Faculty & Staff


Faculty & Staff

Imagine a “professor.” For many, the idea evokes images of a well-compensated, full-time scholar with the academic freedom, job security and prestige associated with tenure. Now think again, but this time envision a Ph.D. who spends hours a day commuting between the two or three colleges at which he’s taken on course assignments, in an attempt to make a living. The pay is low, the job security is non-existent and a full-time position is a kind of pipe dream – let alone the possibility of tenure.

Imagine a “professor.” For many, the idea evokes images of a well-compensated, full-time scholar with the academic freedom, job security and prestige associated with tenure. Now think again, but this time envision a Ph.D. who spends hours a day commuting between the two or three colleges at which he’s taken on course assignments, in an attempt to make a living. The pay is low, the job security is non-existent and a full-time position is a kind of pipe dream – let alone the possibility of tenure.

For years, the fact that 70 percent of professors fall to some degree into the latter category, off the tenure track, has remained higher education’s “dirty little secret.” But the secret is getting out, and that might be the defining faculty story for reporters who cover higher education. Adjuncts have long been campaigning for better working conditions – which they argue are also student learning conditions – but their rhetoric really started to take hold in 2013.

Part of the reason adjuncts gained this recent, unprecedented national attention is the Affordable Care Act. In the wake of that law’s enactment, colleges and universities began to introduce caps on the total number of courses adjuncts could teach per semester to limit the number of employees who would qualify as “full-time” under the act. By capping adjuncts’ hours, the logic went, colleges and universities reduced the risk of having to offer them subsidized health insurance.

For adjuncts, the caps were a double-blow. Not only were their hopes of gaining access to affordable health care from their employers dashed, but the caps also meant many would be taking home less income from teaching fewer classes. Adjunct wages vary widely, from about $1,500 a course to up to $6,000, depending on the institution type and other factors. But across the board, they earn relatively less than their tenure-line colleagues and many work at several institutions simultaneously in lieu of a full-time position.

But there was a silver lining to the wave of caps. Because the health care act was major news, national media outlets picked up the story, bringing new attention to adjuncts’ general struggles. Soon, even Congress took note. Ultimately, members of the House Committee on Labor and the Workforce produced a report called “The Just In-Time Professor,” calling for further study of the changing faculty. Although the report reflected what many adjunct activists had been saying for years, adjuncts took the Congressional attention as a major leap forward in their fight for better working conditions. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation – a powerful voice in administrative circles – even weighed in with its own report on adjuncts, which suggested that non-tenure-track faculty issues play a bigger role in campus evaluations going forward.

Another reason adjuncts gained unprecedented attention is Margaret Mary Vojtko. The elderly adjunct professor of French at Duquesne University died last year, sick and destitute, after working for the university for decades. Her story went viral after an op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by a United Steelworkers union lawyer said the Catholic university should have done more to help her. Details about Vojtko’s life remain hazy, and some have said the op-ed was more about the Steelworkers’ bid to unionize adjuncts on the campus than about Vojtko, but the story hit a nerve. Many adjuncts said their fears about their own futures were realized in Vojkto. Others outside academe said they had no idea what an “adjunct” was until reading Vojtko’s story. She inspired countless news articles, blog posts and the Twitter hashtag #iammargaretmary.

At the same time, adjuncts advanced internal efforts at organizing.  In 2013, the Service Employees International Union went public with its plan to organize adjuncts across the Washington, D.C., metro area, hopefully forcing up wages and bettering working conditions across the city. By spring 2014, SEIU estimated that it represents more than half of the adjuncts in the District, and similar metro efforts are under way in eight other cities nationwide, including Boston, Philadelphia (where the American Federation of Teachers is pursuing a similar strategy), Los Angeles and Seattle, as part of SEIU’s Adjunct Action Campaign.

Also in 2014, the faculty union at the University of Illinois at Chicago, affiliated with the American Association of University Professors and AFT, went on strike over their first contract. Among several sticking points was a so-called “living wage” for the university’s full-time, non-tenure-track faculty members, who are part of a separate but affiliated bargaining unit. Adjuncts activists praised the move, as tenure-line and adjunct faculty interests are often seen as divergent.

