A Mistreated Majority? Meybbee. Meybbee Not.

Over at the OK Corral that is  The Chronicle of Higher Education, they’ve printed a commentary by adjunct Deborah Lewis. Lewis offers several solutions to improve the pay, performance and working conditions for adjunct faculty. I like some of her ideas. Much of what she offers up is insane, mind you, but I like original thinkers. So here’s Lewis’s platform in a nutshell:

Require college administrators and state legislators to hammer out policies that address the pay inequities and establish fully-funded support programs for adjunct faculty.

I love the idea of state legislators and college administrators working together to better the professional lives and performance of adjunct faculty. Collaboration—not involving the French and Nazis—leaves most people feeling warm and fuzzy all over. As always, though, I have just a couple of questions: Who’s going to make the first move? And why?

Let’s look past logistics for a moment and think about what could be achieved by just a pinch of good will mixed with a dose of good old fashioned higher education-government collaboration. Adjuncts could score legislated equal pay raises and money for professional development. Colleges could implement more uniform hiring and evaluation, practices, and work toward more comprehensive faculty development and institutional support.

Students would benefit tremendously. The research on this is clear.

Like every deep thinker, Ms. Lewis tosses out some half-baked ideas, as well. She writes, “Endow a statewide fund to support sabbaticals…for adjuncts.”

Call me a cynic, but I can’t see the taxpayers of  any state paying good money so some faculty member can take a year off with pay and benefits. The legislator who introduced the bill might quickly find him or herself tied to a stake with taxpayers preparing to light the pile of tinder. Ain’t nobody with the name Taxpayer willingly givin’ adjuncts sabbaticals, Ms. Scarlett. Not now. Meybbee not ever.

Then again, we have a flash of brilliance: Lewis suggests, “Determine the cash value of benefit to the states’ higher-education systems of the labor and financial support that adjuncts contribute each year. Then translate that into eligibility for increased allocation of state and federal funds for higher education and, in turn, for the financing of proportional benefits for adjuncts (similar to the principle of profit-sharing).”

Politicians speak money fluently. So do college administrators. What better language to use in the argument for funding benefits?

Lewis, unfortunately, plays the “low pay” card. She’s from North Carolina, and at community colleges in her state, adjunct staff 80 percent of the courses. An adjunct with a Ph.D. at her institution earns $30 per hour. The per capita income in her state is $20,307 per year. The median hourly rate of employees in her state with 10-19 years of experience at their jobs is $17.23. The median average hourly rate paid by colleges and universities in North Carolina is $15.10.

My point, of course, is that for adjuncts to argue they’re paid poorly to the masses who really are paid poorly is, well, in poor taste and no way to win the pay battle. However, I like Lewis’s stab at original thinking.

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