Bryan Doherty: Level the playing field for underpaid adjuncts

Joseph Fruscione, an adjunct professor of writing, has taught at GW for 15 years. But just before the start of every school year, he can never be completely sure that he’ll hired back.

“We – like many adjuncts at the University – effectively hit reset at the beginning of each semester or school year,” he explained. “Once my contract is renewed, I start from square one the next year: same salary, same level, same option of benefits, same lack of promotion or advancement.”

Adjunct professors – who teach about half the classes here – are an instrumental, though often overlooked, part of the faculty. Even after they’re hired, they don’t have anywhere near the rights and privileges GW full-time faculty receive.

A decade after GW’s part-time faculty voted to form a union, they still have work to do to improve pay, benefits and job security. Adjuncts from universities around D.C. joined together at Georgetown University last week to figure out how to build a city-wide group from scratch that would set salary minimums and benefits standards.

Though GW part-time professors, particularly union leader Kip Lornell, are leading the pack to bring this group together to improve conditions for adjuncts across the city, there’s still plenty for the University to do to improve the climate for adjuncts on this campus.

Let’s start with pay. GW’s union, part of the Service Employees International Union, negotiated a 3 percent wage hike for adjuncts with Ph.D's in 2012. That gives adjuncts $4,032 per course – far below what peer schools like Tufts University pay their part-time faculty. Adjuncts at Tufts get about $6,000 per course, and that’s in a part of the country where the cost of living is much cheaper than pricey D.C.

For adjunct faculty here, this is about leveling the playing field.

“Professors aren’t asking to be paid $200,000 or $300,000 a year, to drive luxury cars or to teach only one to two courses per year. This is a matter of financial distribution and priorities,” Fruscione told me.

Assistant, full-time professors here get about $86,896 on average, a salary that requires responsibilities beyond teaching. They’re paid to bring in research money, participate in administrative tasks for the University and publish in their fields. Adjunct and part-time professors are just paid to teach.

But they’re not paid equally even when only the teaching component is considered. There’s still a major discrepancy. If adjuncts teach four classes a year, that’s less than $18,000 – while assistant full-time professors still make nearly five times that amount.

Part-time professors are some of the University’s biggest stars – including the likes of celebrity chef and Commencement speaker José Andrés. Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Dianne Martin told The Hatchet that “they are valuable for many different reasons,” including their real-world experience, which is an asset to the classroom. But if they’re that valuable, GW should make that clear through more adequate financial compensation.

The lack of equality here isn’t just an unfortunate reality for professors, but it also hurts their ability to effectively teach.

“You’re working out of your car, you don’t have time to answer everybody’s emails, you don’t have offices — it can work that way,” Lornell, a part time professor at GW since 1992, told me.

GW needs to adjust its priorities. Part-time professors still routinely make about half as much for teaching the same exact course. It’s a cost-saving measure for the University, but isn’t fair to the professors who do the same job but don’t get as much financial compensation.

Employee salaries are already the largest costs in the total GW budget. But that makes sense: The professors determine the quality of education that a student here receives. It needs to be a top priority to treat with respect those who teach half the courses.

Bryan Doherty, a freshman majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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