Some 75 percent of college classroom instructors in this country are not full-time professors. Just what does that look like for the people doing the instruction? It’s pretty bad.

A piece by Lee Hall, an adjunct professor for the Legal Education Institute at Widener University, in the Guardian explains how it works. She earns $15,000 a year:

This year I’m teaching five classes. [That’s] 15 credit hours, roughly comparable to the teaching loads of some tenure-track law or business school instructors… at $3,000 per course…. I work year-round, 20 to 30 hours weekly – teaching, developing courses and drafting syllabi, offering academic advice, recommendation letters and course extensions for students who need them. As I write, in late June, my students are wrapping up their final week of the first summer term, and the second summer term will begin next week.

I receive no benefits, no office, no phone or stipend for the basic communication demands of teaching. I keep constant tabs on the media I use in my classes; if I exhaust my own 10GB monthly data plan early, I lose vital time for online discussions with my students. This, although the university requires my students to engage in discussions about legal issues and ethics six days a week, and I must guide as well as grade these discussions.

A dog walker in America can earn up to $26,000 a year, Hall reveals. She also explains that in order to pay the rent she recently got a job in retail. Hall has a law degree. She actually has two of them.


The serious irony here is that Widener University is a school that touts itself as one that’s “among the nation’s top universities for civic engagement.” And it also says it has a “long history of turning out leaders with a formula that works. At Widener, we believe that academic excellence, career preparation, and civic engagement lead to success.” Perhaps for graduates, but all of this career preparation and focus on “success” means little to its adjunct professors.

Many, many colleges in America are like this. It’s a trend found often in mid-tier private schools, like this one, that are eager to improve their statistics by encouraging new students to apply. They try to appeal to nontraditional and working adults by suggesting an education in “leadership” that will lead to professional success. But at the same time they are structurally organized to prevent large portions of their staff from ever achieving anything like professional success. And actual workplace “leadership,” which might be achieved through tenure or labor organization, is also not going to be well received by the administration at Widener, because that would be expensive and undermine the governance structure of the school.

Such schools, Hall writes, “claim to open doors to career opportunities even as they etch contingency into their hiring practices.”

Well, there’s always dog walking.

Just imagine what potential law students would think if Widener told them all up frot that’s what a law school education could result in; a $15,000 a year job teaching other people how to be lawyers, supplemented by a second job at Starbucks or something. Would anyone be dumb enough to go to such a law school then? [Image via]

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer