Rutgers Adjunct Professors Deserve Equal Pay for Equal Work | Opinion

By Amy Higer and Rebecca Givan

The principle of “equal pay for equal work” as a requirement of federal law turns 60 next year when we celebrate the anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, signed into law by President John F. Kennedy in June 1963. Since then, the concept has become fundamental to American notions of fairness and democracy. It sounds simple: people doing the same or substantially similar work should be paid the same. If they are not, someone is being discriminated against.

That’s why we were surprised to hear Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway say last month that equal pay for equal work is “a powerful phrase that’s compelling on its surface, and ignores the layers of complexity that underlie it”. He was answering questions at a University Senate meeting about the shockingly low pay of 2,700 Rutgers professors classified as adjuncts.

Adjunct professors — or “part-time lecturers” (PTLs), as they’re called at Rutgers — teach 30% of undergraduate courses at Rutgers, so the university’s 50,000 undergraduate students are likely to be taught by at least one adjunct instructor each semester. PTLs are essential to the academic mission of the university – yet they do not receive a decent salary for their work, they must reapply for employment each semester, and they do not have access to the health insurance that all other Rutgers employees receive. They are treated as “gig” teachers.

Deputies, with the support of our Coalition of Rutgers Unions, are calling on the administration to right this wrong in our next union contract. Our proposal is simple: raise adjunct pay to match the per-course pay of faculty members who do the same job but are classified as full-time, non-tenured faculty. Equal pay for equal work.

At the October 6 Board of Governors meeting, Chairman Holloway at least explained what he thought was complex about this proposal. “[I]In fact, non-tenured faculty have different roles beyond the classroom, such as service and administrative duties,” he said. “It’s not equal work, no matter how important the two roles are to the university.”

Unfortunately, President Holloway seems to have been misinformed about what adjuncts and full-time faculty do at Rutgers. Full-time faculty are paid for work divided between teaching, research, and service. Adjunct professors are only paid for teaching, but many do important and essential service work, such as advising and mentoring students and writing letters of recommendation. This work is unpaid and, apparently, invisible to President Holloway.

When students ask for advice or additional support, PTLs don’t say, “No, that’s not my job.” They do this work because they believe in education and care about their students. We want the administration to recognize that we are all Rutgers teachers.

The job of part-time lecturers is anything but “part-time” when you consider prep time, office hours, and student counseling. But because auxiliaries are only paid $5,700 per class per semester and are often limited to two classes per semester, they are forced to teach at other schools to support themselves and their families. Part-time teaching on two (or more) campuses is full-time work.

One of us, Amy, was both a non-tenure “full-time” faculty member and a “part-time” lecturer, but the work in each position was the same. The only difference is that one job comes with a living wage, benefits, job security, and a desk — and the other has none. That’s why we can’t understand how President Holloway could say, “It’s not equal work.

Our unions estimate that it would cost Rutgers less than $20 million per year to honor the principle of “equal pay for equal work” for PTLs. If that sounds like a lot, consider it less than half of 1% of Rutgers’ overall budget. The Rutgers Athletics program spends just over $20 million a year on coaches alone!

We ask President Holloway and his administration to acknowledge what we think all Rutgers students would say: everything of their teachers are essential to their education, whether the university calls them graduate workers, part-time lecturers or full-time professors. They all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

Equal pay for equal work. Simple.

Amy Higer is president of the Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union (PTLFC), which represents part-time faculty at Rutgers.

Rebecca Givan is president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, which represents full-time faculty, graduates, postdoctoral associates, and advisors.

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