Adjunct Professors: Good in Moderation




The essential, universal business model always contains some kind of mechanism for optimizing profits while reducing costs. One of the biggest costs for businesses in 2015 is the employee salary, and as businesses expand and branch out, they want to be able to adequately staff their locations without putting too big a dent into their budgets. This is why mechanization of the workplace has taken a firm hold, and, whenever actual human interaction is needed, those that are willing to work for lower wages are always preferred. This is why there is such a fight to raise the minimum wage; higher-paying jobs are being replaced with lower-paying jobs whenever possible, and if minimum wage is so prevalent, then it only makes sense for it to actually pay enough for a sustainable lifestyle.

What isn’t always apparent is that universities are businesses too, and while academic integrity is definitely something many schools are conscious about, the topic of teacher salaries is always something that worms its way into the discussion of faculty structure. To a university, the equivalent of a minimum wage worker seems to be a little position called the “adjunct professor.” Allen Trevithick, adjunct professor of sociology at Fordham College Rose Hill, is one of many voices that are pushing for increased wages for adjunct faculty. The reasoning? Wages for adjunct professors are borderline poverty levels. Not only that, but Trevithick claims that universities do not foster the advancement of professors and do not offer opportunities for anyone to advance beyond the “adjunct” level, since it’s far more profitable to continuously hire adjuncts than it is to have more tenured teacher positions. I can understand where he’s coming from on some level, but I think it behooves us to keep in mind why adjunct professors are meant to exist in the first place.

According to the American Association of University Professors, “Non-tenure-track positions of all types now account for 76 percent of all instructional staff appointments in American higher education.” An article on also singles out Fordham specifically for mostly hiring low-wage adjunct professors. If done for purely economic reasons, then this is really a problem that Fordham, and indeed many other universities, need to address. But that is not to say that there is no value in an adjunct professor remaining an adjunct professor, it just needs to happen in moderation.

What do I mean? Well, the Gabelli School of Business has hired nearly 100 adjunct professors onto its faculty, but each one of these faculty members also maintains a position at another company. These positions range from consultants, to partners, to CEOs and even founders of companies like the Royal Bank of Canada, Silver Point Capital, AdSon LLC and Edenbrook Capital LLC. These are people with real-world business experience, and as such can serve as references or bridges for any student that shows interest in a certain field. Teaching in an adjunct capacity allows someone to have one foot in two ponds,, in a manner that can only be beneficial to the students taking said professor’s course. To add my own personal experience to the mix, I took a course on international criminal law taught by Professor Karen Corrie, an adjunct professor who at the time also worked as a consultant in the Permanent Mission of Estonia to the United Nations. When her course ended and summer began, she forwarded an internship opportunity to work in the Mission of Estonia to the entire class.

These examples of adjunct professors are all right; the problem, however, occurs when adjunct professors want to teach full time, but they are forced to do so exclusively in an adjunct capacity because the university doesn’t want to pay out more than it has to. Professor Trevithick currently teaches six courses, and if he were to maintain that workload for a full year he would on average make, again according to, only $34,000 before taxes.

As it stands, the only way for adjunct professors to sustain themselves is to maintain a job separate from a university. In many cases, this works just fine, but for those that pull the full-time weight that Trevithick does without appropriate compensation, something needs to change. It is a great disservice if those who want to evolve past the adjunct position are blocked from doing so due to university economics; at some point, especially here in a Jesuit university, we must show some level of concern for the individuals that comprise our community.