“Second-class faculty”: The hidden struggles of Georgetown’s adjunct professors

By:
10/17/2013

Ori Soltes wakes up every morning at 5:30 a.m. to get his two sons out of bed, feed them breakfast, and drive them to the bus stop. Before he lets them out of the car, Soltes hands each of his kids the lunches he prepared for them the night before.

After a quick game of basketball with some friends at 6:30 a.m., Soltes heads over to Georgetown’s main campus. Once he reaches Maguire Hall, he sits at the desk and starts going through his inbox. Outside his door in Maguire 207, the sign reads “Rabbi Harold White.”

According to the University, Soltes is a “full-time, non-ordinary” faculty member. After teaching at Georgetown for 20 years, both for the Theology Department and the Program for Jewish Civilization, he still doesn’t have his own office. Soltes borrows Rabbi White’s office on Thursdays and another instructor’s ICC office on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Like Soltes, most adjunct faculty face limited options when it comes to finding space to meet students for office hours. The concerns faced by adjunct professors at Georgetown, however, stretch beyond access to permanent office space. Adjuncts at Georgetown and other institutions of higher learning across the United States receive salaries as low as half of those of tenure-track professors, seldom have access to any health or retirement benefits, and must cope with job insecurity year after year.

Recognizing these hardships, Georgetown’s adjunct faculty voted in favor to form a union under the D.C. branch of Service Employees International Union, SEIU Local 500, in May of this year.

According to Rachel Pugh, director of media relations, approximately 311 of the 650 Georgetown adjuncts eligible to vote exercised their right to do so. Of these, 72 percent voted in favor of forming a collective bargaining unit. The voting was limited to Georgetown’s main campus and did not include faculty who teach at GU’s Law Center or Medical Center.

With the unionization measure passed, Georgetown professors joined those at American University and George Washington University as part of a larger initiative led by SEIU to organize adjuncts in the District. According to Anne McLeer, director of higher education and research for SEIU Local 500, this inter-university unionization effort gives the professors, who often teach at more than one institution at a time, more leverage during contract negotiations.

“The adjuncts in the city realized that there’s a labor pool of highly qualified, really good teachers in the city that the universities depend on. So everyone realized that to be really strong in the industry, [the SEIU has]to represent all the colleges,” McLeer said.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, part-time faculty represented 50 percent of all teaching faculty at degree-granting institutions in 2011, up from 34 percent in 1987 and 22 percent in 1970. In addition, more than two-thirds of instructional faculty nationwide is non-tenure track.

“There is no doubt that the number of adjuncts is increasing, while the number of tenured faculty has gone down. A lot of it is precisely to save money,” said Pablo Eisenberg, Senior Fellow at the McCourt School of Public Policy and a founding member of New Faculty Majority, a national coalition of adjunct professors. “Adjuncts are cheaper, and they also can be dismissed without any protection. That is, most adjuncts in colleges don’t have access to a hearing if they get fired.”

***

After going through his email and doing some research for his latest book, Soltes grabs a quick bagel for lunch at More Uncommon Grounds and then heads over to teach his 2pm class. Soltes teaches a total of six undergraduate courses per academic year, in addition to a graduate seminar within the Liberal Studies program.

Though he has taught a full-time course load for about 13 years now, Soltes’s contract is renewed on a year-to-year basis. Unlike other adjunct professors, though, Soltes managed to negotiate a health insurance plan with the University in addition to a relatively high salary for an adjunct professor.

When Soltes negotiated his contract with the University, he was paid $42,000 for six courses, an equivalent of $7,000 per course. This year, he received his first pay raise. His annual salary is now $42,280. At Georgetown, adjuncts make up almost half of the total faculty employed on Main Campus at 43 percent, and teach over 1200 courses per academic year. Their salaries range from $3,000 per three-credit course in the English department to $8,500 per three-credit course in the Communications department, according to the Adjunct Project, a database of adjunct salary data from universities across the country compiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

On the other hand, according the the Chronicle, average faculty salaries for the 2012-2013 academic years amounted to $173,600 for full-time professors, $109,400 for associate professors, and $96,000 for assistant professors.

