Paul L. Caron

Thursday, April 7, 2022

NY Times: UCLA Help Wanted: Adjunct Professor, Must Have Doctorate. Salary: $0

New York Times, Help Wanted: Adjunct Professor, Must Have Doctorate. Salary: $0.

The job posting for an assistant adjunct professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, set high expectations for candidates: A Ph.D. in chemistry or biochemistry, a strong teaching record at the college level, and three to five letters of recommendation.

But there was a catch: The job would be on a “without salary basis,” as the posting phrased it. Just to be clear, it hammered home the point: “Applicants must understand there will be no compensation for this position.”

The posting last month caused an immediate uproar among academics across the country, who accused the university of exploiting already undervalued adjunct professors, and suggested this would never happen in other occupations. Under pressure, U.C.L.A. apologized and withdrew the posting.

But the unspoken secret had been fleetingly exposed: Free labor is a fact of academic life.

“These arrangements are common in academia,” Bill Kisliuk, a spokesman for U.C.L.A., told Inside Higher Ed when at first defending the job posting.

Contingent faculty, the umbrella term for all kinds of generally part-time and untenured college teachers without much if any job security, make up a huge portion of the teaching staff of universities — by some estimates, around 70 percent overall and more in community colleges.

They have long complained about the long hours and low pay. But these unpaid arrangements are perhaps the most concrete example of the unequal power in a weak labor market — in which hundreds of candidates might apply for one position. Institutions are able to persuade or cajole people who have invested at least five or six years in earning a Ph.D. to work for free, even though, academics said, these jobs rarely lead to a tenure-track position.

“If your theory is that association with U.C.L.A. is itself compensation, then it makes sense,” said Trent McDonald, a Ph.D. candidate in English and American literature and union organizer at Washington University in St. Louis. “I think there is the belief that you can eat prestige.”

Very often, adjuncts and other contingent faculty are asked to do unpaid work that is presented not as free labor but as a way to hone their own credentials, according to union activists and some instructors who have received such requests. It may be characterized as professional development or service. Professionals are sometimes willing to teach a class in their field for free so they can put the university affiliation on their business cards, said Joe T. Berry, a former adjunct and historian of contingent faculty.

And the instructors who are pressed into teaching without job security are often women or minorities, who began entering academia in force as the system was shifting to contingent faculty, said Dr. Berry, who recently co-wrote a book on the subject called “Power Despite Precarity.”

(Hat Tip: Michael Talbert)

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