The Dark Side of Free Education

There’s been a lot of buzz in the last week about New York State’s new promise to offer free tuition at its state (State University of New York-SUNY) and New York City (City University of New York-CUNY) systems, most of it excited and positive. Bernie Sanders got on board. Everyone in my Facebook feed, including most of the educators I know, is excited. I’ve seen the same reaction to Stanford’s decision, and the plans elsewhere for free community college as well.

Frankly, I hate it.

Don’t get me wrong: I think tuition for all students should be free (though that’s not exactly how this plan works). Education is not a privilege, it’s a right, and an investment in the future good of any civilization or society. It’s criminal that we load students down with debt just to get something that’s required for them to even begin to “get ahead” in life (and many of them still can’t do that because of the structure of our economy). I applaud any school that can make this happen—except if they do it on the backs of adjuncts. Here’s what I mean, from Inside Higher Ed‘s summary of the new annual salary survey:

Released today, AAUP’s annual survey finds that … the average total pay for part-time faculty members at a single institution was $20,508. Average pay for part-time faculty members teaching on a per-section basis only (excluding professors teaching part-time during phased retirement, for example) was $7,066, with serious limitations to the data…. Dunietz, of AAUP, emphasized that the statistic is “not meant to indicate an average pay per course,” but rather the average salaries of those part-time faculty that are paid on a per-course basis. “Some of these faculty may teach two or three courses, and the data that we have doesn’t differentiate between cost per course,” he added.

The “part-time” designation is also highly misleading. Many of those part-time professors are part-time at several institutions, due to course caps that keep them from teaching a full load at any one school, so no one gets stuck with their insurance and benefits costs. They are, in fact, often teaching anywhere from 5 to 12 classes, in person and online. Meanwhile, according to the same AAUP survey, college presidents are now making 3.5 to 4 times as much as full professors at research institutions.

Regarding CUNY and SUNY “salaries,” Lynne Turner, of the CUNY Adjunct Project, notes,

The starting compensation for CUNY adjuncts is a meager $3200 per 3-credit course, whereas at both Rutgers in N[ew] J[ersey] and the University of Connecticut systems equivalent adjunct pay per course hovers at around $5000 to start—and they are organizing for more. The CUNY Adjunct Project where I am a coordinator and many others are pressing for a real campaign for a livable compensation of $7000 per course—but it won’t happen unless we stop being complicit with the silence rendering invisible CUNY’s poverty level adjunct compensation.

At CUNY and SUNY, adjuncts teach approximately 60% of the courses. This means that a majority proportion of faculty is making about $20K/year, cobbling together a career from the scraps dropped from the high table of the CUNY chancellor and his $18K/month apartment or the SUNY chancellor’s $200K pay raise. NFM and others have written over and over again about how “Adjunct working conditions are our students’ learning conditions.” Because of lack of institutional and financial support, contingent faculty are less able to take risks in either the classroom or their own research, try innovative new teaching strategies, or mentor students. Despite their lack of support and job protection, adjunct faculty still manage to do extraordinary work, sacrificing unpaid labor for both their discipline and their students and winning both teaching and research awards. As one commenter on the compensation story said,

At my C[ommunity] C[ollege], two adjuncts won “part-time teacher of the year” and had published three books and five journal articles between them. The next semester they both lost their classes due “bumping” by a new TT faculty member. Adjuncts have zero academic freedom, yet these two managed to be of great benefit to the students, students who pointlessly protested the non-rehires to our governing board. There is NO other profession in which there is almost zero correlation between performance and compensation.

So what are CUNY and SUNY students getting for free? Overworked, underpaid, exploited adjuncts with no job security or academic freedom, mostly, especially in those crucial core courses of their first two years. This is not a good deal for anyone.

But I’m most disturbed by the number of educators, both full time and adjunct, who are cheering it on. Why is this okay? Sure, it sounds, on the surface, like a great deal for students, but if you’re an adjunct it’s at your own expense. Why are you not asking when we’re going to start supporting and paying the workers who do the actual educating living wages, as part and parcel of helping our students succeed? When one group is exploited to advantage another, there’s nothing good about that, nothing fair, nothing right, and nothing sustainable. And if you approve of it, you’re part of the problem.

