As students at Boston University, it’s likely that we will be in several classes taught by adjunct professors over our undergraduate career. According to the BU Adjunct Action Fact Sheet, as our undergraduate student fees have risen over the past few years, so has the number of adjunct professors hired within the school. Although we as students may not pay much attention to whether our professors are adjuncts or not, their status with the university has great implications for the quality of the education we receive.
As the efforts for BU adjunct professors to unionize with the Service Employees International Union has recently gained momentum, adjuncts argue that if they are given greater job benefits and worker compensation, they can higher education standards within their classrooms.
According to a January Daily Free Press article, many adjunct professors must work full-time jobs during the day to support themselves while they teach classes. Andrew Sheehan, adjunct professor of computer science at BU’s Metropolitan College, said in an interview that he works during the day as a programmer to sustain a livable lifestyle.
“Being an adjunct professor doesn’t actually give very much money,” Sheehan said. “Adjuncts don’t get any benefits really … Mine come from my full-time job. Most adjuncts teach one, maybe two classes, and that definitely wouldn’t allow you to afford rent, student loans, car, gas, utilities [or] other bills.”
In their effort to become a part of a bigger international labor union, adjuncts are demanding a living wage, while fighting for a fundamental change within the higher-education system. Sixty-six percent of the 2,682 faculty members at BU did not have access to tenure status, according to the fact sheet. The average faculty salary for a tenure-status professor in 2013 was $157,000, while adjuncts were paid between $3,750 and $9,563 per course.
Although any employee at any institution should be given benefits and adequate compensation for the service they provide, adjuncts know what they are signing up for when taking on the job. Since the wages earned as an adjunct are not enough to support a livable lifestyle — particularly in Boston — many adjuncts teach as their part-time job on the side. Therefore, it is hard to argue that they are entitled to the same benefits as full, tenured teachers.
Since BU is such a big school, administrators are in a position where they have to sacrifice quality for quantity if they want to fill up their classrooms with professors. That is not to discount the quality of education that some adjuncts bring to the table, however. Since adjuncts are most likely working in the field they are teaching in, they have a lot of experience to pass on to students — just look at the amount of working journalists teaching in COM. But, at the same time, since these professors often have other things on their plates, they may not be in a position to give their students the quality of education that they paid for.
If adjunct professors are going to unionize and be given the benefits they are demanding, there needs to be a better system for weeding out those professors who will provide an education relative to the caliber of their students, against those who are just hired as “filler” teachers.