Equal Pay for Equal Work: Opening Remarks During July 18 Bargaining

By Amy Higer, President, Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Union (PTLFC-AAUP-AFT)

The following was presented as an introduction to the July 18 bargaining session.

We are going to present our proposal for Article 4 (Salary Provisions), but this Article is closely linked with Article 6 (Appointments). 

I want to start by recognizing why we are all here, both sides of the table. We’re here because we have an opportunity. We’re here because all of us want the same thing: we want to make Rutgers the best public university in the country. 

We have an opportunity here to create the employment conditions for the strongest, most effective, and most vibrant faculty possible—one that our students deserve. 

But in order to do this, we have to change the working conditions for the 2,800 adjunct faculty members that Rutgers employs. Together with the full-time NTTs, we teach most of the courses at Rutgers.

We’ve made our case to you about why PTLs should be recognized as full-fledged members of the faculty and why we should be negotiating as #OneFaculty, not separate entities. We teach the same classes. We teach the same students. Some of us already teach full-time, and two-thirds of us do this for a living. It’s upsetting that President Holloway has not honored this request—supported by a majority of PTLs—for such recognition. He can do so at any time.

Nonetheless, we are here at the table today, together, as we will be throughout this bargaining process, with our full-time faculty colleagues and grad students, because we share so much in common, and we cannot make this university better unless we reject the pretense that our jobs are different and unrelated.

Three summers ago, at the start of his tenure, we invited President Holloway to a Zoom Town Hall to discuss the working conditions of adjunct faculty. President Holloway raised the issue of adjunctification and said we needed to address this at Rutgers. He did not at the time define this term, and we all assumed we’d get back to it soon enough. Then Covid interceded, and it’s three years later. We are here, finally, to address it. 

But from our perspective, adjunctification is not really the right term. The right term is contingency, or (to use a few more words) the casualization of labor in higher ed. Casualization turns secure jobs into contingent ones. There is a broad trend of casualization across the spectrum of higher ed, with a dominant trend toward “part-time” faculty positions, which are now the most numerous category of instructors overall (about 41 percent). Rutgers has been one of the leaders in this national trend. 

What are the effects of such heavy reliance on contingent labor to provide education?  What does it mean to the 2,800 “part-time” instructors who teach under these conditions? And what does it mean to the tens of thousands of students who are taught by them every semester? It is not good.

And you don’t have to take our word for it. There’s plenty of research that shows how the trend toward relying on more and more contingent faculty members at universities is a blight on higher education. It’s a crisis in university instruction.

Let’s consider some facts:

  • Roughly 35 percent of adjunct faculty at Rutgers—about 700 of us—teach at more than one university. 
  • Two-thirds of us (1,800) make our living this way, including those of us with terminal degrees in our fields and graduate students seeking to earn their degrees. We piece it together; always worried about the next semester; never able to rest; not knowing whether we will be rehired; not able to tell our students whether we’ll be around in the future; often not able to provide the mentoring and support our students need and deserve. 
  • There are fewer tenured/tenure-track faculty at Rutgers now than there were a decade ago. Secure faculty jobs account for little more than one-quarter of all instructional personnel at the university.
  • Since 2013, for example, the size of the undergraduate student body at Rutgers has grown by about 17 percent, while its tenure-line faculty has shrunk by 3 percent.
  • In the last eight years, dozens of tenure lines have not been replaced, and assistant professor hiring has dwindled. This has all happened quietly, under the radar. And it’s something that students, their parents, and taxpayers are largely unaware of—although they are starting to hear more about it.

The effect of these trends is obvious to anyone who teaches here: it degrades the quality of education. You can have the best instructors in the world but if you give them no job security, pay them less than a living wage, and deny them the access to the affordable health care plans that other employees at the University have, you are depriving students of the kind of faculty they deserve. The common adage for teachers is no less true for being common: Our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions. 

It does not have to be this way. We have an opportunity to make changes now at the bargaining table that could make Rutgers a leader in ending contingency, rather than a poster-child for it.

The University Senate recognized this problem this past spring and passed a resolution that called for compensating PTLs on the basis of Equal Pay for Equal Work; providing us with a path to full-time employment for those seeking it; and guaranteeing job security and access to health care.

The New Jersey legislature has also recognized the problem of contingency by passing a resolution in 2020 calling for Equal Pay for Equal Work for all adjunct faculty in NJ.

We have two proposals that we sent to you that we believe are the best way—in fact, the only way—to address the problem of overreliance on contingent faculty at Rutgers:

  • Article 4’s proposal (Salaries) would honor the principle of Equal Pay for Equal Work, in the form of fractional appointments; and
  • Article 6’s proposal (Appointments) would provide job security for PTLs by giving us multi-semester, and then multi-year appointments.

I’d like to end my introduction with this: What we’re asking for in these articles is an end to the overreliance on contingent faculty at this university. Our proposals for Equal Pay for Equal Work and long-term appointments are not only better for all faculty, but also for all students. I know that these things are better because I was retained as an NTT, paid a fairer wage, with a two-year appointment and access to affordable health care, and it made a world of difference in my ability to interact with my students. 

When a teaching staff is underpaid, overworked, and uncertain about the future, students really do pay a price.