Equal Pay for Adjuncts: What is May Day For?

Equal Pay for Equal Work: What is May Day For?

Imagine working at one job for fifteen years and then spending three days filling out an extraordinarily rigorous (read: ponderous and obtuse) application (last time I completed one, I clocked myself at about 60 hours) so that you could have the outside chance of being hired to work the job that you already work. If you win the hiring lottery, you are paid fully; if you lose, you are paid about half or less of what the winners are paid.

Does that sound reasonable? Does it sound like justice?

This is a common scenario for most college faculty, adjuncts who are committed to one (or more) institution(s) and who, whenever there is enough funding for one or two tenure-track positions, get to “compete” with hundreds of applicants from all over the world, as search committees spin the lottery wheel.

And, no, it isn’t reasonable to expect someone who already does a job, and has been relied on to do this job for many years, and has been deemed excellent by all measurements, to go through this process, the effect of which, perhaps inadvertently, but nevertheless, is to maintain two-tiers of employees, one tenured, the other adjunct, who essentially do the same work, but whose pay by comparison is excessively unequal.

This situation can end if we do one thing: pay all college faculty on one pay schedule: equal pay for equal work. Pay parity.

The objection that tenured faculty do more work is specious. Seriously, one reason some do so much committee work is that there aren’t enough tenure-track faculty. More to the point, what is the most valuable part of faculty work-time? Is it teaching? Do you spend any more time teaching than I? Many adjuncts, hustling about to make enough to survive, easily spend more time on teaching tasks than many tenure-track faculty (And I ‘m pointing this out only as a fact. I make no judgment). Forty hours a week is the expected workload for tenured and tenure-track faculty. Adjuncts often work more than forty hours a week because they teach at two or more institutions, even more than a full-time load, to make only a portion of a full-time wage.

Tenured faculty, please do not be offended; rise above an egocentric response. Adjuncts (most, anyway) do not think this situation is the fault of tenured faculty. But it is a fact that tenured faculty enjoy privileges which adjuncts do not, and which adjuncts deserve. No one expects tenured faculty to give up their privileges (maybe only a few perks). Of course tenured faculty have earned this privilege; but then so have adjunct faculty.

In the San Diego Community College district, adjuncts have things that most adjuncts across the nation do not. Most do not have rehire rights, health benefits, office space with computers, or unemployment compensation rights. At my primary site, adjuncts who teach in the English department are fortunate: tenured faculty in the department invite them to meetings of all sorts, let them vote on most issues, and encourage them to pitch in as much as they wish. I often tell people that if you are so unfortunate as to find  yourself an adjunct professor in the early 21st century this English department is one of the best places to be in the universe.

But still, my pay for teaching six classes is about 40% what it would be if I were paid on the same schedule as full-time faculty. My expertise, my skill, my commitment is equal. My pay should be equal.

Nationally, contingent academic workers, or adjuncts, are organizing and mobilizing for justice. The national media is beginning to cover the exploitation of adjuncts on a regular basis. The New Faculty Majority has organized and is advocating for justice.  The AFT, FACCC, AAUP, and other faculty organizations are talking about the exploitation of adjuncts. It is time for unions to walk the walk. Since adjuncts are the majority everywhere, unions should prioritize adjuncts’  interests. No more across the board pay raises until there is pay parity. No more advocating for tenure-track funding until there is pay parity. The adjunct crisis is the crisis of higher education, tenured faculty, adjunct faculty, students, and staff. This is the moment for us to stand together and to demand equal pay for adjuncts, to demand one pay schedule for all college faculty.

May Day, the annual, global celebration of  economic and social justice for workers, should be about the justice of equal pay for adjuncts. And we should have both.