Faculty for a Living Wage (FFLW) is fighting for the rights of adjuncts.
Suffering from a lack of job security, living wages and health care provided by the school, adjunct professors at Gonzaga University and across the nation are protesting for better treatment.
Originally a role reserved for people who had a full-time job and could offer expertise on the side, universities can and have utilize the role of an adjunct professor as a way to save money.
Asked to guess how much their @GonzagaU adjunct professor was paid to teach their class, student guesses averaged $11,285.— Faculty for a Living Wage (@FacLivingWage) November 3, 2021
The actual amount? $3,750.
That's 2.6% of what GU charged in tuition for the 30 of them to take the class.#GonzagaPaysPovertyWages pic.twitter.com/Unh6gjSvFF
Without having to pay tuition or health care benefits, as some adjuncts receive retirement benefits, universities have the ability to both underpay and deny faculty certain benefits.
FFLW is a network of faculty and supporters organizing for better wages for all college and university employees in the Spokane region.
A news release from FFLW on Oct. 4 announced the minimum wage in Washington will rise above current GU adjunct professor pay starting Jan. 1 if adjuncts are not given a raise. Minimum wage will be raised statewide from $13.69 to $14.49 per hour, according to the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries (WSDLI).
By Washington state and federal law, teachers and professors can be classified as exempt employees, which means they are not covered by overtime and minimum wage. To qualify as exempt, employees in most professions must be paid the minimum legal salary ($52,743.60 in 2022) but this does not apply to professional educators, for whom there is no minimum legal salary.
According to the news release, part-time professors at GU who are classified by GU as exempt employees are typically paid $3,750 per 3-credit course, which breaks down to $14.42 an hour.
FFLW explained in the news release how the organization calculated its numbers.
Utilizing the same method as the WSDLI, finding the minimum course salary by dividing the full time minimum salary was declared by WSDLI as eight, since full-time non-tenure-track faculty teach eight classes during the year. Adjuncts teach up to four; any more and they would legally have to be offered health insurance. FFLW removed the 1.75 standard multiplier from the WSDLI calculation to calculate minimum wage equivalent per course.
Two adjunct professors at GU working for this cause are Jeffrey Meyers and Jeffery Short.
Meyers, a professor in the religious studies department, teaches at multiple schools to earn a livable wage.
Currently, he teaches at GU and DePaul University online, where he is able to receive health insurance and minimal benefits. With the benefits he receives from DePaul, Meyers is able to teach at GU, which he explained he wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.
Short, a professor of English 101, has been an adjunct professor at the University of Idaho, Dodge City Community College and GU.
“At one point, I was juggling two different courses for two institutions and worked at a restaurant part time,” Short said.
He said he had a hard time finding housing in Spokane because landlords require proof of three times the rent in income, when as an adjunct, he didn’t even make that between two schools.
“It was mathematically impossible for me to apply based on those standards,” said Short, who makes barely over his rent with little money for food and no money for health insurance or savings.
Adjuncts are asking for the university to commit long-term to basing adjunct pay on the minimum legal salary, which Washington calculates in response to the federal Consumer Price Index for urban wage earners and clerical workers. This means minimum wage and salary generally rise yearly with the index.
Specifically, they are asking the administration to take the salary, divide it by eight and pay adjuncts that amount per class. Currently, their salary does not get cost of living adjustments annually.
“There is everyday uncertainty as an adjunct,” Meyers said. “Part of the struggle with benefits is to add some certainty and predictability into our lives.”
FFLW is asking for health insurance for adjuncts teaching at least two classes a semester. Employer-based health insurance can help adjuncts receive better plans and access to health care.
They are asking for an expansion of who qualifies for retirement benefits to adjuncts who have worked at least a year. As adjunct positions are offered on and off, they are asking that prior service to the university be counted if an adjunct were to take a semester off.
Adjuncts at GU are also asking for a class cancellation fee paid to the adjuncts in the case that they plan a class and lose their spot because of enrollment requirements. At some universities, even if an adjunct professor's class is full, they will give the class to a tenured faculty whose class is not full enough to carry out with no reparations for preparing a whole class. A class cancellation fee relieves that worry of doing unnecessary work.
The fee would be 15% planned compensation if canceled within 30 days, and 20% compensation if canceled within 15 days.
“It improves the quality of teaching because it gives us the certainty that if we put a lot of energy into preparing a course, we’re still going to get paid for it,” Meyers said.
Finally, they are asking for tuition benefits. Staff and full-time faculty receive tuition benefits for themselves and immediate family members. FFLW is asking for tuition benefits to be applied to adjuncts based on the number of credits taught over their course at the university.
On Wednesday, Provost and Senior Vice President at GU Deena González told the Bulletin via email that administration has been in the process of evaluating the payment of adjunct faculty since the spring.
"An important part of this process has involved engaging the Faculty Senate on these matters as well as engaging the Faculty Compensation Committee at the request of the Faculty President," González said. "This engagement is currently in process and will inform decisions about adjunct faculty compensation moving forward."
Active on Twitter, FFLW highlights facts about GU, adjuncting and unionizing efforts for workers’ rights across the country. With hashtags like #GonzagaPaysPovertyWages, they are actively raising awareness for the issues taking place in academia.
“Gonzaga’s failure to pay a living wage and provide most benefits to adjunct professors is a direct violation of Catholic teaching, which emphasizes the moral requirement to pay employees a living wage sufficient to support a family on a single income,” said the FFLW news release. “It is time that all Gonzaga faculty be paid like the exempt professional employees they are. It is time for Gonzaga to honor the minimum legal salary.”