Suppose we promised our incoming students that if they put in the hard work to earn a degree, they might someday be making a grand total of $21,792 per year. Would many students think that was worth the effort?
Suppose there was a business hiring our students, and paid them $21,792 per year, without benefits, and without job security. Would we want our students to work there? Would we consider that business as an ethical workplace? Would we encourage our students to work there?
Suppose that workplace that paid its college graduates $21,792 refused for years to increase pay. Suppose that, when on rare occasion the employers were confronted with that statistic, representatives of the workplace retorted that, “if that is what people are willing to work for, then that is the fair market value.” They are worth $21,792, they are commodities.
Suppose this salary is *not* the entry level salary, but rather the top salary for the most qualified and experienced workers. That one needs somewhere between eight and fourteen years of higher education and seven years of consecutive time with this employer to make $21,792 per year, without benefits, and without a permanent contract.
Suppose that the starting salary, which often requires 60 hours of work per week, and which requires significant education, was considerably less: suppose the starting salary were $16,584 per year.
Suppose this business promised a maximum raise of slightly over $5,000 over the course of seven years, and that could only be achieved if the employee spent an additional five to ten years in an often expensive and full-time graduate program.
Suppose these highly skilled workers not only perform work, but the central work of the institution? And that without them, the entire institution would find itself utterly impotent to perform its touted function? Not just crippled because it lost its support staff, or advisory staff, but utterly crippled because it lost its front-line employees.
How would you describe the employers? What straights would it take to be sympathetic to these employers?
Today is national adjunct walk-out day. The City Colleges is an educational institution. Its central goal is served by its instructors, and the great majority of its instructors are adjuncts. It advertises the importance of education for its student future careers. Education leads to financial success: this is the message.
Today, adjunct instructors at city colleges can teach a maximum of 12 credits per fall or spring semester, plus another 3 to 6 during the summer if there are classes available. To teach 12 credits in a single semester is a full-time job, in terms of hours of work per week: something on the order of 40 to 60 hours, depending on the time of the semester. They are paid per semester per credit hour taught. The highest bracket is held by those with seven or more years of service and who hold a PhD or equivalent, and this number is $908 per credit hour. $908 times 12 credits per semester times 2 semesters per year is $21,792. This number is bolstered some by teaching in the summer, but only by another $5,448. Adjuncts must either (a) work second jobs, (b) live in poverty, (c) be the beneficiaries of some other income, coming from financially supportive families or some other privileged conditions.
If you don’t believe me or my numbers, if you think my math is wrong, as a vice chancellor once proclaimed, here is a link to the contract, for your convenience. Go to page 37. Take the highest bracket, bottom right hand corner, and multiply that number by 12, then 2…or just 24 if you want to save some time. 21792.
But, you say, the contract I linked to is the old contract. It expired three years ago. What does the current contract say?
There is no current contract. Our adjuncts have been working under an expired contract for three years.
Adjuncts teach about half of our classes. But they make up more than half of our faculty.
Every one of the adjuncts in my department is passionate about what they do and are very well qualified. We have teaching veterans who are in the prime of their teaching and some fresh out of graduate school, but demonstrating great potential.
For years, to our knowledge, our chancellor has done little, if anything, to change this sad injustice. She and her vice chancellors tout the claim again and again that the city colleges will help students achieve a successful career. When confronted, in my experience, the City Colleges leadership evades, chases red herrings, claims innocence, resorts to personal attacks, or claims–for years now–that they are not permitted to speak about this because they are currently in contract negotiations.
When I brought this up at two round-tables one year ago attended by the chancellor and vice chancellors, I was not met with sympathetic faces, but rather annoyance, boredom, dismissiveness, and mild hostility.
Not once have I heard the statement, or anything like it: “yes, we acknowledge this is a problem, and we are trying to fix it.”
We are told that we should work with district. That district supports and values its instructors. And then pays the majority of its hard working instructors no more than 22k per year.
We have a duty to remember these numbers: 16584 to 21792. The lower and upper ends. We have a responsibility to stand up for our adjuncts. We have a responsibility not to forget how they are valued by our “authorities.”