‘We Ask That You Do Not Call Us Professor’

Karen Gregory is an adjuct professor at CUNY, and the syllabus for her introduction to labor studies course includes a section on what being an adjunct means, means, exactly. Her full explanation is below, but to start, here’s a fact from Inside Higher Ed: If an adjunct teaches four courses per semester, they will make “$21,600 annually, compared to starting tenure-track salaries that average $66,000, according to data from the American Association of University Professors.” Highlights from Gregory’s syllabus:

• “CUNY presently employs 6,541 full-time faculty, counselors, and librarians. Despite record breaking enrollment, that is 4,512 fewer of such positions that it provided in 1972.”

• “Adjuncts are not regular members of the faculty; we are paid an hourly rate for time spent in the classroom. We are not paid to advise students, grade papers, or prepare materials or lectures for class. We are paid for one office hour per week for all of the classes we teach. We are not paid to communicate with students outside of class or write letters of recommendation. Out of dedication to our students, adjuncts regularly perform such tasks, but it is essentially volunteer labor.”

• “To ensure that we remain conscious of the adjunctification of CUNY, we ask that you do not call us ‘Professor.’ We are hired as adjunct lecturers and it is important that you remember that. You deserve to be taught by properly compensated professors whose full attention is to teaching and scholarship.”

(thx Josh Eidelson for link, thx warner bros for pic)

ETA: On Twitter, Gregory has clarified that a group of CUNY adjuncts wrote the text together and that it appears on many syllabi!

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41 Comments / Post A Comment

This is why I don’t believe the argument that the middle class is better off today despite wage stagnation because of improvements in quality. Wouldn’t many people rather pay 1970s prices for 1970s-quality housing (maybe minus the lead paint?) Or 1970s prices for 1970s-quality higher education?

@stuffisthings Yes. Especially because the apartment I pay 2012-rent levels for looks like it was updated in the 70′s, so I’m pretty sure 70′s level quality would be superior to what I’ve got now.

deepomega (#22)

@stuffisthings Does that include 1970s crime rates in NYC?

@deepomega Depends on whether it also includes 1970s cocaine prices. And also whether the lead paint things turns out to have been important.

@deepomega Alternate answer: Yes, but you also get Serpico.

@deepomega Also I sent Mike & Logan the recent Economix post on this very topic specifically so that we could argue about it in the comments.

olivia (#1,618)

Damn, impressed with that syllabus.

deepomega (#22)

Maybe we should raise tuition more to pay adjuncts better!

@deepomega I know this is a joke (well, assume, hope, something), but for the dim-witted dumbasses who want to continue to gut the middle class who might not get the joke: professor and adjunct salaries are NOT what is driving tuition increases!

Even properly tenured or tenure-track professors are getting minimal, if any, raises, and there’s this nifty this called salary compression, wherein new hires are getting paid more than newly tenured associate professors, who in turn are likely making far more than their full professor peers.*

*Caveat: this isn’t necessarily accurate for business/law/med school faculty; they’re a whole different kettle of fish.

Adding for clarity: “newly tenured associate professor” means, usually, someone who has 6 years experience working as an assistant professor, and frequently more as it is increasingly rare to be hired into a tenure-track position straight from the PhD. So, someone with 7 years experience likely makes less than someone in their first year (although first year often includes 1-4 years of adjuncting, post-docs, etc.). It usually takes another 4-7 years at least for promotion to full professor after the associate, and some people never make the leap to full. The requirements vary greatly by field and school.

In my humanities field: one often needs to have published a book for tenure, and a second book for promotion to full, although at more teaching-intensive (rather than research intensive schools), several articles will work for tenure. But these requirements are going up. Plenty of schools that never required books now do, because there is such a glut of PhDs. This is also why you’re seeing more and more people teaching at community colleges who have PhDs, whereas even 10 years ago, a MA would have been sufficient to get a CC job.

Of course, this is all better than what adjuncts get paid, given the whole job security, health insurance,and benefits bonus!

@angry little raincloud Actually, there is a pretty strong economic argument that professor’s salaries ARE driving the cost increase — not because they are getting higher, but because they are staying the same while the rest of the economy becomes more efficient. This effect is called Baumol’s Cost Disease.

