The floor of Matt Hoffman’s 6-by-10 foot office in Loyola’s Sociology Department is populated by neat stacks of paper, meticulously highlighted textbooks and scribbled Post-it notes — the usual evidence of the labor of love that is teaching a college course. However, unlike some professors’ offices, there is no towering bookcase filled with literature from his field, no family pictures pinned to the walls, no signs of permanence.
Though he began teaching part-time at Loyola four years ago, Hoffman is an adjunct professor who has no guarantee that he will still have a job at the end of each semester. Like other adjunct professors at Loyola, he hopes for a new contract every semester, receives no benefits and gets a paycheck that does not guarantee he will stay above the poverty line.
Hoffman is part of Faculty Forward, a group that is organizing to demand a national minimum payment of $15,000 per course, including benefits, for adjunct professors.
When asked if he was risking his job by publicly campaigning for Faculty Forward, Hoffman said, “Well, I don’t really have much to lose.”
He says Loyola pays him and other non-tenure teachers $4,500 per course before taxes. Hoffman usually teaches two courses, but since he taught three last semester, Loyola is only offered him one this spring in order to keep him at part-time status.
According to a University of Minnesota survey, 22 percent of part-time faculty, most of whom have PhDs, live below the poverty line. Compare this to the 14.5 percent of all Americans who live below the poverty line.
Faculty Forward recently joined Fight for 15, a coalition fighting for, among other improvements, a minimum wage of $15 per hour. It’s comprised of a range of workers, including parttime professors such as Hoffman, employees of McDonald’s and airport baggage handlers.
A rally is scheduled to take place at Loyola on April 15, which will then join up with a major rally at the University of Illinois at Chicago campus. It is part of a national event taking place at hundreds of campuses. At the Loyola rally, Faculty Forward will present the administration with a petition for a Jesuit Just Employment Policy.
It asks for the administration to “[recognize] all campus workers’ right to a living wage, fair and equitable pay and benefits, a safe and just work environment, and the freedom to organize to form unions without any employer interference or retaliation.” The petition can be viewed and signed at the Service Employees International Union (SEUI) Faculty Forward website.
No Loyola administrators responded to interview requests. Students may worry that raising faculty pay will result in an increase in tuition.
However, Hoffman says that’s not the case. At Loyola, the percentage of total revenue that the school spends on actual instruction fell from 33 percent in 2003 to 30 percent in 2013. In the same 10 years, tuition exploded 73 percent, according to data compiled by the SEUI. Most of this tuition has gone into an enormous growth of non-teaching staff, expanded student services and increased administrator paychecks.
“If, indeed, there was a link between tuition and faculty pay, students would be paying less,” said Hoffman. He cites a study from Kent State University that says at universities “unionization [of faculty] contributes to lower budgets, higher graduation rates, and a greater number of degrees and completions.”
The idea is that unionized faculties force a university to focus on its academic goals rather than bureaucratic ones. Faculty Forward is pursuing smaller, more concrete goals than unionization right now.
“The push for [this movement] is strong, and the momentum is building really fast … Full-time faculty overwhelmingly support us … We want to feel like we’re treated fairly,” Hoffman said.