WEST PARIS — Before sending your teenager(s) to one of Maine’s community colleges or universities, it’s important to consider the following:

In her 2015 Atlantic Monthly article, “There is no excuse for how universities treat adjuncts,” Caroline Frederickson notes that ”in 1969, almost 80 percent of college faculty members were tenure or tenure track. Today, the numbers have essentially flipped, with two-thirds of faculty now non-tenure and half of those working only part-time.” What’s more, these adjunct professors only earn 40 percent to 60 percent of what full-professors earn to teach the same courses; in most states like Maine, too, they cannot work full time, so they don’t get benefits.

Additionally, says Frederickson, “while the part-time professor is now the norm, the percentage of part-time administrators has actually gone down. Their salaries, too, unlike those of professors, continue to go up, increasing by 50 percent between 1998 and 2003 even while tuition was going up and faculty numbers were going down. Estimates put the increase in average salaries for CEOs at public institutions at 75 percent between 1978 and 2013.”

A few questions to consider: If low-paid part-time professors are necessary to keep tuition in check, why haven’t our colleges and universities also adopted a low-paying, part-time adjunct administrative model to further reduce tuition? Also, if the quality of instruction isn’t compromised by part-time professors, then why would the administration of these systems suffer under an adjunct administration model where 70 percent of administrators would earn poverty wages, be part-time and not receive benefits? In sum, why are only part-time professors suffering economically?

“Women have a long-running history as adjuncts,” Kay Steiger reported in The Nation in 2013. “Before women were allowed to be full professors, colleges often allowed them to teach at the adjunct level and wives of professors often picked up extra work as adjunct instructors.” And as Eileen E. Schell notes in her 1997 book “Gypsy Academics and Mother-Teachers“: “The reputation for adjunct teaching as a women’s profession was so strong that adjuncts were dubbed ‘the housewives of higher education.’ ”

What’s happening, then, is our colleges and universities are seeking to provide affordable tuition by exploiting – primarily – many of their most highly educated women. Across the nation, women comprise 62 percent of all adjunct professors; in Maine, it’s likely closer to 65 percent. Unfortunately, it seems like another profession dominated by women is being marginalized because, well, they’re women and are somehow deemed less valuable a resource. This is particularly disturbing when you consider how both the university and community college systems in Maine offer courses in feminism. Imagine espousing equal pay for equal work for women in your classroom, yet earning only between $18,000 and $28,000 per academic year to teach a full course load between two or three colleges.

In the final analysis, then, the quest for a living wage for adjunct professors is a women’s issue and an issue of equal pay for equal work. Our governor and the heads of the Maine Community College System and the University of Maine System need to formulate a plan to replace the current model, which exploits thousands of highly educated and exceptionally talented women. Indeed, I dare say that a living wage for adjunct professors wouldn’t be such an uphill battle if men comprised between 60 and 65 percent of adjunct faculty. What’s more, if a large business like Hannaford or Bath Iron Works were exploiting so many women in a like manner, either businesses would be boycotted and/or taken to court.

It’s time, then, for our politicians and administrators to put up or shut up: If you’re a feminist who cares about equal pay for equal work and who’s concerned with ensuring that all women who work earn a fair wage, demand action on the part of our governor, the community college system and the UMaine System.

Regarding the funding of higher wages for adjuncts: Augusta needs to remember that every college graduate will – over their working life – contribute around twice as much in taxes as someone with just a high school education. Adjunct faculty, then, are responsible for the state generating tens of millions of dollars in additional revenue each year! The state needs to simply acknowledge that we’re job creators and one of the state’s best revenue generators.


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