By Carson Morgan, junior, English
Brian Noland needs to pay his employees. This has never been clearer or more urgent as the university enters the twenty-first year without a raise for its adjunct faculty who are part-time professors and do not receive benefits.
As a corrective to this injustice, Adjunct Action, a coalition of ETSU faculty and students fighting for a fair, livable wage for university employees, has worked tirelessly to adequately compensate labor at ETSU. On Wednesday April 11, the group rallied in Borchuck Plaza, drawing together students, faculty, and members of the community to fight for adjunct pay. The crowd demonstrated the power of direct, collective action: voices amplifying one another, exuberant and angry cheers clamoring to be heard by the administration, bodies moving to the electricity of emotion. Speakers- ranging from students, adjuncts and tenured faculty – all told heartbreaking stories of long hours and low pay. The event was moving and eye-opening to students who often know very little about the lives of their professors.
Speakers drew attention to some unsavory facts about the administration. For instance, adjuncts are only allowed to teach nine credit hours a semester at a rate of $600 per credit hour. This equates to $10,800 a year, roughly equivalent to minimum wage and well below even the national average pay of adjuncts from other universities. As the poverty line for a household of one is $12,940 a year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, adjuncts often have to work at multiple campuses in order to stay afloat.
While considered part-time employees on paper, adjuncts work well beyond their pay grade, putting in numerous hours to educate upwards of 600 students a semester. Adjuncts do all the work of a tenured or tenure-track professor while receiving only a fraction of their pay. In addition, adjuncts account for 40 percent of the university’s faculty. In a growing gig-based economy, work is temporary, pay is low and employees’ collective bargaining is essentially nonexistent. The increased reliance on adjuncts at ETSU reflects an unsettling trend in the economy, which reduces the rights and benefits of workers to personally enrich their employers.
Adequately paying adjunct professors for their labor is not a waste of university funds, as some argue, but an investment in quality education. It is an invitation to the best and brightest educators and students to come to the university, knowing their work, time, and well-being will be valued. This should be the most immediate concern for the university that depends on the tireless labor of its faculty.
Moreover, it is not simply a matter of what would financially make the most sense for the university; employers always benefit from exploiting the labor of workers by keeping wages low. It is a matter of morality, ensuring that workers do not have to choose between eating a meal or paying rent for the month. The irony of President Noland announcing his candidacy for Chancellor of the University of Tennessee in a bid for a higher salary the same day of the rally is lost on no one. While ignoring his faculty’s pleas for a livable wage, Noland argues that he deserves to be paid a salary of roughly $585,000 per year – not to mention, of course, additional compensation.
Even if President Noland should choose to stay, the Board of Trustees recently voted to give him a raise of $60,000 this year alone with retention bonuses amounting to $425,000 over the next five years, more than doubling his current salary. It has often been said that a budget is a moral document, and the university’s is a clear repudiation of its claim to advocate for the students and faculty.
It is time for President Noland to be held accountable for his employees, yes, but his employers as well – the students of East Tennessee State University. An investment in adjuncts is an investment in the future and well-being of the university, faculty and students. Adjunct Action calls on President Noland and the Board of Trustees to make good on a long overdue promise and pay adjuncts a livable wage. Regardless of who is in power, Adjunct Action will continue to fight for adequate wages for all workers across the university. If the rally demonstrated anything, it is that Adjunct Action is not giving up anytime soon.