Stop cheering. Get up and demand better for all of us, students and faculty. Chop from the top, as my friend Lydia says, if that’s what it takes to make it happen.

–Lee Kottner


Legislation Watch

This is the first of an occasional column highlighting local, state, and federal legislation and legal cases affecting Higher Ed. If you’re aware of specific legislation in your area, please submit tips to us. We also welcome more in-depth analyses of specific bills or policy changes.

A number of conservative attempts to modify higher education’s inner workings have been offered in various states in the last six months, but most have either not been taken up or died a grisly death. Among the most infamous were North Carolina State Sen. Tom McInnis’s  Senate Bill 593, and Senator Mark Chelgren’s bill (Iowa) which increased the number of classes all professors would be required to teach, and allowed students to “vote their least favorite professors off the academic island” regardless of tenure, respectively. Both show an obvious lack of knowledge about how higher education works, and a desire to have greater “managerial” control over the ideas and  knowledge—in short, the work—produced in colleges and universities. Though these two bills have been tabled, they remain “in play” in that they may become zombie bills resurrected in the next session. We’ll keep an eye peeled.

The really big news for academic unions is the Supreme Court taking up Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. This case has public service unions, including academic unions, holding their collective breath. At issue is whether public sector unions can require “agency fees” from non-members to help finance union work. “If the Supreme Court rules that ‘fair share’ violates the First Amendment rights of public employees, they would transform the entire public sector into right to work, more appropriately named ‘right to freeload,’” said Rudy Fichtenbaum, a professor of economics at Wright State University and national president of the American Association of University Professors,” in an article in Inside Higher Ed. The Atlantic has a good run-down of the history and analysis of Samuel Alito’s role and likely vote in this case. Some academic union locals are already stepping up the effort to convert agency fee payers to full members.

Meanwhile, the big news for community colleges is the new bill first hinted at by President Obama in January and now actually proposed by House Democrats (PDF) but as yet untitled, making funds available for states to offer free tuition at community colleges. This is legislation that adjuncts should be especially concerned with because there are no provisions for funding more full-time faculty, or even an acknowledgement of the fact that we do most of the teaching at CCs; there is, in fact, no mention of faculty at all. But there is a great deal of reliance on metrics and outcomes to continue the funding, and calls for “providing comprehensive academic and student support services, including mentoring and advising, especially for low-income, first generation, adult, and other underrepresented students.” Unless adjuncts make it clear who should be doing the advising and mentoring, those jobs will got to even more administrators—or worse, overburden the administrators already doing that job.

Wisconsin’s new proposed state budget has just come down the pike with some devastating consequences for public education and Higher Ed. We’ve already heard about the $250M cut to the University of Wisconsin system and the negation of shared governance and tenure. ABC’s local affiliate’s blog has a concise summary of the major provisions of the budget, but here’s one of the scarier non-monetary parts of the Wisconsin budget, aside from the part that kills shared governance and laughs at tenure:


All 132 members of the Legislature, their staff and those who work for legislative support agencies would be able to shield nearly all their communications and work material from the open records law. Currently available material, like bill drafts, would be kept secret. Nearly all records created by all other state and local government officials would be exempted from the records law as well.

Note: This provision was withdrawn shortly after the initial budget was released (on July 4th, appropriately enough) with the following explanation: “The intended policy goal of these changes was to provide a reasonable solution to protect constituents’ privacy and to encourage a deliberative process between elected officials and their staff in developing policy. It was never intended to inhibit transparent government in any way.” We’ll leave it here just to make people aware of the political climate in Wisconsin, in case you weren’t already sure which way it’s heading.

By contrast, Oregon is about to vote on a $14M increase to Oregon State‘s budget, which will allow them to hire new faculty and expand programs. Not only that, but they’ve beaten the Federal law to the punch and are already making community college free. Yay, Oregon (and Tennessee)!

