Heard: The Sad Anthropological Truth About The Adjunct Professor Life
By Wired Academic on August 28, 2012
Domestic, Ethics, Faculty, Graduate, Opinion, Required, Universities & Colleges
Sarah Kendzior, with a new PhD in Anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis, writes a compelling essay for Al Jazeera English about, “The Closing of American academia: The plight of adjunct professors highlights the end of higher education as a means to prosperity.” More than a bitter diatribe, she explains an important viewpoint about the growing ranks of adjunct faculty in the US:
My friend is an adjunct. She has a PhD in anthropology and teaches at a university, where she is paid $2100 per course. While she is a professor, she is not a Professor. She is, like 67 per cent of American university faculty, a part-time employee on a contract that may or may not be renewed each semester. She receives no benefits or health care.
According to the Adjunct Project, a crowdsourced website revealing adjunct wages – data which universities have long kept under wraps – her salary is about average. If she taught five classes a year, a typical full-time faculty course load, she would make $10,500, well below the poverty line. Some adjuncts make more. I have one friend who was offered $5000 per course, but he turned it down and requested less so that his children would still qualify for food stamps.
Why is my friend, a smart woman with no money, spending nearly $2000 to attend a conference she cannot afford? She is looking for a way out. In America, academic hiring is rigid and seasonal. Each discipline has a conference, usually held in the fall, where interviews take place. These interviews can be announced days or even hours in advance, so most people book beforehand, often to receive no interviews at all.
In most professions, salaries below the poverty line would be cause for alarm. In academia, they are treated as a source of gratitude. Volunteerism is par for the course – literally. Teaching is touted as a “calling”, with compensation an afterthought. One American research university offers its PhD students a salary of $1000 per semester for the “opportunity” to design and teach a course for undergraduates, who are each paying about $50,000 in tuition. The university calls this position “Senior Teaching Assistant” because paying an instructor so far below minimum wage is probably illegal.
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