Thursday, May 20, 2010

College Teaching: Tenured vs. Adjunct

Some sobering facts for those entering the college teaching profession - Peter Brown, whose Confessions of a Tenured Professor from Inside Higher Ed writes about the fact that 73% of all teachers in the post-secondary field are now non-tenured, many with no job security or benefits:
What kind of callous person would I be if I were not profoundly disturbed by such obvious inequality? And what does it say about my entire profession when over 70 percent of those teaching in American colleges today are precarious, at-will workers? This new faculty majority, frequently and erroneously mislabeled as part-timers, are often full-time, long-term perma-temps, whose obscenely low wages and total lack of job security constitute what is only now being recognized as the "dirty little secret" in higher education.
The exploitation is indeed filthy, but for me and my tenured colleagues, this scandal is neither little nor secret: the vast majority of those well-educated, skilled professionals who daily teach millions of students in our classrooms are actually being paid far less than the workers who nightly clean them. Ad-cons are treated as chattel or as servants who can be dismissed at the will and whim of any administrator from departmental chair to dean or provost. And woe to those ad-cons who elicit the wrath of their campus presidents! They can be non-renewed without any due process whatsoever, simply zapped, either individually or by the hundreds. We all know this, but most tenured faculty colleagues choose to simply look the other way. C’est la vie. Tough luck. Life just isn’t fair. Keep on walking and change the subject.
Another depressing statistic: Yahoo!Jobs recently listed music as the #4 lowest-paying college degree, with an average starting salary of $34,000 and a mid-career average of $52,000.

But wait, all is not lost. Focus also published a list of the Best Jobs in America, with College Professor coming in at #4, with a median salary of $70,000. Bear in mind that Focus' stats are for the full professor level, and probably don't include the salaries of those at the Assistant or Associate level.

Profession-wide, it's difficult to get a sense of exactly how much teachers at schools of music are making. As far as I know, there are no statistics in existence that list the salary ranges of faculty at schools of music.

[Disclosure:  I'm on the faculty of the Royal Conservatory of Music, an organization that does not have a tenure system, although it has a collective agreement, offers benefits and pension to qualifying faculty, professional support, and a relatively high level of faculty job security.]

What are your thoughts on teaching, studying, and administrating in the groves of musical academe?


  1. Anonymous10:15 AM

    I've been a part-time "adjunct faculty" member at a state university for five years - a staff pianist and instructor. Despite consistently stellar reviews for my performance from students and colleagues, my revelation of a pregnancy (due early next semester) and request for a period of unpaid leave presented too much of an inconvenience for my department to renew my contract for the next year. I've received many empty promises that there would be work for me down the road, but without a contract and regular hours, the pay for this work is too little to justify the time.

    Sadly, I really have no rights and no way to appeal this decision. I don't work enough hours to qualify for the FMLA guaranteed 12 weeks of leave.

    I've read that discrimination of this sort toward adjunct faculty is pervasive in academic institutions throughout the U.S.

  2. Oh my god. That's a terrible story. Aren't there any state/provincial laws in your area that protect the rights of women to return to work after a pregnancy, and that can provide for compensation in the event that you are improperly dismissed for becoming pregnant?

  3. Anonymous9:12 PM

    As someone who's on the verge of leaving academia after 12 years, I must point out that the security issue of being non-tenured is no different than being employed by any corporation or business, but the issue of low pay really makes it a challenge to consider academia as a viable career. Tenure is slowly going away, and we have to face that. I think it's not a big deal, we're spoiled in academia by the tenure system. My position on it is like business: do great work and you'll keep your long as your institution values great work--finances at colleges/universites are horrendous right now and faculty are let go without rhyme or reason in the midst of all the panic and hysteria at the administrative levels. It's been a real bloodbath in California.

    However, the pay issue... A quick scan of the ads for openings shows many schools are going the way hiring non-tenure track faculty for "Instructor" or "Visiting Assistant Prof." full time positions so they can offer low salaries. Especially for music positions, they know there are hundreds of musicians for every opening waving massive credentials and degrees who are happy to just to get any kind of job, and the salaries are barely over $30K. I was able to convince my dean of a raise once by pointing out to him that I could make more pouring lattes at Starbucks than I did in my full time faculty position (and I was very tempted to do it because Starbucks stock had just started a 6 year boom at the time and employees could buy it at $.50 on the dollar.)

    So, I think the Inside Higher Ed article points out a real truth--the exploitation of faculty, particularly with regard to pay. It's especially true in the humanities and arts--institutions know they offer some of the only employment opportunities for the thousands of job-seeking musicians, writers, artists that hit the market each year, and they get away with paying sometimes 30% of what a faculty member in a "market pay" discipline can demand.