is there not a consensus that adjunct pay at CCC is atrocious and that improving it would undoubtedly lead to better outcomes for students?

Is this a petition worthy cause? (Not so much in the interests of making demands but expressing the opinion of the faculty body (or at least those willing to sign on). )

At the very least, please be sure to let Don know, if you happen to agree that it is an issue and happen to talk to, email, or run into him, that paying adjuncts $1400 or so dollars for 45 teaching and 16 advising hours (NOT including planning, grading, and communicating with students) , or $22.95 an hour is a problem. If you really want to be fair to the adjuncts, figure that they put in four hours a week in additional work (laughably low, I know, but still), that makes an extra 64 hours of work, which raises the hours worked for a three credit hour class to something around 125 hours over 16 weeks (just a little under 8 hours per week, per class). That would put the pay rate at just about $11.25 an hour.

Even public defenders don’t bill out that cheaply…

2 thoughts on “Is Adjunct Pay an Issue at HW?

  1. Adjunct pay is atrocious. I once worked it out, back when I was an adjunct, and I think I figured that I earned a little less than $8.00/hr. That included planning time, grading, actual classroom time, office hours and meeting and talking to students outside of class. Now I was new, and I needed the experience, so it paid off in many other ways. I also had a partner in life who could help support my children and I. I could not have done it otherwise.

    I think we would get more candidates to choose from if the money were a bit better.

    On the other hand, I have always felt well-paid in my ft position here. It doesn’t seem just.

  2. Another way to think about the poor adjunct pay at CCC is to compare it to full-time faculty pay. The minimum starting salary for full-time faculty in fall 2011 will be $47,615. The minimum starting pay for an adjunct will be (and has been at least since I was an adjunct back in 2000) $457 per credit. So let’s say a new adjunct is teaching a three credit-hour class in the fall, which will make the total pay for that course $1371. If that adjunct wanted to earn the same minimum starting salary as a full-time faculty member, he or she would have to teach 17 three credit-hour courses in one semester.

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