Often educated and experienced, too often poor

Report reveals how the other half of college faculty lives

On February 4, 2014

A congressional report released last month outlines a growing group of highly educated, experienced and underpaid U.S. citizens: adjunct instructors.

The growing number of part-time and adjunct instructors across this nation's universities highlights a paradoxical trend away from the axiom repeated by politicians ad nauseam - better education, better (paying) job.

The underpayment and under-appreciation of this academic workforce is nothing short of unconscionable. The drive to cut costs across campuses that feeds this trend does little to relieve universities of responsibility.

The report states adjuncts and part-time instructors make up half of the instructors across colleges, up from 20 percent in 1970. UB is representative of this. In 2012-13, 549 out of 1,170 instructors at UB were part-time, nearly 47 percent, according to the university's Common Data Set initiative.

The congressional report goes on to state the myriad issues afflicting adjuncts - job insecurity, lack of benefits, lack of advancement possibilities, long hours and "low pay at a piece rate." The report says, "many often live on the edge of poverty."

The Spectrum spoke to UB adjunct instructor Andrew Galarneau, who works full time as the food editor at The Buffalo News.

"It would be bordering on impossible [to live on solely an adjunct's salary]," Galarneau said. "It doesn't pay enough to make a living."

A growing cohort of educators is growing within our ivory towers, working for meager pay beside better paid professorial staff - a job imbued with a solidly middle-class pay and societal prestige. The contrast is striking.

"We identify with the fast-food workers," adjunct David Wilder told NPR, referring to the struggles of fast-food employees protesting for better pay in recent months. The comparison speaks volumes of the state of our part-time instructors.

The pattern should sound familiar; it has come to define much of post-recession America - employer seeks to cut costs, hires more part-time workers, often without benefits, to accomplish this end. As a result, the workforce is split, half with stability and a livable wage, the other with neither.

That this broken logic of economizing would enter into our universities, however, is what remains so troubling. Within the halls meant to train and educate students, lined with so many promises of bright futures and dream careers, the cruel irony that those doing the training and educating would themselves "live on the edge of poverty" is too much too bear or stand for.

If universities are going to continue to stand as testaments to the success education can bring students, they must start by guaranteeing a decent living for all faculty members. This begins by curbing the trend toward cost cutting at the expense of what could otherwise be full-time instructors.

UB's adjuncts are unionized under United University Professions, reflecting a growing trend in America as adjuncts seek to collectively bargain to improve pay and working standards. Yet some issues remain structural.

Part-time work comes with a level of instability and represents a manifestation of a move toward a more flexible labor force - which remains largely unaddressed. Though unionizing is a positive step, a shift in ethic is what is necessary.

Our universities, UB included, should not be run like corporations or fast-food chains. Those guiding the current generation to a better future should themselves be promised decent pay and benefits as a given - and a realistic chance for advancement and stability for those who wish to pursue it.

As the ranks of the new working poor file into and out of our lecture halls and seminar rooms, it behooves us all to take notice.

Then ask yourself if that represents the life you envision. How can we aspire to high hopes when those preparing us for them can hardly aspire to those themselves?


email: editorial@ubspectrum.com

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