Fighting low pay, stressful uncertainty for adjunct faculty

Ever since I was a little girl, I knew being an educator and helping others was something that I was destined to do. I set out to be the best, most effective teacher I could be –teaching others to be teachers and leaders in community health, giving others the skills and insights to develop their own materials and curricula and guide their own students to do the same.

When I envisioned being a college teacher, I never imaged that it would be so stressful or financially perilous. As an adjunct professor, my work is off and on – I teach if there is enough money in the department budget for my contract or if there are enough students enrolled in the course. If so then it’s on, but just for one semester at a time. Like many, I patch together teaching assignments at several institutions, putting 600 miles on my car each week – but it still doesn’t add up to full-time pay, or even benefits, so I work two nonteaching jobs as well.

That’s why I’m heading to Richmond, Virginia, this week to join thousands of other underpaid workers to try to right the continuing wrongs of our economy, speaking out for economic and racial justice. We’ll be holding a convention of our own, in the heart of the former Confederacy, to call for an end to policies that have held back communities of color for decades. Yes, this college professor will be linking arms with fast food workers, child care teachers and home care workers to fight for higher pay and a voice in our work.

According to the American Community Survey (2008-2012), 31 percent of part-time faculty members have an income that is less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level. While adjuncts struggle, college presidents and administrators are making bank! Over the last 35 years, top administrator pay increased at 3 times the rate of faculty. The 2012-13 median public university president salary was $478,000, while faculty salaries have been stagnant at public universities, even going down over the last five years.

Like other adjuncts, who are an ever-larger part of college teaching staff, my colleagues and I don’t have the dignity of an office to prepare course materials, meet students or grade papers. We work in our homes and cars, and meet students in coffee shops or by video chat.

Our working conditions are mirrored by students as their learning conditions – classes scheduled in large auditoriums that kill discussion taught by harried professors who are rarely available to meet in person.

That’s why I am excited to be joining my fellow hard-working Americans at the Fight for $15. I am going not only to advocate economic justice but to serve as a voice for those faculty members who are starting to speak up for themselves. If we all come together, we can finally overcome this battle we have been fighting for centuries.

April McCoy is an adjunct professor/instructor at St. Augustine’s University and at Central Piedmont Community College.