Adjunct unions have seen challenges, too. A vote to unionize with SEIU failed at Bentley University, and adjuncts who voted on an SEIU union last year at Pacific Lutheran University have seen their votes impounded, pending the institution’s appeal of a local National Labor Relations Board decision granting the vote.

Another kind of adjunct faculty across the country, graduate student workers – at least those who hoped to form unions – were relying on another groundbreaking NLRB decision to validate their legal standing in 2014. But that decision, regarding graduate student workers at New York University, never came, as the United Autoworkers union, with whom the students are affiliated, reached a surprise agreement with the university. It allowed the graduate student workers to hold a union vote overseen by arbitrators, instead of the NLRB. Graduate students at other campuses had been hoping that an NLRB vote in favor of the New York students would have effectively reversed an earlier board decision banning graduate students from forming unions at private universities. Many of these groups are now considering other strategies.

Of course, some 30 percent of professors remain on the tenure track, and the percentages at certain kinds of institutions are much higher. But even tenured professors face their host of concerns, and many say the profession isn’t nearly glamorous as it’s imagined to be.

First, professors – especially those at public institutions – have seen their pay effectively cut or flatlined since the recession. Last year was the first year since 2008 that professor pay increases kept pace with inflation, according to a recent report from the AAUP, but these gains paled in comparison to expenditures on sports and administration. Senior faculty members in particular face what’s called salary compression, meaning that their pay isn’t all that much better than junior colleagues fresh out of graduate school. That’s because professor pay – again, especially at public institutions that follow pay scales – hasn’t kept up with the outside market. Some institutions have taken steps to address it with lump-sum adjustments, but it remains a problem across higher education.            

Professor advocates also say they’ve seen challenges to academic freedom in the last year, particularly in relation social media use. After the Navy Yard shootings in Washington, D.C. in 2013, a University of Kansas associate professor took to Twitter with some inflammatory comments about children and the National Rifle Association. Some state legislators immediately called for his dismissal, and the university placed him on leave from teaching indefinitely. Professor advocates criticized the university for doing so, but the university has not backed down and its Board of Regents is set to vote soon on a policy that would regulate faculty members’ use of social media. In addition to social media, professor advocates say there are unanswered questions about academic freedom in relation to who owns the content developed for online courses – the professor or the university.

The past year also has seen increased threats to shared governance. Specifically, faculty members at a host of institutions have criticized their administrators for not conferring with professors – who, according to the principles of shared governance, retain primary control over the curriculum – before targeting academic programs for closure. Several smaller, private institutions, including Felician College and Carroll University, have been accused of firing tenure-line professors due to festering budget concerns or worries about low future enrollment, rather than dire, immediate financial problems. In at least one victory for faculty members, though, the University of Southern Maine announced it was reversing its decision to lay off a dozen faculty members, following outcry from students and the surrounding community.

Latest News

Gender Pay Gap Persists for Higher Education Administrators

Higher education administration is still a man’s world if you’re measuring pay and position title.

A gender pay gap at the top levels of higher education leadership has persisted over the last 15 years, according to new research released Tuesday by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, known as CUPA-HR. A gulf between the number of men and women in the most prestigious, highest-paying jobs has not closed significantly, either.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Program Steering Latinos to Ph.D.s Gets Underway

The University of Pennsylvania Center for Minority Serving Institutions has announced its first cohort of students from Hispanic-serving institutions who will take part in the center’s new program, “HSI Pathways to the Professoriate.” The program, announced last year, seeks to increase the diversity of the college teaching profession by guiding Latino college students through graduate school and the acquisition of a Ph.D.

Member Stories

December 15 – December 22
Some of our favorite stories by EWA members this week

This company trains schools how to respond to active shooter attacks, reports Dan Carsen for WBHM. Unlike other training, this group, which has partnered with 3,700 districts, encourages staff and students to fight back.

A heartwarming tale or a case study in picking favorites? Gabrielle Russon of the Orlando Sentinel examines the merits of a Florida university absorbing a bionics company and the worries other firms have about an unfair competitive environment.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

New Poll: College Grads Unhappy With the Career Services They’re Getting
More than half say their career offices were unhelpful or only somewhat helpful

Universities and colleges may be seen as gateways to good jobs, but many don’t pass the test on providing students useful career advice, according to a new poll.

