Campus Equity Week: Help Improve Adjunct Faculty Working Conditions

By Mary Ellen Flannery

Adjunct or contingent faculty members teach the majority of college students in America—and they often do so under truly terrible working conditions.

Keeping in mind that those conditions also are the learning conditions for the nation’s future teachers, scientists, nurses, and business innovators, NEA is calling on its members and allies to mark the 2013 Campus Equity Week (October 28-November 2) by working to change those conditions for the benefit of faculty and students.

Adjunct or contingent faculty members now constitute the “new faculty majority,” or about two-thirds of faculty nationwide, and 70 percent of the faculty at the nation’s community colleges. They’re crazily underpaid, despite their doctoral degrees and other experiences, earning less than the average sales clerk at Walmart. Healthcare benefits, unless they’re in a union, are rare.

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But it’s other common conditions of employment that also make it difficult for the students of adjunct faculty. In his new NEA Thought & Action article, author Gary Rhoades points to a few, including the “just-in-time” hiring practices that make it nearly impossible for contingent faculty to prepare a syllabi and find appropriate resources for their students, and the traditional disconnect between adjunct faculty and each other and their students. They don’t have offices, for example. They don’t advise their students. They don’t get invited to trainings on campus or participate in curriculum committees.

Making it worse, Rhodes points out, research shows that students of color, students of poverty, first-generation college students and immigrants are all more likely to be taught by adjunct faculty at colleges with the worst conditions of contingent faculty employment. “Thus, our current path perpetuates and even heightens social inequity by race and class,” he writes.

With those students in mind, NEA offers a number of actions that anybody can take:

1)  Download and display the “Would you rather work at Walmart?” poster that compares the working conditions of contingent faculty to retail sales clerks.

2)  Join our allies at the New Faculty Majority in signing their petition, demanding an end to the exploitation of contingent academic labor.

3) Distribute Campus Equity Week flyers.

4)  Hold a demonstration or action at your own school, on your own campus, and in your community. Learn more about these kinds of activities at www.campusequityweek.org.