HOWEVER, a widely cited recent paper shows that 2/3 of the cost increase is actually driven by what are called Bowen effects, i.e. universities basically spending all the money they can raise. I think it’s a pretty persuasive argument that the main problem is with the structure of how we pay for and administer universities, and not simply part of the nature of higher education.

@stuffisthings I haven’t been totally keeping up to date with everything re university costs (not my world anymore and is depressing), but I thought research has shown, which I admit I am too lazy to google, was placing blame more squarely in the increased amenities being offered by universities– the need for fabulous health centers, fancy dorms, etc– and also the rising ratio of administrators (many of whom do amazing and necessary things! so I’m not totally bashing staff!) to teaching faculty.

Or, I might just be bitter after having dealt with obnoxious students who, as “consumers” demanded As or makeup exams or special treatment because “their tuition paid my salary.” No, no it did not. Came from an endowment, you little snot!

@angry little raincloud Those things are all lumped under “Bowen effects” in the linked paper. The authors find those are responsible for $2 of every $3 in cost increase, as compared to $1/$3 for Baumol effects (changes in relative productivity). Interestingly, this indicates that the optimal professor:administrator ratio is 3:1, and they use these findings to argue for “better shared governance” (i.e. professors having more control over running the university). Pretty much in line with what many professors have been saying for years.

However, even that paper shows that a fairly large proportion — 33% — of the cost increase is, in fact, driven by professors’ salaries, so it’s not complete fiction to make that argument. Especially if you believe that at least some of the new amenities the administrators bring to schools increase their value to students.

deepomega (#22)

@stuffisthings All true! Of course part of the problem is cultural self-selection – the people who become professors often do so to avoid things like “running an institution that involves money.”

@stuffisthings Ah, thanks for clarifying.

The 3:1 professor:administrator ratio has been talked about a lot lately, as it’s skewed the other way right now. Although considering it’s professors (and adjuncts!) who are, you know, providing the content and services of the university, it isn’t so horrible that fair (or not) compensation of their labor should be a major source of the cost.

@deepomega Very true. I was, in that sense, a very bad professor as I had serious misgivings about my university’s desire to start yet another MA program. It would make the university lots of money (MA students are not funded and they would have also been a source of cheap labor as GAs), but it made no pedagogical sense to me and I couldn’t imagine what job our graduates would have received with that degree. But that goes to that proliferation of useless MA program discussion (wasn’t that in some comments on the Awl last week)…

highjump (#39)

CUNY adds so much to NYC and to the national conversation about open access higher ed. Now when is New York going to invest in CUNY and get these professors onto the tenure track?

Also, this entire post is why I do not adjunct. (I have a PhD, I used to hold a full-time teaching appointment elsewhere, but left academia for other options.)

Friends and family ask why I don’t teach a class or two at CUNY or another NYC institution to supplement my meager income. Why not? Because I’d make more money working at the Gap than I would teaching an intro class in my field, and I don’t need another line on my cv saying I’ve taught those classes. Not for what factors out to about $5/hour or less.

shannowhamo (#845)

@angry little raincloud Interesting! I’m a librarian at a community college and it always seems like the adjunts get a shit deal. Most of them teach at 2 or 3 schools spread all over the huge metro area and they get these crappy shared “adjunt faculty work rooms” where the copiers never work.

littlesea (#3,183)

I’m an adjunct. $21,000 a year would, at this point, be a massive raise.

jenfizz (#100)

@littlesea: yeah, they leave out that no CC ever allows its adjuncts to work 4/4′s.

littlesea (#3,183)

Also: very rarely (from what I understand/have experienced) are adjuncts hired to teach 4 classes per semester– that’s a full-time load/would require benefits (we do NOT get benefits).

MissMushkila (#1,044)

@littlesea I mean this with all seriousness, although it may sound flippant: why would you agree to teach for significantly less than 21,000?

I only have a bachelors degree, and work as a high school teacher at a private school. I make 33,000 a year. Sometimes, I think I don’t get paid enough to continue doing my job (I teach all ELL students and have 5 preps). But, I get benefits and it is rewarding etc…

If you love teaching, there are so many jobs that would pay someone qualified to adjunct more for their time. If you are passionate about your subject area, I’m sure there is a different job you could use it in.

