For nearly 20 years, Sally Bartlett has taught English composition as an adjunct professor. She has a love for language and continues her work to help teach the next generation about the way words work. She often tells her students, “You have more power in convincing someone with your words than twisting their arm to do something.”
Having obtained her doctorate to teach this course at the bachelor’s level, she works about 50 hours per week, making roughly $35,000 per year teaching a full-time course load. Her salary is one-third of what a full-time faculty member teaching the exact same course load. As an adjunct, she does not receive any benefits, health care or contributions toward retirement that other full-time faculty receive.
Her story, sadly, is not unique. Over the last few years, Florida’s college system has seen a growth in adjunct hiring. This increase has allowed colleges and universities to provide lower pay, no benefits and to skirt payroll taxes that would contribute toward their retirement and health care, a benefit afforded to almost all other types of workers. As an adjunct professor myself, I am part of the now 70% of instructors who make up our state’s higher education system. Colleges and universities have begun moving toward hiring what they deem “contingent faculty staff,” giving adjunct instructors no job security semester to semester. They have moved further away from offering new full-time positions.
During the pandemic last year, we saw firsthand how instructors immediately melded to the moment and met the need to teach virtually so students would not interrupt their studies and course work toward earning their degrees. The ongoing pandemic has only exacerbated the problem faced in our broken higher education system. and adjunct instructors are part of a statewide movement of working families fighting to fix that.
As a candidate for Florida’s State Senate District 24, I sat with other adjuncts from across Pinellas County and the state who are members and worker leaders with the Florida Public Services Union — a local of the Service Employees International Union. It shouldn’t take a roundtable conversation to come to the conclusion colleges and universities must provide adequate pay, better benefits and job security to the faculty responsible for educating our next generation of leaders.
Adjuncts at the University of South Florida and Hillsborough Community College have come together, organized and bargained a union contract to provide many of the protections afforded to their full time counterparts and expand their access to essential benefits like health care. If Republican leaders had their way during the last legislative session in Tallahassee, these same adjuncts would have seen their rights eliminated.
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On the other side of Tampa Bay, adjuncts at St. Petersburg College find themselves blocked by red tape. Though adjuncts at SPC have organized and overwhelmingly voted to join the union, the final steps to make their union contract official have been held up by the college’s Board of Trustees, an unelected body of appointees of the governor who bare little accountability to the workers they employ or the communities they serve.
Adjuncts at SPC have spoken. They want to collectively bargain together to determine their rights, benefits and pay with college leadership. It is time for the Board of Trustees to remove the red tape and let the adjuncts have a say.
And while we wait, adjuncts like Sally Bartlett continue to wait. She lives with cerebral palsy on one side of her body and supplements her income by picking up additional freelance editing assignments. She can not afford the average cost of a two-bedroom apartment in the Tampa Bay area, which is $1,600 per month. It is not news to many of us that the cost of living continues to rise while pay across industries have stayed stagnant.
As adjunct professors, we are focused on helping to guide our students in a meaningful way to the next chapter of their lives and careers. If our higher education system continues to deny adjunct faculty basic benefits, health care and adequate pay, they will have no real hope of finding a full-time position or earning a living wage.
We must fully fund our higher education system and that starts with providing adequate salary and benefits for all college and university instructors and staff — not just a select few.
Eunic Ortiz is an adjunct professor at the University of Florida teaching Ethics in Communications and has worked in labor, advocacy and government relations for more than a decade. She is running for Florida’s state Senate District 24, covering most parts of Pinellas County.