The University of Akron has once again made national headlines for its poor treatment of “part-time” faculty. National Public Radio recently featured the plight of adjunct faculty at The University of Akron and Cuyahoga Community College during its “All Things Considered” radio program. Maria Maisto, former UA adjunct and Executive Director of the Akron based New Faculty Majority Foundation recently testified before Congress about the plight of adjunct faculty in America, and coverage of her testimony was recently featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education. These stories come on the heels of other negative publicity surrounding UA’s abysmal treatment of adjunct faculty.
UA’s Vice Provost Rex Ramsier was interviewed for the NPR program and was quoted as saying, “Institutions have to be very mindful that if we simply were to try to staff every course with full-time faculty that have full benefits, the cost of higher education at any institution would go up thirty or forty percent potentially. The public’s not going to accept that.” Dr. Ramsier goes on to observe that, “Part-time work is truly part-time work. We’re not trying to take advantage of people.”
Whether The University of Akron is “trying” to take advantage of people or not is quite beside the point. The reality is that The University of Akron’s business model is dependent upon a pool of ready, cheap labor. The university cannot function–given its excessively high utilization of adjunct faculty–without the more than one thousand part-time faculty who teach roughly half of all courses on campus. These highly educated and skilled teachers are paid poverty wages, are denied access to health insurance, often work term-to-term for decades, and have their unemployment compensation claims between terms challenged by lawyers who are hired by the university to fight these claims on often spurious grounds.
But even if we accept Dr. Ramsier at his word that UA’s intentions are good, we ought to challenge his math. By all accounts Dr. Ramsier is a brilliant physics professor, but he really gets the numbers wrong by claiming that staffing every course with full-time faculty would increase the cost of higher education by 30-40%. This is simply not true. The university’s approved 2014 budget states that “Compensation is the largest expense within the budget–nearly 60% of the General Fund.” The General Fund budget for 2014 is approximately $380 million. Of the 60% of the budget earmarked for compensation, full-time faculty consume less than $114 million per year of the university’s budget (or less than one-half the total amount budgeted for employee compensation). If we subtract out the part-time faculty’s paltry share of the budget (about $10 million per year), we are left with $104 million per year. Since about half of all course sections at UA are taught by part-time faculty, we could simply double that amount to arrive at the approximate marginal cost of converting all part-time teaching positions to full-time positions. This shift from part-time to full-time faculty would represent a 27% increase in the university’s budget–and that is based on a very high estimate.
Most part-time faculty would earn at the lower end of the full-time faculty compensation schedule, thus we can reasonably discount the $104 million per year to more like $70 million per year. This means that the required increase in the overall budget would be about 18%, and not 30% or 40% as projected by Dr. Ramsier. This calculation, of course, does not take into consideration the benefit that the university would derive from converting itinerant part-time faculty to full-time faculty. Some of these benefits include improved retention and graduation rates, enhanced faculty recruitment, decreased administrative overhead, decreased demand for parking, and an increase in institutional prestige. The University of Akron has gotten a real black eye over the past several years for staunchly refusing to budge on the part-time faculty issue. UA is clearly wrong. They know it. The faculty knows it. And, increasingly, students and parents are discovering this fact for themselves–and they are not happy. This is beginning to have an economic impact for the university as prospective students look elsewhere for a quality education.
Dr. Ramsier also claims that “part-time work is truly part-time work.” He is being coy here. What he means is that, since we call them “part-timers” they shouldn’t expect a fair wage or access to equitable compensation or benefits. Dr. Ramsier is well aware that most “part-time” faculty work at two, three, or more institutions, and that most rely primarily on their teaching income at these schools as their primary means of financial support. It’s not okay to pay a highly educated, highly skilled worker $8.00 per hour while their full-time colleagues who do essentially the same work are paid many times that amount. That’s the definition of exploitation.