“The labor for tuition of courses are not adequately compensated, and it’s so disproportionate to what regular professors are making,” said Katerina Downward (SFS ‘14), a student involved in the campaign to organize adjuncts last year. [Full disclosure: Downward is a former member of the Voice’s editorial board.] “It’s just making this hierarchy and polarization among the very people who are supposed to be most valued in an institution of learning.”

The disparity between the salaries of tenured and non-tenured faculty is a concern for most adjunct professors, and features in negotiations between the union and the University administration.

“Students don’t pay different tuition rates for a class if it’s taught by a tenured professor or an adjunct. So why should from a compensation or operational aspect, the professor be treated differently?” Stephen Lane asked, an adjunct professor employed by the American Studies Program.

The salary gap between faculty members is significant and is exacerbated by certain administrators’ salaries. According to GU’s tax filings, President John J. DeGioia received a compensation package totaling $925,071 in fiscal year 2011, making him the 44th highest paid University president in the country. The highest paid employee at Georgetown was men’s basketball coach, John R. Thompson III, who was paid $2,211,250. The Washington Examiner reports that former provost James O’Donnell received an annual salary of $394,509 in 2010.

“The situation is getting worse. As the number of adjuncts goes up, [and]tenured faculty go down, you have this enormous increase in high pay for administrators,” Eisenberg said. [Administrators] get a lot of money and somehow there’s no money for adjuncts. University administration say ‘Oh yeah, we don’t have money to pay for that’ and yet they have plenty of money to excessively build buildings, athletic facilities, and pay coaches millions of dollars.”

Georgetown has allocated $60 million toward the construction of the new Intercollegiate Athletics Center, expected to break ground in the spring. The school also plans to fundraise $150 million to renovate Lauinger Library.

Mark Waterman (SFS ‘13), another student involved in last year’s adjunct unionization process, agrees with Eisenberg. He questions whether these numbers are representative of where the University’s interests lie. “Does the University focus its priorities on making sure that professors are well-paid and that the instruction is of really high quality?…Or are we focusing on having sexy sports teams and buildings and a good brand that we can promote? Are we looking past what a university should be really based on, which is having excellent quality instruction and learning environment?” (Full disclosure: Mark Waterman was a Voice staffer prior to his involvement with the adjunct unionization campaign.)

Administrators from the Office of Communications, the Departments of Theology and English, and the Office of the Provost did not respond to several requests for comment about adjunct pay and treatment.

***

The clock strikes 6:15 p.m. and Soltes rushes out of his last class of the day to catch a train to New York, where he’s scheduled to speak at a conference.

Less than half of Soltes’s salary comes from his work at Georgetown, even though he teaches a full course load. The other half comes from his other engagements, which include leading weekend seminars at Johns Hopkins University, speaking at churches and synagogues, and attending conferences around the country.

When asked about balancing his course load with these other activities, Soltes said, “I fit my research around the other things I do to feed my family because the salary I get is ridiculous.”

Soltes is the author of 14 books and has published around 250 peer-reviewed articles. This research, however, is not supported by the University. “I can’t go to my department as an ordinary faculty [member]does and say: I need to go to this conference, I’m speaking [there], can you support my research?” he said.

Kerry Danner-McDonald, an adjunct professor in the Theology department, agrees, and adds that time constraints also limit the chances for adjuncts to conduct their own research. “A full-time professor normally gets a research budget. The University will pay for them to travel to academic conferences. They usually teach one or two classes a semester and so they’re also paid and expected to be researching for the college,” she said. “What happens with the adjunct staff [is that]if you’re getting paid so little, you have to work more classes, so you don’t have time to keep up your publications because it is like you’re working multiple jobs.”

Many adjuncts say these obstacles not only hinder them from moving up the academic ladder, but also delegitimize their work as professionals.

“[Adjuncts] don’t feel like they are treated and respected as [the]professionals that they are, in many ways,” McLeer said. “From being considered temporary workers so that they can be dropped at any time, to not being included in academic decision-making, to having no offices.”

The treatment of adjunct professors, however, varies from department to department.

“There’s absolutely no consistency throughout the University when it comes to treatments, rules, and regulations pertaining to adjuncts,” Lane said. “For example, there are some departments where adjuncts have been told that there’s a limit to how many class hours one can work. Whereas, across the hall or in another building or program, another adjunct may not have that limitation.”

