Letter to the Editor:
Students want a college education because a degree is associated with a better life, more earning power, and an avenue to the “American Dream.” But, to an increasing amount of adjunct faculty at universities across the United States, a college education, even with advanced degrees, isn’t enough to keep them above poverty level.
Once a middle class job, the majority of college and university faculty are now working part time for very low pay, isolated from colleagues, and without job security or benefits. With respect to the University of Nebraska at Omaha, as of Spring Semester 2015, the number of part time faculty is at least 748.
Combine the fact that 31 percent of part-time faculty are near the poverty level with students who are increasingly saddled with a record amount of debt, and we have a true crisis in higher education that is about to boil over. The crisis is fueled by a dramatic shift away from investment in educators and affordable higher education for students, and a move towards a big-business model where corporate boards and their administrators determine how to spend precious tuition revenue.
For the past couple of years I have listened to UNO Administration boast they want to increase the number of students on campus to thousands more. With the current business model at UNO, there would need to be an increase to the amount of part-time faculty to well over a thousand.
I argue that UNO is currently and in the future, planning to exploit adjunct faculty with poverty level wages, no opportunities to advance, and neglecting to provide hard-working folks with any type of benefits at all. For example, it has come to my attention that UNO recently has asked some part-time instructors to sign documentation that would waive any health benefits otherwise earned.
On one hand, UNO and universities around the country are telling students they will earn middle wage income when they graduate, but, on the other hand, administration gets away with paying part-time faculty with poverty level wages through methods of exploitation.
Over the past two years working people from many walks of life have sparked “living wage movements” across the United States focused on raising pay. Fast food workers and Walmart workers began to rally around a national wage of $15/hour and union representation, and then something amazing occurred. As a result, over the past year, millions of workers in cities such as Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle have seen their pay increase.
Therefore, adjunct faculty like me who teach part-time at UNO are demanding that higher education administrators reverse trends that have pushed us to the margins. This spring, students and faculty are uniting around the country to urge a new national standard of $15,000/ course in pay and benefits and to make quality higher education affordable for all students.
Together, we can re-focus university and college resources on learning.
Dr. Larry Bradley,
Department of Geography/ Geology