I really just can’t imagine agreeing to take a job so time-consuming for so little pay. (this is not a market argument like “stop taking these jobs and they will have to pay better!”, rather I am genuinely shocked and just…don’t get it?)

breakfast (#633)

@littlesea Well, you can teach 4+ classes a semester if you spread it out over different schools. And then you experience the joy of teaching way over a full-time load. I have heard of adjuncts teaching 7 classes in a semester.

And the reason people take these jobs, at least for me and the people I know, is that we are dreaming the impossible dream of one day teaching full-time at the college level.

littlesea (#3,183)

@MissMushkila I truly wish there was a great spread of teaching jobs to choose from, but there aren’t. I have a terminal degree, from the best program in my field, and this is literally all I could find (I applied to adjunct positions, private-school positions, to faculty positions, and to administrative positions all over the country).

It’d be great if there were still “so many jobs” (and someday, there hopefully will be!) but it isn’t reality. Even Quiznos won’t hire me, currently. I should also add that I have tons of administrative and retail experience, am young and healthy and friendly, and am an excellent instructor with awesome references.

So, I agree to teach for significantly less the 21,000 a year because I need to eat. That, and because I love teaching at the college level. Someday, I’ll be a great fit for a tenure-track position, and hopefully this experience helps get me there. I’m glad you have such a great position; hold on to it!

radiosilents (#3,194)

@littlesea I live in a region that has many colleges, so I end up teaching four or five (or more!) classes spread out over two or three (or more!) schools. I also teach for an online school. I feel lucky in that the one school I consider my meat and potatoes has a policy of offering adjuncts benefits if they teach two or three courses, and I am in that position right now… but it can change at any new semester! I stick with because I like teaching at the college level, and I like the flexibility I have (depending on the semester). I am not a good 9 to 5er and can’t imagine going back to that atmosphere again. So yes, I am on the search for a full time teaching position, but in the meantime doing the best I can. Fortunately as an artist I am also bringing in income from studio sales, which helps a lot.

MissMushkila (#1,044)

@littlesea Thank you guys for the answers! I clearly come from a very different background (and perhaps region). I started teaching high school during MY senior year of college, because a school I tutored for was in a bind. I’m now 24, and in my third year of teaching at a different school that created the position for me. We are often looking for people to hire, in part because the responsibilities and preps are very overwhelming, so we have high turnover. I was offered two teaching positions last summer, and have never been without a job at a school since I started working. (I am clearly very, very lucky!)

I also do not live in a place like NYC. And I would gladly move elsewhere to not make less than 21,000, which I recognize is not a position everyone is in.

@littlesea I teach at a CC with a 4/4/2 schedule. It is considered part-time. I am not, however, allowed to teach more for any reason (lest they have to offer me insurance- perish the thought!) With my degrees and experience, I end up making about 22700 at my school. Fortunately, I have a couple other gigs to help out: a few classes at other colleges (4-years pay almost twice what the CC pays, but don’t have regular work available), scoring writing assessments, that sort of thing. I wish I could just take a solid, regular job some days- but then, who would run my kids all over creation to their therapies?

CaitlinL (#4,592)

@littlesea I am an adjunct at three colleges in the Chicago area and only one of the CCs allows adjuncts to teach up to 4 classes in a semester. We’ve recently been capped to about 27 credit hours per year so that we do not qualify for health benefits. The other CC I work at recently capped adjunct loads to a maximum of 2 courses per semester without the ability to teach during summer term. This fall I will be teaching 4 classes at one school and 1 class at two other schools each, which is a lot and I am very worried that my work performance will end up reflecting such a large load. The cost of living in the Chicago suburbs isn’t nearly as high as NYC, but last year I barely earned 27K between holding adjunct positions at 3 schools (working “full time” between those three) and also holding an office job requiring around 30 hours a week as well…

utopicartist (#3,185)

And I am a tenured Associate Professor who makes much less then the average entry level salary listed in this article, and this is probably because I am an artist, a woman, a person of color and have no union at the public university where I teach. I also have not had a raise in 5 years. And I am too old, almost 60, to find work elsewhere. Still I am grateful to have the privilege of tenure, health insurance and job security. It is much better than my part-time life ever was.

