Teach-in advances adjuncts’ cause


In the United States, the position of adjunct professor has grown to be the backbone of higher education. An article in The Atlantic pointed out a report written by the American Association of University Professors, which states that adjunct professors compose 76.4 percent of faculty across the United States. At SLU the magic number is 41 percent, according to a presentation by adjunct professors. (SLU administrators give a different number: 29 percent.) There are roughly 500 adjunct professors teaching at SLU, as of this fall semester, and 4,000 adjunct professors in the St. Louis area, according to a Sept. 9, St. Louis Post-Dispatch article. At SLU, an adjunct may make approximately $3,000 per class, for up to three classes per semester, which rounds out to about $18,000 per academic school year, if they teach a total of six classes. Adjunct professors do not receive benefits as a part of their contract with the university.

Last Friday, the adjunct professors of SLU held a teach-in at the Clock Tower Plaza. They spoke to curious students about what it is like to be an adjunct and the instability of their positions.

“The students are the ones paying so much so that we can have this beautiful university, and the people that they have the most communication with, who are the teachers, are not getting that money,” said Hillary Birdsong, an adjunct professor at SLU.

Birdsong believes that the teach-in went “splendidly” and that students are now more aware of the instability that some of their professors are faced with every semester, at universities and colleges across the nation. She hopes that students will start to recognize how many of their professors are adjuncts and ask questions about how resources are being distributed, on the faculty level.

An earlier demonstration, in September, Fast for Faculty, tried to raise awareness in a different way. “I wouldn’t really call it a protest. We had low blood sugar and couldn’t really move, or scream, so it wasn’t a protest, per se,” said Birdsong, “ I guess it was a silent protest. We just sat around the clock tower and didn’t eat all day; and it was sort of to raise awareness to students and also for the Pope to become aware of the situation.”

Concerned adjuncts say that one of the main points of controversy has to do with the Jesuit mission of the university, which proclaims the idea that all people have a right to safe working conditions and job security. But, as an adjunct, there’s always the possibility that your contract won’t be renewed, or that you won’t have the chance to teach as many classes.

As a result, many adjuncts work multiple jobs, teaching at more than one university or taking jobs that they’re overqualified for. This time requirement also detracts from an integral part of their job: devoting time to classes and students.

“I do work at another job, and I have to think about how I’m going to get to that job, and how much time I need to be there, as opposed to how much time I can be in my office and offer that time to my students,” said Birdsong, who also works as a museum attendant at Washington University when she isn’t teaching.

At SLU, all adjunct professors have at least a Masters degree, but are forced to work more than one job to meet the quality of life that that degree might presumably promise.

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