Anthony Le Donne on The Jesus Blog points to a short article about the penurious existence of many college and university professors who are eking by on a collection of insecure adjuncting gigs.
In its annual survey on faculty compensation and the economics of higher education, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) finds 76 percent of teachers in colleges and universities are what the organization calls “contingent,” meaning full-time faculty members who are off the secure and relatively well-paid tenure track or part-timers (often known as adjuncts) and graduate students.
The median pay for adjuncts is just $2,700 for teaching a three-month course – and these professors are almost always on their own when it comes to health insurance and other benefits.
No doubt there is a problem with a system that increasingly employs “contingents” for peanuts while at the same time raises tuition at a pace faster than inflation—”Compared to all other goods and services in the American economy, including medical care, only ‘cigarettes and other tobacco products’ have seen prices rise faster than the cost of going to college”—contributing to the student loan debt crisis, swells the ranks of administration, and bends over backwards for coaches and presidents. “Normal” or “non-contingent” faculty members (a shrinking population mind you) are not hurting, but their pay does not seem to be a serious contributing factor to the systemic problems. And for those considering or with an academic career in theology or related fields, it doesn’t take much digging to discover your pay will rank among the lowest at your institution. According to this 2011 data set, “Theology and religious vocations” faculty start among the lowest paid and top out as THE lowest. Still, these relatively low salaries provide for a comfortable lifestyle—at least better than “renting a garage apartment that does not have a kitchen or bathroom.”
All of this makes Rafael Rodriguez‘s advice sound rather wise: “I always tell people, Do NOT go into debt for an advanced degree in Bible, religion, theology, history . . . basically, the Humanities.” But that wise advice inadvertently, I think, says something else. With the current system in place, with all of its financial problems, Rafael’s advice amounts to “If you are not independently wealthy, or if you don’t have the pedigree to get an advanced degree in the humanities paid for, then please leave these degrees to those who can afford them.” In other words, advanced degrees in the humanities become attainable only by the privileged. This is not at all to disparage the hard work many (most!) humanities grad students, privileged or not, have put in to get accepted and work their way through these programs. A PhD is hard, I know! But until the system finds a way to relieve the student loan crisis and/or quit treating professors as “contingent,” the only way for many people to get a degree in the humanities is to go into debt with grim prospects facing them on the job market. If these less fortunate folks avoid all of this mess (not an unwise decision, I’ll grant), we will end up with privileged people educating other privileged people. That would be a shame.
[Update: If Facebook is any indication, the troubled system of higher education (or what some have dubbed “the ed-tech industry”) is a hot topic. See this chart, this opinion piece about indentured servanthood, and this article about how schools are trying to avoid Obamacare mandates by sticking it to adjuncts even more.]