FL has become a hotbed of academic organizing: Adjunct profs need more than poverty wages

Miami Dade College adjuncts pose in solidarity. Image courtesy of Faculty Forward, a project of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)

Our society promises that the key to a better life is through college. But over that last generation, many Americans have come to realize that the great opportunity comes with a staggering and often debilitating cost: student debt and low pay for educators.

In the classroom, I get to see the hope and promise of students who reap the benefits of higher education, a brighter future and advancement of goals. I witness the excitement of learning with engaged students.

I believe in the importance of education as vital to an informed and successful society. That is one of the reasons I enjoy teaching — the joy of learning and discovery. I appreciate student interactions and contributions and I learn from them. I observe this same dedication from my fellow professors.

At a time when college affordability and higher education reform is at the forefront of presidential debates, the issues affecting higher education educators are not being properly addressed by the candidates.

As an adjunct professor for more than 10 years and organizing a union for two years, I just recently voted — along with adjunct faculty members — to form our union at St. Petersburg College. (The union is connected to Faculty Forward, a project of the Service Employees International Union, SEIU, and Florida Public Services Union, FPSU.)

When you think of Florida, union organizing is far from the first thought that pops into your head.

Despite being a conservative, right-to-work state, Florida has become a hotbed of academic organizing. Nearly 9,500 adjunct professors in Florida have formed or are about to vote for their union. This growing wave of higher education organizing confirms what most of us in the classrooms already knew: higher education in our state is in need of reform.

The majority of the professoriate in higher education consists of adjunct professors who often work without benefits, including retirement benefits. They suffer through job insecurity and poverty wages.

Many of our adjunct faculty members say they’re teetering on the brink of poverty and even visit food banks to supplement their livelihood during long periods between paychecks.

Many adjunct professors rely on adjunct teaching as their sole source of income and often teach at several institutions. As the cost of education continues to rise, adjunct wages have remained stagnant. In addition, employer expectations have expanded with no commensurate salary increase or other resources.

Many adjuncts experience little institutional support, such as inadequate office space to meet with students. Many adjuncts must provide their own supplies. For years, adjuncts have tried to discuss concerns with higher education administrators but improvements have been elusive.

We love teaching and want to remain in education as our chosen profession. Yet, many of us are forced to remain on poverty wages with no benefits.

These circumstances do not serve our students, who continue to pay rising tuition while adjunct professors struggle. That’s why we need to make it easier for adjuncts in Florida and other states to form unions.

As the issue of college affordability continues to come up, lawmakers working on serious legislation must include a voice on the job for educators.

Otherwise we’ll be left wondering about how secure our economic future will be — for current adjuncts and future generations of students and educators.