INCOME INEQUALITY INDEED

As a CUNY adjunct I’ll make less over my career than my coworker Paul Krugman does in a year

This piece has been corrected.

Like over 75% of professors in America, I am an adjunct, or, in corporate-speak, “contingent” or “part-time” faculty. I have been teaching in the City University of New York (CUNY) system—in the English departments of both John Jay and Hunter Colleges—for a couple of years.

At the moment, with a few years within the CUNY system under my belt, I earn $73.53 per hour. Generally, adjuncts, unlike other faculty, are paid by the hour—and we are only paid for the hours spent in the classroom. We are not paid for class preparation, or grading papers, or email correspondence with students, or writing students letters of recommendation, or attending sometimes mandatory faculty seminars/meetings. We do not receive benefits, like health insurance. If we teach at more than one school, we are limited to teach a total of three courses a semester, which, at my current rate, means I’d earn approximately $13,200 before taxes each semester. Which is impossible, since CUNY has told me there are no courses available for the fall semester, because enrollment is down and the system, apparently, is strapped for cash. So I’ll actually be earning zero dollars.

 I have a PhD, just like Krugman—the difference is that he makes more in a year at CUNY than I’ll inevitably make my entire career within the system. But apparently, CUNY isn’t too strapped. The New York Times columnist and former Princeton University professor, who was hired by CUNY last year in the role of “distinguished scholar” at the Luxembourg Income Study Center at the CUNY Graduate Center, is up for a prestigious new title of Distinguished Professor this coming academic year, on top of his salary of $225,000.

Krugman’s responsibilities for earning that much money? CUNY Graduate Center media director Tanya Domi told Quartz that Krugman will have “a full work load” in the fall between assisting the Graduate Center’s inequality initiative, researching unspecified topics at the Luxembourg Income Study Center and participating in CUNY public programs. But according to the current Graduate Center’s catalogue for the fall semester, he is not slated to teach any courses in 2015. He is also not listed as available for dissertation supervision.

The CUNY Adjunct Project, in data collected and disseminated shortly before the first annual National Adjunct Walkout Day earlier this year on Feb. 25, reported that adjuncts “make up 59% of CUNY’s total faculty,” and are “only paid 29% to 38% of what full-time faculty are paid.” According to the project’s data, adjuncts are paid “an average salary of $3,275” per course, and are are given an average total of four courses a year, “earning $13,100 in total.” To put this figure another way: It would take over 19 years of teaching for an adjunct to make as much as Krugman does in one year.

Is it any wonder than that nationwide, a whopping 25% of adjuncts are on some type of public assistance? In order to live in New York City and teach, I had to take out a personal loan with my bank.

Krugman also earns substantially more than full-time CUNY professors, who, according, again, to the Adjunct Project, make on average $77,882 per academic year and teach up to seven courses a year, at four year institutions. They receive benefits.

To be fair, Krugman’s salary is not radically different from the average salaries of full-time professors at private institutions like Stanford ($224,300) or Columbia ($223,900). Granted, CUNY is a public institution with an endowment that is only a small fraction of the holdings of these institutions. Not to mention that Krugman carries far more gravitas than CUNY’s other recent “celebrity” hire, disgraced former CIA director general David Patraeus, who was paid $150,000 to teach a one-time three-hour course at CUNY’s Macaulay Honors College in 2013.

If the American higher education system has become a collection of corporations, no wonder colleges and universities are hiring adjuncts: similar qualifications, a fraction of the cost. Puzzling is the fact, then, that students are in debt more than ever. If there are less full-time faculty than ever, shouldn’t students be paying less? Where is the money going?

 The fact that money is being siphoned off to pay people like Krugman speaks volumes about the value placed on education in America. Well, like all corporations, it’s going into the machine—into the administrator cogs that keep the machine running. Money is also being hemorrhaged to pay for university sports coaches’ salaries, like Nick Saban, Alabama’s football coach whose annual salary is $6.9 million.

But the fact that money is being siphoned off to pay people like Krugman, people are specifically hired to function as “brand ambassadors” rather than teachers, speaks volumes about the value placed on education and higher learning in America. Today, too many students, overwhelmed by their debt, view their college classroom experiences as a series of transactions, where they take out loans with the expectation of receiving As in return. For these students, little value is placed on actual learning, critical thinking, and writing.

These young people are not ignorant of what’s going on around them. In fact, students are keenly aware of the nation’s adjunct crisis, and what it signifies to them is that their colleges care less and less about their education. If they did, they’d treat all faculty as professors rather than as the hired help.

Krugman is not ethically at fault, of course. “[Krugman’s] value lies in his ability to raise the school’s profile—to attract other faculty members, to attract high-caliber graduate students, and, perhaps most importantly, to attract donors who share Krugman’s convictions concerning income inequality, or who at least find it useful to appear to share his convictions,” wrote Slate’s Reihan Salam last year. “Viewed through this lens, CUNY’s offer to Krugman looks like a bargain.”

But his hire as a “brand ambassador” is also a signifier of the cultural shift in America, and, arguably, an intellectual deterioration caused by the stranglehold corporate capitalism currently holds on America’s institutions of higher learning.

Corrected July 3, 2015 (4:34pm EST): The piece initially reported that on top of his change in title, Krugman was receiving a raise, based on the text of the CUNY Board of Trustees preliminary agenda. A CUNY spokesperson told Quartz that Krugman would not be getting a raise.

Follow Marcie on Twitter at @MarcieBianco. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

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