Condition of American Contingent Faculty Labor

Petition to Pope Francis: Take a Stand for the Dignity of Adjunct Faculty


The plight of contingent faculty has been getting a lot of attention in the past couple years, and not just in academic journals with a focus on higher education issues. Mainstream media are catching on and publishing stories about the increased proportion of adjunct positions to total faculty numbers, the pitiful wages paid to part-time faculty, their lack of benefits, the instability of their working lives, the impacts of an adjunct-majority faculty on student outcomes and institutional identity, the national push by labor organizations to help those faculty form unions… you name the angle, and you can bet there’s a handful of articles addressing that facet of the adjunctification crisis.


At the same time, there has been an upheaval in the status quo regarding labor rights within institutions with religious affiliation. This is a moral and increasingly a legal conundrum in need of redress. Claiming religious exemption, a Catholic university, for example, has had the law on its side when it blocked its faculty from electing to organize unions. That is common despite the stance made apparent by scholars of the tradition of Catholic Social Teaching, that the rights of laborers to form associations among themselves is basic and undeniable. Beginning in 2014, though, the National Labor Relations Board and its regional offices started overturning that exemption, opening the way for laborers at impacted schools to decide for themselves whether or not to form unions.


In the weeks leading up to his visit to the United States, we are asking Pope Francis to address the moral component of this problem. What we ask of him we also ask of you: We ask you to make clear your stance—a stance made clear by faith and by teachings of the Church—regarding the dignity of all laborers of all colleges and universities, Catholic and otherwise, and their right to decide for themselves whether or not to form unions​. Please sign the petition and share widely!​​​​

La Salle University’s Explorer Café #42: “What Does White Supremacy Look Like Today?”

I was very pleased and honored to facilitate this week’s Explorer Café at La Salle University, titled: “What Does White Supremacy Look Like Today?” The event itself was not recorded, but the presentation is available through the Connelly Library’s Digital Commons, “an institutional repository (IR), a digital showcase for La Salle research, scholarly projects, creative work, and institutional history.” The abstract follows below, but you can view the presentation and a full Works Cited (& Suggested) by following this link and clicking the “DOWNLOAD” button.

ABSTRACT: The introductory slides provide a framing definition: “White supremacy is believing not only that white people are superior based on their skin color, but that they have the right to rule over other people.” Additional concepts that help frame the presentation include “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy,” “racialization,” and “colonial ideology.” The presentation then provides an overview of U.S. legal and penal statutes, starting in 18th century Massachusetts, moving through 18th and 19th century federal “fugitive slave” laws, the end of Reconstruction and the beginning of Jim Crow, the 20th century militarization of police force, and the discrepancy between crack and powder cocaine sentencing. This overview is not meant as a complete review, but as a testament to the idea that ideology inculcates policy, such that intentional racism gives way to comprehensive and structural racism. The focus then turns to literary examples of what has been construed as white supremacist ideology, highlighting both a tradition of intraracial “colorism,” and further illustrated by examples from contemporary poetry and poetics, including discourse about a poem by Tony Hoagland, Kenneth Goldsmith’s “performance” of Michael Brown’s autopsy, and Vanessa Place’s verbatim tweeting of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.

Why I Postered without Authorization


Part-time adjuncts make up the majority of our faculty at La Salle, as is the trend across the country. As my contribution to this year’s Campus Equity Week, a perennial and national action devised in 2001 in order to address “working conditions of the majority of the faculty and the impact of those working conditions on the quality of education,” I created a series of posters calling attention to the low wages and career instability of adjunct faculty, and to other related effects on faculty and students of high ratios of adjunct hiring. I intended to follow established procedure for obtaining poster approval from Administrative Services, but the process requires the posters to be the work of a department, program, or some other official group on campus. There is no recognized adjunct support group on campus, no faculty group with a platform appropriate to the project, and I didn’t trust the ethics of seeking ad hoc astro-turfed support from any other organization. So, I posted fliers on campus property without first obtaining authorization.

This small act of civil disobedience, though not part of my original plan, does serve as an extension of the basic argument I have been making in conversations with faculty and administrative colleagues, and students, on and off campus. The argument is this: we have left the majority of our faculty, those most marginalized by policies enabled by economic expediency, institutionally voiceless. While they make up more than 50% of the faculty on campus, adjunct faculty appear only three times in our University Handbook: to define the low rank of part-timers, to clarify the lack of stability created by hiring too many part-timers, and to put them first on the chopping block when financial strain demands retrenchment. Because my goal is common effort and not division, it is important to note that my observation of these references, or of the lack of any positive mention of the rights or roles of adjunct faculty on our campus, is not to insinuate malicious intent, but to point to the regrettably pernicious effects of omission.

Without equal and codified access to the institution’s mechanisms for change and redress, our adjunct faculty have no true power. The good will and wrung hands of well-meaning administrators and faculty colleagues, myself included, are frankly not enough. Consequently, I am interested in doing more than bandying about a bromide or two, or sneaking pieces of paper onto the walls of this building or that. I have written and will submit to the Faculty Senate a summary report, which outlines the overwhelmingly exploitative conditions endured by adjunct faculty: low wages, unreliable and unstable work, lack of opportunity for development, lack of clear process in hiring and re-hiring decisions.

