# Job Skills Adjunct Professors Living in Poverty

1. Sep 28, 2017

### Aufbauwerk 2045

2. Sep 28, 2017

### Staff: Mentor

This is is hard to believe and the numbers provided are too incomplete to effectively judge.

3. Sep 28, 2017

### DS2C

Sounds nightmarish. Pretty sure high school teachers make more than that. I wonder if any professors can give their 2 cents (no pun intended).

4. Sep 29, 2017

### Staff: Mentor

5. Sep 29, 2017

### ZapperZ

Staff Emeritus
It needs to be emphasized that being an adjunct or visiting professor is NOT an "academic career track", anymore than a part-time job is a "career track". No one going into an academic career track is aiming for an adjunct position. There are people, like myself, who become an adjunct professor as a "part-time" job. I go into it because, after doing intense research work all through my career, I wanted to do something that I had always wanted, which was to teach. So unlike the person in the story, I am not desperate for money or do not have any other source of income.

And unfortunately, it is definitely a reality that schools do not pay adjunct professors enough. This has been a topic among academics for quite a while now. The nature of the support and level of income depend greatly on the schools. One definitely cannot make a living out of such a job, which is why there is often a large turnover rate for such a position.

Zz.

6. Sep 29, 2017

### StatGuy2000

I too read the story above and found it frankly both shocking and hard to believe. My understanding was that adjunct positions were for the most part part-time or contract positions typically held by those who are already working full time outside of academia, enabling to take part in teaching and occasional collaborative research related to their area of work (such as yourself of @Dale). That's certainly been the case for the adjunct faculty members I'm familiar with in the realm of statistics.

BTW, the Guardian piece itself primarily looked at adjunct faculty members in the humanities -- not a single example was identified among adjunct professors in STEM fields. Not sure if that is relevant, but is worth pointing out.

7. Sep 29, 2017

### analogdesign

I know three people who have been adjunct professors in STEM and for each of them they received a nominal per-course fee to teach and none of them did it for the money.

I can also tell you my sister was a professor (tenure-track) in a humanities department that abused adjuncts for the majority of the teaching load. In fact, the size of the tenure-track faculty in her department shrunk slightly (through attrition) over about the last 10 years even as the number of students served doubled. The college handled this disconnect by employing adjuncts that were all hoping for the brass ring (a tenure-track position). Many of these poor folks were combining two or three adjunct or community college teaching positions in order to barely make ends meet, probably making the equivalent of about $15 an hour or so. The supply and demand situation for people with Ph.Ds in the humanities is entirely in the college's favor, and with pressure to reduce the rate of tuition increase, many colleges are increasingly turning to hiring casual adjunct labor for teaching (apparently better than than reducing administration or building fewer grand buildings and rec centers...). It got so bad that my sister has left academia. The college also treated their humanities professors like dirt (and fawned over their law and business professors). The academic model of continually training too many grad students has been broken for a long, long time. The reason you don't see this much in STEM (especially engineering) is that people with Ph.Ds in STEM have better options. It's as simple as that. 8. Sep 30, 2017 ### jtbell ### Staff: Mentor The problem of "adjunctification" of faculty is a major issue especially in large metropolitan areas, where there are a lot of would-be academics with PhDs, and a lot of college and universities that are looking to minimize costs. It's especially a problem in the humanities where there aren't that many jobs outside of academia, unlike with STEM fields. My wife and I were full-time tenured faculty in a small college in a small rural town for many years. Although she retired several years ago, she still teaches two courses per semester (sometimes one) as an adjunct, because the college can use her skills and there isn't enough demand for more courses to warrant hiring another full-time faculty position. (She's in the humanities, BTW.) Adjunct pay is peanuts, but that's not an issue for us because we've already saved enough money to fund our retirement anyway. She likes doing something besides puttering around the house all day. (I have enough hobbies, myself.) Our standard adjunct pay is$2500 per 3-credit-hour course per semester. A "full teaching load" is four courses, which gives $20,000 per year (two semesters). A full-time first-year tenure-track faculty member here makes at least twice as much, plus medical insurance and contributions to a retirement fund which adjuncts don't get. We do get people who move here from other places, or commute from nearby cities, for adjunct positions, even though they're not a full teaching load. They hope these are a stepping stone to full-time positions elsewhere, via teaching experience and letters of recommendation. In a large metro area, it's possible to cobble together two or more such positions within commuting distance so as to work full time, but this still produces a pretty low standard of living. 9. Sep 30, 2017 ### symbolipoint jtbell Thanks for explaining the situation in an understandable way. Some other kinds of teaching situations work like that, too. 10. Sep 30, 2017 ### Dale ### Staff: Mentor I think this is the key economic driver of this issue. 11. Sep 30, 2017 ### Dr. Courtney My observations are also pretty close to this, though I've seen pay vary a bit, but not below$2k or above \$3k for a 3 credit hour course. However, at one institution I taught at, a "full teaching load" was 15 credit hours.

