‘Overworked, underpaid, and undersupported’

For some time now, we’ve been reporting on the parlous situation of the contingent faculty members at the nation’s universities. Now a 66-page report by three sociology graduate students at George Mason University (GMU) in Fairfax, Virginia, shows in copious detail how adjuncts teaching at that public institution—which is located in one of the most prosperous of Washington, D.C.’s many affluent suburbs—are “overworked, underpaid, and undersupported.” Issued 9 October, “Indispensable But Invisible: A Report on the Working Climate of Non-Tenure Track Faculty at George Mason University” is, the authors claim, the most exhaustive look at conditions at a single institution ever published. Contingent faculty members constitute 71% of GMU’s teaching staff, not far from the national rate of 75%.

Authors Marisa Allison, Randy Lynn, and Victoria Hoverman—all of whom have experience as adjuncts—conducted an online survey of GMU contingent faculty, asking more than 300 questions about working conditions, course preparation, career aspirations, personal finances, motivations for teaching, job satisfaction, future plans, and more. The report, they write on a website dedicated to the study, “is a project of the Public Sociology Association at George Mason University, a graduate student organization committed to conducting research that benefits the groups we study without sacrificing academic rigor.”

It is a miserable slog.

Here are some findings from the survey:

  1.  They are “overwhelmingly dissatisfied with their wages, and significant minorities have negative opinions of other aspects of their job.”

Beyond copious statistical information on a wide range of issues, the report provides piquant details and striking observations. For example, teaching eight courses a year, a load much heavier than a tenure-track faculty member has to handle even at most teaching-intensive schools, will not lift a family of four above the poverty line.

“It is a miserable slog,” writes one respondent quoted in the report. “I am fortunate because my spouse has a stable job and is able to provide health insurance to our family. Absent this, we would be in a state of absolute squalor, given the atrocious cost of living and the logistical nightmare that is transportation and traffic in this region. Instead of absolute squalor, we are merely squeaking by, living paycheck to paycheck in a one-bedroom apartment built inside someone’s garage. Our aspirations to build a family have been long postponed, we have not taken a vacation in years, and our health is suffering due to the stress and difficulty of working for this ‘well-being university.’”

You can read the report here.

Elsewhere in Science, 17 October 2014

A double dose of advice