For instance, Christian Golden, an adjunct professor in the Department of Philosophy who recently received his doctorate from the department, is thankful for the treatment he has received.

“I certainly don’t feel undermined or disrespected by other faculty in the department,” he said. “I don’t have any health insurance coverage whereas I did as a graduate student here. However, the chair of the [philosophy]department has helped me to arrange to get private health insurance, which I don’t think I could have expected, and I am very grateful for. Judging from my experience, being at Georgetown, adjuncts seem to be treated better.”

***

Though he must renew his contract every year, Soltes is confident that his position at Georgetown is stable. He teaches an average of 240 students a year, and his classes are normally over-enrolled.

However, not all adjunct professors are so confident about the future of their careers.

“Many adjuncts don’t know if they will be re-employed from one semester to another,” Lane said. “They might just not get a phone call to be reupped. Clearly we don’t know until, sometimes, a couple of weeks before a semester starts.”

According to McDonald, the constant threat of professor turnover hurts an adjunct’s relationship with her or his students. “[When] I make connections with students, they want to know what I’m teaching next year and I often don’t know if I’ll be back next year or if I’ll have upper level courses,” she said.

This persistent doubt often limits the academic freedom and creativity of adjunct professors, since taking risks and stepping out of the mold may mean not being rehired.

“Because of the instability and marginalization, there can be often a feeling that [adjuncts]don’t have real access to academic freedom,” McLeer said. “There’s a concern about ‘If I teach this book, will I be invited back to teach next year? If I challenge a student who thinks he should be getting an A and really should be getting an F, will I be invited back to teach next year?’”

***

On his way out of campus, one of the many blue signs hanging from the posts outside Copley Hall catch Soltes’s attention. It reads, “Women and Men for others.”

“Georgetown, as a Jesuit institution, with ad maiorem Dei gloriam all over the place, with all of those series of features that Georgetown associates itself, all of those nice-hanging pendants in Red Square … cannot afford not to think about certain things which have moral implications,” Soltes said. “Even if they are fiscal [issues], they have moral implications.”

While other adjuncts echo Soltes’s sentiment, Georgetown still pays its adjuncts marginally higher salaries than local and national peers. According to the Adjunct Project, AU pays its adjuncts a salary as low as $2,800 per course, while Catholic University of America pays $2,700 per course at the least. Before its adjuncts organized, GWU paid its adjuncts as little as $2,700 per three-credit course. Now, its baseline per-course wage is $3,000.

Unlike AU’s administration, which, according to the school’s newspaper, The Eagle, hired lawyers to prevent adjuncts from organizing, Georgetown’s administration has been receptive to negotiations with adjuncts.

“The University respects employees’ rights to freely associate and organize, which includes voting for or against union representation without intimidation, unjust pressure, undue delay or hindrance in accordance with applicable law. We appreciate the participation of all of those voters who cast ballots in the election,” University spokeswoman Pugh wrote in an email.

Negotiations between the University and the newly-organized faculty, represented by a bargaining committee of eight Georgetown adjunct professors, are currently taking place. According to McLeer, a contract could be written as soon as the end of the upcoming spring semester.

***

Soltes drives his motor scooter up his driveway, from which he can see that his sons’ bedroom lights are already off. He quietly steps into the house and walks into the kitchen, where he takes some bread and turkey, makes two sandwiches, and puts them in two lunch boxes with a bag of chips and an apple. The kids’ lunches are ready. He heads to bed, ready do it all over again tomorrow.

Additional reporting by Jeffrey Lin.

Editor’s Note: The full disclosure note for Katerina Downward did not appear in the Voice‘s print edition.

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Lucia He


3 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To ““Second-class faculty”: The hidden struggles of Georgetown’s adjunct professors”

  1. hoyasaxa says:

    While I agree with the point of the article, the issue still stands that we don’t actually have the resources to pay more without cutting the salaries of other more highly paid professors/administrators. You say we are excessively constructing buildings but that couldn’t be further from the truth. We barely build anything, we have one dining hall, one library and don’t even have enough buildings for housing. Bottom line we are strapped for resources and ran a loss last year in spite of overall costs at this school topping $60,000. Ultimately we can pay more but it will be on the backs of all of the students here, many of whom are already paying as much as they can.

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