Soyer: Support our Adjuncts

BY HANNAH SOYER | APRIL 15, 2015 5:00 AM

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Today at 1:30 pm, a rally will be held on the Pentacrest to address the issue of staggeringly low pay for adjunct faculty members. This movement is on offshoot of Adjunct Walkout Day, which took place for the first time this year on Feb. 25, and served as another day to raise awareness that the number of adjuncts at universities is increasing, and their wages — around $3,000 per course — are typically below the living wage. Adjuncts and supporters of adjuncts are petitioning to guarantee $15,000 per course, a move that is not only necessary but also just.

Adjuncts are faculty members employed by universities to fill spots and needs not met by tenured professors. There are two main distinctions that separate an adjunct and professor: job security and salary. According to the University of Iowa’s Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost’s website, appointments of adjuncts can be made for up to three years, after which it can be renewed.

The website specifically says that adjunct positions are “always temporary, part-time, and do not include benefits.”

Universities are hiring more and more adjuncts, mainly because universities are realizing that this is a way they can cut corners on expenses. And because people are struggling to find jobs in the first place, they will accept the position of an adjunct.

Mallory Hellman, an instructor for the Magid Center for Undergraduate Writing, is one of the growing number of adjuncts employed here. Hellman is employed under a fellowship, meaning that she is making more than the living wage, but she said this is not the case for most of her adjunct colleagues.

The living wage, an hourly dollar amount needed for people to support themselves if they are working full-time, is $8.57 in Johnson County. This equates to an $18,200 yearly salary. According to the 2014-15 Departmental Salary Data for the UI, the professors who work the academic year have an average salary of $134,846. Adjuncts, on the other hand, would have to teach as many as six courses to even make the living wage, if they are being paid $3,000 per course. Even five courses, Hellman said, is “an incredible load.”

The low wages of adjuncts, along with the growing number of them being hired by universities, is a problem that affects the people whom universities are meant to serve: the students. “Ultimately, it degrades the quality of an education the university can provide, not because adjuncts are less qualified but because adjuncts are less stable,” Hellman said. “When we’re not making a living wage, we’re less compelled to spend the time with our work that we need to, and we’re more likely to have other jobs, which infringes upon that too.”

Students should become aware of this, and begin to factor this in when discussing the problems of higher education, or even the problems they have at the UI.

“If more of them learned how many of their classes are taught by poorly paid, unsupported teachers, even as their tuition rises, how would they react?” asked Carmen Marchado, the author of an article that appeared in the New Yorker, “O Adjunct! My Adjunct!.” “Would they question the value of their education? Call for reform?” Hopefully, yes.

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