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March 2020
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Wage slaves in the ivory tower

Wage slaves in the ivory tower
The glass ceiling for UVU’s adjunct faculty has been questioned. Illustration by John-Ross Boyce.

Some weeks ago, the UVU Review ran a story about the gap in pay for faculty men and women. According to the story, the average annual salary for male faculty at UVU is $73,000, while that for female faculty is $71,000. Clearly, despite official policy, sexual discrimination is alive at UVU.


But women faculty have this consolation: sexual discrimination is not policy. There is a faculty group, however, that have no such consolation: UVU’s dedicated, talented and essential adjunct instructors, who constitute two-thirds of UVU’s teachers. In the case of adjuncts, the discrimination is on a scale that makes the school’s gender bias pale in comparison. And, it is deliberate and systematic.


Let’s take my own case. I presently teach two classes totaling seven credit hours. For this, I receive a monthly check for $1,200. If I were to double my teaching load–which university policy prevents me from doing–to four classes, the number expected of full-time faculty, I would get $2,400/month, or $28,800/year, 40% of what a tenure-track professor receives on average. But that is not the limit of the discrimination. My annualized $28,800 does not include benefits. I am prevented from working more than 12 credit hours specifically in order that I not become eligible for benefits. And I don’t even get full compensation for the hours I teach. Students in my Latin 1010 class get four credit hours for attending. I, their instructor, get only 3.3 for teaching them.


Without adjunct faculty, who teach most of the classes, this university could not operate. But instead of recognizing our essential contribution, the university not only discriminates against us, it humiliates us. A year ago, UVU instituted a policy of requiring adjunct faculty to reapply for their jobs every year. Regardless of our expertise and experience, and mindless of actual contributions made by individuals to their departments over the years, the university treats us as mere at-will employees.


A few years ago, the Salt Lake City Public Library hired a new director, who in similarly highhanded fashion required her employees to reapply for their jobs. People who had given years of service to the institution were now arbitrarily told that none of that work counted for anything. A new director, who had given nothing to the institution, would now decide whether they were qualified for their jobs. Thankfully, the library eventually recognized its mistake and fired the new director, but not before many good people had left the institution in disgust. UVU apparently believes it has nothing to learn from the library’s experience.


Unfortunately, what employees at the Salt Lake Public Library and UVU have experienced isn’t unique. It’s a kind of behavior all too familiar in corporate America, where our nation’s HR policies are cooked up. What’s surprising, though, is that such behavior should find support at an institution of higher learning, an institution that prides itself on being a model of open and ethical behavior, an institution that in fact purports to teach ethical behavior in several of its departments.


What UVU’s adjunct faculty policy does is to create a permanent academic underclass of wage slaves. This sort of behavior is, as I said, not uncommon. It’s found, for example, in America’s meat packing industry, where illegal migrant laborers are paid minimum wage to work in the most dangerous job in American industry. And, because they’re illegal, and hired BECAUSE they are illegal, these exploited workers know that they are there at the will of their exploiters.


Is this the sort of behavior for which UVU wants to be known? Are the Cargills and Tysons of the world the “comparables” that UVU wants for its indispensable adjunct faculty?


The university will respond that it has no choice, that it has only as much money to work with as it receives from the legislature. But, like all excuses for corporate misdeeds, this does not pass muster. The university DOES have a choice. It has a choice in how it apportions its allotment from the state. The university also has a choice in how it prioritizes money raised from private donors. Today, the university chooses to pay tenure track faculty two and half times as much as their adjunct counterparts. What’s clear from that choice is that fair compensation for adjunct faculty is NOT a priority.


And, of course, it is not just compensation that is in question. It is deliberate humiliation, as represented in the requirement that adjuncts reapply each year for their jobs. The university will perhaps say that this requirement helps insure that it has the best faculty it can get, or that reapplication insures fair access for everyone. But surely, if these are the true reasons, then new tenure-track hires should be subjected to the same yearly scrutiny, especially since these are the people who will occupy future tenured positions.


The disregard the university shows us adjuncts is further illustrated by the difficulty that we have in moving from part-time to full-time, tenure track positions, despite in some cases long service and demonstrated capacity.


The message of such policies is clear: adjunct faculty are not respected contributors in the eyes of the administration, whatever we are in the eyes of our colleagues. I wonder how the university would feel if we began taking this message to heart?


By Ed Firmage, Jr.
Guest Writer

Ed Firmage, Jrteaches Latin and humanities at UVU. Trained in classics at Princeton, he holds an M.A. in ancient history from U. C. Berkeley, where he was a Mellon Fellow in the Humanities. From 1986-1988, he was a Rotary Foundation Scholar at Hebrew University, Jerusalem.


9 thoughts on “Wage slaves in the ivory tower

  1. Mr. Firmage makes a powerful set of arguments here, arguments that expose the dirty underbelly of this (and many other) universities.

    The quality of the education we offer is at stake.

    Last year, acting as President of the UVU Chapter of the American Association of University Professors, I sent a letter to our administrators in response to the newly announced “annual purging” of adjunct faculty members.

    Near the end of our letter, we wrote that “the new rule requiring reapplication for all adjuncts will drive some people away, irritate and depress those who remain, and increase bureaucratic frictions. This, in turn, diminishes the one thing we really hope to do well: offer high quality university education.”

