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You only turn 25 years without a raise once. That was the idea behind a tongue-in-cheek party adjunct instructors at Youngstown State University threw for themselves this month, to mark a quarter-century without any increase in pay. 

Yes, there was cake. 

“My contribution to the event was a ‘then and now’ picture display of what some of the adjunct faculty looked like 25 years ago and what we look like now,” said Katherine Durrell, who has been teaching physics as an adjunct at Youngstown State since 2004. “The pictures of the 30-year-old adjuncts are really striking since they were five when we last got a raise.”

Youngstown State pays non-tenure-line instructors per credit hour and based on their level of education. Those with master’s degrees make $800 per credit hour, or $2,400 per three-credit course. Those with Ph.D.s get $1,050 per credit hour, or $3,150 per-three credit course.

Ron Cole, university spokesperson, said adjuncts also get free parking, sick leave and tuition remission, among other benefits (but not health insurance). He confirmed that it’s been between 20 and 25 years since adjuncts received a raise. 

It’s “fair to say that our president and provost recognize that that's a problem and, while we are facing some difficult budget challenges like most in higher ed, [we’re] committed to trying to rectify that situation,” Cole said. He noted that Martin Abraham, provost, formed a committee this fall to address adjunct faculty concerns, including pay. 

Durrell is on the committee and said it has been meeting regularly. So far, though, it hasn’t resulted in a raise.

“All I can say is that I have my fingers crossed,” she added.

Nationwide, adjunct salaries vary widely and data on them are hard to gather. A 2012 Coalition on the Academic Workforce report put the median per-course pay at $2,700, but that’s across disciplines, levels of experience, degrees, regions and institution types. 

Some adjuncts, especially those in major metropolitan areas with union organizing drives, have had luck in recent years winning pay raises and other improvements to their working conditions. Instructors at Tufts University, who are affiliated with Service Employees International Union, for example, in 2014 negotiated a first contract that increased their pay significantly, to at least $7,300 per course. Additional pay for non-classroom time, such as that spent meeting individually with students, was also included in the agreement.

Another contract agreement, reached last week between United Auto Workers-affiliated adjuncts at Barnard College, puts minimum per-course pay at $7,000 for this fall, and $10,000 by the fall of 2021. Both the union and the college said would be among the highest in New York City or elsewhere for those off the tenure track. Full-time, non-tenure track faculty members also are assured a minimum $60,000 salary, effective in fall 2017. That would rise to $70,000 by 2021.

Of course, Tufts and Barnard are relatively well-off, and both Boston and New York are pricier than Eastern Ohio. And while adjuncts at Youngstown State talked about forming a union several years ago, they have not. Yet many campuses -- with or without unions -- still offer adjuncts semi-regular bumps in pay related to changes in the cost of living or even years of service. 

Malini Cadambi Daniel, director for higher education at SEIU, called the Youngstown State situation “remarkable and sad.”

“I hope it's an outlier," she said. "I've not come across a story in our organizing that rivals this in terms of time.”

Maria Maisto, the Ohio-based president of the New Faculty Majority, a national adjunct advocacy organization, said she was familiar with the situation at Youngstown State, which may not be an outlier after all.

“Anecdotally, I can say that it's not uncommon, especially in places like Ohio,” she said, “where there are significant obstacles to unionizing and no interest or effort by colleges and universities to pay fair wages for work that is at the core of the mission.” 

Maisto noted that members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce recently asked the Government Accountability Office to gather more information on adjuncts' working conditions, to paint a more complete national picture.


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