For something truly precedent setting, we look to Massachusetts, which is making a major effort to hire more faculty, and not just adjunct faculty. “Legislation sponsored by Rep. Paul Mark, a Peru Democrat, would require public higher education institutions to increase fulltime faculty so that by 2021 three quarters of substantial undergraduate courses on each campus are taught by tenured or tenure-track faculty. The bill (H 1055) would also tie adjunct faculty pay to a prorated amount of what fulltime faculty make.” Needless to say, this would be a godsend for adjuncts.

After a long, major campaign (that included some hard-hitting radio ads), CUNY’s Professional Staff Congress, which has been without a contract for five years, got their budget that proposes 20% raises (mostly for tenure-track faculty and not retroactive) past the state senate. Gov. Cuomo, however, is Not Amused and has not yet signed it. Students won’t be either, since higher tuition is also part of the package. And adjuncts? “The PSC has historically negotiated within the annual salary amounts for equity increases for certain lower-paid positions, such as College Laboratory Technician and Adjunct Lecturer, or for additional amounts applied to top salary steps; we reserved the right to negotiate similar equity increases in this round.” Maybe PSC will negotiate the same kind of equitable distribution of raises practiced in California, with higher raises going to those at the lower, adjunct end of the wage scale.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced on June 30th that as many as 5 million employees will now be eligible for overtime payexcept for “learned professionals,” which is basically college professors of just about any sort. Here’s a summary of that exemption:

Learned Professional Exemption

To qualify for the learned professional employee exemption, all of the following tests must be met:
  • The employee must be compensated on a salary or fee basis (as defined in the regulations) at a rate not less than $455 per week;
  • The employee’s primary duty must be the performance of work requiring advanced knowledge, defined as work which is predominantly intellectual in character and which includes work requiring the consistent exercise of discretion and judgment;
  • The advanced knowledge must be in a field of science or learning; and
  • The advanced knowledge must be customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction.

Without that exemption, there might be some hope adjuncts could make a case for work done outside the classroom when we’re paid by the credit hour.

BUT, in a potentially important and possibly precedent setting move, Massachusetts adjuncts can now earn sick time calculated by a 60% higher out-of-class to in-class work ratio than the previous IRS numbers. “Following extensive conversations with representatives of SEIU Local 509’s FacultyForward initiative, the Attorney General’s Office promulgated regulations that account for two hours of course planning and follow-up outside the classroom for every hour spent on in-class instruction – a 60% increase over existing IRS rules governing “shared responsibility” under the ACA. The new rules take steps toward acknowledging the true workload of contingent faculty, allowing them to accumulate time to care for their families’ health without loss of compensation or other course-scheduling repercussions.”

On the same note, we’ll close with Connecticut’s newly passed wage theft law that requires employers to double what they’ve stolen when repaying lost wages. Think how rich we’d all be.

–Lee Kottner


COCAL Updates

COCAL logo smallby Joe Berry
21 San Mateo Road,
Berkeley, CA 94707

COCAL is the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor, a nearly 20 year old network of contingent activists and their organizations that does a conference (now tri national – USA, CAN, MEX) every other year, usually in August. It also sponsors a listserv, called ADJ-L, and has an International Advisory Committee and a website and Facebook page

NOTE: As noted previously, your COCAL UPDATES editor (Joe Berry) and his spouse/partner/colleague Helena Worthen, are going to teach labor studies in Viet Nam for the fall 2015 Semester. We would like to take some gifts related to the union/workers movement in the US to give to folks there. We are leaving from CA August 14. If any of you would like to have us take union or other movement hats, T-shirts or similar union gifts to VN from your organization as a gesture of solidarity for their labor movement and as a gesture of support for us, please send them to us at the address above so that we receive it by August 13, 2015. Unions in Viet Nam are grappling with how to deal with the influx of foreign (capitalist) direct investment there and the need to build local unions that can effectively fight for workers in this new context. Thanks in advance for your assistance.

