Adjunct Professors and Unions on the Hill

Over the past few months, McDaniel College has had its share of controversy surrounding the pay and benefits of adjunct professors. Adjunct professors, or adjuncts, teach part-time and are non-salaried faculty members who are paid on a per class basis.

There is a national trend of adjunct professors being underpaid for the degrees that they earned from their graduate studies.

“Of all college instructors, 76 percent, or over 1 million, teach part time,” a NPR report states.

This is up from just 25 percent in 1995. And the pay for part time teaching positions at colleges is not quite as high as some believe. The average adjunct professor makes on average about $25,000 which when broken down into hours worked comes out to just over $8 an hour when accounting for hours inside and outside the classroom.

Adjunct professor Robert Seidel, a holder of a Master’s in Liberal Arts, co-teaches two courses in political philosophy here at McDaniel.

Seidel stated that, “Many adjuncts teach at multiple institutions to try to achieve a living wage. But suppose you teach four courses in the fall, four in the spring, and two in the summer. That’s $30,000 a year for a pretty full-time job. And that’s without health care coverage, retirement, vacation, or other benefits.”

In recent years many adjuncts around the country have begun to unionize because of the incentives that unionization apparently carries. A survey published in 2012 by Coalition on the Academic Workforce reported that unionized adjuncts earned 25 percent more per course than their non unionized coworkers.

Caroline Unger, a senior at McDaniel College, founded the Progressive Student Union (PSU) and the group has been involved with trying to solve a number of issues on campus. Robert Seidel said that he met a number of members of the PSU through the courses that he teaches.

“Students, both PSU and non-PSU, with whom we have talked seem shocked that so many of their professors get such low pay and benefits,” he said.

The PSU took various steps to assist the adjuncts including sending a petition around to different people and organizations around campus. Over four hundred students and ten different organizations signed the petition for better pay and benefits for adjunct professors.

Another issue that has become clearer in light of the adjunct professors’ attempts at unionizing is the claim of a lack of budget transparency at McDaniel College.

“Plain and simple there is not enough budget transparency between the administration, between faculty, and between students,” said Jamil Elfahdi. He claimed he talked to a tenured professor who has been at McDaniel for 20 years and has no idea which departments get what amount of money.

When Provost Jasken stated in an email to adjunct professors that there was no room in the budget for pay raises or benefits, this is fact that is difficult to check. It is entirely possible that there is no room in the budget, but no student knows where exactly where that money is going instead.

Jasken disagrees with suggestions of a lack of budget transparency, stating that the college has “gone to great lengths to inform the McDaniel community of all that goes into our budgeting process, including presenting the significant issues the College faces in setting its budgetary priorities.”

She further pointed out that “A large majority of the College’s revenue is used to pay for the curricular and co-curricular programs students enjoy at the College and to compensate the faculty and staff who make those programs possible. When additional revenue exists, it is used to make improvements in areas such as the dorms and academic spaces.”

Pay raises and benefits for the majority of faculty as well as unions can be incredibly expensive for an institution and would possibly require, as Jasken phrased it, “concessions in another area” in order to pay for costs.

It is important when looking at complicated issues such as the unionization of adjunct professors to keep in mind the problems that each side faces. Adjunct professors are underpaid, but can the college afford increased pay and benefits for these workers? It will certainly be interesting to follow this situation as it develops and how each side negotiates.