The state of Massachusetts is praised around the globe for its role as a leader in education. Prestigious colleges are around every corner and people flock to cities like Boston to attend them.
But if Massachusetts values its education so much, why does it continue to allow the exploitation of adjuncts at countless colleges and universities?
That was one of the many questions raised at the joint committee on higher education held Thursday, June 29th at the Massachusetts State House. One bill under discussion was House Bill 2236, which seeks to “ensure minimum fair wages and employment stability for adjunct faculty” at public colleges and universities. The fact is, compared to full-time faculty members, adjuncts are severely underpaid despite teaching the same material and being equally qualified.
The room was peppered with bright orange shirts with the slogan “Faculty Forward.” These were worn by adjuncts in support of this equal pay for equal work legislation. Although the legislation only concerns public colleges and universities, it garnered support from adjuncts at public and private institutions alike. Despite the many differences between public and private universities, one common factor is the exploitation of adjuncts.
Many testimonies illustrated these exploitative practices. Colleges, especially community colleges, use adjuncts to teach the majority (70-85%) of the courses. One witness labeled this the “adjunctification” of colleges. This allows colleges to line their pockets while adjuncts struggle to provide for themselves and their families. On top of this, adjuncts are not given benefits that are provided to full-time faculty members, such as health care.
Kenny Fairneny, a student at UMass Amherst and an intern at Jobs With Justice, testified on a panel in favor of Bill 2236, providing a unique perspective on adjuncts from a student’s point of view. They insisted that all college students deserve a quality education. This includes being able to speak with professors outside of class for extra guidance. Availability is key to the experience. However, with the lack of job security and pay adjuncts receive, they are often unable to hold office hours due to working other jobs, sometimes serving as adjuncts at multiple colleges. Even if they are able to hold office hours, they are not compensated for any hours they commit to helping students outside of the classroom.
The role of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is to “cherish” and aid education, according to the state’s constitution. But how exactly are we cherishing education by exploiting the very people who provide it?
A continuation of this hearing will happen on July 13th at 10 am at the State House. Be there!