I can’t adjunct anymore. I got laughed at by my department chair for asking for a raise last semester. Literally. She giggled. (I have a PhD + MA in English, been teaching for 10 years, have had perfect teaching reviews and consistently high evaluations.) I was making $11/hour. Not being paid for the hours I spent every week conferencing with/advising students. I did have my own office with my nameplate on the door, however. That’s something. Time to find something else to do with myself. Sadly, what my chair told me when I made my decision to leave is true: “There’s plenty of other PhDs lined up to take your place.” Maybe no one should be in line. Feels like they’re crossing a picket line, personally. The worst? Retired folks who take up adjuncting as a lark to entertain themselves during retirement. Step off, people. You’re making things worse.

@aurorasboringalice, Please do not add to the class war. I am forcibly retired early. I would love to find, but have not found, an adjunct position so that I can put food on the table and pay bills. Perhaps you are talking about emeritus faculty who can comfortably retire but enjoy teaching and the prestige of their faculty positions? I don’t want to make it about class, either, but the problem isn’t really so much tenured vs. adjuct vs. admin. It is that state and national movements to eliminated taxation as a means to provide for the common good, which includes, in my mind, and educated and engaged citizenry. They do not want that. They want a dumbed-down, stay in your seat/cubicle worker who is afraid to lose their job because some mysterious force will send it to Asia. All smokescreens to keep us fighting with each other instead of uniting.

j-i-a (#746)

This makes me really grateful for University of Michigan, where my boyfriend is an adjunct in the architecture department; here, adjuncts get terrific benefits and (what seems like) much more money per course than adjuncts at other places. I would have felt like absolute shit if my grad school desires had dragged him to a university where a full year of teaching 4 classes each semester would net him less than my MFA stipend. GO MICHIGAN THANK YOU WE LOVE YOU

j-i-a (#746)

@j-i-a Oh I should also add that the adjuncts at Michigan have a great union, and so do the grad students. GO UNION TOO

@j-i-a Don’t turn cartwheels over how benificient U-M is just yet. I have close friends who are in the Lecturers’ Employment Organization. They have received their first negotiating offer from the U-M bargaining team. 0% raise over the length of the contract, and elimination of employer paid health care benefits. U-M has tried at every turn to break LEO. I understand that your b.f. may not be a member of LEO (or maybe he is) but his rate of pay and YOUR mutual benefits are a result of what LEO has bargained for. I appreciate the “Go Union” sentiments, but that is primary not secondary. U-M pays what they have to. Oh, and one of the things they mentioned? They are paying benefits to partners who do not have demonstrated life commitments (such as boyfriend/ girlfriend).

j-i-a (#746)

@Jay Steichmann@facebook Oh, I know about LEO (my boyfriend is in it) and have assumed that they are the primary reason behind these benefits. I also assumed that Michigan supported them, though–I didn’t know that the school was pushing back so hard and I really hope that the partner benefits don’t go away (we, not having demonstrated a “life commitment,” are partaking in them–and he’s actually sharing my grad school benefits, not the other way around). I still think I can be grateful for the school, though, and turn cartwheels as I like!

Beans (#1,111)

In my experience, every adjunct professor I had (which amounted to roughly 40% of my courses) seemed more concerned with fulfilling themselves than actually ensuring their students learned something and were getting their tuition dollars’ worth. Their classes often felt like one big stroke of their ego. They never had the time to engage on a deeper level outside of class like a regular professor would. I often got the feeling that my college was doing it to save money rather than for the purported reasons of bringing in “people with real-world experience!” to enhance education.

@Beans Did you read the article? “They never had the time to engage on a deeper level outside of class like a regular professor would.” Yeah, they weren’t being paid to do a bunch of shit outside of class. They don’t even usually have offices. So you’re complaining that they didn’t do volunteer labor, which their full-time peers (the regular professors) did because they were paid to.

@Beans I’ve adjuncted for 14 years. I’ve had exactly four students ever appear during my office hours- or even make an appointment- and none that wanted anything like “deeper engagement.” I want to teach where-ever YOU went to school- having students come in and talk would be awesome.