More than half of college graduates say the career services offices of their alma maters were unhelpful or only somewhat helpful, compared to 43 percent who say the offices were helpful or very helpful, the Gallup-Purdue Index shows.

EWA Radio

The Chronicle of Higher Education Turns 50
EWA Radio: Episode 101

Liz McMillen, the editor of the Chronicle of Higher Education, looks back at a half-century of milestone stories, memorable headlines, and key moments on the national higher education beat, many of which continue to echo today. Among them: equity and diversity, classroom technology, and free speech on campus. She discusses the Chronicle’s commitment to narrative journalism, lessons to be learned by looking back, and what’s ahead for the nation’s colleges and universities.

Member Stories

November 17-December 1
Some of our favorite stories by EWA members in the last two weeks

Who is Betsy DeVos? Dale Mezzacappa, Greg Windle and Darryl Murphy of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook team up for a closer look at the Michigan billionaire who is poised to become the next U.S. secretary of education. 


Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Public Universities Have ‘Really Lost Our Focus’
Q&A with Christopher Newfield

Since the 1970s, a “doom loop” has pervaded higher education, writes Christopher Newfield in his new book The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them. Newfield, a professor of American Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, calls this loop “privatization” – the hidden and overt ways that “business practices restructure teaching and research.”


Doing More With Higher Ed Data: From Policy to Newsrooms
Philadelphia • February 2–3, 2017

With colleges and universities under increased pressure to ensure that more students earn degrees without amassing mountains of debt, journalists are at the forefront in examining how these institutions  measure up. But there’s one major obstacle that both colleges and reporters share when it comes to making sense of how well these schools are meeting their goals: insufficient data.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

The ‘$500 Million Club’ of Colleges Tends to Be Stingy With Aid to Low-Income Students

Swarthmore College, where 13 percent of the student body receives Pell grants, has an endowment of $1.5 billion, and spent 3.7 percent of it in 2013.By Kungming2 CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Call them the top four percent: elite private colleges and universities that together sit atop three-quarters of the higher education terrain’s endowment wealth.

Among that group of 138 of the nation’s wealthiest colleges and universities, four in five charge poor students so much that they’d need to surrender 60 percent or more of their household incomes just to attend, even after financial aid is considered. Nearly half have enrollment rates of low-income students that place them in the bottom 5 percent nationally for such enrollment.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Higher Ed: Hunger on Campus

Flickr/Salvation Army USA West (CC BY 2.0)

The stereotypes of the financially struggling college students are well-known. They live on ramen, share an apartment or house with several roommates, and work part-time for money to buy beer. They get summer jobs to cover college tuition and expenses. And they come from middle- and upper-class families, so if they do struggle sometimes to pay the bills, that scarcity is hip and cool.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Psychology, Mentoring and Dollars: Innovations in Graduating More Students from College

Flickr/Cat Branchman (CC BY 2.0)

College students enter their institutions excited about learning and eager to succeed. Yet many don’t.

Hurdles like the cost of attendance certainly exist, but researchers are also now starting to examine the effects psychological barriers such as social group dynamics, self-confidence and feelings of isolation have on college students’ success.

EWA Radio

Why President Obama Should Teach
EWA Radio: Episode 65

(Flickr/The White House)

When President Obama leaves office in January, there will be no shortage of big-name corporations and Ivy League universities clamoring for his skills. But in a recent essay for The New Yorker Magazine, contributor Cinque Henderson — a former writer for Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” — suggests President Obama consider teaching at a historically black college or university (HBCU), community college, or even an urban high school.

Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Wanted: Faculty Who Can Mentor Latino Students

Source: Bigstock

In an effort to diversify its faculty, California Lutheran University is trying a new approach in its hiring.

In a job posting for an assistant professor position, the recently designated Hispanic-serving institution specifies it wants “candidates who can mentor African-American or Latino(a) students and are able to teach courses that deepen student and faculty awareness regarding power dynamics related to race/ethnicity.” The ability to speak Spanish is a plus. 


