CSI Adjuncts Survey

CSI Adjuncts Survey: Summary of Findings
Jan 16, 2016
Ruth Wangerin

Technical details. In December of 2014, we surveyed 1119 people who were on a list as working in adjunct teaching and non-teaching titles. We received 455 responses, at least a 40% response rate. About 10 questionnaires were eliminated because the person wasn’t an adjunct. In one case where an accurate current list of adjuncts was provided, the Business School (63 adjuncts in Spring 2015), there was a 39.7% rate of response (25 Business School adjuncts responded).
Because the list was not perfect—it included an unknown number of people who did not respond because they no longer worked at CSI or no longer worked as adjuncts—it is possible that overall as many as 50% of the adjuncts at CSI at the time of the survey responded.
The survey had some limitations and analysis is not complete. It was a first-time effort by volunteers, using Survey Monkey. Some of the percentages reported below are based on the entire population of people in adjunct teaching and non-teaching titles, including those with a full-time job. Therefore, on some issues, the reported percentages may be underestimates.

Demographics. Half of the respondents had a Master degree, representing the largest group of respondents, the adjunct lecturers. In addition, nearly a third (120) had a PhD, MFA, or other terminal degree. Of these, an insignificant number (9) were full-time CSI faculty/staff teaching an overload at their adjunct pay rate. Non-teaching adjuncts accounted for 33 of the respondents. Women were 58.6% of respondents, and from a quick analysis of samples of the available part-time and full-time faculty lists, it appears that women are similarly over-represented among faculty on campus. In age, respondents were spread all the way from their early twenties to 75 and above. Interestingly, there was a cluster of 55 people aged 65 and above; these employees are saving the University money on health insurance because they are eligible for Medicare.

Outstanding results. The issues that stood out as important to CSI adjuncts were pay, job security, and collegiality (broadly defined). High percentages of respondents wanted a significant raise, an end to uncertainty about whether they’d be reappointed, and inclusion in the life of the college.
Half of the respondents said they would like a full-time teaching job. So much for the notion that most adjuncts have a different profession and are just moonlighting. Another 30% said they would like a regular part-time teaching job. Yet most seemed pessimistic about the chances that the system would change and were focused instead on ways to improve the existing situation. For example, 71% thought adjuncts should be allowed to teach more than 9 credits on the CSI campus. In the comments, respondents suggested having more courses available to adjuncts, preference for adjuncts rather than full-time faculty for summer courses, and an end to CUNY’s opposition to unemployment insurance for adjuncts.

Pay. A majority of adjuncts want a significant pay increase. The pay raise question was asked in several questions in different ways. In one question, the two options specifying a significant pay raise were by far the most frequently selected as favorite choice from among the priorities listed. Asked another way in another question, pay was chosen as a “very important” contract issue” by 86% of respondents.
Our results are at odds with statements by officers of the Professional Staff Congress that only 2-3,000 adjuncts are teaching as their main source of income, that most are doing this work for supplementary income. If one truly believes that, then the implication would be that raising adjunct wages is a lower priority than raising the wages of “real” college faculty and staff.
Obviously, it is inappropriate to set a fair rate of pay for professional services based on the wage necessary to prevent desperate poverty, and only for those at risk of desperate poverty. Nevertheless, our survey refutes even the evidence used for that misguided thinking.
Anecdotally, the PSC bases their estimate of how many people are “living on” adjunct wages on the number of people enrolled in the adjunct health insurance plan. In 2011, according to the PSC website, that was fewer than 2,000 people, only 13% of the total number of adjuncts.
In the spring semester of 2011, the most recent for which we have figures, CUNY employed 13,198 teaching and non-teaching adjuncts. Only 13%, or 1,721, received adjunct health insurance through the Welfare Fund. Adjuncts and health insurance 2011
In our 2014 survey, 71 (17%) of the 411 CSI adjuncts who answered the question had the adjunct health insurance plan and 248 had health insurance from another source. Another 21% had no health insurance at all. It would be more fair, when estimating the people who depend on the low CUNY adjunct wages for a living, to include the 21% who have no health insurance at all (mostly because they do not qualify for the adjunct health insurance benefit[i]). In that case, we’re talking about 38%, or approximately 4,000 people. And even the lucky ones who qualify for the adjunct insurance have no coverage through CUNY for their dependents.
In fact, 36% of respondents on our survey said that this job at CSI is their primary source of income! Extrapolating to the entire population of adjuncts at CUNY, even a conservative estimate (one-third of 13,000) gives a figure of over 4,000 “living on” the near poverty level wages paid to adjuncts.
The pay is so low that several people at CSI qualified for public assistance or food stamps during the past year. Half of the respondents (201 people) said that during their time working as an adjunct they had experienced trouble with their living expenses during the unpaid summer and/or winter breaks.[ii]
The CSI survey clearly refuted the stereotype that most adjuncts have full-time jobs and are “moonlighting.” Only 34% of our respondents had a full-time job, and some of those commented that their jobs paid poorly.
Almost 70% of respondents said the pay from this adjunct position at CSI was “very important” to their livelihood, and 60% said that other people also depended on them for a substantial portion of their support.
Given that adjuncts are well-educated and have many skills, it is not surprising that almost 90% have one or more additional sources of income to supplement the poor CUNY wages. The most common was one or more other part time jobs (40%). However, one of the few part time jobs that can be coordinated with the changing schedule of a teaching adjunct is another part time teaching job, probably also poorly paid.
Other additional sources of income reported by respondents included pensions (16%), self-employment (14%), and another wage earner in the household (>50%). While most adjuncts are managing to stay alive (a separate issue from fair pay in most occupations), in actuality, pension systems, Medicare, significant others, and people’s outside careers are subsidizing CUNY’s habit of depending on “low-paid adjunct labor.”

