Class Warfare: Adjunct Professors
Nonetheless, a college education remains an integral part of the American dream. Last fall, 21.8 million students were enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities. Today, those students are leaving school burdened with debt, and entering an economic landscape in which wages have grown stagnant and jobs are scarce. This same educational system is also turning out more than double the number of Ph.D.s it did 50 years ago—60,000 a year—despite the fact that a doctorate no longer guarantees the possibility of full-time work. The survey of adjuncts released by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in January found that 62 percent of its respondents had or were working toward their Ph.D.
What started as a short-term solution has turned into an epidemic of part-timers, which universities both depend on and exploit. Father James Keenan, the Founders Professor of Theology at Boston College, is writing a book on whether universities, structured as they are, can be ethical; he devotes an entire chapter to adjuncts, whom he calls “indentured servants.” He says their proliferation gets to the heart of so many problems that universities now face: overspending, cost-cutting, supply and demand, and a big-business mentality that is co- opting the way they educate.
In spite of the evidence, the idea of the ideal adjunct—the dilettante, someone teaching for his or her own edification—persists. It’s the model that makes the university administrators feel better about paying so little. But now there’s a strong classist bent against those who lack full-time status. Contingent faculty members linger in the shadows of the departments where they teach. That was the case with 44-year-old Daryl Morazzini, who has nearly a decade of teaching experience but was immediately shunned when he tried to attend a faculty meeting at one of the schools where he worked. “One of the full-time faculty came over to me and let me know that the meetings were for full-time faculty only,” he says. “There was definitely that divide of, ‘What are you doing here?’”
At the time he was juggling 11 classes at five different institutions, working 10 hours a day, seven days a week, and his wages worked out to about $11.50 per hour. A maintenance worker at Wentworth makes $26 per hour. They have a union.
Morazzini was forced into this manic schedule in 2011, when Emmanuel College, where he’d been teaching for five years, yanked him from two online classes just days before the semester began. He was told the faculty senate had decided that full-time teachers got first dibs on Web courses, and someone had wanted his spot. “I even wrote them and said, ‘I have no way to pay my rent. What am I going to do?’” Morazzini says. “No replies. I then wrote people at the school who were full-time faculty, who I knew—we went on trips together, we hung out together—and said, ‘What am I going to do now? You people voted on this…. Now I’ve been cut loose.’ And the only answer I got was, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. Hopefully that’ll change in the future.’”
Teaching two classes fewer left Morazzini struggling to make ends meet, so he decided to supplement his income with a part-time, per diem position at a homeless shelter. He eventually grew so frustrated that he quit teaching altogether, choosing to go on food stamps instead. Homeless for three months, he couch-surfed and sometimes ate food from the shelter. “I will never turn down another teaching gig again,” he says. This past January, he managed to land a full-time job at Regis College’s Writing Center that pays $48,000. “All those years of being an adjunct, all I went through?” he says bitterly. “It wasn’t worth it at all.”
Another part-time faculty member who requested anonymity had been teaching for 10 years when a university offered him a full-time position, then reneged. When he asked why, he was told that the department decided it didn’t need to hire him full time, “because you’re not going to leave.” They were right. Last semester he taught six classes at three schools.
After writing a letter to a provost complaining about the lack of proportional pay, a third adjunct claims that he was blackballed when he applied for a tenure-track opening. He’d been teaching four or five classes per semester at multiple Boston-area colleges for the past four decades. He had two doctorates: one in philosophy, one in math. “I thought, This will really do it,” he says of his second Ph.D. But it didn’t. He says the administration told the department chair not to even consider him for the full-time position. Was it flat-out discrimination? When we spoke, he asked me not to use his real name or affiliation for fear of losing his jobs. It’s understandable: In 2013, he grossed $47,000; he’s now 62 and has no retirement or savings.