1. Accreditor, ACCJC, unfair and rife with conflict.


1. Education International report: EDU businesses pose threat to education.

2. Academics unhappy in Ireland.


1. More on Friedrichs v CTA (agency fee case in CA).

2. The pernicious effect of corporate influence.

3. Tuition rollback in WA.

4. More true stories on Precaricorps, “I used to be an adjunct …” and check others stories there too.

5. Campus diversity efforts ignore widest gulf – class.

6. All faculty deserve academic freedom, not just the few with tenure.

7. Right to work means right to freeload

…and is an attack on free speech.

8. Adjuncting is the kiss of death (Actually there is some real research on this. In the book “Contingent Work“, <>  the chapter “Working for piece rates and accumulating deficits” Kathleen Barker and Kathleen Christainsen, eds.. It clearly showed, through blind survey research of hiring officers, that more than 2-3 years as a a contingent becomes detriment, not “experience”.)

9. Another company converts workers from 1099 contractors to full employees.

10. MA adjuncts to get sick leave benefits.

11. National adjunct labor action

12. As a CUNY adjunct I make less in my career than my colleague Paul Krugman makes in a year

13. IL Valley CC adjuncts.

14. With new overtime rule, Obama may have given 5 million people a raise.

15. Keene State College (NH) unionizing.

16. On the 80th birthday of the Wagner Act (NLRA) is it time lessen the burden on this law?

17. Interesting piece on Social Security and the offsets some of us in 13 states suffer if we also get a state pension. Of especial interest in CA, but also elsewhere and the basis of why this perhaps should be a national issue. The author is also an officer in the new AFT national contingent faculty caucus. She originally wrote this for the CPFA list serve (CA Part-time Faculty Assoc.) , which is a group advocating for PT faculty in the CA community colleges (where all pters are contingent and nearly all FTers are tenured or tenure track).

Dear List,

I was stunned to visit the social security office yesterday and learn that “because of” my tiny $790 CalStrs monthly pension, my tiny $890 social security check would be cut in half (to around $450), in accordance with the Windfall Elimination Provision).

Yes, that is correct, my retirement just went down from a dogfood level of  $1720 a month (plus supplemental of $350 for 5 years) to a nutri-loaf  level of somewhere around $1220 a  month (plus supplemental of $350 for five years) .  For those of you unfamiliar with nutri-loaf–private prisons use nutri-loaf as a disciplinary tactic: curse a guard who taunts  you,  and you get a week of nutri loaf (sawdust, vitamins and protein powder). It costs about 28 cents a serving and meets federal nutrition guidelines ). Presto! They “save” money on food under cover of a “disciplinary” technique that they are permitted by law to use.

Had I stayed in social security, my retirement would be somewhere around $1900-2200 per month!  If I die young (that is under 72), the Calstrs route is still slightly better, because of my “overwork” –that is working  at three districts, for about an extra .5 FTE load, for around 8 years. If not, the $413 loss ($5000 a year)  will begin to erode the benefits of the marginally more “generous” Callstrs system, after age 75.

Yes, that is right, I just lost, as one of the lowest wage workers in the United States, an additional $413/month for life! (the maximum amount a social security benefit can be reduced as an “offset” for my “windfall” of about $1220 a month from Calstrs (for 5 years) and  $860 thereafter.

Though there is no way (that I can think of)  to prepare, game, or to offset this “offset”, I thought I might warn others nearing retirement of how it works!  No one told me, in all the years that I have asked about  the effect of the WEP, in general, and in fact I was counseled to “not worry”–that it would be a very small loss.  Well, folks.  It is time to worry! the WEP constitutes a 24% loss to one of the lowest retirement benefis of any worker in America, for those CA CC PT faculty who have not taught in the CC system their entire working lives!

Here’s the details:  if you do not have 30 years of “significant” employment you will get an offset of your social security check ( the table goes from a modest offset that will leave you with 90% of your “deserved” SS benefits down to only 40%).  I had only 17 or 18 years of significant employment, because a number of years of my work as a higher education faculty were “under” the significant threshold, and six years I was unemployed and raising children.

Women (or any parent) who takes any years off their work-life for family duties, or are underemployed in states where adjuncts routinely earn “under” what the SS office considers significant, will virtually all trigger a social security reduction.  Women are thus (no surprise there)  the big losers in this scheme, that was enacted in the  1990s  (coinciding with the steepest rise of the adjunct numbers)  and meant to rein in  those trying to boost their pensions by working two tracks.

