STUMP » Articles » English Grad Students and Adjuncts: If You Don't Have Options, You Have No Leverage » 10 December 2015, 17:10

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

English Grad Students and Adjuncts: If You Don't Have Options, You Have No Leverage  


10 December 2015, 17:10

One of those ‘Dear Lord, not this shit again:’

Wisconsin Grad Students Want Pay Parity Across Disciplines

y Vimal Patel DECEMBER 06, 2015

When one of America’s first graduate-student unions was recognized at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, in 1969, organizers embraced a key principle: Graduate assistants should get equal pay for equal work.

At the time, teaching assistants in some science and engineering disciplines were earning twice as much as those in the humanities. The students banded together to push for a more equitable model, eventually persuading the university to set campuswide stipend rates for graduate teaching assistants.

Today, graduate students say the university wants to break the compact the union helped forge.

In an effort to make Wisconsin’s flagship campus more competitive in attracting the best doctoral students in science and engineering disciplines, administrators want to allow individual departments to be able to set their own maximum stipend rates. Most universities provide such flexibility, and officials at Madison say that despite the agreement with the union, departments often find outside funds to pay their graduate assistants more money.

To be sure, many universities have a level stipend across all TAships, no matter the subject.

But many have found they need to vary the stipends, depending on the department.

At Wisconsin, the students’ concerns center on fairness: It’s true that engineering graduates typically command higher salaries than history graduates on the job market, but why should that dynamic exist in graduate programs?

Hmmm. Why might that be?


I was in grad school from 1996 – 2002 in applied math at the Courant Institute. I talked with both math and computer science profs about the trouble they had holding on to both grad students and faculty. There were two trends grabbing students and professors at the time:

1. Dot-com boom
2. Financial markets boom in general

Both of the booms busted while I was in grad school, and I saw some of the people who had left come back.

One of the computer science profs mentioned that people will hang out in academia while the market for their field sucked, but once things bubbled up again, the students would get drawn away. This was a perennial cyclical problem for computer science.

On the math side, it wasn’t as frothy — many of the investment banks wanted to have people who had completed their degrees, and the faculty mainly just consulted on the side rather than jump ship to work full-time for the banks. Still, a few grad students would drop out from time to time, and I’d run into people downtown and find out they were working at Lehman Brothers.

As you can imagine, many of these people were making a lot more money in investment banking or the boom time of the early internet than as grad students.

And grad students were also required to teach undergrads…. specifically freshmen in required courses. Those classes can be very depressing.


Here’s the deal for many numbers-related occupations: much of what we do in the business world does not actually require graduate degrees.

They care more that you can solve their specific problems. PhD or even masters not required. If you can point to concrete work that related to their needs, that’s good enough.

But graduate degrees are often required for faculty positions (even adjuncts) — mainly because of accreditation requirements. Which only measures the inputs, not what having a grad degree does for the undergrads.

What has happened in some fields is that, if the external money is enticing enough, you start losing students. Wisconsin is talking about losing students to other universities (possible), but obviously many people drop out of grad school to have a career, making money.


Here is another group that would like more money in academia:

As Adjuncts Proliferate, University Presidents See Rising Paychecks

As low-paid adjuncts shoulder more and more of universities’ teaching responsibilities, those at the top of the academic pecking order are seeing their paychecks grow steadily. The Christian Science Monitor reports that private college presidents earned a 5.6 percent raise, on average, in 2014 (to a total average salary of $436,429), and that the colleges with the highest share of adjunct professors tend to pay their presidents the most.
Policymakers and university administrators need to start implementing reforms that would make this system more fair, to students and faculty alike. Tenure and research designations should become rarer and harder to get, so that the large majority of college faculty would be paid primarily as teachers—but compensated fairly, unlike adjuncts. More introductory courses should be available through MOOCs to bring down costs. Federal accreditation requirements and other regulations should be loosened, and federal loan programs should be reined in so as to stop propping up institutions that aren’t equipping students with the skills they need.

The data on adjunct compensation, especially as compared with administrator salaries, underlines the fact that in some ways, our universities really are bastions of exploitation—just not in the way the campus Jacobins may think. Fixing the system will require wholesale changes to the structure of higher education, not the addition of a few diversity centers. On the bright side, the illiberalism coursing through the academy might highlight to policymakers the desperate need for reform.

That’s a lovely thought, but that’s not really going anywhere unless adjuncts starve the university of cheap labor.

Don’t be suckers, y’all.

Even humanities people can find rewarding careers in the business world. Don’t get sucked in by the Marxist cant that makes you think you must work the hobby job of adjunct, and that any other labor is beneath you.

I see that we saw similar stories about a year ago, and the answer is the same each time.

The issue is that the people yelling loudest are the ones who’ve decided they have no other options.

They have no leverage, as a result.

Because of Obamacare, adjuncting has to be a hobby job, or you have to cobble together a full working weeking by doing teaching jobs at multiple institutions. That sucks.

So there are a variety of paths to make the way of adjuncts easier, but the most realistic one I can see involves repealing Obamacare in addition to enough adjuncts walking away to choke up the cheap labor supply.

How about it?

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