At one school, I was in charge of coordinating the adjuncts for one of the intro physics courses. I was always embarrassed by what the school was paying them. But none of the adjuncts were trying to make a full time living from it. They tended to either be retired or took the adjunct job to supplement a full time income either teaching or in industry somewhere else.

I would not recommend anyone try and support themselves or a family on an adjunct salary. It's a part time job and pays like a part time job. Obamacare caused some schools to cap the employee hours, lest they be reckoned full time and the schools need to provide health care. Very few part time jobs provide enough money to live on or to raise a family on without significant other income.

12. Sep 30, 2017

### Staff: Mentor

There are legitimate reasons for colleges to use adjunct staff. For example, when they don't need enough "extra" classes to justify hiring a full-time faculty member, as in our case. Or if their enrollment varies a lot, so that long-term contracts or tenure would sometimes leave them with extra faculty sitting around, or classes that are too small.

There are also legitimate reasons for people to take such positions, even at low pay. They may just be supplementing income from a "full-time" job elsewhere (e.g. when a spouse has a full-time job), or retired with adequate Social Security, savings, etc. (as with my wife) which makes this a form of volunteer/charity work. Or they may be gaining teaching experience and recommendations for full-time positions later.

But there are schools (especially state-supported schools) that use adjuncts to cover the equivalent of multiple full-time faculty positions in some or many departments, because of insufficient funding. Either their funding from the state hasn't increased enough to keep up with larger enrollments, or their funding has actually been cut. In response to insufficient funding, they can:
• Raise tuition fees
• Turn away students (cap enrollment)
• Not offer enough classes (so students have trouble finishing their degrees in a timely fashion)
Sure enough, we can see all of these strategies at work. The last one works because there's an oversupply of PhDs who are looking for academic positions, hoping that being an adjunct is only a temporary stepping-stone in their career.

13. Sep 30, 2017

Staff Emeritus
There is a language barrier here. What the humanities calls "adjunct faculty" STEM usually calls "instructors" or "part-time instructors" An adjunct professor of physics is usually someone at a national or industrial laboratory with an affiliation at a university, and it is most often used so they can formally supervise graduate students.

Another difference is that the notion of a "postdoc" is very different. In the humanities, people apply for faculty positions right out of grad school. People on PF have complained that "it's not fair" that senior postdocs who can't snag a permanent job don't get to stay postdocs forever, but I would argue that's more humane than wwhat is done in the humanities.

I disagree with the idea that the only thing that a humanities PhD can do is teach. Unemployment is 3-4% among non-STEM, non-health, non-business advanced degree holders.

I also disagree with the idea that if not every degree holder gets their first choice of jobs there is overproduction of that degree. Not everyone gets to be an astronaut. I also suspect that if the choke point moved from after graduate school to before, many of the people who find they can't make a living at art history would have found that they couldn't get into grad school. And then the complaint would be "why won't they even give me a chance?"

Last edited: Sep 30, 2017
14. Sep 30, 2017

### ZapperZ

Staff Emeritus
That is not based on my experience. I'm not saying there aren't adjuncts who are also scientists elsewhere, but MOST of the adjuncts that I know of are not in that situation. They are more of the type that I and jtbell have described, AND, also those who are in transition looking for a more permanent job. And yes, our official title given by the school is "Adjunct Professors", not "instructors" or "part-time instructors". In fact, I'm classified as "full-time" in my adjunct position, even though I'm teaching only one course (that's all I'm willing to do even when they asked me to take a second class to teach).

Zz.

15. Sep 30, 2017

### Apple_Mango

Why would people throw themselves under a bus just to teach? lol

16. Sep 30, 2017

### ZapperZ

Staff Emeritus
Because (i) many of us value the importance of teaching and good teachers and (ii) we do not look down on such efforts or profession.

Zz.

17. Sep 30, 2017

### symbolipoint

Why? They like a subject. They want a job emphasising the subject, and have an advanced degree. One option is to teach; so they look for work as a teacher or instructor or professor, and then they may be lucky enough to find one or two "adjunct" professor jobs. They may want something stronger, or MORE, but what they may still tend to find is another adjunct professor job.

18. Sep 30, 2017

Staff Emeritus
Zz, I am thinking of adjuncts like Mike Syphers at MSU (before he moved), Ed Berger at MSU, Albert de Roeck at Davis (and elsewhere).

Unnecessary and rude.

19. Sep 30, 2017

### symbolipoint

Somewhat; but not exactly. Apple_Mango is too young to understand yet.

20. Sep 30, 2017

### Apple_Mango

She became a sex worker to preserve herself simply because her college wouldn't give her more hours. Being a sex worker is very absurd just to make income. I'd rather just quit and become a copy editor rather just be a sex worker. Being a sex worker is very embarrassing. This is very humorous to be that people went far length to persevere their jobs of being a teacher instead of just quitting and becoming a copy editor.