There are about 3,000 adjuncts or Part-Time Lecturers (PTLs) at Rutgers University of which more than 2,000 teach in any given semester. These adjunct instructors teach more than 30% of all classes at Rutgers but are paid a salary which, in many cases, puts them below the poverty line.
The national media has repeatedly featured stories of desperate adjuncts. The public is coming to understand that even though university students are paying ever more in tuition, many of their instructors are working in insecure and degrading conditions. Rutgers has been no exception to the national trend towards “adjunctification.” It is what explains how Old Queens has managed to increase enrollment to nearly 70,000 students, and grow the unrestricted reserves of the university, without increasing proportionately the numbers of full-time, tenure-track faculty positions. PTLs are cheap. The pay for all PTLs is less than 1% of the university’s budget, 0.8% to be precise per our calculations the latest budget.
Historically, PTLs were hired to fill temporary gaps in the teaching workforce or to guest lecture for a single semester, often in the professional schools. Today, however, PTLs are being used in nearly every academic department across the University. Twenty years ago, PTLs made up about 11% of all faculty, today that number is 30%. During the same time period, the number of full-time tenured/tenure-track faculty has declined from about 50% to 40%.Why Should Tenured/Tenure-Track and Non-Tenure Track faculty care?
Over the last 20 years, the number of tenured/tenure-track jobs have declined while the number of PTL and NTT jobs have increased. After we secured a good contract for NTT faculty in 2013 there was an even sharper rise in PTL numbers (going from around 20% to 30% of all teaching faculty). This is the business model of education where cheaper and cheaper educators are hired to educate our students.
This is not just morally wrong, to pay people poverty level wages, it is also a blow to the research mission of the university. Full-time faculty at Rutgers conduct research that is valuable not only for the residents of NJ, but for U.S. public at large and the world. Shrinking the number of full-time faculty therefore diminishes our research mission. It further puts the work of running departments onto fewer and fewer shoulders thereby increasing the service burden of full-time faculty. Finally, it creates a layer or temporary educators who have no job security thereby diminishing faculty governance.
PTLs are paid a paltry sum that represents a small portion of what their full-time counterparts earn: roughly $5,000 for an entire semester of teaching, grading and working with students. While some non-union schools pay even less, this does not even constitute a living wage. To make ends meet, many PTLs work at multiple area colleges and universities. They have become a permanent underclass within the academy, invisible and lacking in rights and respect. PTLs are a central part of University life, and deserve equal treatment as university professionals.
In our survey conducted in the Spring of 2017, when asked if they would like more permanent positions at Rutgers, about 62% would like an NTT position and 46% said they would like a tenure-track position in their department. Overwhelmingly, 85% would like a long-term contract as a PTL.What do PTLs at Rutgers University want?
- Equal pay for equal work (or “fractional” appointments)
- Professional evaluations and a path to career advancement, including full-time jobs
- Long-term contracts
- Access to affordable health care
All of the above will ensure a share of dignity, equity and economic security for PTLs. Rutgers cannot claim to provide students outstanding undergraduate education if it refuses to provide decent working conditions for a large fraction of its educators.
Students need instructors who have stable jobs and who can be there to support and mentor them. PTLs often maintain two or more part-time teaching positions, and therefore have little time to devote to meeting with students and providing them with quality feedback concerning their work in a specific course. Further, PTLs are often called upon by students to write letters of recommendation, to facilitate introductions to industry professionals before or after graduation, and to mentor them through their years of college. Some PTLs serve on faculty committees and act as thesis advisers or otherwise adjudicate undergraduate and graduate students' work. This makes them even more valuable to departments, since it eases the burden on full-time faculty in regard to these duties. In many cases, PTLs are not being compensated for this work. While PTLs often take on these tasks in an effort to aid the students, this motivation should not be taken advantage of by the administration. Rutgers needs to create stable jobs with fair compensation and benefits attached to them for PTLs so as to ensure a high quality of education for our students.
Many of Rutgers University’s peer institutions in the Big 10 and elsewhere have already begun to provide better for their part-time faculty, giving thousands of people access to health benefits, economic security through longer-term employment contracts, and professional treatment. Schools like the University of Michigan are leading the way. Rutgers needs to catch up. It's about time for Rutgers University to honor the principles of equity, security and dignity with regard to our PTLs.