A Philosopher's Blog

Migrant Professors

Posted in Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on September 19, 2012
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Many years ago I was running with a friend of mine who is also a professor. We were talking about the fact that university faculty in the Florida state system generally have nine month contracts and hence are effectively unemployed in the summer. We also talked about how the adjunct faculty had it far worse: they tend to work on a course by course basis and have no job security beyond the need to have them teach classes. My friend said that this was somewhat like being migrant workers— working part time and moving from job to job without any security and with terrible pay. Naturally, the migrant professors, as my friend called them, have it somewhat better than migrant laborers who pick crops and do other such backbreaking work for pitiful wages. However, the comparison seemed apt.

At my mother’s suggestion I did try my hand once at picking blueberries for extra money. When she was a kid, this was something commonly done by the Maine kids. But this was apparently before the days of cheap migrant labor and, as we found out, things had changed. My sister, her friend and I gave it a shot, but we did not make it through a full day and ended up in the hole because someone stole our rakes and baskets. It was the worst job I ever tried.

Years later, I started my academic career as an adjunct professor. I taught four classes each semester for $2,000 per class and had no benefits or job security. The next year I was hired as a visiting professor and made $30,000 for the year—plus benefits. After three years of that, I was finally hired into a tenure track line. Though I am a tenured full professor, I certainly have not forgotten those adjunct days. It was not as bad as raking blueberries, but it was a lot of work for very little money and it felt a lot like that blueberry day, although it lasted for an academic year.

During this time, it was common for my university to rely heavily on adjuncts. There was, however, an effort made to hire full time faculty and this met with some success. However, there are still many classes taught by adjuncts and other universities rely very heavily on adjunct instructors who are treated as migrant laborers in the academy.

Like migrant laborers, the migrant professors are poorly paid. Back in 1993 I was paid $2,000 per class, making $16,000 for the eight classes I taught over the school year.  In 2010, the median salary for adjuncts was $2,700 per three credit hour class. The low was $2,235 and the high was $3,400.

Like migrant laborers, the migrant professors generally have no benefits. While there might be some exceptions, adjunct (or part time, although “part time” might actually mean teaching what would be a full time number of classes) faculty typically do not get health coverage from their employers or other benefits. When I was an adjunct, I was fortunate to be young and healthy, but a major medical problem would have ruined me financially. The same is no doubt true of other adjuncts.

Like migrant laborers, the migrant professors typically have to travel from workplace to workplace to make their living. One of my colleagues, who has a doctorate and years of experience, typically teaches at my university, Florida State, and Tallahassee Community College. He has to rush between classes to get from school to school. His situation is not uncommon—other adjuncts I know teach at both universities in Tallahassee, the community college and other colleges in town just to make enough to live on. Some even travel about the county from job to job, literally acting as migrant laborers. While regular faculty have offices, phones and computers, adjuncts sometimes do not. They might, for example, be assigned a room for office hours and have to get the department office manager to open the door for them because they are not given a key.

Unlike migrant laborers, the migrant professors are highly educated professionals who are doing jobs that normally pay full time employees reasonably well. To use an analogy, the situation of adjuncts in higher education is comparable to what it would be like if hospitals employed adjunct doctors. The adjuncts doctors would have their medical doctorates, perform surgery, treat patients and so on. That is, they would be just like the regular doctors except that their pay would be a fraction of what the doctors received and they would have little or no benefits or job security.

As might be imagined, this terrible disparity in pay is rather unjust. After all, the adjuncts are being paid far less for doing the same work and they are generally just as qualified as regular faculty. It would, of course, be another matter if adjuncts were far less educated or did work proportional to their pay. However, this is not the case. As such, the treatment of adjuncts is clearly wrong.