Nina Y F (#3,201)

A great moment for learning-in-action; perhaps all of us who teach should be this frank with our students. But—young as most undergrads are, I can only hope that some of them will understand the import of the statement that appears on their syllabus.
I’m in a similar position to you, utopicartist, except I’m not a person of color. I consider myself lucky; but we know that the continued exploitation of contingent faculty brings down *everybody’s* prospects for job security and empowerment.

Mike D (#3,202)

I’m an adjunct doing exactly this. It’s pretty terrible, but fortunately I live in a place where the cost of living is reasonably cheap.

1. I keep doing it because it gives me the freedom to do my own work outside of it. I’ve taught for a few years now, so I have a stockpile of syllabi, lesson plans, and nifty in-class exercises to choose from. It’s a relatively easy job in that sense–I already know how to do it and can budget my time wisely. In essence: I prefer being poor and having a lot of free time to being not as poor (let’s face it: 35k isn’t that great either) and having very little free time. I always have three day weekends and am only required to be at work (on a campus) for roughly 15 hours a week. I grade at home and speak to students during office hours or via email (or by appointment, of course). Other than that, I have a lot of time to do what I want to do and never feel like I’m not doing a good job. My reviews last semester were universally positive.

2. Please don’t compare teaching college to teaching high school. I never have to talk to parents and have the freedom to talk to students like they’re people. If a student is screwing up royally, then I can just tell them. The students are the ones who are responsible for their own success in college. All I do is give them the tools to succeed, but I’m not required by state laws/federal laws/parents to hound a student until they get their act together. Kids are REQUIRED to go to high school (at least until 10th grade). Nobody’s required to go to college. I worked *briefly* at a high school and can say, without a doubt, that it’s terrible compared to teaching college. I have absolute freedom. I also get to blow their minds with ideas and texts/materials that are banned/illegal in high schools. I’ve showed movies with nudity and sex, violence, and horrible cursing. My students are independent adults, so it’s fine. If I did this in a high school, they’d run me out of town.

3. Even as an adjunct, I have access to a ton of privileges that I wouldn’t get at other jobs. The university invites guest speakers in my field–people at the top of their games, famous in their fields–and I get to hear them, meet them, even sometimes go to dinner with them. I get to know people who may, eventually, further my career. I also get access to a multi-million dollar library, a state-of-the-art gym, and I get to fiddle around in online databases that cost thousands of dollars a piece. I also have access to the tenure track folks and the department chair, who are valuable sources of information (and really shouldn’t be looked at as the enemy). Via email, adjuncts are notified of upcoming calls-for-papers, we’re notified of workshops to increase our hireability, and we’re even notified of job openings at other universities. Maybe that’s rare, but even working at a community college (which I also do) there is often talk in the adjunct workroom about job openings and other opportunities.

4. Otherwise, adjuncting is a terrible job. I don’t have health insurance and can’t afford to travel or do anything. I have to worry every semester if I’m going to be hired back, or if they’re suddenly going to cut the number of adjuncts at one of my colleges and I’m going to have to move back in with my parents (who live across the country). And of course, all the adjuncts are all applying for the same jobs, so we’re all in a wacky competition to try to get a crummy Associate Professor gig at Bumsville State, which none of us ever gets. It’s sort of a cyclone of failure. Meanwhile, all the tenured people are wondering why we can’t get jobs. It was so easy for them–why can’t we do it? That’s the part of the system I still haven’t figured out. I’m more qualified for tenure than half the people who are tenured at the community college, and at least a few at the university. But so is just about everyone else. Why doesn’t the university want fresh blood and better qualifications? Instead, there are like 4 jobs open every year and 5000 people applying for them and nobody has any idea how to actually get hired into one. It’s a preposterous system. Thankfully, it seems to be breaking down a bit. Tenured hiring is declining while adjunct hiring is going up. Rather than believing that this system will change, I’d be content with higher pay and health insurance as an adjunct. I don’t think I’ll ever be tenured, but I do think that conditions for adjuncts will improve as we become more and more necessary for the university. We just had the bad luck of being around for the decline of the tenure ideology.

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