You Call This Progress???

I was appalled to read the Chronicle article about the AAUP “plan” to provide “Better Pay, Job Stability, and a Career Path for Contingent Faculty” — to present this plan as anything but the atrocity it is…well, I am shocked and infuriated.

Since I haven’t heard many speak out against this yet — and I have waited a few days and fumed silently — I will speak my own mind.

First, the most immediate cause of intense suffering among the one million adjunct professors in this country is extremely low pay.  To say that this plan offers better pay is simply not true. $550 to $700 a credit hour?  Are you kidding? And using a university in Tennessee as a model?  Whyever for?   There is no indication of what a full-time tenure-track faculty member is making in the state of Tennessee, or how these numbers square to that. No percentages, no comparisons.   It is ridiculous, and bordering on dangerously irresponsible,  to put forth such horrifying low wages as a national baseline pay rate.  Am I the only one who believes that universities across the country paying more than this will quickly adjust their rates downward?

I’m barely surviving in Philadelphia, working at three colleges per semester, where my pay averages just over $1000 a credit hour.  What happens when universities across the country see such meagre figures and decide that they can drop their pay rate and still be in line with the AAUP recommendations?    While it might be possible to live a subsistence lifestyle on the horrifyingly low numbers suggested by this plan in a place like Murfreesboro, Tennessee, it would never be possible in Philadelphia, or D.C. or New York.  Why on earth would the AAUP even name such low figures, when any research would show  — see Josh Boldt’s crowdsourced information — that numbers are already higher than that  – although certainly nowhere near high enough –  in other areas of the country?  Why on earth would the AAUP not use the MLA’s recent suggested figures, which go much farther toward setting the bar at a livable and respectable wage for professors nationwide?  There is no talk here of pay parity is this so-called plan.  Why not?  This is a union, for heaven’s sake.  This is supposed to be an organization standing strong for the professionalism and the working and earning conditions of the country’s faculty.

Then a “promotion” to teaching FIVE courses per semester for $32,000?  $16,000 a semester for five courses is little over $3000 a course, which brings us right back to what adjuncts in Philadelphia are already earning, on which they are struggling to survive.  And FIVE courses?  Keep in mind that these are still going to be the most undesirable courses, the low-level, heavy writing, endless paper-grading and student-conferencing courses.  Is there any consideration given to the quality of work possible when teaching FIVE such courses, especially for pay so low that the need to find additional work elsewhere would still exist?  Again, why is the MLA recommendation not being acknowledged as a better plan?  This AAUP plan may as well say, “After several years, they’ll stop beating you, but you still won’t get much food.”

There is no talk about benefits, or healthcare.  No talk about professional development support.  No talk about sabbatical leave for research and writing and publishing.  And most important, there is no talk about immediate changes to the power structure of university governance.  Why not?

Who has the AAUP consulted in putting together this atrocity?  Other adjunct activist organizations?  Other unions?  Have they made any attempt whatever to be part of a coalition of national activists involved in the work to reclaim high-quality academic professional status for the country’s university professors and scholars?

Or are they simply pimping out the most vulnerable professionals in this broken system?

This looks much more like a sell-out to the corporatized administrative powers that have overrun our universities and pushed them into near-ruin.  This corporatized system now keeps over 75% of America’s university faculty in powerless, low-wage, precarious positions, dependent on a managerial power class that has colonized academia.  What has the AAUP done to try to effectively stop the ever-increasing number of low-wage part-time faculty hires over the last thirty years?  I invite answers.  For now, I will  just say that after thirty years of….well, let’s just call it little or nothing…..we get THIS plan?

Am I the only one who thinks this looks more like a plan that administration would dream up in order to keep its control of the impoverished, powerless majority faculty?   It certainly does not look like something an organization claiming to work for the betterment and stability of our profession would suggest.

I wonder:  would those in the AAUP making these suggestions want to live and work under the conditions they propose?  It is highly doubtful.   It shows just how out of touch the AAUP is in regard to the struggle and the real solutions of our country’s professoriate.

I speak for myself alone, and may well be a voice in the wilderness here, but I strongly urge part-time faculty, and the full-time faculty involved in this struggle, along with other unions, other professional membership and faculty activist organizations, to raise their voices all across the country against this ridiculous and insulting “plan”.