Naturally, those employing adjuncts have a good reason to use them: they do professional work at a fraction of the cost of hiring regular faculty and they can be terminated simply by not re-hiring them next semester. It is also not uncommon for universities to hold off providing an adjunct with a contract until two or more weeks into a semester—that way they can be sure that the class with fill and that the money is available. An adjunct without a contract can typically and unfortunately just be let go. I have seen this happen—people working for two weeks, then being told to not come back for week three. This is unfair as it hardly seems unreasonable to be able to tell a person in advance whether or not they will be teaching that semester. Obviously enough, the failure to pay an adjunct for the time worked would be theft, although this does happen.

One irony of the plight of adjuncts is that the students they are teaching will generally increase their earning potential significantly by getting a college degree. In fact, the college graduates will most likely end up making more per year than the adjuncts who taught them.

One rather obvious question is why adjuncts put up with the terrible conditions rather than simply getting a job elsewhere. While in some cases people do admit that they have been unable to get a job elsewhere, the majority of adjuncts I have spoken with (and I have met many over the years) make it clear that they love teaching and that they are willing to live with horrible salaries to do what they love to do.

Naturally, this claim might be doubted. However, this sort of attitude holds all through teaching, from K through the graduate level. After all, people who have the degrees needed to teach could make much more money working in other professions, yet they choose to remain in academics. While they might have some other reasons, it is most often because they believe in what they are doing and like teaching.

Unfortunately, this love is being unfairly exploited and little is being done to address it. In fact, the current trend in public education has been towards cutting budgets and for educators’ unions to be subject to concerted attacks. As such, it seems likely that the situation in higher education will worsen. This suggests that there will be an increase in the number of adjuncts (some universities are 33-55% adjunct faculty). Oddly enough, education costs continue to increase—but you can be sure that this money is not going to paying adjuncts properly.

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18 Responses

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  1. WTP said, on September 19, 2012 at 9:04 am

    There’s always more to the story:

    “According to the latest online job postings for summer 2011, the average adjunct professor salary is $55,000. If your specialization is biology or nursing, the average adjunct teaching salary will be higher, closer to an average of $83,000/year.

    The range does vary quite a bit, because some small schools pay incredibly poorly for a single course…in fact, you can find offers of an adjunct professor salary per course of just over $1,000.”
    So apparently it depends on what you teach and where you teach it. Hint, hint.

    In fact, the college graduates will most likely end up making more per year than the adjuncts who taught them. Hence the difference between teaching and doing. If one can teach, cannot one do? It would seem to me that there are far more people wanting to be adjunct professors than for which the education system has a need. Should we pay people a higher salary than the demand indicates? If they can teach, they should also be able to do those jobs done by those whom they teach. There are people who love gardening. Some have Masters and PhD’s in agriculture and such, yet make little pay. Are they being exploited? We live in a free society where you can do whatever your skills allow you to do. If you feel you are being exploited, you have options. I like to teach also, and have done so for free on occasion. But the market for teachers is bloated with such people so I don’t do it frequently, let alone full-time. Perhaps when I “retire”, I will do so. But I don’t let the satisfaction I derive from teaching put me in a position to be “exploited”. As I’ve said before, economics is a subject beyond your ken.

    Also, much of what is learned in school needs to be unlearned in the real world. Who pays for that? Perhaps that cost is built into the lower salaries paid to certain adjunct professors and not built into the salaries of those whose skills are in higher demand. And all this in a world where bricks and mortar institutions are giving way to on-line learning which has far less overhead and more focus on what the customer wants, which is education.

    There are people who work at my company who make good money and teach on the side because they enjoy it. Wonder why they do it?

    • biomass2 said, on September 19, 2012 at 8:28 pm

      “If one can teach, cannot one do?”

      One usually sees this sentiment, and variants like “Those who can do. Those who can’t , teach.” and “Those who can’t do, teach.” in discussions attempting to justify the relatively meager salaries of many teachers.
      Actually, there are teachers who can barely teach let alone ‘do’. Conversely, there are fantastically well-paid doers whose doings are shamefully ineffective and often disastrously dangerous. Surely, there must be more meaningful ways of determining the real worth of a human being’s work in a society.