Higher Ed 2016
September 16–17 • Tempe, Arizona

What new techniques and practices should higher education embrace to ensure that more students graduate? Join the Education Writers Association September 16–17 at Arizona State University to explore cutting-edge innovations that aim to address financial, academic, and social barriers. More on the seminar theme.

This annual seminar is one of the largest gatherings of journalists covering postsecondary education. Network with others covering this beat and step up your coverage for the upcoming academic year.

Arizona State University
Tempe, Arizona
Key Coverage

College Sports’ Fastest-Rising Expense: Paying Coaches Not to Work

These are just a few examples of the golden parachutes that await newly unemployed coaches in the lucrative world of major college sports, a phenomenon recently retired football coach Steve Spurrier once called “hitting that lottery ticket.” Severance pay is the top-rising expense for athletic departments at some of America’s largest public universities, according to a Washington Post review of thousands of pages of financial records from schools in the five wealthiest conferences in college sports.


Seven Challenges First-Generation College Students Face & How to Write About Them


While many first-generation students are excited and ambitious when they step on campus — eager to beat the odds and become the first in their families to earn a college degree — others struggle with guilt, fear and loneliness, sometimes even struggling to remember why they decided to attend college in the first place. And they grapple with these feelings while they also have to figure out how to apply for financial aid, register for classes, and manage the other necessities of undergraduate life knowing they can’t turn to their families for guidance based on experience.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

Debt-Free College: Why It’s News Now

As Democratic presidential hopefuls assemble in Las Vegas today for their first formal debate, one topic that has received little airtime during the Republican face-offs is likely to garner far more attention: the high cost of attaining a college degree.

Blog: Higher Ed Beat

The New Effort to Link College to Careers

Students of the culinary program at Valencia College in Orlando demonstrate their kitchen skills. (Source: Twitter/@GabrielleRusson)

As tuitions swell and student loan debt climbs further, one aspect of higher education that has been overlooked is the recipe required to transform a college education into a set of skills that prepares students for the workspace.

As it turns out, neither colleges nor employers have a firm grasp on what flavor that special sauce should have, reporters learned at “The Way to Work: Covering the Path from College to Careers” – the Education Writers Association’s seminar on higher education held in Orlando Sep. 18-19.


69th EWA National Seminar

The Education Writers Association, the national professional organization for journalists who cover education, is thrilled to announce that its annual conference will take place from Sunday, May 1, through Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in the historic city of Boston.

Co-hosted by Boston University’s College of Communication and School of Education, EWA’s 69th National Seminar will examine a wide array of timely topics in education — from early childhood through career — while expanding and sharpening participants’ skills in reporting and storytelling.

Boston, Massachusetts

Attitude Adjustment: The Impact of Mentoring and Psychology
2014 Higher Ed Semiar

Attitude Adjustment: The Impact of Mentoring and Psychology

Academics are just part of the story for many students entering college – a whole new culture of learning awaits them. But if they are first-generation college students, those cultural challenges can derail a promising postsecondary career. New research is exploring the effects mentoring programs and brief psychological interventions can have on low-income, minority and first-generation students. What can colleges do to promote resiliency and support student well-being for all students?  Are such efforts merely too much “coddling” of students by campuses? 

Blog: The Educated Reporter

How to Help the 21st Century College Student

Source: Flickr/College of DuPage Newsroom

When Mark Milliron met with an advertising team to promote a new type of college in Texas, he wasn’t expecting fireworks. Still, the pitch floored him.

“The Texas Two-Step: Sign Up. Succeed.”

It was the sentence that would appear on billboards and in radio advertisements, enticing thousands of working adults to enroll in an online college – Western Governors University Texas. And it totally missed the point.


The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Covering the College Student Experience
2014 Higher Ed Seminar

For many college students — whether fresh out of high school or adults returning to school — their most serious obstacles to a degree won’t be homework or tests, but rather the challenges of navigating student life. Colleges are now being forced to face the longstanding problems that have often led to students’ flailing and failing on their own. 

Key Coverage

Power In Numbers: Adjuncts Turn To Citywide Unionizing As Their Best Hope

It’s the lull between Northeastern University’s afternoon and evening classes, and adjunct instructors drift in and out of a windowless room set aside for them in Ryder Hall. Lacking offices on campus, they come here to log on to shared computers or to grab books from shelved cardboard boxes that serve as their makeshift lockers.