Debra Leigh Scott is the founder of ‘Junct Rebellion and is currently working with Chris LaBree of 2255 Films on the documentary ‘Junct: The Trashing of Higher Ed in AmericaDebra is also writing a book by the same name.


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3 Comments on You Call This Progress???

  1. Debra, your outrage is misplaced. The article was about a presentation made at our annual conference by a member from Tennessee, about a proposal drafted by contingent faculty at one institution in Tennessee. On that campus, the chapter thinks the proposal would be an improvement over what they have now and also might fly with the administration. It is not a national plan or model.

    The working conditions, compensation, and lack of respect for many faculty in this country are abysmal. Most of us in the AAUP are well aware of this and yes, we work with other groups on specific projects and also have developed strong policy statements. However, we are not magic and we cannot magically force administrative changes. Whatever chance we have of effecting change in this arena depends on cooperative efforts–not time wasted trashing like minded activists in public forums.

  2. Gwen,

    I went back and took another look at the article by Audrey Williams June on 6/13/12 called
    “Plan Offers Better Pay, Job Stability, and a Career Path for Contingent Faculty

    Here is some of the language:

    “The proposal, modeled partly on standards in Middle Tennessee State University’s English department, calls for contingent faculty to progress through four phases of employment.”

    “For institutions that adopt the detailed plan to professionalize the growing numbers of contingent faculty, the payoff would be worth it, the proposal says. Faculty members would be more fully engaged in their jobs and more fully vested in the success of their students. That would better position contingent faculty to be key players in helping institutions meet their goals, such as improving student retention.”

    “Mr. McMillan emphasized at Wednesday’s session that the “pragmatic” plan recognizes the limits imposed by states’ straitened budgets and the resulting strains on public colleges’ bottom lines. “We’re just not going to see an explosion of tenure-track positions,” he said. Under those circumstances, he and his colleagues wanted to improve the jobs of instructors off the tenure track, by giving them more career support and opportunities for advancement. “It’s a start,” he said.”

    This language does not indicate a focus on one university. Rather, it speaks of “institutions” in the plural, “states’ …budgets” in the plural, and “public colleges” in the plural.

    The use of the plural again and again, indicated, at least to this reader, that this plan was being devised with the intention of scaling up.

    I stand by what I said before – if such a national roll out was the intention, this would be a completely unacceptable plan. Personally, I don’t see how it is such a great plan for the single Tennessee university, either. As the AAUP’s most recent reports say, university president salaries, non-instructional salaries, sport coach salaries, building budgets all continue to rise — “budgetary constraints” seems to be a reality only so far as faculty hiring and wages are concerned. The more correct phrase should probably be “budgetary redistributions”, shouldn’t it? If the money continues to exist for president and administrative salaries, isn’t it our right, as professionals, to expect commensurate professional compensation? Why should any faculty, anywhere in the country, continue to accept the argument of “constraints” when a comparison to administrative compensation makes it clear just how arbitrary those constraints are?

    If we accept the view that tenure-track positions are not coming back, shouldn’t there still be a push on the part of the unions and faculty to demand pay parity with those who ARE full-time tenure track, rather than accepting diminished wages along with diminished professional support and status?

    I still stand by the other questions, too – would any representative of AAUP want to be subjected to such an agreement, to such low wages? Saying it is the best that we can get is a huge problem, isn’t it, when that “best” still doesn’t provide professional wage or stature for a professional’s job? I don’t know what the full-time professor salaries are for this one particular institution, but I would bet they are far higher than the numbers in this proposal for the part-time faculty, even at the fourth stage. It still locks in place the two-tier system of inequality and lower pay over the lifetime of a career. Should that be the role of a union?

    So, on this point, I don’t see that we are “like-minded”, if the AAUP feels that this is a good model, for either one university or for scaling up. I don’t see how it is time wasted for me to express concerns and dissatisfaction with a proposal that was presented as an important step forward. I would rather be one voice expressing a strong negative opinion — and I speak for no one but myself here — both for the purpose of having a robust debate, and in the chance that others feel the same concerns, have the same thoughts, but have been uneasy about voicing them.

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