Adjunct pay is everyone’s issue. Clearly the issue is most urgent for those who are living on “full-time adjunct” wages – about $30,000 a year. We have adjuncts at CUNY on food stamps. But all of us are hurt by a system in which half of the teaching workforce is grossly underpaid.
Think about the economics. I’m leaving aside for a moment the ethical crisis it causes many of us to work for an employer who permits what an adjunct on this page memorably calls “wage theft.” I’m going to take it as understood that everyone suffers when there are too few full-time faculty and professional staff to do the work, and that underpaying people is just plain wrong.
But imagine you are an employer like CUNY, which has accepted the idea that there is no alternative to permanent underfunding by the City and State. What incentive would you have to demand that New York City and State pay nationally competitive salaries to full-time faculty when you know that you can hire someone with an advanced academic degree to teach the same course at a fraction of the cost? And why wouldn’t you import the cheap-labor adjunct system into other areas of the CUNY?
That is exactly what CUNY has done. The entire CUNY budget is structured on a reliance on underpaid contingent labor. CUNY’s adjunct pay is unfair to adjuncts and helps to depress the salaries of full-timers. I suspect that we all subsidize the university by doing unpaid work, but in the case of adjuncts, the magnitude of the subsidy is absurd. There are now 11,000 teaching adjuncts at CUNY, 1,100 “non-teaching adjuncts” (who typically do work that otherwise might be performed by HEOs) and 600 part-time college laboratory technicians. Contrary to what some of us believe, CUNY is not moving away from using adjunct labor; it is rushing to import the adjunct-labor model wherever it can.
By relying on a huge workforce paid substandard wages, CUNY sends the message to the State and City that an austerity budget is just fine. It communicates to our working-class and poor students that an underpaid workforce is all they deserve. By failing to challenge the fundamental premise that underlies low adjunct wages, the CUNY administration is complicit in economic austerity.
If CUNY management will not challenge adjunct pay, we must. The union has called for an increase in public funding to raise adjunct pay to $7,000 a course – an amount that would put adjunct pay on a basis of parity with full-time lecturers. The PSC has made major gains for adjuncts in the past because we understood their importance for the whole union. Winning $7,000 will pit us against the entire system of academic labor under austerity, but it’s a battle none of us can afford to lose.