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The job listing for an assistant adjunct professor was very clear: “The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UCLA seeks applications for an assistant adjunct professor on a without salary basis.  Applicants must understand there will be no compensation for this position.”

The listing went on to describe what the person hired could expect: “Responsibilities will include: teaching according to the instructional needs of the department. Qualified candidates will have a Ph.D. in chemistry, biochemistry, or equivalent discipline and have significant experience and strong record in teaching chemistry or biochemistry at the college level. The University of California, Los Angeles and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry are interested in candidates who are committed to the highest standards of scholarship and professional activities, and to the development of a campus climate that supports equality and diversity.”

Candidates were asked to submit a CV, cover letter, a statement of teaching (and an optional statement of research) and three to five letters of reference.

The reaction to the job description, posted March 4, was intense. Angry emails flooded the inbox of the chemistry department at UCLA.

On Twitter, Milan Shrestha, a senior lecturer at Arizona State University, wrote, “Then there is this #UCLA job ad for an assistant adjunct professor with no salary and compensation. Is this getting normal or just an outlier? Certainly absurd expectations, but it does show the ugly side of academia thriving in exploitation and hypocrisy.”

Riley F. Bernard, an assistant professor at the University of Wyoming, wrote, “@UCLA. Are you for real? An ‘assistant adjunct professor w/o pay’ but require a PhD, 3-5 letters of rec + a packet one puts together for a TT job?! Shame on you for taking advantage of people. Ph.D.s are already underpaid enough.”

And of course several people compared the unpaid position for an academic with a Ph.D. to the $4 million salary the university pays its head men’s basketball coach, Mick Cronin.

Helena Worthen, co-author with Joe Berry of Power Despite Precarity: Strategies for the Contingent Faculty Movement in Higher Education (Pluto Press), said UCLA’s action was part of a disturbing trend.

“This is merely the most recent example of the sale of prestige in higher education in exchange for people’s labor,” Worthen said. “The zero-compensation gig hire gets to put ‘assistant adjunct professor at UCLA’ on their business card and CV, and that’s the reward. Up until now, unpaid adjunct assignments have been mostly limited to prestigious private universities … but now it’s showing up in public higher ed as well.”

Bill Kisliuk, director of media relations at UCLA, said the university’s action was not outside the norm in higher education.

“UCLA is committed to providing fair compensation to faculty across the institution. Some positions may be without salary when individuals are compensated by other sources and a formal affiliation with UCLA is necessary,” he said. “These positions are considered when an individual can realize other benefits from the appointment that advance their scholarship, such as the ability to apply for or maintain grants, mentor students and participate in research that can benefit society. These arrangements are common in academia and, in cases where formal classroom teaching is a component, compensation for these services is provided commensurate to experience and with an eye to equity within the unit.”

Before he knew of UCLA’s response, Timothy Burke, a professor of history at Swarthmore College, posted on Facebook.

“I’m seeing a lot of people coming up with explanations that attempt to rationalize this: it’s for an internal candidate who has a funding stream elsewhere, it’s an attempt to help a candidate coming over from industry gain the teaching experience that will make them competitive, it’s some other insidery plan, it’s union-busting,” he wrote. “Even the ‘innocent’ explanations are disgusting because no matter what they are, the whole thing is a *lie*.

“It’s corrupting: it legitimates the concept of asking a Ph.D. to work for free, it mocks the idea that a nationally advertised search is meant to look for nationally qualified candidates. That this is coming from a state that supposedly has liberal politics and respect for public higher education, in a city that is liberal, in a community of allegedly liberal administrators and faculty, should tell roughly how much all those political alignments are worth when it comes to exploiting labor and corrupting rules.”

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