      If all people were ‘doers’, would that mean there is no need for teachers, or would it mean that many doers would simply be less competent because they were never taught properly? If the doers ‘learned on the job’, how did they learn and from whom? Were their models, by definition, teachers? Were those individuals simultaneously doers and teachers? If so, how should their work be valued? Are not teachers doers? Are the teachers ‘doing’ something when they are teaching?

      transitive verb
      b : to cause to know how

      Nearly every synonym for ’cause’ involves doing.

      • biomass2 said, on September 19, 2012 at 9:52 pm

        Ah. The phantom thumber strikes again. Perhaps he/she should stick it back where it came from.

        • biomass2 said, on September 20, 2012 at 1:29 pm

          And two! One from his mouth and one from his . . .?
          Or, perhaps a pathetic duo is at work here.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 20, 2012 at 12:35 pm

      The first source you use begins with the person expressing doubt about the truth of what they are writing. The second seems to be using “adjunct” differently from the way the term is most commonly used (part-time faculty hired to teach 1-2 classes per semester). If you follow the link to the Chronicle, the salaries are for assistant, associate and full professors rather than adjunct faculty. The adjuncts I am discussing are the folks who teach those 1-2 classes per school rather than people hired full time as “extra” faculty.

      Actually, there is a need for more faculty. Schools commonly overload classes rather than hire more faculty. For example, I have four classes with a total of 170 students. A minimum class size is about 15 students (smaller classes are cancelled) and the mythical average class is supposed to be 25. So, I would have enough students for almost 7 classes. However, it is cheaper to just pile students into my classes than to hire extra faculty. I was asked if I would teach a large class (150 students) but 150 students only counts as 2 classes, which is hardly a good deal.

      Suppose that educators heeded your advice and everyone who could get a better paying job elsewhere left education, thus leaving in the pool of available educators only those who could not get any other job. This would presumably result in rather bad education. However, you seem to hold the view that educators are actually doing harm (“much of what is learned in school needs to be unlearned in the real world’) so perhaps it would make no difference whether there were any competent educators or not. Actually, given your claim, it would seem better to just have people skip school and go directly into the real world. Given your perspective, why have education at all? Do teachers ever teach anything worth knowing?

      • WTP said, on September 21, 2012 at 4:43 pm

        Wow, you really wordsmithed that one there, Humpty Dumpty.

        The second seems to be using “adjunct” differently from the way the term is most commonly used So we’re going to play semantics again. the folks who teach those 1-2 classes per school rather than people hired full time as “extra” faculty. Well if you’re only teaching part time, then you expect to make part-time pay.

        Actually, there is a need for more faculty Yes, because the educational institutions generate their own demand by creating excessive requirements and often pointless classes. We have far too many people going to college who are not capable of getting enough out of it that we can reasonably expect them to pay back what they owe for said education. You have complained about many of these students right here on this very blog on several occasions. Many of those people would be much better off starting a real career or learning a trade.

        Suppose that educators heeded your advice and everyone who could get a better paying job elsewhere left education, thus leaving in the pool of available educators only those who could not get any other job. More fallacies in that statement than I can shake a stick at. Again, economics is a subject beyond your ken.

        However, you seem to hold the view that educators are actually doing harm (“much of what is learned in school needs to be unlearned in the real world’) so perhaps it would make no difference whether there were any competent educators or not. Actually, given your claim, it would seem better to just have people skip school and go directly into the real world. Given your perspective, why have education at all? Do teachers ever teach anything worth knowing?
        Again, fallacies galore. Oh, wait…it’s “seem to hold the view”. Hmm, fallacy or equivocation. I could equally state that you seem to be hold the view that educators never do any harm. Really, this is such a garbled pile of fallacies, I think I’ll just leave it as it stands. And you have a PhD from Ohio State University? Apparently their education is a lot like their football. Sad.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 21, 2012 at 6:31 pm

          Yes, teaching 1-2 classes means they get paid less and being paid less for doing less is fair. However, the problem is that the pay per class is considerably less than what regular faculty make. This would be like having a part time plumber get paid less for doing the exact same shower install. Naturally, a part time plumber who is paid less overall because s/he works half the hours would be fine.