Job security. The vast majority (81%) want job security and an end to the system where they never know if they’ll be working again in the next term. In one question, slightly more people ranked job security their #1 concern and pay equity #2 than vice versa. Those with full-time jobs also ranked job security important to adjuncts, for many of them depend on this as part of household income.
While less than a quarter had had a class canceled within the last month before the beginning of the term, a full three-quarters said they would like to be paid for the course if it were canceled this late.

Specific policy suggestions. A question listed several policies that are often suggested to improve the situation of adjuncts. The highest ranking policies were the two focused on raising pay to per-course equity with those doing similar work.
% ranking as “favorite idea”
Policy suggestion
Raising the minimum beginning rate for a 3-credit course to $5,000 (endorsed by CUNY and SUNY faculty unions) or $7,230 (recommended by the Modern Language Association in 2010).
Increasing the pay rate for all adjunct titles annually until per-course parity is reached with the pay rate of a full-time lecturer.
Awarding adjuncts a Certificate of Continuous Employment (similar to tenure) in the adjunct title after 5 years (out of the past 7 years) in the same department and a successful review by the department.

These “pay equity” choices outranked the Certificate of Continuous Employment, which is word-for-word the specific policy on job security that was being negotiated at that time by the PSC for those who had worked 10 semesters. In an unfortunate oversight, the survey didn’t list a policy option of “regularization” after 2 semesters, which has been won at Vancouver Community College in British Columbia. So we don’t know how many adjuncts would have chosen as their favorite or second favorite idea a form of job security that would also apply to the 60% of adjuncts who haven’t served 10 semesters.

Collegiality, inclusion, and respect. In many ways, adjuncts expressed a desire to participate in the collegiality and intellectual life of the college. Of the teaching adjuncts, 90% said that academic freedom was either “extremely important” or “very important” to them. Many respondents reported going to meetings, trainings and activities. Others said they cannot be as involved on campus as they wish, for a variety of reasons. Yet 40% said a voice in governance was “very important” to them.
One excuse often heard for paying adjunct faculty so little in comparison with tenure-track faculty is that only tenure track faculty do research. However, 30% of adjuncts in this survey said they are conducting their own research and 41% said that support for research and travel to conferences was “very important.” Several adjunct faculty reiterated in written comments how important it is for the university and the students that faculty conduct research. Some complained about feeling isolated and disconnected from the college and from colleagues.
The respect issue is a big one. Comments were allowed on many of the questions, and many people took this opportunity to share sarcastic observations about the way we are treated.

Office space. Almost no adjunct had a desk of his/her own, much less a private office, unless it was an adjunct with a full-time job at the campus who was teaching a course as an adjunct at night. Asked to estimate the number of people in an adjunct office, 27% said more than 10, and 35% said they did not know but it was definitely more than 1. What’s worse, at least 19 wrote in that they had no office space at all.

Conclusion. Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions. And 68% of respondents agreed with the statement, “With better pay and working conditions I would be able to do a better job in my adjunct position.” Anecdotally, some of those who disagreed or were neutral on that question objected to any implication that they were not already doing their very best in the job despite the substandard pay and working conditions.

[i] Most in this uninsured category (86 of the 92) specified that they were unable to qualify for the adjunct health insurance plan – 57 because they weren’t working enough hours and 36 because they had not worked enough previous terms.
[ii] Among the most popular suggestions for how to address the problem of unpaid breaks in the academic year were the following:
  • the college should provide paid work or paid training during the breaks between terms
  •  adjuncts should be paid for course preparation
  • the pay rate should be increased sufficiently so that adjuncts would be able to survive the summer just like regular K-12 or college teachers
  • those who committed to teaching the next term should be given a stipend during the preceding break
  • the college should not oppose people’s applications for unemployment insurance.

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