Adjunct profs. deserve better

April 1, 2016

This week, I wrote a feature article on Prof. Jillian Powers (AMST), a lecturer who was not asked to renew her one-year contract. In talking to Powers about her experience, I was horrified to learn about the way that the university exploits her labor and the labor of many other adjunct professors at this school. In light of the adjunct faculty’s recent decision to unionize, Powers’ struggle with the university is all too pertinent. I believe that the university needs to change the way that they approach faculty labor.

Powers considers lectureship a type of adjunct labor. A step down from a tenure track position, she has had to watch her colleagues’ careers flourish as she scrambled to cobble together enough money for rent. And now that her contract is not being renewed, she will be replaced by three adjunct professors who will only teach one class each semester, for just $6,700 per class.

This is not enough money to live anywhere, never mind in Boston. Brandeis, along with most other universities around the country, is exploiting the labor of young academics, leaving them without the support that they need to live a healthy life or bolster their scholarship. It is incredibly hard to become an adjunct professor; most have Ph.Ds and spent years in school, studying and doing research. Most professors are on this career path because they are extremely passionate about their work, and the university profits off of this passion, as student satisfaction and retention depend heavily on professor-student relationships.

According to The Boston Globe, more than 40 percent of teachers at American colleges and universities are adjunct. This is unacceptable. As a university founded on social justice, Brandeis needs to find compassion for more of its faculty.

In an email to her students, Powers noted that, “A commitment to diverse and inclusive classroom spaces begins with job security for those teaching these foundational subjects and dissenting ideas.” As students pressure administration to bring more diverse voices to the faculty, we must make sure that they are treating these professors with the respect that they deserve.

This semester, a Faculty-Student Committee on Asian American Pacific Islander Studies was formed to develop a curriculum around the Asian American experience. This movement has seen some success: Students can now register for a Fall 2016 course called “The Asian American Experience.”

Unfortunately, the person hired to teach that course, according to Powers, will also be adjunct and only have the one course. “So let’s add that total to four ruined Ph.D. lives,” Powers said in an email, referring back to the three adjuncts that will replace her. This may sound dramatic, but Powers’ statement is not an exaggeration. The Asian American Experience will be a “new prep,” meaning a class that has never been taught before. Powers says that this requires at least three times the normal amount of time to prepare for each class period than an “old prep,” a class that someone has already taught.

When thinking of all the work that adjunct professors do for students and to continue their scholarship, it seems doubtful that the “piecemeal” money (as Powers calls it) is even legal. The Boston Globe cites the national average pay per class for adjunct professors to be around $2,700 per class. Brandeis professors make more than this, but it is still not enough. Students need to support faculty and pressure administration to find a way to create more tenure track positions.

We need a more diverse community. We need an academically stimulating community. We need a community that fosters growth. We need better treatment of our adjunct faculty.

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