Adjunct instructors at UNC, who now comprise 59 percent of the faculty, criticized a system they say exploits them and cheats students out of the educational experience they deserve.
As part of a “National Adjunct Day of Action,” a group of mostly tenured professors and students gathered on the steps of Wilson Library to raise awareness of how heavily the university depends on low-paid instructors with little or no job security.
“The situation is really changing quickly,” said Altha Cravey, a tenured professor of geography and 20-year UNC employee. “I’m an anachronism in the academic world. These jobs just aren’t out there anymore.”
In 2003, she said, about 12 percent of UNC faculty were in positions that were not on a tenure track – a status that provides certain job guarantees and protects academic freedom in sometimes controversial fields.
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Today, 59 percent of the UNC faculty is not on a tenure track, she said.
Anthropology professor Don Nonini described the practice as the “casualization” of faculty as workers.
“Their pay is low, the teaching load is high,” he said of adjunct instructors. “They’re seen as dismissible: just get rid of one and replace with another.”
Holding the “speakout” was considered less risky, said Cravey, than the one-day “Day Without Adjuncts” walkout proposed by Faculty Forward, a national group seeking better compensation and working conditions for adjunct instructors.
Even so, most of the speakers at Wednesday’s event were tenured professors or students who read anonymous testimonials from non-tenure-track instructors who said they might be jeopardizing their jobs if they went public.
Most full time
According to university data, more than 82 percent of UNC’s nearly 2,500 adjuncts are full time.
The average salary for a full-time lecturer at UNC was $53,172 in 2013-14. The average salary for a tenured professor is $110,000. According to Faculty Forward, more than a third of non-tenured faculty nationwide make less than $15 an hour.
Matthew Clark with Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy described the compensation numbers as “dangerously low.”
According to a national salary survey conducted by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce, the median salary for teaching faculty was $2,700 per course in fall 2010, Clark said.
“Averages ranged from $2,235 at two-year colleges to $3,400 at research/doctoral universities,” he said. “Given a full-time work load of eight to 10 courses per year, full-time teaching faculty compensated by the course would make between $21,600 and $27,000 per year.”
Demonstrators at the UNC event and those with Faculty Forward said they want part-time faculty to be paid $15,000 per course.
Clark said at UNC, the lowest-paid full-time faculty are in the Romance Languages department – making between $37,000 and $39,000 per year. “This is pretty shocking for a school with the prestige of UNC,” he said.
At the speakout, a UNC senior read a statement from one instructor who said his inability to attend in person reflected his anxiety about his job. He is treated as a “highly disposable asset in a corporate model” the statement said.
UNC Provost Jim Dean attended the event and said he will meet with organizers to educate himself and “see what progress can be made.”
“Clearly the issues are complex, have evolved over a long period of time, and are not unique to UNC,” he said.