‘Overworked, undercompensated, devalued’: Contingent faculty face tight salaries and job insecurity, report

"There is no consistency or guarantee of my employment from one quarter to the next even after working at the same college for a decade," wrote a respondent anonymously.

They help students with course content outside of their assigned course and help those in crisis. They participate in department and faculty meetings and go above and beyond staying for office hours. And as they increasingly make up the majority of your institution’s faculty workforce, their pay, benefits and job security continue to sour.

A survey compiled by the American Federation of Teachers, a teachers union, has found that more than a quarter of adjunct faculty (28%) make below the federal poverty line for a family of four annually. Only 15% of faculty reported that their household can comfortably cover basic expenses, and 48% have postponed healthcare services due to costs.

“I have to work the equivalent of two full-time jobs to get by. I’ve been doing it for a decade and a half and it’s exhausting,” wrote one respondent anonymously.

Average employment contracts for nearly three-quarters of respondents (74%) last just an academic term and more than half (57%) who worked the spring 2022 semester were not offered a contract in the fall. While these faculty members are signing up for these contracts at their own discretion, what’s lending to their stress is the sheer uncertainty on when they’d be let go. Forty percent of faculty reported receiving a one-week notice if their employment was terminated due to non-performance reasons.

“There is no consistency or guarantee of my employment from one quarter to the next even after working at the same college for a decade,” wrote another respondent anonymously. Other free-written responses touched on themes of not being recognized for their work and being disrespected by tenured faculty.

In the face of these tight employment conditions, contingent faculty continue to make up the majority of higher education’s term-to-term workforce. The American Association of University Professors found they made up 68% of the academic workforce in fall 2021, a sound increase compared to 1987 (47%). Nearly two-thirds of faculty wish they were full-time.

Some respondents identified the pandemic as a major contribution to the rise of colleges’ and universities’ lopsided workforce structure. “Overworked, undercompensated, devalued, and complete loss of work-life balance during the pandemic. Twelve to 14 hour days, seven days a week, have become the norm due to online teaching.”

Despite their pigeon-holed role, contingent faculty reported to play a vital structure to their campus’ functions; 58% reported to attend meetings related to shared governance and at least a third either provide or guide students to proper support services when they’re dealing with mental health problems.

The American Federation for Teachers recommends higher education leaders support labor reforms, such as the Protecting the Right to Organize Act and a call for deeper reinvestment in higher education at the federal and state levels.

This report comes at the heels of unions erupting in popularity this past year. California State University faculty union members just voted by an overwhelming margin to strikeLos Angeles Daily News reports.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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