Exploitation at ETSU: How the Adjunctification of Instruction Harms Faculty and Students at East Tennessee State University

New report from United Campus Workers revealing low pay, lack of health insurance, particularly troubling in light of the COVID-19 crisis

 Johnson City, Tenn. - On April 30, 2020 the United Campus Workers (UCW) released a report on working conditions for adjunct faculty at East Tennessee State University (ETSU). The report, “Exploitation at ETSU: How the Adjunctification of Instruction Harms Faculty and Students at East Tennessee State University” provides the most comprehensive research on adjunct faculty at ETSU done to date. The data reveal a crisis for these “mission critical” employees, that has broad implications for working and learning conditions across public higher education institutions in Tennessee. 

Click here for the full report: https://www.unitedcampusworkers.org/ETSUExploitation

Over 550 adjunct faculty teach at ETSU, accounting for between 40-50% of total instructional faculty and teaching 30% of all undergraduate credit hours. This report shines a light on the lived experience of the precarious workers that teach our students: low-pay, no access to healthcare, lack of retirement, hours of unpaid work, invisibility, a lack of voice or respect at work, and few professional benefits, despite rising tuition costs and student debt. 

Miki Gordon, who holds a PhD in counseling, was shocked at ETSU’s rate of pay: “$1,800 a class is way below anything else paid in the region for my field. ...When it comes down to it, that is like $18/hour and I could make that waiting tables. I didn’t get my PhD to wait tables.”

Poor working conditions for adjuncts are being compounded by the COVID-19 crisis, which is expected to hit public higher education budgets hard. “I don’t have insurance,” said Zach James, an adjunct in Literature and Languages, “I’ve been gambling (on my health) for 7 years now. ”

National studies show and the ETSU data illustrates that adjunct faculty are dedicated teachers that go above and beyond contractual requirements to support student learning. The rapid shift to online classes has further burdened adjunct faculty who often teach large introductory courses, with no extra compensation or job security. “Last semester a week before class, after I had already prepped a class, they cancelled it at the last minute. I did all that work for no pay,” said Kittye Hirsch, an adjunct in Sociology. 

Key findings include:

  1. On average, ETSU pays adjuncts 40% less than the national average at public 4-year institutions (Chronicle Data, 2019). 
  2. The majority of ETSU adjuncts we spoke to are very low-income, even after factoring in other jobs. Fifty-nine percent of survey respondents make less than $25,000 a year and 20% make under $15,000 a year.
  3. Combined income from ETSU and other part-time jobs is not enough for adjuncts to make ends meet. Study participants rely heavily on state and federal aid programs as well as family and friends.
  4. What would be considered wage theft in many other fields is commonplace for adjuncts at ETSU. The majority of study participants reported working without compensation on essential tasks.
  5. Without employer-sponsored healthcare or retirement options, adjunct faculty do not get quality care and face financial insecurity heading into retirement. One-third of adjuncts interviewed are uninsured; another third rely on low-cost Affordable Care Act (ACA) plans that only offer minimum coverage.
  6. ETSU does not provide adjunct faculty with the resources they need to do their jobs or support students, such as office space to meet with students, and access to curriculum guidelines or to the classroom technology they need to teach. 
  7. Despite making up nearly half of all faculty at ETSU, adjuncts in our survey indicated they do not feel valued by the institution and are rarely included in departmental meetings, faculty senate, and professional development opportunities.
  8. When universities do not provide adequate support for faculty, student retention and completion suffers. In this context of adversity, adjuncts give as much as they can but, as one adjunct interviewed for the report said: “it is not what students deserve.”

United Campus Workers is calling on Tennessee’s universities to give students what they deserve and treat adjunct faculty like the mission-critical employees that they are. 

Full report here: https://www.unitedcampusworkers.org/ETSUExploitation