Columns, Opinion

RYAN: Part-Time Pay, Full Time Professors

In January, I walked into the basement lecture hall in the College of Arts and Sciences for my first class of the semester. My instructor was not on, and no one had heard of him. I had no idea what to expect.

He introduced himself and explained his course philosophy. He had spent a decade applying the course material in the real world. Having taught at Boston University before, he was especially excited to be back to instruct our course.

As the semester progressed, the material became more complicated, but he always ensured that we understood the problem sets and in-class examples. Often, he would post video explanations of difficult problems and provide extra office hours for upcoming tests.

I’ll never forget handing in my final in May. As I gave him the test, he asked me, “So, how’d it go, Sara?” He had a class of 125 students, but he knew my name. It wasn’t just my name, either. He also knew my last test grade and approximate semester grade. He took the time to try to recognize each student as an individual.

To date, he has been one of my favorite professors. It felt like he truly cared about the success of each student. In my smaller classes, it’s easier for professors to get to know their students. When you’re lecturing at a largely unresponsive lecture hall for three hours a week, it can be more challenging.

The reason I’m sharing this story is because my professor from last semester is an adjunct professor, meaning he only teaches one or two classes a semester. Like many students, I know my education has been drastically improved because of part-time professors at BU. It’s ridiculous that these educators earn a small salary and minimal benefits just so BU can save money.

On Oct. 7, the Student Labor Action Project will hold an open forum where adjunct professors and students will come together to discuss creating a union for the adjuncts. Additionally, maintenance staff, also undergoing tense contract renegotiations with BU, have been invited to the event.

I know the last thing our parents want is a higher tuition bill, but there has to be a better solution than paying brilliant scholars less than I could make working full time as a waitress. According to a May Daily Free Press article, adjunct professors typically make anywhere from $3,700 to $9,500 per course. To give you a comparison, full time professors here make between $91,000 and $157,000 a year. In addition to the insufficient pay, adjunct professors do not receive health insurance through BU.

If you still feel unsympathetic to that jerk professor who drowned you in biochemistry problem sets last semester, think about how this affects you. Adjunct professors often work second or third jobs to make ends meet. This means they have less time to spend planning lessons and holding office hours. Now you have fewer opportunities to get assistance and meet with experts in your field.

Adjunct professors rarely have their own office spaces. They either take over the offices of professors on sabbatical or share an office with a handful of other adjuncts. This means office hours are limited and at inconvenient times. Even when they do hold office hours, they often don’t have the space to store their course materials in the office.

Maybe my approach is simplistic, but why don’t we just pay professors a living wage? BU’s adjuncts deserve the right to unionize and collectively bargain for better pay and actual benefits. They are often left out of faculty discussions because they are not full time; this too should change.

We are paying thousands and thousands of dollars for this education. When we fork out the money for another semester, we do it in good faith. Yes, we are paying for our cramped doubles and a semester’s worth of vanilla lattes from Starbucks. But if I’m being honest, I chose BU because of the world-class faculty.

Most high-ranking universities have departments chock full of Ph.D.’s and little real world experience. Here, we have professors that led their industries and won Pulitzer Prizes. Our science departments are full of instructors who are doing incredible research with real-world application.

Too often, higher education values success in academia infinitely more than success in the real world. As employers focus more and more on real world experience over academic success, it’s important that our university shows it values these experiences in its faculty. Just because it’s easy to pay some professors less does not mean it’s okay.

BU has an obligation to provide its students with the best education possible. How is this possible when some of the most experienced and best-connected professors are overworked and underpaid? I support the unionization of adjunct professors at BU because it’s what’s best for me, for this university and most importantly, for our professors.

Student Labor Action Project will host a meeting to discuss adjunct professorships and unionization on October 7th at 7 p.m. in College of Arts and Sciences room 211.

One Comment

  1. This is a lovely piece–so well written–and so utterly convincing. Just to set the record straight about income among full time teachers at BU: Lots of full-time teachers don’t make anywhere close to $91,000 or even $9500 per section. (Some make about half that, plus benefits, for full-time teaching.) It’s wonderful that adjuncts are being the topic of conversation, and I applaud that. The issue is complicated by the fact that we live in a culture where people are discouraged from talking about their salaries openly, so pay remains a secret. This curious custom, which might have roots in self-consciousness about large incomes, benefits employers but in no way helps workers. If we were all forthcoming about what our salaries were, we would understand inequity at all kinds of levels in higher ed and not just among the underpaid (I agree!) adjuncts–even discrepancies between salaries for men and salaries for women working in comparable positions.