Higher Education Watch
As Adjuncts Proliferate, University Presidents See Rising Paychecks

As low-paid adjuncts shoulder more and more of universities’ teaching responsibilities, those at the top of the academic pecking order are seeing their paychecks grow steadily. The Christian Science Monitor reports that private college presidents earned a 5.6 percent raise, on average, in 2014 (to a total average salary of $436,429), and that the colleges with the highest share of adjunct professors tend to pay their presidents the most. More:

“Adjunct” is a term used for non-tenured, part-time professors, who receive no benefits, no office and typically paid between $3,000 and $5,000 per course. In 2013, NPR reported that these itinerant teachers make up 75 percent of college professors, and their pay averages between $20,000 and $25,000 annually. And this trend may be long term, as three in four college professors are not on a tenure track, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) reports. […]

The private colleges with the highest-paid presidents also have the highest percentage of adjunct professors.

A 2014 study by the Institute for Policy Studies found a similar trend among schools with the highest paid presidents: part-time adjunct faculty increased 22 percent faster than the national average.

The modern American university is typical of what we call the blue model world. It is organized around outmoded policies—generous federal subsidies, tenure-for-life, extensive regulation—that worked well for decades (and still works well today, for the privileged few who are on the right track, like tenured faculty), but which is growing increasingly difficult to sustain. Today, free-flowing student loans drive up costs and administrative salaries, the tenure-for-life system limits universities’ ability to shift professors and resources around, and extensive government regulation and mandates force universities to hire presidents who have more in common with CEOs than with educators. Universities are trying to adapt to these challenges both by contracting out more and more teaching work to adjuncts to cut costs and by hiring top-flight presidents-cum-executives to try to allocate scarce resources (and appease various campus political interests), all without really altering the underlying structure of higher education. And like other unreformed vestiges of the blue model (i.e., public sector unions), this system is contributing to unfairness and inequality. Just ask the adjuncts living on food stamps.

Policymakers and university administrators need to start implementing reforms that would make this system more fair, to students and faculty alike. Tenure and research designations should become rarer and harder to get, so that the large majority of college faculty would be paid primarily as teachers—but compensated fairly, unlike adjuncts. More introductory courses should be available through MOOCs to bring down costs. Federal accreditation requirements and other regulations should be loosened, and federal loan programs should be reined in so as to stop propping up institutions that aren’t equipping students with the skills they need.

The data on adjunct compensation, especially as compared with administrator salaries, underlines the fact that in some ways, our universities really are bastions of exploitation—just not in the way the campus Jacobins may think. Fixing the system will require wholesale changes to the structure of higher education, not the addition of a few diversity centers. On the bright side, the illiberalism coursing through the academy might highlight to policymakers the desperate need for reform.

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