If you’re a parent or guardian of someone debating or entering into college, I, an adjunct faculty member at a Chicago private, non-profit art school, have a few words of advice and some issues to consider for you and your new students, to accompany the recent article by Joe Fruscione at PBS NewsHour’s Making Sen$s:

Make them think long and hard about whether they’d rather set themselves up a cozy little bunker in case the shit goes down (or they just can’t find full-time work, which is exceedingly likely), or piecemeal work together like a patch on an Ellis Island jacket while owing tens of thousands of dollars. Tell them you aren’t kidding.

Then tell them about principle, interest, and how debt breeds when you go through deferment, forbearance, or default, because the concepts are in a language foreign to them. But the answer is easy, they’ll understand—like rabbits.

To those of you who imagine that faculty earn The Big Bucks, and that’s why tuition is skyrocketing, it’s simply not the case. Over 2/3 of those of us teaching your children are contingents, and of these, most are paid per course, per semester and make no more annually than your school district’s paraprofessionals, minus their benefits. Tuition isn’t funding the faculty or the classroom, but the Asst. Vice Interim Provost-In-Waiting’s perverse dreams of a Triple A bond rating and unrestricted flex funds. Good luck finding the data, though. It’s masked: the Higher Education Price Index from Commonfund Institute, the top manager of educational endowments, eliminates contingent faculty from their data, and US News & World Report fails to present ratios of contingent to full-time faculty for institutions (nevermind that instructional quality has no representation in these tainted reports). And if you think that decreased state funding is the only issue, it’s much more complicated than that, and you can check out the Student Union of Michigan’s blog to understand why a decrease in state funds does not correlate directly to an increase in tuition.

Surely you don’t think that high tuition is just How It Is. Tuition, room, and board at private institutions increased 40% from 2001/2002 to 2011/2012 and 28% for public ones, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Imagine if consumer goods inflated at the same rate. Last April, coffee was on a scarcity list in Venezuela after their consumer goods price index jacked up 59.4% from March 2013 – March 2014. It’s fair to say that higher education is in a crisis that needs intensive rehabilitation, as does our economy (of course). 

So, think of what your grandchildren’s student debt will be, then consider their inability to pay for an education. Think of Venezula’s government implementing rations via a fingerprint security system. Imagine how these scenarios might relate to your childrens’ ability to secure property, a future, raise a family, or do anything but live paycheck to paycheck as an indentured servant to the market.

I want to ask if you’re angry yet, but I won’t. Perhaps you should be. As your first-year student’s adjunct composition professor who’s been mired in the struggle for years, I am. I’m out for vengeance, and I want nothing more than for you and your children to join me. To stir the pot, I will teach them Aristotle’s Rhetoric, which defines anger as “desire, accompanied with pain, for conspicuous revenge for a conspicuous slight that was directed against oneself or those near to one, when such a slight is undeserved.” Higher ed has slighted all of us, we who have done nothing to deserve it. Now on to teaching the rhetoric that they’ll need to fight for a better world, beginning with their colleges.


New York, NY, July 29, 2014:  A small group of writers and activists has launched a petition to David Weil, the new head of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, to investigate the wages and employment conditions of adjunct faculty in American higher education. Since its launch on July 11, the site at Change.org has gathered over 5,100 signatures from adjuncts, tenure-track faculty, students, parents, concerned citizens, and at least two academic administrators. The petition runs until September 30th, when it will be presented in person to Director Weil. The petition organizers are also meeting with Senator Tom Harkins’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee staff to discuss the issues presented in the petition. We also hope to meet with state senators such as New Mexico’s Howie Morales, who has written state legislation to improve adjunct working conditions and pay.

Contingent faculty members now make up more than 1 million of the 1.5 million people teaching in American colleges and universities, according to the Modern Language Association. Since 1975, full-time faculty hires have increased only 23% while part- and full-time adjunct hires have increased 286% and 259%, respectively. Fewer full-time tenured faculty means faculty overloaded with administrative work and unable to give students the attention they deserve. By 2011, part-time adjunct hires comprised 51.4% of faculty. Full-time tenured and tenure track employment has shrunk to represent only 20.6 and 8.6%, respectively. Adjunct hires (full & part-time) comprise closer to 75% of faculty in 2014 at both public and private institutions. The drastic increase in part-time faculty means fewer office hours available for student advising and mentoring relationships.

Adjunct professors are now teaching approximately 60% of classes and 100% of them at some institutions, where they are also the only faculty. Contingent hiring conditions hinder pedagogical innovation because of time constraints and because adjunct faculty are almost never allowed on curriculum committees or given academic freedom protections meant to encourage experimentation. The average remuneration for a course is $2700, which covers only hours in class, not preparation, grading, or meeting or communicating with students, which takes far longer. The average annual income of adjunct faculty is $25,000—about what WalMart workers make at minimum wage—and only covers eight months of the year. Most adjuncts have no health, retirement, or other benefits and cannot afford to retire from teaching.

Part-time adjuncts teach as many as 6-8 classes at multiple institutions to make ends meet. Hours spent on the road could be better spent with students, class prep, research. The lack of sabbatical time also hinders professional development and research, which hurts students as well, if educators cannot stay current in their fields. Given how inextricably faculty working conditions are tied to student learning conditions, this knowing overuse of contingent professors is contributing to the erosion of American higher education at precisely the time it needs to be strong.

