As you may know, the Temple Association of University Professionals (TAUP) is currently negotiating with the university administration for the first labor contract for adjuncts. Although we have been at the table since last May, negotiations are not going well. It appears the administration would like to continue to treat adjuncts as an exploitable, low-wage labor force. Although Temple’s revenues soared 72 percent from 2006 to 2016, its instructional budget during the same time only increased by 45 percent. The poor treatment of adjuncts is the most glaring example of the administration’s refusal to invest in the faculty who along with students are the heart of the university. This is not due to a lack of funds; it’s due to misplaced priorities.
Adjuncts are crucial to the teaching enterprise of Temple University, yet we are treated as expendable workers without dignity or respect. For years, the numbers of adjuncts employed by Temple rose precipitously. And when TAUP began the effort to organize adjuncts into the faculty union, the university did everything it could to prevent that from happening, including testifying before the PA Labor Relations Board that adjuncts were not real faculty. While adjuncts comprise 51 percent of Temple’s teaching force, we are paid just 9 percent of total faculty compensation. While we teach more than a quarter of all undergraduate courses, our wages are less than 4 percent of Temple’s total expenditure for instruction. A typical student pays around $1,800 to take a 3-credit class, and a typical adjunct is paid $3,900 to teach that class, so it takes about 2 students to cover the instructional costs. An adjunct teaching the maximum number of credits at Temple would make $20,800 per year. That’s 38.5 percent below the cost of living for a single person with no children in Philadelphia. The math here is crystal clear.
And so, unfortunately, is the morality. I am reminded of one of Martin Luther King’s favorite phrases. He often said that “the arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” From my vantage point as an adjunct I see the arc of Temple’s moral universe bending decisively toward rank exploitation. I see a ballooning and overcompensated corps of administrators, and the construction of sparkly new buildings that undercut Temple’s commitment to teaching as the highest priority.
We should be wary of the notion, though, that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice automatically, and we should note that when King uttered the phrase he was in the forefront of a vast movement toiling to bend that arc from Jim Crow to a more inclusive, non-racial democracy.
The most important thing we need to know is this: the arc of Temple’s moral universe will finally bend toward justice when we grab it and shape it with our bodies and our strength. That’s why we need unions, like the Temple Association of University Professionals, leading the fight for dignity and fairness for adjuncts and for all faculty. We are responsible for the trajectory of the arc; we are responsible for bending that arc towards justice. It is not going to happen on its own; we see this in the damning statistics that reveal Temple’s disregard for teachers. The corporate university will not cease to operate on a market-driven, race-to-the-bottom logic for labor costs until we use our bodies and our strength to create a Temple University, where all faculty and all workers are compensated fairly and its highest priorities are teaching and learning.
Wende Marshall is an adjunct professor teaching in the Intellectual Heritage Program.