          As I have said repeatedly, you just accuse me of fallacies while 1) not actually specifying the fallacy allegedly being committed, 2) not actually showing that a fallacy has been committed and 3) often while engaging in a series of personal attacks.

          I am, I admit, not certain if your mental processes actually work in a manner that allows you to do this while thinking that you are engaging in some sort of reasoned assessment or if you are just f@cking around and trolling hard.

          Given that you seem to derive some value from participating in blogs, it is not clear why you behave in ways that have gotten you banned from at least one other blog. Unless, of course, you do not recognize your behavior for what it is or you derive some sort of odd satisfaction from being banned.

          As I have said before, I have a policy of tolerance. However, trying to engage you in discussion seems to be pointless and is certainly unrewarding. No, I am not banning you, but I see no value in engaging you anymore.

          • WTP said, on September 21, 2012 at 9:16 pm

            Seriously? You philosophers certainly are a soft and thin-skinned lot. But that’s beside the point.

            Me: much of what is learned in school needs to be unlearned in the real world. Who pays for that? Perhaps that cost is built into the lower salaries paid to certain adjunct professors and not built into the salaries of those whose skills are in higher demand.

            You: you seem to hold the view that educators are actually doing harm (“much of what is learned in school needs to be unlearned in the real world’) so perhaps it would make no difference whether there were any competent educators or not. Actually, given your claim, it would seem better to just have people skip school and go directly into the real world. Given your perspective, why have education at all? Do teachers ever teach anything worth knowing?

            Granted I’m not big on flowery speech and tend to state the facts as I see them. Do you really consider your response to be a reasoned and mature argument? So your gonna take your ball and go home. To tell you the truth, it will save me a lot of effort. I only post to point out the glaring holes in your arguments. Let my responses stand on their own. Less work on my part.

            • biomass2 said, on September 22, 2012 at 9:10 am

              I took my ball and went home back on January 28, 2011 on this blog when I (erik then) called you out. Remember?
              “Oh—WTP: You responded to my post on Nov. 19-The Terrorists are Winning
              by referring to the “dipshit attitude” of liberals. That all came not too long after you had responded to one of
              MIKES’s posts: “Oh. Bull fucking shit.” I thought: “What uncommon variety of turd is this asshole?” But I didn’t write it, because generally, on this blog, people disagree, but not so disagreeably.

              Then you twisted my statement about a five-year-old smuggling a bomb on a plane in her panties into something about inspecting babies’ diapers for bombs. I replied that I wasn’t aware of many 5- year-olds wearing diapers and went on to clarify many of your remaining obfuscations and misrepresentations at 11/22 8:12pm in a reasonable, non-profane, non-troll-like manner. I then proceeded to discuss the topic with magus and others on the board while you retreated into the woodwork or some uncommon turd retreat.

              Somehow that panty/diaper bee must have crawled up your tightly puckered rectum, migrated to your brain, and festered there until all your frustration burst forth in a particularly long post (Eating in America 12/22 2:51pm )–perhaps the longest post ever on this blog, if we exclude some of TJ’s unedited paste jobs–until this one, that is. What released the dreaded brain-bee? Let’s see what we see/

              You had written :”And yet nearly every one of these people buys their lunch in the cafeteria and from what I’ve been told, eat at McDonalds, BK, etc. frequently for dinner. Meanwhile, both of our wives, who could certainly spend their disposable income on a hot lunch if they so desired, brown-bag it every day.”
              So I asked: “You’ve ‘been told’ that ‘nearly every one of these people buys their lunch in the cafeteria’? At that call center they’ve got someone keeping track of that kind of thing? Are your wives (you and coworker) at the call center ‘worker bees’ [your choice of words later in the post–ahhhh, there’s the butt-bee!] or management or level or above? Are they the ones who observe the eating and spending habits of the ‘worker bees’ perhaps? Are the ‘worker bees’ all married to working spouses? Or are some of them or nearly every one of them single? ”

              Now, I didn’t question your 12/22/1:54 because you said it was your own experience. I questioned the other material because it was hearsay. Subsequently you offered that the one who “told” you was your wife. You apparently didn’t think that someone might actually be reading your post and actually give a crap who told you. You don’t think you could have originally written “I’ve been told by my wife who works as a ….at a call center. . .etc” ?