The petition’s authors are Ann Kottner (Adjunct Professor, York College, NY City College of Technology and New Jersey City University); Miranda Merklein, Ph.D. (President, Santa Fe Community College-AAUP); Joseph Fruscione, Ph.D. (Former Adjunct Professor, George Washington University [1999-2014]); Dawn Fels, Ph.D. (Former English Faculty and Writing Center Director, George Mason University and Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, PA); Brianne Bolin (Coalition Against Corporate Higher Education and Adjunct Faculty, Columbia College, Chicago); Karen Lentz Madison, Ph.D., (Contingent Senior Instructor University of Arkansas; New Faculty Majority Foundation, Board of Directors; College English Association, Past President; MLA Committee on Contingent Labor in the Profession, Immediate Past Chair); Seth Kahn, Ph.D. (Co-Chair, Committee on Part-time, Adjunct, or Contingent Labor, Conference on College Composition and Communication and Professor of English, West Chester University of PA); Robert Craig Baum, Ph.D. (Dean of Academics, Lebanon College); Maria Maisto, M.A., ABD (President/Executive Director, New Faculty Majority and the NFM Foundation, Adjunct in English, Cuyahoga Community College); and Melissa Bruninga-Matteau, MA, PhD (Associate Professor of History, Martin Methodist College, Pulaski, TN and Adjunct Faculty, American Public University).

For more information about this petition, please see signer Joe Fruscione’s article at PBS NewsHour’s Making Sen$e:


Today’s ruling that previous U of Birmingham student occupiers be further repressed in varying degrees from last warning to expulsion prompted another occupation by Defend Education Birmingham (click the link for information regarding their occupation as well as updates).

Furse is the first expulsion against student protest in British university since 1974.

We’ll keep our lamps trimmed and burning. Don’t get worried, see what a movement can do.

As higher education activists, we all need to sit down and take some time to understand the economic realities of our academic institutions as well as the lenders and guarantors of our debts. We’re ever thankful to the Student Union of Michigan for their work in university economics. And lest we turn away from the fine print of our own university budgets out of the rampant fear of indecipherable joylessness, we should remember what David Foster Wallace says about boredom (and that there’s something superhuman on the other side of it): “The underlying bureaucratic key is the ability to deal with boredom. To function effectively in an environment that precludes everything vital and human. To breathe, so to speak, without air. The key is the ability, whether innate or conditioned, to find the other side of the rote, the picayune, the meaningless, the repetitive, the pointlessly complex. To be, in a word, unborable. It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.”

Student Union of Michigan

This is part of an ongoing series of printable pamphlets designed to explain how money flows through public research universities in general and the University of Michigan in particular. The pamphlets are intended to clarify arguments and push back against pervasive and seemingly “common sense” narratives about the crisis of public higher education that impede, rather than advance, meaningful political action. We hope tactics and strategies will emerge from these counter-narratives—after all, we can’t fight what we don’t understand. Download the printable version of this pamphlet here and see the Resources page for the entire series.

In November 2013, the University of Michigan launched its new capital campaign, “Victors for Michigan,” which aims to raise $4 billion from private sources primarily to be deposited in the endowment. If successful, it will be the largest in the history of public higher education, topping U-M’s previous campaign which raised $3.2 billion between…

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Badmin Flogging copy

At this point in the higher education crisis, if you’re not full of rage, you’re choosing to ignore the situation (which makes you part of the problem). Some adjuncts have learned (or are still learning) to transform our anger into productive action, either directly or behind closed doors. Those of us who’ve been jostled awake by our late comrade Margaret Mary Vojtko’s unfortunate death last September are newer to the game. Wherever you are in the great losing relay race of academic contingency, if you’re an adjunct, you’re stressed. To the max.

And while you may not be able to actually flog a #badmin, as the femme dom is doing in the picture above, you can certainly post your anonymous tales of the more infuriating, heart-breaking, scream-inducing or worrisome day-to-day situations we find ourselves in as we navigate the wreckage of higher education and our broken lives.

So whenever you’re having a typical adjunct day (read: clusterfuck), use the Adjunct Sounding Board as a safe space to air your grievances. We know they are many. We know you can be loud. We ask you to join @Madjuncts and @AdjComplaints in collecting and sharing the realities of adjunct lives. Many of us are still afraid to come out of the supply closet, and because silence equals acceptance this late in the game, please make use of this safe, anonymous space to keep spreading the word about our working conditions. As the ASB asks us to remember: without us, higher ed would crumble.


To edit: Marc Bousquet will be a featured speaker during our fall panel on Academic Freedom on Thursday, September 18 – not at the kickoff party.


The following is a message from Diana Vallera, president of P-Fac, the Part-Time Faculty union at Columbia College Chicago, and a member of the Illinois AAUP State Council:

You are invited to join P-Fac and UIC as we kickoff our new Pursuit of Truth Campaign to build a coalition of Chicago colleges and universities.

Pursuit of Truth

Kick Off Campaign

Friday, July 11

5:00 PM

600 S. Michigan, 8th Floor

* Light Refreshments and beer and wine provided


PfacAtColumbia@gmail.com or Diana@studioera2.com

We are excited to announce that Marc Bousquet, author of How The University Works and associate professor at Emory University ,will be a featured speaker, along with other academic freedom experts.

Come join the movement to reclaim the college’s original mission of serving the public good and pursuing truth. In coordination with  the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), in conjunction with AAUP’s One Faculty Campaign, Coalition of Contingent…

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