A new national survey of adjunct faculty from the AFT underscores the continuing crisis faced by millions of contingent workers at the nation’s colleges and universities—with little improvement to poverty wages and untenable conditions in the wake of the pandemic. The AFT’s latest “Army of Temps” report, the third in a series, documents the troubling reality faced by millions of professional educators and illustrates how adjuncts struggle with low pay, inadequate access to benefits, little or no job security, and a lack of professional respect.
And as significant legislative incursions continue to impinge on their right to teach, fewer than half of those surveyed believe that employers will defend their academic freedom, and more than two-thirds have contemplated leaving the academy in the past two years. Despite all this, faculty continue to give their all to support students under trying circumstances.
“Adjunct faculty teach the classes and do the research that makes universities run, but they are too often treated as second-class citizens,” says AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Wages and conditions are so low that adjuncts are forced to cobble together three or four classes just to stay afloat—it’s untenable and unacceptable.”
The survey shows adjuncts and their unions are far from content to let this state of affairs persist in perpetuity; they are fighting back through political advocacy, organizing and collective bargaining to win fair treatment, with an eye toward social justice, for themselves, their students and the communities they serve.
“Educators’ teaching conditions are students’ learning conditions—but it’s difficult to focus on the educational and social needs of your students when you don’t even know if you will have a paycheck coming next semester or whether that check will help you make ends meet,” adds Weingarten.
The topline survey results show that:
- More than one-quarter of respondents earn less than $26,500 annually. The percentage of faculty respondents earning below the federal poverty line has remained unchanged through all three reports, which is not surprising with real wages falling behind inflation throughout the academy.
- Only 22.5 percent of respondents report having a contract that provides them with continuing employment, even assuming adequate enrollment and satisfactory job performance.
- For 3 out of 4 respondents, employment is only guaranteed for a term or semester at a time.
- Two-thirds of part-time respondents want to work full time but are offered only part-time work.
- Twenty-two percent of those responding report having anxiety about accessing adequate food, with another 6 percent reporting reduced food intake due to lack of resources.
- Only 45 percent of respondents have access to employer-provided health insurance, and nearly 19 percent rely on Medicare/Medicaid.
- Nearly half of faculty members surveyed have put off getting needed healthcare, including mental health services, and 68 percent have forgone dental care.
- Fewer than half of faculty surveyed have received the training they need to help students in crisis.
- Only 45 percent of respondents believe that their college administration guarantees academic freedom in the classroom, at a time when right-wing legislators are passing laws removing control of the curriculum from educators.
The report contains feedback from 1,043 respondents at two-year and four-year institutions—both public and private. The 58-question survey, completed between May 4 and June 23, 2022, follows up on previous studies conducted in 2019 and 2020 that showed strikingly similar results.
Over the last four decades, the academic labor pool has shifted dramatically: Forty years ago, 70 percent of academic employees were tenured or on the tenure track. Today, that figure has flipped; 68 percent of faculty are not eligible for tenure, and 47 percent hold part-time positions. Meanwhile, the numbers of management staff and their salaries have snowballed.
Of the AFT’s more than 200,000 higher education members, 85,000 are contingent and 35,000 are graduate employees. The full AFT survey can be viewed here.
[AFT communications staff]