Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The jobs crisis, illustrated

The economic logic of replacing tenure-line faculty with contingent faculty isn't hard to grasp: you get roughly the same labor (or at least the same teaching labor) for less money, and you can hire and fire at will. Duh.

But nothing brings that home like calculating one's own "replacement costs," as I recently had to do when applying for a semester's worth of leave. Since my state is in financial crisis, my chances of getting such a leave aren't great--and typing out a sentence that involved telling my institution how much it would cost to replace me made me devoutly grateful just to have a job.

Maybe you've done the math yourselves, with your own jobs (whether ladder or contingent), but just for kicks: what do you imagine an adjunct would get paid for teaching half my annual courseload--and/or what percentage of my six-month salary do you suppose she would earn?


Dr. Crazy said...

I'm going to bet that an adjunct would cost 20-30% of what you cost (not including benefits), but I may be guessing high (math isn't my strong suit). I'm guessing adjuncts at your place make approx. 3K per course?

Prof. de Breeze said...

I can tell you that at my institution, the adjunct would make $8505 for teaching one semester's worth of load (i.e., 5 classes) for me. That works out to about 32% of half of my annual salary. Of course, that adjunct would not have to do committee work, advising, etc., but it's still a pretty raw deal.

DDB said...

Before I left my former institution as full-time faculty, I know that to buy out of a course (i.e. if you wanted a reduced load), then the buyout rate was 1/6 of your annual salary.

Having also taught there as an adjunct faculty last semester, I know that the college of engineering paid a flat rate of $5870 per course. This would have represented about 1/15 of my salary at the time that I left.

Sisyphus said...

Yuck! How did the profession allow this to happen? (that's a rhetorical question, btw)

Sigh. And the adjunct positions I've been throwing my hat in for out here in CA have run from 1800 to 3000 per course. California even sucks in this.

The History Enthusiast said...

My uni pays adjuncts $5,000 per class (and we have a relatively low cost of living here) but it is hard to get more than two classes per semester. So, you get good pay, but still cannot make a living without looking elsewhere to supplement your income. I know people in other states where they are paid a meager $1,000 per course. My new uni is less that $2,000.

michele said...

I know exactly how much it costs here because I'm moving from full-time to adjunct. As a one-year replacement last year, I made twice as I will teaching the same number of classes as I will this year as an adjunct.

But as a replacement, my salary was also pro-rated from what TT people received, so actually an adjunct earns approximately 40% of what a full-time (teaching only) TT person does. Of course TT people do committee work, but the committee work is not THAT onerous to justify such a difference.

Terminal Degree said...

An adjunct here would make about HALF of what I would.

And the adjunct wouldn't get health insurance or retirement.

I agree with Michele that the committee work isn't THAT much extra. And I do the same amount of scholarship now that I did in my adjunct days.

Flavia said...

Half? 40%? Ha.

The adjunct-me would make 25%--ONE QUARTER--of what the tenure-track-me makes.

Granted, I'm making the comparison based on the salary of a fifth-year assistant professor, in a state that hasn't implemented any salary cuts (meaning that I've had both a CoL raise and a modest merit raise each year). . . but an adjunct who was lucky enough to actually get three classes in one semester would still be making only about 30% what a beginning TT prof does, or approx. $2,500/course.

Flavia said...

Though I will add that RU provides benefits to adjuncts who teach 2 or more classes in the same semester (which most dept chairs make a serious effort to arrange), and there are a lot of colleges in our metro area, so it's possible to survive as an adjunct. But not easily, or for the long-term.

Anonymous said...

At my graduate institution, a semester of teaching one's own class-- an award position given only rarely to advanced grad students-- pays $5-6000. By my calculations, and ignoring the question of benefits, grad students get paid about 60% of what starting T-T faculty do. (That's a pretty good rate for the area, btw.)

In comparison, a nearby state system pays adjuncts $3500 per semester course, no benefits, in a place where faculty teach 3-3 for about $40k and benefits. In other words, adjuncts cost the administration about half as much as full-time faculty.

Flavia said...

It does seem that R1 schools with graduate programs in the relevant discipline pay more per class. I suspect a lot of that is about offering teaching to grad students at a rate that allows them the right time/money balance to still conduct original research.

At my grad institution, teaching a class all one's own actually paid LESS than TAing for a single section of a lecture class (which was the norm--only in the 6th year would you teach your own class). The reason being that the institution, although it was willing to give grad students a good enough $$ package to attract the best ones, didn't want to have to pay adjuncts at the same rate.

I think when I left, five years ago, the annual grad student stipend was around $17,000. But teaching a class as contingent faculty paid about $6,500 (and as a grad student you couldn't teach more than one a semester). As I recall, since the department guaranteed funding for six years, it usually made up any difference.

Anonymous said...

In my experience, no one pays contingent faculty less than seminaries. I make $3200/class at the local uni and $1500 at the seminary. Likewise, TA gigs at my grad institution paid $2000 in the college and $700 in the seminary.

scr said...

Now, consider a spherical professor in a vacuum...

Something about this post bothered the economist in me. Why would a university pay much more to hire tenured and tenure-track professors? Or, alternately, why would adjunct professors do the same job for so little money?

If you were to assume a totally open and fluid job market, my guess would be that the higher tenure-track and tenured positions (along with their union bargaining) would increase their salaries at the expense of the salaries of an adjunct. That is to say, while an individual professor can, perhaps, be replaced at much lower cost, it wouldn't be feasible to replace *all* professors in this way. Those lower-paying adjunct positions are what an aspiring professor tolerates to put themselves in a position for a better job in the future.

But then again, I know nothing about the field.

Flavia said...


It is troubling, from an economic standpoint, and the fact that so many more jobs now are contingent does make me worry about the field as a whole. It's also the case that it's hard not to feel, these days, that the living wage those of us on the TT have is built on the backs of adjuncts.

In a sense I suppose that that's true--except that there are so many expenditures that a university has, that it's as accurate to say that the "low cost" of student tuition and room and board is funded on the back of adjunct labor (and believe it or not, even the cost of attending a private college isn't equal to the university's expenses per student, very little of which winds up being about faculty & staff salaries).

Basically, I think universities can't move to an all-adjunct model because a) colleges derive some prestige from having faculty with national profiles, whose books or research make the institution look good (and bring in grant money), and b) students, esp. at fancier schools, would protest if their teachers weren't able to provide basic educational services (like having offices in which to meet them, or being around from one semester to the next to advise, or write rec letters, or just give students confidence in the quality of their own education). So the question is what balance of TT/adjunct faculty is tolerable to each college's administration/board. I'm not sure how many more cuts can be made (and these are cuts--it's not like prof salaries have gone UP as a result of the move toward adjunctification!), but it probably depends on the institution.

But it isn't just at the hiring end, as you suggest: there are too many people who put up with contingent faculty positions for too long, in the hopes that it will turn into something permanent. If everyone with a Ph.D. decided they'd only work for a living wage (and would go teach high school, or join the corporate world, or whatever if they couldn't do it), colleges would have to pay more.