Losing Focus

The American Association of University Professors’ annual “Report on the Economic Status of the Profession.”

Key Coverage

Many UIC Classes Canceled As Faculty Strikes

Hundreds of classes at the University of Illinois at Chicago were canceled Tuesday as part of the first faculty walkout in the school’s history.

“The faculty union at UIC is on strike. As tenure-track faculty, the librarians at Daley Library are not available at this time,” read one sign in the university’s main library, which was still open.

Key Coverage

NLRB Seeks Guidance on Adjuncts at Religious Colleges and the Relevance of ‘Yeshiva’ Decision

The National Labor Relations Board on Monday posed a series of questions that could lead to rulings on whether adjuncts have the right to unionize at religious colleges, and whether a 1980 Supreme Court ruling should continue to effectively bar tenure-track faculty members from unionizing at private institutions.

Key Coverage

Why Adjunct Professors Are Struggling To Make Ends Meet

Juggling multiple part-time jobs, earning little-to-no benefits, depending on public assistance: This is the financial reality for many adjunct professors across the nation. Economics correspondent Paul Solman looks for the origins of this growing employment trend at colleges and universities.


Committee Democrats Release Findings of eForum on Contingent Faculty

The Democratic staff of the House Education and the Workforce Committee today released the findings of an eForum on the state of contingent faculty in higher education, which details working conditions, the role those conditions play in affecting adjunct instructors’ career prospects and ability to earn a living, and how the instructors’ working conditions may impact their teaching.

Key Coverage

Grad Students Rethink Union Strategies Following NYU-UAW Deal

Graduate students hoping to unionize at private institutions had for years been counting on a National Labor Relations Board ruling to set a new precedent for their legal status. The decision was expected in a case involving graduate students at New York University who wished to vote to form a union affiliated with the United Auto Workers. If the board ruled in favor of the students, it could have effectively reversed a 2004 ruling that said graduate student teaching assistants at private universities did not have a right to collective bargaining.

Blog: The Educated Reporter

Higher Ed Beat: What Are the Top 10 Stories on College Campuses?

Higher Ed Beat: What Are the Top 10 Stories on College Campuses?

I’ll admit it – I look forward every fall when Scott Jaschik shares his “cheat sheet”of story ideas at EWA’s annual Higher Education Seminar.This year we met at Northeastern University, and Scott didn’t disappoint.We asked journalists who attended the seminar to contribute posts, and today’s guest blogger is Michael Vasquez of the Miami Herald.For more on higher education issues, including community colleges,

Key Coverage

Death Of Duquesne Adjunct Margaret Mary Vojtko: What Really Happened To Her?

Elderly, recently let go from her job, and suffering from cancer, Vojtko was the picture of vulnerability. Duquesne, meanwhile, looked like the epitome of a coldhearted, corporate university—even though it is a Catholic school, founded by Spiritan priests. Tuition is $31,385 a year; meanwhile, Kovalik said Vojtko earned less than $25,000 from teaching eight classes a year. And though Vojtko had worked at the university for 25 years, when she was let go, she wasn’t entitled to severance pay, let alone a pension.

Key Coverage

Finding Life After Academia — and Not Feeling Bad About It

According to a 2011 National Science Foundation survey, 35 percent of doctorate recipients — and 43 percent of those in the humanities — had no commitment for employment at the time of completion. Fewer than half of Ph.D.’s are expected to land tenure-track jobs. And many voluntarily choose another path because they want higher pay or more direct engagement with the world than monographs and tenure committees seem to allow.

Key Coverage

Death of an Adjunct

On Sept. 1, Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor who had taught French at Duquesne University for 25 years, passed away at the age of 83. She died as the result of a massive heart attack she suffered two weeks before. As it turned out, I may have been the last person she talked to.

Key Coverage

Health Law Pinches College Teachers

The federal health-care overhaul is prompting some colleges and universities to cut the hours of adjunct professors, renewing a debate about the pay and benefits of these freelance instructors who handle a significant share of teaching at U.S. higher-education institutions. The Affordable Care Act requires large employers to offer a minimum level of health insurance to employees who work 30 hours a week or more starting in 2014, or face a penalty.