Here is a sample of “significant’ employment thresholds: 1991 is $9,900.   2000 it was $14,175.

In the United States at large, the average earnings of PTF, even those working the equivalent of a FT load, were typically just under the “significant earnings” threshold, or some years, just above.

Who will this effect:  Any Part-time Faculty  who is relying on social security for part of their retirement–ie anyone who worked 1-30 years in another job, other than the California CC system, and expects –has been expecting– to receive their modest social security check!  The offsets are shocking and even the SS employee  looking at my numbers was apologetic and a bit  perplexed.  He kept saying: you were a college teacher for 26 years????. My partner, a lawyer who worked for the NY controllers office and worked with the pension system there before his retirement, and who accompanied me to the visit, was absolutely astonished.  He kept saying, but this is so unfair!  Are you sure?

Again: Below 20  years of “significant” earnings, the worker can only keep 40% of their social security check (or a maximum of $413 in 2015–adjusted yearly).   27 years of “significant employment” permits you to keep 75% of your calculated SS benefits!, 25 years of significant employment allows you to keep 65%  and it goes down (the SS benefit that is not “offset”  by a reduction) precipitously.  With 20 years of “significant’ earnings for which you paid into social security system,  you either loose 60% of your SS benefits or the maximum ($413 in 2015).

Who this will NOT effect: Those PTF who have been working in the CA CC system for most of their working life.  That means their retirement, whatever it is,  will be  “intact”–that is they will  receive the Calstrs formula retirement, and they will not have any social security check at all–presumably a slightly to moderately better deal than SS!

As far as I can see there is no possible  remedy for this except for me to work a 1.5 load for  3 or 4 more years, past my “full retirement age”–in order to “make up” the $413 loss of SS benefits.

But as we at CPFA and around the state work on raising the “cap” to 85 or 90% (and work on mechanisms to assure a roadmap to full per course/per hour parity at the state level) at least the impoverished elderly  might have the minor benefit of just having to work at one district in their aging years to backfill the “offset” that SS applies!   According to the datamart, the largest group of “over 65” employees in the state system are Temporary Academic  employees, and the largest number of part time faculty are now in the over 50 group–so this retirement indignity will be occasioning a chorus of new outrage in the coming years.

It is gravely unfortunate that we were not ahead of this flush budget year and that we did not spend the last year lobbying to boost our cap or our parity pay.  The WEP provision has the capacity for a great many PTF to loose almost 1/4 of their lifetime retirement benefits.  For a twenty year retirement, that constitutes another $100,000 loss to put on top of the stack of losses  (nationwide, around $1,000,000 loss of pay and $750,000 loss of benefits) throughout our working careers in higher education!

We need to move more forcefully next year to get in place more protections and to educate legislators and our own unions about factors that affect our retirement.  I would think that we would also want to work on an overload cap for FTF, alongside pushing for an increase in the PTF cap to 90%.  Can we work on this sort of legislation this year?

It’s too late for me, but there are somewhere around 7,000-10,000 PTF nearing retirement in the next decade or so, who need to understand the Windfall Elimination Provisions and who need to have the opportunity to try to offset the offset by working more, ideally at one college, for a fair wage.  That is currently not the option at most colleges, and because of the statutory limit on load.

Does anyone know how we can figure out the number of  “nearing retirement PTF” who are relying on SS benefits from previous work as adjuncts in other states or in other sectors in CA?  How would I go about trying to get that data?  Let’s just take the El Chorro folks. Who is expecting to earn SS benefits?

Margaret Hanzimanolis

18. Interesting paper on the history of tenure, given at the AAUP annual meeting/conference in DC in June.

It was good to meet you yesterday. My paper from the panel is attached. Please feel free to share it. I put a note on top to explain that it contains no notes or references.

