Educators plagued by low wages

The University should provide economic security for all its professors.

Ronald Dixon

In the past, adjunct professors were mostly non-academic professionals who taught a class or two to provide students with some exposure to their chosen fields. Adjuncts supplemented the teaching staff, while the majority held tenure or tenure-track status — the ones that have the greatest job security, pay and benefits.

Since the 1970s and ’80s, however, this trend has begun to change.

Indeed, as universities began to focus more on profits rather than academic quality, they began to replace full-time professor positions with those taught by part-timers. During this process, academic institutions have essentially morphed the definition of “adjunct professor” to include overworked, underpaid, non-unionized, educational laborers who have no choice but to teach a few courses — sometimes for less than minimum wage.

Anne Winkler-Morey is an example of this unfortunate phenomenon. She told the Star Tribune that she began teaching 20 years ago, earning her doctorate from the University of Minnesota. Since then, she has had to jump from various teaching jobs, none of which allow her to earn a living wage. She has no office and no desk, and she lacks the economic integrity that is granted to tenured professors.

She is not alone; according to the American Association of University Professors, adjunct professors typically make about $18,000 to $30,000, and they often make less money than those who did not finish high school, let alone the people who earn a master’s degree and a doctorate.

To further exacerbate the problem, adjuncts, especially those who have taken part-time positions for several years, suffer from the “foot-in-the-door” disease, in which they cannot find tenured positions because of their willingness to accept adjunct positions.

The reason that many newly minted Ph.D. recipients accept adjunct positions in the first place is to gain practical experience and to, hopefully, build enough credibility to obtain a tenure-track job. Unfortunately, though, this plan has backfired, thanks to the monetization of universities and their disproportionate focus on cost-cutting rather than providing instructors with livable wages. Ironically, this also comes at a time when sports budgets are bloated and university presidents like Eric Kaler make more than $500,000 each year.

Economically, these professors can hardly live off the meager salaries that universities, including the University of Minnesota, have to offer. Colleges must reform budgets to reflect the recognition of economic insecurity for adjunct professors.

Thankfully, there appears to be some hope.

Recently, adjuncts and campus organizers at Macalester College and Hamline University formally filed for unionization. They believe that union representation will provide benefits, grant wage hikes and ensure that they are economically stable.

The University of Minnesota, a school that hires about half of its instructors as adjuncts, should not only allow for the unionization of professors, but it should also transition out of the dependence on adjuncts and back toward a campus that pays all of its teachers fair wages and benefits.