Former Boston University lecturer Samuel Shupe posted an essay on the BU Reddit page Jan. 14 expressing his disappointment in the University’s failure to pay its faculty — including himself — a living wage.
In the post titled “BU’s Poor Treatment of Faculty (and Students),” Shupe describes how he was forced to quit his job teaching in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Writing Program due to inadequate pay. Shupe taught at the University for seven years and received his Ph.D. from BU in 2019.
“The very institution that taught me to think and write about the intricacies of the human condition does not care if I can afford basic housing, healthcare, or financial stability while I teach their students,” he wrote. “The institution that taught me how to see humanity with depth has chosen to see me as a number to be flattened on a page.”
Shupe, who now works outside academia, said he was passionate about teaching but it was no longer sustainable for him in the long term because of his low salary.
“I just couldn’t do it anymore,” Shupe said in an interview. “I couldn’t be writing letters of recommendation and putting my heart and soul into these students… as much as I loved it.”
After failing to receive an expected raise as a part-time lecturer before the start of the Fall semester due to a moot administrative technicality, Shupe said it was becoming clear there was “no path forward” for him at BU.
“Raise or not,” he wrote in his essay, “PTLs still make below $30,000 a year without benefits for Ph.D. level work in one of the most expensive cities in the country and only after teaching for two years at an even lower rate.”
Shupe wrote that the University makes a large profit off classes, while part-time lecturers make a small margin of the money students are paying. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Shupe argued that those circumstances should not be an excuse for the low pay, in light of BU’s large endowment.
“PTLs can make the university upwards of $400,000 in a year and receive less than ten percent of that,” he wrote. “My university’s endowment recently hit 2.3 billion and freshmen deposits for September enrollment surpassed administration’s goals.”
Shupe wrote he had to find part-time work as a bicycle courier to pay his bills, not including health insurance, which he obtained through public subsidization.
“My contract allows me to purchase a health plan through BU,” he wrote, “but it costs more than twenty-five percent of my annual salary—three times as much as my current public subsidized plan. Public health is my best option.”
Abigail Sloot, a freshman in CAS, said she was “shocked” after reading Shupe’s essay because it contradicted her perceptions of faculty treatment.
“I feel like professors just always seem so high up and so smart,” Sloot said, “and I feel like them getting paid so little just didn’t fit my assumptions of what the job was like.”
Sloot said Shupe’s story was similar to that of her own professor from the Fall who taught additional courses at Northeastern University and worked as an artist on the side.
Shupe worked on the essay over the course of the Fall semester, dated Nov. 22 on his Reddit post. He initially sent it in a writing faculty email chain containing hundreds of his colleagues’ email addresses.
“I got a flood of really heartfelt responses of solidarity and kind of a disgust with BU,” he said. “That was a real eye-opener to me about how much maybe some of the stuff I was saying resonated beyond just my friend group.”
Following the overwhelming response, Shupe decided to show the piece to his own students, many of whom were — similar to Sloot — “blown away and kind of shocked.”
“I got to this point where I couldn’t look my students in the face anymore,” Shupe said. “I was like, ‘I have to tell you guys that your professors go hungry in the summer.’”
Shupe’s essay cites Ben Shapiro’s visit to campus in Fall 2019 — when BU paid nearly $13,000 in security fees — as an example of alleged faculty maltreatment. Many lecturers, he added, earn less in a semester than the University spent to host the event.
“I wrote that in there because this is just such a potent illustration of misplaced priorities,” Shupe said. “Ben Shapiro’s research and writing doesn’t even pass the muster of the BU textbook, yet they’re just willy nilly letting him run wild on their campus and paying the full security fee to be there.”
Shupe said the decision seemed like a betrayal toward faculty who actually worked for BU and contributed to its academic standing.
“Just turning their backs on the actual people that they have certified and hired to teach real history and research,” Shupe said, “and their own faculty that is actively contributing to historical and public knowledge.”
Shupe said BU is not alone in its treatment of faculty — the University represents a much larger issue in academia.
To begin making changes, Shupe said, the University should start by offering basic health care and a living wage.
“I really felt like the students were the ultimate victims here,” Shupe said. “They were getting kind of shortchanged in their classes because their school doesn’t value their teachers’ livelihoods really.”
Shupe said he was motivated to post his essay because of its potential to reach students and administrative figures.
“What do I have to lose?” he said. “If this at all connects with someone or makes some dean think differently, or some student asks, ‘what is my tuition being spent on?’ it was probably worth it.”
BU spokesperson Colin Riley declined to comment.