Since you had expressed interest regarding my book, you can find more information about it here:
Hans-Joerg Tiede, PhD
Professor and Chair of Computer Science
mail: Illinois Wesleyan University
Department of Computer Science
P.O. Box 2900
Bloomington, IL, 61702-2900
phone:  +1 309 556-3666
fax:    +1 309 556-3864

19. New from Notes from the Academic Underground, (Barry Greer) some suggestions for summer reading for radical adjuncts:

The prologue and first 13 chapters are online for “Kill the English Department” at campusreports dot com.  Kindle publication is scheduled for this October.  The soft cover edition will see print shortly thereafter.

Chapters are linked at the top of each page and in the right column should you decide that further reading is necessary.  Each person to correctly identify all literary allusions wins a free soft cover copy of the completed text.

Have a fun summer of deconstruction.

Barry Roberts Greer
barryrobertsgreer dot com
“Notes from the Academic Underground”

20. Union County College (NJ) responds to adjunct complaints.

21. Salon staff to unionize with Writers Guild-East..

22. Culture isn’t free. This article on artists and musicians could apply to contingent academics too.

23. Greek vote on on permanent austerity. This is too important to ignore and it raises the issue of whether we in the US should get to vote directly on a things like TPP(or war for that matter). One of the first victims of austerity all over the world has been education.

24. Ohio U student workers demand a union (AFSCME).

25. Why labor moved left.

26. Protest arrest of Iranian teacher union leader.

COCAL Updates

It’s been a busy summer already. Here’s more from COCAL.


by Joe Berry

COCAL logo smallCOCAL is the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor, a nearly 20 year old network of contingent activists and their organizations that does a conference (now tri national – USA, CAN, MEX) every other year, usually in August. It also sponsors a listserv, called ADJ-L, and has an International Advisory Committee and a website and Facebook page. See below for details on the listserv and the 2016 conference in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

1. ACCJC appeal denied, CFT suit continues.

2. College accreditation agency is unfair, rife with conflicts.


1. Congrats to Kaplan Teachers in Toronto, on strike for weeks.

1. Please comment on this article: As adjuncts unionize college costs could rise.

2. St Xavier U (Chicago) is appealing the NLRB decision as did Duquesne.

Dear Colleagues:

I went on the NLRB website and SXU is appealing the decision, as did Duquesne!


3. First union of non-medical interns in the US (at AFT headquarters).

4. Rachel Donezal and the de-professionalized university.

5. Lessons from the Justice for Janitors campaign 25 years later.

6. National Center for the Study of CB in HE and Prof monthly E-Note for June (includes news of new organizing and NLRB proceedings regarding adjunct union drives in religious schools).

7. Adjunct Activist blog.

8. Tenure apocalypse.

9. Skyrocketing tuition isn’t going to teachers (most of whom are adjuncts).

10. Adjuncts professors (MA) press for more FT jobs.

11. Faculty Chairs vote to unionize at MW MI Col. (becoming what may well be only the second chairs union in the USA, after the Dept Chair’s Council at City College of SF).

12. U RI adjuncts protest hostile conditions and poor pay.

13. AZ St U writing profs (contingent) fight more work for less pay.

14. Food stamps and a PhD too, adjuncts….

15. Faculty decry adjunct conditions at MA stater leg hearing.

16. American Prospect article on us, quoting many contain gent activists and leaders

17. AZ State U teaching as luxury.

18. New NLRB rule spurs union organization.

19. CUNY, SUNY tuning increase headed for governor’s desk.

20. Adjunct prof’s “remember Haymarketemail taken as violent threat at Chicago area community college.

21. Sign petition for first contract for Hamline College faculty (NY) SEIU

22. In case you missed this before:
A new project by Brandon Coates Williams.
Adjunct Across America

Adjunct Across America is a cross-country campaign designed to raise awareness about the adjunctific…

23. Uber drivers ruled employees (not 1099 contractors) by CA labor commission.

24. NLRB rules that part-time supervisor’s support for adjunct union in election did not taint election (Laguna College of Art and Design, LA, CA) SEIU.

25. Adjunct professors fight for Faculty Forward (NC).

26. More on Sens. Durbin and Franken bill to give student loan forgiveness to adjuncts.

27. SEIU withdraws petition for vote at Cal Arts in LA.