    The full text of our letter is here:

  2. Mr. Firmage is dead-on. There is no question that many adjuncts work just as hard as their tenure-track counterparts and are often regarded by students as the best teachers they’ve ever had. Many adjuncts spend much more time with students and on other educational activities than they are “paid” for, not to mention expenses like printer ink for which they are never compensated. This may sound trivial to those paid above the poverty level. They are consistently told that they have no chance at reaching a tenure-track position, especially without a doctorate degree. This simply discourages outstanding educators from teaching college. Even if they’re willing to live like ascetics in order to teach, the lack of basic benefits makes it nearly impossible. It seems part of a systematic problem in a society that values the building of prisons and jails over the education of young men and…


    Join the community

    Edison, NJ

    1 min ago

    In the Star Ledger, dated June 16, 2012, there is an article titled, ” Groomed for Success” page 15, which speaks about Matthew “Mattstache” Ferguson’s great success lip – synching on a Youtube. It cites him as an “Adjunct Professor” at Rutgers University and the fact th

    rabbi to sue rutgers after teaching since 1990

    Posted in the Glassboro ForumAdd to my Tracker
    at he shows this video in his class at Rutgers. It says the video has gone viral.

    Two facts: All my troubles at Rutgers began when I was castigated by DR. Jim Katz, the chairman of the department for calling myself an adjunct professor on line. Actually I did not write this; the person who developed my page called me professor which is the title I have at Yeshiva University, where I also taught. Yeshiva…

  4. In the Star Ledger, dated June 16, 2012, there is an article titled, ” Groomed for Success” page 15, which speaks about Matthew “Mattstache” Ferguson’s great success lip – synching on a Youtube. It cites him as an “Adjunct Professor” at Rutgers University and the fact that he shows this video in his class at Rutgers. It says the video has gone viral.
    Two facts: All my troubles at Rutgers began when I was castigated by DR. Jim Katz, the chairman of the department for calling myself an adjunct professor on line. Actually I did not write this; the person who developed my page called me professor which is the title I have at Yeshiva University, where I also taught. Yeshiva University in fact used this title in their press releases.
    In addition a student complained after the first day of my fall class in writing to the communications department at Rutgers and I was castigated for…

  5. Contracts disatisfy part-time lecturersBy Matthew Matilsky / Staff | 1 comment

    A part-time lecturer accused the University of being unfair toward part-time employees in a YouTube video, which was eventually shared on Twitter by former University football team players, Ray Rice and Khaseem Greene.

    His business card reads “Rabbi Dr. Bernhard H. Rosenberg,” professor at Yeshiva University and part-time lecturer in the Department of Communication at the University. Rosenberg recently learned he would not be teaching public speaking at the University this summer, a course he has taught for 23 years.

    He thinks he lost his job over trivial arguments because his relationships within the department are unsteady.

    Karen Novick, associate dean of the Department of Communication, said Rosenberg’s case is a “personnel issue” and did not indicate whether…


    MOST OF THESE GUYS ARE MY FORMER STUDENTS THEY HAVE SPOKEN OUT ON MY BEHALF. Hard to explain what it means to have made a difference in these kids lives. dr. BERNHARD ROSENBERG 732 572 2766

    Seven former Scarlet Knights are currently with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Pictured from left – Tiquan Underwood, Jeremy Zuttah, Derrick Roberson, Eric LeGrand, Desmond Wynn, George Johnson and Gary Gibson.

    Howard Barbieri (2007-10)


    Brandon Bing (2007-10)

    N.Y. Giants

    Kenny Britt (2006-08)


    Kevin Brock (2005-08)


    Anthony Davis (2007-09)

    San Francisco

    Ryan D’Imperio (2006-09)


    Eric Foster (2003-07)


    Justin Francis (2007-11)

    New England

    Gary Gibson (2001-04)

    Tampa Bay

    Courtney Greene…

  7. The indignities to which adjuncts are exposed are horrendous and the fact that the tenured faculty turn a blind eye to the bullying of their own kind is shameful. It will be great when there is no tenure so they finally have to fight it out like their poorly paid “shadow” workers. I say put an End TO THIS CASTE SYSTEM BY PUTTING AN end to tenure. This is the only way adjuncts will get a decent wage. The full-time faculty are too busy feeding themselves at the trough and worrying about their paltry concerns (Oh no, do I have a travel allowance) to even give a shit about your poverty, let alone the president who thinks your a chump for staying. So you might as well break that system as it doesn’t serve 70 percent of its people anyway and go for something where at least you will have a living wage. Viva la revoluation against our tryannical overlords who do nothing to protest this!

  8. You might find this of interest. This happened at Rutgers. I have always fought for the right of Muslims and held the massive rally to help support them in AMERICA. The Muslim student dropped my course. It was obvious from the beginning that she wanted to cause trouble for me. I am the only one wearing a Yarmulka. This was obvious to all my students. Rabbi DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

    rabbi dr. bernhard rosenberg

    May 03, 2012

    To whom it may concern,

    My name is Mena Beshay, a junior at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. The
    purpose of this email is to inform and raise awareness of one of the most
    significant issues that threaten this university. It is very unfortunate that a
    university as diverse as Rutgers, does not do enough to protect its faculty,
    staff, and students from harassment and persecution based on religion. This is a
    very serious issue…

  9. You might want to reconsider your libelous opening statement. That men appear to earn more than women is not prima facie evidence of discrimination against women regarding pay, whic has been illegal in the workplace for over 50 years. You simply ignore a range of variables that can influence salary. Elementary education pays less, yet is dominated by women who can get quite territorial about men trespassing on thier turf.

    The remainder if this screed serves mainly to illustrate the author’s elitist pretentions & expectations if deference due to his failure to live up to his father. Go to walmart, crybaby, they’ll pay more & give you benefits after 90 days.

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