Equal Pay for Equal Work

October 22, 2003

Since I have made my career teaching as a college faculty member for the past 20 years, you might well imagine that I have earned at least $1-million in salary (averaging $50,000 a year for 20 years), and that I have amassed a handsome retirement account worth at least another $500,000.

And you would be wrong, because instead of spending all this time as a full-time professor, I have worked in the category of part-timer, even though I often taught more than a full load each year. For my efforts, I have in fact been paid less than 50 percent of what a full-timer would have earned, and my retirement savings amounts to only 10 percent of what most full-timers have when they retire.

Indeed, my academic career has made me a poster child for what sociologist Ulrich Beck has called The Brave New World of Work (Polity Press, 2000), where "fragmentation of the time and place of work is compounded by fragmentation of the normal labor contract. This contractual individualization, with the introduction of cheap-rate insecure jobs, is taking place not only at the bottom but right at the top of the skills hierarchy."

Beck illustrates his thesis with an example of a "seasonal professor," taken from an account in a German newspaper. I am the migrating professor he describes in his book:

"There no longer seemed to be anything standing in the way of Keith Hoeller's academic career. By 1982, when he netted his doctorate in philosophy, he had already contributed to ten academic publications, obtained a grant from the French government, and worked for a year as a visiting professor at Seattle University. He was even on the advisory board of a renowned specialist journal -- an honor usually accorded only to full professors. And yet the decisive breakthrough failed to come. Over the past sixteen years he has stumbled from one fixed-term appointment to the next. His latest stop is [the] community college [system] in Washington state, where he gives 12 lecture courses a year -- on a part-time basis. The job only brings in $26,000 a year. Now fifty, he suspects his dream of a Chair will never be fulfilled ... It's a great deal for the universities, but it splits the country's faculty into two classes."

Unfortunately, my career is symptomatic of an ever-growing trend since America's colleges and universities initiated this two-tiered professorial track more than 20 years ago.

On the tenure track, full-time professors receive multiyear contracts, with annual salaries, year-round health care, retirement benefits, sabbaticals, regular raises and promotions, and unparalleled job security (tenure).

On the nontenure track, part-timers receive semester-long contracts paying less than 50 percent of what tenure-track professors earn. For the most part, these adjuncts receive no health-care or retirement benefits, and no sabbaticals. They have little or no chance of promotion, let alone periodic raises. While many full-time faculty members now receive annual raises, most adjuncts are hired at the lowest rate and never see a raise. At one community college where I teach, I have never received a raise based on my 10 years of experience; I am paid at the same rate as a beginning instructor.

In the past decade, a new part-time faculty movement has emerged, calling attention to these inequities, and demanding change. Those of us in this movement are celebrating "Campus Equity Week" from October 27 to 31, with activities being held on campuses across the country, to call attention to the plight of contingent professors of all stripes.

Many faculty unions are joining in the events. And all three national faculty associations have called for some form of "proportional" compensation for adjuncts. In 2002, the National Education Association passed a policy recommending "pro-rata pay" for adjuncts that says "they should be paid for preparation time, office hours, committee assignments, and other activities also performed by their full-time colleagues." That same year, the American Federation of Teachers adopted a policy calling for part-timers to be "paid a salary proportionate to that paid to full-time tenure faculty of the same qualifications for doing the same work."

And the American Association of University Professors, in its recent "Draft Statement on Contingent Appointments and the Academic Profession," recommends that adjuncts who are paid by the course or by the credit hour should be paid "the applicable fraction of the compensation (including benefits) for a comparable full-time position."

Of course these calls for "equal pay for equal work" are policy statements, and it remains to be seen how hard state and local union chapters will push to turn them into real contracts. As the AFT statement on its new policy acknowledges, "no state currently offers or requires full pro-rata compensation for part-time adjunct faculty members."

That's why Jack Longmate and Frank Cosco had to go to Vancouver Community College, in Canada, to find an example of full pro-rata pay in their May 3, 2002, essay in The Chronicle Review, "Part-Time Instructors Deserve Equal Pay for Equal Work." In Vancouver, part-timers and full-timers who teach three courses a term receive exactly the same pay.

A major argument often made against equal pay for equal work is that since many adjuncts do not engage in nonteaching duties, they do not do the same work as full-timers, and thus, do not deserve the same rate of pay. But this argument is fallacious on several grounds.

First, many adjuncts already participate in nonclassroom activities, such as keeping office hours, preparing lectures and tests and advising students, but are not being paid for that work. For example, I have engaged in curriculum development, creating several new courses for our college catalog, without any extra remuneration.

Second, many, perhaps most, adjuncts would be delighted to engage in nonteaching duties, such as departmental committee work, if they were equitably compensated for their time. Indeed, placing adjuncts in positions where they "just teach" keeps them marginalized.

Third, the majority of part-time professors are not currently receiving health-care and retirement benefits where they teach; they must pay for coverage out of their own pockets. It's unfair to pay part-timers less than full-timers when part-timers must purchase benefits that the college provides for full-timers. Our demand must be for "equal pay -- and equal benefits -- for equal work."

Some critics might argue that at institutions where research is part of a faculty member's workload, part-timers are not doing the same job as full-timers. But many adjuncts do research; they're just not supported or paid for it.

Where research is a required component of a full-time faculty member's workload, as it is at most graduate universities, part-timers should also be expected to produce original scholarship and should receive pro-rated pay for their efforts. But that means the university should also offer the part-timer comparable institutional support, including reduced teaching loads, sabbaticals, research assistants, travel money, and sufficient office, lab, and secretarial support.

For the past 20 years, I have engaged in regular research as the editor of a scholarly journal, the Review of Existential Psychology & Psychiatry. All of my labor has been done on my own time, and without any support from the colleges where I teach. I have not received any increases in pay as a result of my extensive research output.

However, as the AAUP's draft report says, faculty members with research obligations "should not be the sole or primary model for tenurable academic work. ... There may be different models for tenurable faculty work within a single institution."

Ultimately, the system of "academic apartheid" must be abolished. The answer is one salary schedule for each college. Each person, whether part time or full time, should be placed on this scale when hired, based upon their highest degree attained, years of teaching experience, and accomplishments.

In these tough economic times, many colleges have increased tuition, without offering the students anything more for their money and without directing any of the revenues toward fairly compensating the part-timers. Spending more of the tuition dollars on the adjuncts would do the most good for students by giving them more access to faculty members who have time to spend with them.

Only when part-timers and full-timers are finally in the same salary boat can we begin to see all our boats rise together.

Keith Hoeller, a part-time faculty member who teaches in Washington state, is a founder of the Washington Part-Time Faculty Association and a member of the AAUP's national committee on "contingent faculty and the profession."