In college towns across America, adjunct faculty are quickly becoming the new, Ph.D.-educated working poor.
If nobody noticed that adjuncts now comprise the majority of faculty in higher education, that surely changed yesterday, on what organizers deemed National Adjunct Walkout Day. The idea was to shine light on the precarious conditions that are now the norm for most college-level instructors—terribly low pay, unpredictable job security, little-to-no academic freedom.
So yesterday, adjuncts used their vast numbers to be seen (or not seen, rather) by collectively walking out of classes they teach, participating in demonstrations, or even doing teach-ins about the state of the academy, as it were. Thousands of instructors from hundreds of institutions across the country, from Ohio State University to Central New Mexico Community College, took action. Even a school in Ireland took part.
The goal was simple: Put pressure on administrations to change their hiring practices by showing students that even as they pay more and more for tuition, the working conditions for their instructors are sinking.
Many adjuncts are forced to patch together teaching gigs at multiple institutions just to make a living. Not much of one, though: The average pay for an adjunct teaching a three-credit course is less than $3,000. Benefits are typically out of the question. Opportunities to engage in traditional faculty tasks—like curriculum development—are scant.
This is the new reality for most people trying to make a career in academia. In the United States, non-tenure-track faculty now make up more than two-thirds of the instructional workforce in higher education. Over the course of just 15 years, part-time faculty positions increased at three times the rate of full-time positions.
There’s a “national upsurge from the grassroots, which has been pushing everything along,” says Joe Berry, a contingent faculty member and organizer.
That includes pushing national unions to become active in adjunct organizing—several of which got on board with the day of action. SEIU, for one, issued a statement of support, on the heels of announcing an initiative to set a national standard for contingent faculty at $15,000 a course, including benefits.
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