Will Teach For Food

Originally published in Dollars and Sense in March/April 2001.

Who’s teaching in U.S. college classrooms? Increasingly, an underclass of part-time instructors and graduate teaching assistants (TAs), according to a November 2000 report from the Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW). The CAW, a group of 25 academic associations and societies, surveyed departments across the nation in the fall of 1999. The study confirmed what non-tenured college teachers have known for years.

Pay and benefits for adjunct faculty are paltry—more than 72% of historians who work on a per-course basis get $2,500 or less for a one-semester class, and more than 77% receive no benefits. Meanwhile, the number of temporary teachers in the humanities and social sciences is rising. Tenured professors now occupy only 4% of college teaching positions. Especially useful for current unionization efforts among college teachers are the CAW’s statistics about TAs, who now teach about 20% of undergraduate survey courses. These numbers expose the contention made by many universities, that graduate TAs are students rather than workers (and therefore not eligible to unionize) for the anti-union sham that it is.