              I don’t accept everything on here at face value. If someone tells me there’s a line on the federal tax form where I can give the government more money if I wish, he should be able to show me where. He, kernunos, couldn’t. If someone tells me (Archaeological Evidence of God 9/6/2009) at the end of my 9:40pm post–yes, I was biomass2 back then, and I sort of miss him–I call him (kernunos again) out for what I thought may be a false claim about spinal fluid. Turns out it was a false claim. . . . . . . . . .Magus also dislikes my “rhetorical questions.” Look at the 10/22/2010 Is Homosexuality a Choice discussion. Start at magus’ 11/2 4:55am and read the ensuing discussion. To me, we were both asking questions designed to provoke thought but unlikely to produce answers. Such questions are worthwhile. They get posters whose viewpoints are set in stone to give some thought to possible weak spots in their thinking. Quite often, the posters don’t even try to answer, fearing they’ll weaken their defenses. Sometimes they do, and they’re right! Ah, the good times.

              Ya know, I’ve been on here as one character or another since mid-2009. I recall the occasional troll profaning this blog, but not one of the posters mentioned above, save you, waded in hip-deep with your “dipshit”, “bullshit” ,”fucking” crap. I’ll take my leave of you and this blog in a tone similar to that with which you approached me in November:

              WTP: FUCK YOU and the horse you rode in on.”

              After that you seemed to be a bit less of a dick for a while. But there’s no question in my mind now. You are a dick.

        • Charlie said, on September 22, 2012 at 11:09 am

          This topic has been long debated and I don’t want to add to that but I do want to add to one specific criticism of HE institutions – the number of courses needed for a degree is legislated – many of us (university admin) would like to decrease requirements while retaining high quality – this seems to be happening with the European 3 year degree – i also wish to polish another statement as i heartily agree but often the responsibility is misplaced on administrators – Most requirements within the mandated credits are created by the faculty, not by administration and are often based on historical prescident (in the kindest interpretation) or selfish job protection (in the worse interpretation) – whatever the case there is an adamant refusal to seriously analysize the curriculum (yes I know about al the curric reforms – but seriously considering these so-called reforms are disappointing at best and reveals a very conservative, self perpetuating system that appears very inappropriate for the contemporary world.

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 22, 2012 at 5:33 pm

            I just attended a meeting on Wednesday in which we discussed the upcoming change to the university’s general education requirements. The legislature has decided that students at Florida public universities will no longer need 36 hours of these courses but 30. The graduation hours will stay at 120 for the 4 year degree. In an amazing coincidence, Lumina has arrived to partner with us.

            We have been directed to review and revise our curriculum-I’ve been nominated for the special committee for this and I have already been given paperwork to complete.

            One interesting thing is that the purpose of these changes is something of a mystery, although ALEC has been active in the state and there has been something of an unfriendly attitude towards education from the current state government (budget cuts and such). We have actually dropped from 11 to 29 in the nation in regards to business and education. That worries me.

            I do favor rational and effective reform that will bring the curriculum up to date. However, I am wary of changes that are grounded in political ideology rather than sound educational policy. My main concern is that students get an education that is both practical (prepares them for their careers or professional school), meaningful and prepares them to be full citizens of a democratic country.

