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“Keeping the Pressure On” for Improved Working Conditions

A new survey of adjunct faculty from our national union underscores the continuing crisis faced by millions of contingent workers at America’s colleges and universities. AFT’s latest “Army of Temps” report, the third in a series, finds little improvement to poverty wages and untenable conditions in the wake of the pandemic. It documents the troubling reality faced by millions of higher education professionals and illustrates adjuncts’ low pay, inadequate benefits, limited job security and lack of respect at work.

Click here for the full results of the latest survey.

As significant legislative incursions continue to impinge on their right to teach, fewer than half of those union members surveyed believe that employers will defend their academic freedom. More than two-thirds have contemplated leaving the academy in the past two years.

Despite all of this, faculty continue to give their all to support students under trying circumstances.

“Adjunct faculty teach the classes and do the research that makes universities run, but they are too often treated as second-class citizens,” said national AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Wages and conditions are so low that adjuncts are forced to cobble together three or four classes just to stay afloat – it’s untenable and unacceptable.”

The survey shows adjuncts and their unions are far from content to let this state of affairs persist in perpetuity. They are fighting back through political advocacy, organizing and collective bargaining to win fair treatment, with an eye toward social justice, for themselves, their students and the communities they serve.

Click here for recent press reporting on the survey results.

“Educators’ teaching conditions are students’ learning conditions—but it’s difficult to focus on the educational and social needs of your students when you don’t even know if you will have a paycheck coming next semester or whether that check will help you make ends meet,” added Weingarten.

The report contains feedback from 1,043 respondents at two-year and four-year institutions, both public and private. The 58-question survey, completed between May and June of 2022 follows up on previous studies conducted that showed strikingly similar results. The topline survey results show that:

  • More than one-quarter of respondents earn less than $26,500 annually; the percentage of faculty respondents earning below the federal poverty line has remained unchanged through all three reports, unsurprising with real wages falling behind inflation throughout the academy;
  • Only 22.5 percent of respondents report having a contract that provides them with continuing employment, even assuming adequate enrollment and satisfactory job performance;
  • For three out of four respondents, employment is only guaranteed for a term or semester at a time;
  • Two-thirds of part-time respondents want to work full time but are offered only part-time work;
  • Twenty-two percent of those responding report having anxiety about accessing adequate food, with another six percent reporting reduced food intake due to lack of resources;
  • Only 45 percent of respondents have access to employer-provided health insurance, and nearly 19 percent rely on Medicare/Medicaid;
  • Nearly half of faculty members surveyed have put off getting needed healthcare, including mental health services, and 68 percent have forgone dental care;
  • Fewer than half of faculty surveyed have received the training they need to help students in crisis; &
  • Only 45 percent of respondents believe that their college administration guarantees academic freedom in the classroom, at a time when right-wing legislators are passing laws curtailing educators’ curriculum control.

Click here for our national union’s previous report on adjunct faculty conditions.

“We’ve raised standards for Connecticut’s public higher education adjuncts at the bargaining table and in the statehouse,” said Dennis Bogusky (front row in photo, above), president of our AFT Connecticut-affiliated Federation of Technical College Teachers (FTCT). “None of the past gains made for contingent faculty and part-time staff were hand-outs; they were hard-fought and hard-won by keeping the pressure on.”

Over the last four decades, America’s academic labor pool has shifted dramatically. Forty years ago, 70 percent of academic employees were tenured or on the tenure track. Today, that figure has flipped; 68 percent of faculty are not eligible for tenure, and 47 percent hold part-time positions. Meanwhile, the numbers of management staff and their salaries have snowballed.

“These latest survey results add urgency to the current learning crisis,” added Bogusky, who also serves as our state federation’s vice president for higher education. “It shows that our elected officials must invest more – not less – in the frontline faculty and staff who instruct and support students in Connecticut’s public colleges and universities.”

Click here for recent reporting on local advocacy efforts to reverse public higher education budget cuts.

Of the AFT’s more than 200,000 higher education members nationally, 85,000 are contingent and 35,000 are graduate employees.

Editor’s note: includes contributions from national AFT communications staff.

Matt O'Connor
Matt O'Connorhttp://aftct.org
Communications Coordinator for AFT Connecticut, a labor federation of over 30,000 hard-working women and men in the Nutmeg State.
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