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


UUP Increases Contingent Participation in Negotiations Team

UUPlogoIt’s a sign of progress whenever contingent faculty are included in any kind of governance and union activity. So few of us are able to participate even in representing ourselves and one another in either university shared governance or union activities that the overall nature of both of these political avenues remains stolidly tenured- and tenure-track-dominated (except of course for locals which exclusively represent adjunct faculty). This can make it difficult for contingent issues to be addressed, let alone addressed successfully. So we applaud the news of contingent faculty members being appointed to the negotiations team of United University Professions (UUP), the largest higher education local in the U.S., for the next round of collective bargaining with the State of New York.

The eighteen-member negotiations team appointed by UUP President Fred Kowal and led by Chief Negotiator Philippe Abraham of SUNY Albany, will represent the interests of SUNY’s 35,000 Academic and Professional Faculty. UUP is a wall-to-wall unit and roughly 40% of UUP’s members are currently employed in contingent positions. About 16,000 of UUP’s members are academics and the remainder occupy professional positions as coaches, librarians, counselors, clinicians, patient care providers, student advisors, IT specialists, tutors, etc.  The team will include three contingent members:

  • Douglas Cody, a part-time lecturer in Chemistry at SUNY Farmingdale;
  • Beth Wilson, a full-time lecturer in Art History at SUNY New Paltz; and
  • Anne Wiegard, a full-time lecturer in English at SUNY Cortland.

The previous negotiations team included two contingent members, and the team before that included only one. While the increase in contingent team members signals increased recognition of the scope of issues such workers face, the composition of the team is not intended to be proportionate to the different categories of workers, but rather to provide the Chief Negotiator with a team whose members bring expertise in all aspects of the terms and conditions of employment of concern to UUP members.

The size of UUP’s Negotiations Team reflects the great diversity of occupation within the thirty-two campus system spanning the state, from urban research centers to small rural campuses, from teaching hospitals and medical schools to comprehensive colleges and specialized campuses like SUNY Maritime or ESF (Environmental Science and Forestry) or the non-traditional focused Empire State College campus.

The president of UUP has the sole constitutional authority for conducting contract negotiations and may appoint anyone (or choose to appoint no one) to assist in this endeavor.  Historically, UUP presidents have appointed a team and a chief negotiator to engage in negotiations.  UUP’s constitution does mandate that a Negotiations Committee with representatives of every campus chapter oversee the union’s major decisions such as the setting of priorities and the approval or rejection of a tentative agreement. The committee appointments have not yet been announced, but contingent faculty have previously been included in this body as well.

The current agreement will expire July 1 of 2016. UUP will be gathering extensive data from members this Fall via a negotiations survey available to every member and visits of team members to every campus for listening sessions.  Throughout the negotiations process, individual comments and suggestions from members will be welcomed. The first meeting of the negotiations team will take place from August 18-20th in Lake Placid, NY.

For ongoing information about UUP‘s contract negotiations, visit the negotiations page.

–Lee Kottner

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.