  2. weventer said, on September 19, 2012 at 9:08 am

    Although this post saddens me, I appreciate you putting it out there. I am studying towards my Honours in philosophy at the moment and hope to start tutoring soon. I am very ambitious and hope to have my doctorate by the time I am 25. I ultimately want to teach philosophy purely because of my love for knowledge and my need to share this knowledge, not for the money. However, one needs to survive. I am currently studying and working full-time at the moment but will need to leave my job next year to focus on my studies and tutoring. I will earn half of what I am earning at the moment once I am tutoring but it is what I want to do. Do you have any advice for someone trying to ‘break into’ the academic field?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 20, 2012 at 12:20 pm

      From a purely practical standpoint, breaking into academics is like breaking into any field:
      1. Networking: connect to established academics in positive ways. One common way to do this is to go to the academic conferences and make friends with people. Ethically, you should be genuine in your interactions rather than smoozing.
      2. Building reputation: establish your status in academics. This is still mainly done by getting published. So start polishing your work and submit your best stuff to the journals. My strategy was to start at the top tier publications and then work my way down until either the paper was published or it was rejected all the way to the bottom. Teaching experience is also a plus.
      3. Develop people skills: while academics have a reputation for being socially incompetent, hiring is often a matter of people skills (that is, do the people on the search committee like you). There is also the matter of being able to competently handle interviews-practice these skills.
      4. Apply to many jobs.
      5. Luck.

      • WTP said, on September 21, 2012 at 5:30 pm

        that is, do the people on the search committee like you Step 1 to having them like you is don’t express any opinions to the political right of the academic norm…which is somewhere to the left of Obama.

    • WTP said, on September 22, 2012 at 1:00 pm

      weventer, a little touch for what you’re in for…

      • biomass2 said, on September 22, 2012 at 4:57 pm

        weventer: When WTP writes that this vid is “a little touch for what you’re in for” please keep a few things in mind.
        First, there’s a big difference between “you’re” and “you may be”. When it comes to the future, there’s a lot more “you may be” than “you are”. Second, the presentation you see in the ‘documentary’ doesn’t give a full clear indication of the public’s feelings toward affirmative action. Currently, polls would seem to indicate that 55% are against it. To get a clearer fix on that number and what it truly means, we could probably note the percentage needed to break a filibuster in Congress. 55% doesn’t carry much weight in that body. If you go back to 2006-2007 when the unemployment rate was in the high 4’s the figures were much different: See the specifics in #4 in the following 2007 link.
        By the end of 2008 when the rate was already 7.3 these attitudes likely began to change.

        Third, as you know, the wording of individual questions is of considerable importance when those being polled answer the questions . I don’t believe it would be unfair to say the public is unevenly split on the subject of affirmative action.

        Fourth, like most competent documentaries, the individual pieces are here. And the pieces are likely true. And without doing a little research, I think it’s safe to say this is not as bad as a political campaign ad where a heavy portion of the info might be false. However, because of the snippets, and the editing, and the obvious intent, how the information is interpreted will vary from person to person. This may be a ‘little’ touch of what you ‘may be in for’, but much of that will depend on the views ‘you’ bring to viewing the piece.
        Please note that there are 10 videos here. If you want to move quickly, use the little arrow on the right. Or ask WTP to point out the salient parts. Once you see what he chooses, you’ll have a good idea of his views on the subject.

    • WTP said, on October 2, 2012 at 8:37 am

      At little more background on the kind of sensitivities and philosophies you’re up against in when considering how to ingratiate yourself with search committees. “Free speech is legal until it offends someone”, as this philosophy student was told:

  3. WTP said, on September 30, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    From Theodore Dalrymple via David Thompson (http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2012/09/the-cost-of-purity.html):

    It is difficult now to imagine a modern university intellectual saying something as simple and unequivocal as “I disagree with what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it.” He would be more likely to think, if not actually to say out loud or in public, “I disagree with what you say and therefore rationalise to the death my right to suppress it.” In public, he would be more circumspect, presenting a suppression of freedom as an actual increase in freedom; that is to say of real freedom, not the kind the leaves everyone free to sleep under a bridge. But he would know perfectly well in his heart that what he was after was power: the greatest power of all, that to shape, mould and colour indelibly the thought of others, a power to which he believes that he has a right by virtue of his superior intellect, training and zeal for the public good.

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