‘Army of Temps’

Report reveals grave plight of contingent college faculty

The AFT has unveiled the disturbing economic reality faced by millions of contingent and adjunct faculty at the nation’s colleges and universities, with nearly 25 percent relying on public assistance and 40 percent having trouble covering basic household expenses.

An Army of Temps: AFT 2020 Adjunct Faculty Quality of Work/Life Report” details feedback from 3,076 respondents to a survey of contingent faculty at two-year and four-year institutions—both public and private. The 52-question survey, completed between May 22 and June 30, 2019, is the first nationwide survey of contingent faculty conducted since 2013. Of the AFT’s 240,000 higher education members, 85,000 are contingent and 35,000 are graduate employees—making the AFT the largest union of contingent workers.

The report illustrates how precarious academic work was even before the pandemic, which has made a dire situation even worse.

  • One-third of respondents earn less than $25,000 annually, placing them below the federal poverty guideline for a family of four;
  • Only 15 percent report being able to comfortably cover basic monthly expenses;
  • Fewer than half of survey respondents have access to employer-provided health insurance; nearly 20 percent rely on Medicaid;
  • About 45 percent of faculty surveyed have put off getting needed healthcare, including mental healthcare; 65 percent forgo dental care;
  • 41 percent struggle with job security, reporting that they don’t know if they will have a teaching job until one month before the beginning of the academic year;
  • For 3 out of 4 contingent faculty, employment is only guaranteed from term to term; and
  • A plan for a secure retirement is out of reach for most faculty, with 37 percent reporting they don’t see a path.