In Memphis, College President Proposes First Pay Hike for Adjuncts in 30 Years

University of Memphis adjunct faculty could be getting their first pay raise in more than three decades. Perhaps not coincidentally, the United Campus Workers, Tennessee’s Higher Education Union, has been working to organize faculty on campuses across the state. In April 2015, adjunct faculty and graduate teaching assistants at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville joined fast food and other low-wage workers at a local McDonald’s to demand that the minimum wage be raised to $15 an hour.

After rallying with their low-wage cohorts, the higher education workers boarded a freedom ride bus bound for St. Louis where they joined more low-wage workers participating in the national general strike for a minimum wage of $15 an hour.

The participating adjunct faculty and graduate teaching assistants were members of United Campus Workers (UCW), a statewide union of faculty, graduate students, and classified staff who make higher education work but are paid poverty and near-poverty wages. UCW is affiliated with the Communication Workers of America.

In 2008, InsideHigherEd reported: “For the adjuncts at the six universities and 13 community colleges governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents, the solution they came up with was to ask politely. They worked with administrators to craft and re-craft a proposal to raise the maximum pay offered to adjuncts so that someone working a 5-5 course load (the kind of load that many tenure-track faculty members would consider unworkable) could be assured the chance of topping $20,000 in annual income. They weren’t even talking about such matters as health insurance (which isn’t provided)….After two years of encouraging meetings organized by AAUP leaders in Tennessee, the board — through its presidents council — decided this month that the current policy works just fine, and that there will be no increases in pay maximums.”

Now, eight years after adjuncts asked politely and were summarily rebuffed, in a letter to U of M faculty and staff Wednesday, June 29, school president M. David Rudd said the pay for adjunct faculty has been disproportionately low for many years. In an effort to turn that around, the U of M is proposing a 40 percent increase in minimum adjunct pay, from $1,500 for a three-credit-hour course to $2,100.

“This increase will be funded centrally and reflects the importance of our adjunct faculty to the University mission, along with recognition that the pay has been disproportionately low for many years,” Rudd said.

Last year, the U of M implemented a 2 percent pay raise across the board that did not include adjunct faculty members. Last spring, the U of M Faculty Senate submitted a report to the administration that expressed the importance of reducing salary compression.

Provost Karen Weddle-West submitted the report to the Tennessee Board of Regents along with a general faculty compensation plan recommended by the U of M Faculty Senate that aims to address salary compression and equity.

Read the full report here.

“The steps we have taken this year will allow us to avoid creating a new structural deficit, address concerns about adjunct pay and position us for meaningful merit pay increases in the future,” Rudd said.

The U of M is also proposing a one-time $750 bonus for full-time faculty and staff members who have one year of service effective June 30, 2016. The bonus would be payable in October. Rudd as well as the provost, academic deans and vice presidents have opted out of any bonus payments.

The Tennessee Board of Regents will consider the U of M’s request at their meeting in September.

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