Over a quarter of respondents to a 2022 American Federation of Teachers survey of contingent faculty members earned less than $26,500 annually, and two-thirds said they had thought about leaving academe in the prior two years, according to results the union released Thursday.
The AFT defines contingent faculty as full-time, non-tenure-track faculty members, instructors, lecturers, graduate student employees and others. Nearly 82 percent of respondents said they were part-time instructors, and 63 percent of those would rather be full-time. An AFT spokesman said no respondents identified as grad workers. The survey isn’t nationally representative.
The $26,500 figure was the same as the 2021 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services poverty-level guideline for a family of four. About 28 percent of respondents fell under that threshold, AFT said; a third reported making $26,500 to $50,000, another quarter reported making $50,000 to $75,000 and the rest said they made more.
Nearly half of respondents said that, in the past year, they had postponed getting needed health care, including mental health services, due to cost. About a fifth said that, in the past year, their “Household at times had problems or anxiety about accessing adequate food, but meals were not substantially reduced,” while 6 percent reported that “eating patterns of one household member (or more) were disrupted and food intake reduced because the household lacked money or other resources.”
The union said there were 1,043 respondents to this May 4–June 23, 2022, survey, which it distributed to members and shared on Twitter and Facebook with nonmembers. About 68 percent of respondents said they worked at public community colleges, 37 percent reported working at four-year public institutions and others reported working elsewhere; the combined percentages exceed 100 percent because respondents included people who worked simultaneously at multiple types of institutions.
“Adjunct faculty teach the classes and do the research that makes universities run, but they are too often treated as second-class citizens,” said Randi Weingarten, AFT’s president, in a Thursday news release. “Wages and conditions are so low that adjuncts are forced to cobble together three or four classes just to stay afloat—it’s untenable and unacceptable.”
The American Association of University Professors, which is affiliated with the AFT, says 68 percent of U.S. faculty members held contingent appointments in fall 2021, compared to about 47 percent in 1987. The AAUP figure doesn’t count grad student workers as contingent faculty members.
Glenn Colby, the AAUP senior researcher who analyzed this data, said that, since the U.S. Education Department ended its National Study of Postsecondary Faculty in 2004, the country has lacked nationally representative data on part-time faculty pay and other issues affecting them.