The New Faculty Majority summit, “Reclaiming Academic Democracy: Facing the Consequences of Contingent Employment in Higher Education,” held in Washington, D.C., at the end of January, continues to cause a stir. The New Faculty Majority is a U.S. organization supporting adjunct and contingent faculty and is so named because these groups represent the majority of teaching staff at American higher education institutions. It’s aiming to work with several other organizations supporting contingent faculty, such as the Coalition on Contingent Academic Labor.
Josh Boldt, Lee Skallerup Bessette, John. A. Casey, Jr., Eliana Osborne, Brian Croxall and Karen Kelsey have all posted their thoughts on the summit on their respective blogs. This week (Feb. 13) the “21st Century Scholar Blog” from the University of Southern California is totally devoted to the topic of contingent faculty. Michael Bérubé, president of the Modern Language Association, added his own pointed observations about the summit – making him, as one blogger observed, the “newfound hero of contingent faculty everywhere.” His succinct summation of their miserable plight:
Adjunct, contingent faculty members now make up over 1 million of the 1.5 million people teaching in American colleges and universities. Many of them are working at or under the poverty line, without health insurance; they have no academic freedom worthy of the name, because they can be fired at will; and, when fired, many remain ineligible for unemployment benefits.
Although the use of adjunct and contingent faculty is more widespread in the U.S. than in Canada – and some of the issues the writers address are unique to those working south of the border – nevertheless many of their reflections will resonate with adjuncts and part-time faculty working at Canadian universities.
Dr. Bérubé recapped some of the MLA’s recently-released recommendations for fair standards concerning non-tenure track faculty. Among these, the MLA recommends minimum compensation for 2011–12 of $6,800 for a standard 3-credit-hour semester course or $4,530 for a standard 3-credit-hour quarter or trimester course. These recommendations are based on a full-time load of 3 courses per semester (6 per year) or 3 courses per quarter or trimester (9 per year); annual full-time equivalent thus falls in a range of $40,770 to $40,800.
To which instructor Mr. Boldt responded: “Almost $7K per course! Most adjuncts have never seen anything close to that figure. I personally have taught at schools that pay right at or below $2,000 maximum per course.”
Also at the New Faculty Summit, Jack Longmate of Olympic College in Washington State presented his Program for Change developed with Frank Cosco of Vancouver Community College. It was based on “the most equitable existing conditions the authors are familiar with,” particularly the collective agreement between VCC and the VCC faculty association.
University Affairs editor Peggy Berkowitz attended the summit, which coincided with the annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. She observed that many at the summit “seemed to feel that hell would freeze over before they got the benefits that VCC sessional faculty enjoy.” At the summit, a speaker noted that in some states faculty are forbidden from unionizing. At many private universities as well, faculty are forbidden from forming unions. Indeed, she said, “it really struck me how much better the situation seems to be for sessional faculty in Canada, on the whole.”
This seemed to be borne out by a remarkable spreadsheet developed by Josh Boldt “to crowdsource information from adjuncts about the conditions at their respective universities.” The spreadsheet is a Google Doc document to which anybody can add information from their institution, and hundreds of universities and colleges are now represented. More on the project can be viewed here.
The information on the spreadsheet makes for dispiriting reading, with pay for most 3-credit courses in the $2,000-$4,000 range, with the exception of some of the big-name universities like Johns Hopkins, where the pay is $8,500. Quite a number of Canadian universities are on the list, located on a separate page (click on the tab at the top, “Outside U.S.”). Their pay ranges from a low of about $3,800 to a high of $8,000 per 3-credit course.
This new data certainly fills a gap, for there is a definite lack of reliable up-to-date information on the plight of Canadian contingent faculty. There are not even any reliable data on the percentage of faculty in Canada who are contingent or working part-time. This is shameful.