Reality check: New study paints grim picture of adjunct faculty in the USA

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A new American study by the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce illuminates the challenging working conditions of precarious contract faculty in American universities. The report, titled The Just-in-Time Professor, finds that the growing trend of contract work in academia is forcing many highly-skilled individuals to struggle with low pay, poor benefits, job instability, and dim prospects for advancement.
 
As the paper observes, “adjuncts likely make up the most highly educated and experienced workers on food stamps and other public assistance in the country.” The increased reliance on contract faculty is not only harmful to the careers and well-being of adjunct professors, but also threatens teaching quality.
 
Based largely on long-form written response by adjuncts, the paper contains some real horror stories:
 
Because I was also the sole support of my two children (both of whom are gifted and honors students, I am proud to report), I relied on Medicaid to pay for the medical bills of my daughter.
And, during the time I taught at the community college, I earned so little that I sold my plasma on Tuesdays and Thursdays to pay for her daycare costs. Seriously, my plasma paid for her daycare because I taught English as adjunct faculty.
 
And:
 
For me, this means driving a reasonable 12 miles to my first and second jobs. I then drive 42 miles south of those campuses to my third teaching job, and then, for my fourth teaching job, 77 miles north, thus paying the equivalent of two hours of my labor for gas and parking every week.
 
The paper also points out that adjuncts are highly skilled teachers and researchers, but that their conditions of work make it difficult for them to achieve their potential. This reflects a loss of human capital that has implications for the entire United States.
 
Although based on American data, the challenges faced by contract faculty south of the border are shared by sessionals in Canada. Poor pay, terrible job security, and no access to benefits are frequent concerns for contract faculty across the country, and especially in Ontario. OCUFA believes strongly that all academic jobs should be good jobs. We are helping our part-time members to secure fair agreements at the bargaining table, and are advocating for increased hiring of full-time faculty at every Ontario university.

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