Money spent on instruction has declined in every sector of higher education

There’s something terribly wrong with the picture on America’s college campuses today. Higher education institutions are charging top-dollar rates for that all-important degree, while students and parents receive skyrocketing tuition bills because state governments are cutting back on college funding.

Yet more than half the faculty in higher education today is made up of part-time teachers, also known as adjuncts, according to the American Association of University Professors. Their numbers jumped over the past decade as college and university administrators struggled to bulk up teaching staffs while keeping budgets low. The AAUP says the share of money spent on instruction has declined in every sector of higher education.

The demands placed on adjuncts are enormous, and they have well-founded reasons for asserting that their employment rights are being abused in the name of cost-cutting.

Increasingly, part-time faculty members at American colleges are voting to form unions, in part to ensure that universities don’t continue shaving expenses at instructors’ expense.

Adjuncts at St. Louis University’s College of Education and College of Arts and Sciences voted overwhelmingly last week to unionize, following similar moves at Washington University and at St. Charles and St. Louis’ community colleges.

The part-time instructors are usually graduate students, teaching assistants and professionals retired from their fields. They usually have advanced degrees and are qualified to teach.

Their wages, benefits and working conditions don’t come close to matching the contribution they make to higher education.

On average, adjuncts make less than $30,000 a year. They worry about job insecurity because they are not on tenure tracks, and many have no access to health benefits. Reports abound of part-time faculty who drive from campus to campus, teaching one class here and another there, sometimes holding office hours in parking lots.

Some of these academic nomads keep student records, course materials and office supplies in the trunks of their cars. They don’t have the same access as full-time teachers to instructional resources and professional development opportunities.

It’s a disservice to students and fellow faculty when adjuncts can’t offer proper guidance and hold regular office hours in actual offices. And these absurd working conditions aren’t spelled out by universities when they advertise how great campus life is and then collect hefty tuition payments from students or their parents.

SLU President Fred P. Pestello said the university is ready to begin bargaining with the union “in good faith.” That is an A+ response.

We believe the benefits of unionization will include more than improved pay and working conditions for instructors. Students will get more attentive teachers and individualized instruction. Instructors will feel they’re being taken more seriously by their employers. And the people who pay the tuition bills won’t feel they’re being taken for a ride.

About the Author:

Laura Ascione

Laura Ascione is the Managing Editor, Content Services at eSchool Media. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland's prestigious Philip Merrill College of Journalism. When she isn't wrangling her two children, Laura enjoys running, photography, home improvement, and rooting for the Terps. Find Laura on Twitter: @eSN_Laura

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