The report also asks for thorough study of the use of adjunct faculty across all departments and programs, partly so that we have a better understanding of why and where and how we hire adjuncts, but also with an eye toward amending the Handbook so that it more clearly satisfies standards of accreditation defined by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Specifically, Standard 10, which requires the following: “For institutions relying on part-time, adjunct, temporary, or other faculty on time-limited contracts, employment policies and practices should be as carefully developed and communicated as those for full-time faculty. The greater the dependence on such employees, the greater is the institutional responsibility to provide orientation, oversight, evaluation, professional development, and opportunities for integration into the life of the institution.” To date, we have failed to meet the specific recommendations of this standard. The Handbook includes a provision for data collection regarding faculty numbers, but the collection specifically excludes adjunct faculty figures: “These data shall include, listed by School and College, the numbers of tenured faculty, non-tenure track faculty, and one-year faculty appointments.”

I repeat here part of what I wrote in my report to the Senate: “It may be true that some adjunct faculty at La Salle perform their role in the traditional sense, as professionals and experts with careers outside academia hired to teach as needed; but many more are career teachers, who teach one or two courses at two, three, four colleges or universities for no better reason than financial efficacy. And those adjuncts, without whom many of our programs and departments could not succeed, deserve not only our sympathy but our action. The tradition of Catholic Social Teaching clearly insists on ‘a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner’ (Rerum Novarum no. 45).”

As a first step to giving institutional voice and power to adjunct faculty, I believe we must amend the Handbook so that all faculty know they have and receive recognition, access, and due process. But we must also put the morality of our mission into the moral document of our budget, ensuring livable wages for all who serve our students. And we must talk to each other, working together to fulfill our mission at home as we so often do in the wider world. If we are to remain Lasallian in more than brand and name alone, we must heed the call of that “dictate of natural justice,” we must do right by those whom Matthew calls “the least of these,” even if—especially because—we are in the midst of financial crisis.

Campus Equity Week 2015 is officially over, but I hope conversation about the alignment of mission principles and actual practice continues long after #CEW15 concludes, and that lasting, meaningful, equitable action follows. Whether adjunct, non-tenure-track, or tenure-stream faculty, whether full-time or part-time student, resident or commuter, whether office or service staff or high-ranking administrator, parent or trustee, Christian Brother or layperson, we all have an equal and abiding obligation to do right by every other member of this campus community.

One Full-Time Non-Tenure-Track English Department Faculty Member’s Typical Semester

New Faculty Majority has posted Lee Kottner’s “The 1:1 Fallacy of Contact Hours,” and it serves as the perfect counterpart to SEIU’s Faculty Forward report, “Professors in Poverty.” Kottner provides an example of the hours actually worked each week, particularly adjunct faculty who teach writing-intensive entry-level courses. The thesis, alluded to in the title, is that the formula for calculating the wages for a typical 3-credit course is based on a fundamental understatement of the hours spent preparing for class, meeting with students, and not only grading work but providing meaningful feedback. Even the most recent improved guidance provided by the IRS for how to calculate these hours falls well short of a realistic view and accounting of the labor done by the more than 1,000,000 adjunct faculty across the country (not to mention graduate assistants). The “reasonable” 1:1.25 ratio suggested should be more like 1:4!

So inspired by the post, I decided to post a calculation of my own hours and work. I prepared this analysis last spring, but never did anything with it until now. One crucial distinction I would like to make very clear: I am not adjunct faculty, but have been full-time non-tenure-track contingent faculty since Fall 2011. So my thesis is not quite the same, although there is overlap in both my and Kottner’s assertion that there is a gulf between common perception and what faculty actually do in addition to in-class contact hours. So, here is a breakdown of my typical 4-course load, the hours I worked and the pages I read:

Contact hours and preparation time during the semester:

  • Average number of courses taught = 4
  • Average number of contact hours, per week (in-class) = 12 hrs
  • Average additional contact hours, per week (office hours and ad hoc student meetings, including emailing) = 6 hrs
  • Average number of hours of preparation, per week (reading/grading/feedback, printing/copying/uploading) = 35 hrs
  • Average number of hours spent working, per week, during the semester = 53 hours

Pages of student work read/graded/commented on:

  • 23pp of essays per student in ENG 110, multiplied by 18 (students per section), multiplied by 2 (sections taught) = 828pp
  • 12pp of essays per student in ENG 150, multiplied by 33 (students per section), multiplied by 1 (sections taught) = 396pp
  • 12pp of essays per student in ENG 250, multiplied by 33 (students per section), multiplied by 1 (sections taught) = 396pp
  • 15pp of homework per student in all courses (15×102) = 1,530pp
  • Average number of pages of student work read in one semester = 3,150pp

During “vacation”:

  • Average number of hours spent working, per week (creating new courses, revising existing courses, researching and reading new texts, creating new materials such as comprehension reviews, essay assignments, and weekly homework assignments) = 10 hrs
  • Average number of hours spent researching and writing non-class materials, per week (“faculty development”) = 15 hrs
  • Average number of hours spent working, per week, between semesters = 25 hours

Publication [translations]

I am very pleased to announce that Asymptote has just published three poems I’ve translated from Petr Bezruč’s Slezské písně (Silesian Songs). I think “Red flower” (“Červený květ”) was one of the first of his poems that I started to work on, five or six years ago. I’d like to extend extra-special thanks to Vendula Linhartova for lending her voice to recordings of the Czech originals; and to Aditi Machado, the Poetry Editor for the journal, for seeing these imperfect renditions through to publication.

Publication [translations]

I am very pleased to announce that Brooklyn Rail’InTranslation has just published six poems I’ve translated from Petr Bezruč’s Slezské písně (Silesian Songs). After you get cozy with the Bard of the Bezkyds, stay a while, read the other wonderful translations there. Many thanks to the translation editors, Jen Zoble and Donald Breckenridge, for putting these out there.