So this happened: Michigan State University, one of the best universities in the country, is trying to hire an Assistant Professor of English at poverty level wages. Because MSU does not permalink their job ads, I had to take screen captures of the job ad and make this image: Continue Reading
In case you haven’t been following the conversation I started on Twitter, which includes Karen Kelsky of The Professor Is In, you can review it here. But basically we’re trying to spread word of awareness that a position that is labeled as an Assistant Professor–not a Visiting Assistant Professor, not a Lecturer–is not being advertised as a contingent faculty. The starting wages for the year are between $35K-$38K. These are poverty-level wages as outlined by the United States government:
This graph outlines the official poverty level as well as the commonly calculated levels of income also commonly considered poverty-level for qualifying for things like the ACA. “The 100% column shows the federal poverty guideline for each family size, and the percentage columns that follow represent income levels that are commonly used to determine health care costs for health programs like the Affordable Care Act.” Generally, people qualify for governmental programs like WIC and Medicaid as long as they do not make more than 185 percent of the Federal poverty income guidelines.
$36,668 a year for a family of five is considered the next step poverty level, and a family in this range would qualify for things like WIC, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act.
Michigan State University is trying to hire an Assistant Professor at poverty wages.
Now, you might say, “At least it’s not just an adjunct. At least they’re trying to pay people living wages.”
But what this really does: it exploits the poor applicant who wins this job by giving them the prestige of being an Assistant Professor without the compensation that goes along with a Assistant Professor’s salary. As one of the people I respect most, a tenured professor (who I will name if he gives me permission), says:
I don’t know the particulars, but I’m guessing it’s an ADM math problem: It costs $x to cover a course with an adjunct, thus 6-8x that to cover the number of courses an assistant professor might teach per year. So some bean-counter says ‘how about using that money to cover those courses with full-time faculty? even throw in benefits?” As long as you write up the contract as ‘renewable’ rather than ‘tenure-track,’ you don’t commit to more money; you don’t have to worry about finding adjuncts; and you can say you teach more of your courses with ‘full-time faculty.’ I imagine there will be lots of applicants, and that we will see more and more of this over the next few years.
Essentially, it’s a way to game the system: your college rankings go up because you don’t have to report relying on contingent faculty as much.
The sad thing is: the English Department probably really fought for this money to hire someone. I cannot confirm this, but, generally, I find English Dept faculty to be lovely people invested in issues of social justice. I say shame on the administration that funnels $3.75 million dollars into their basketball team and poverty level wages at their newest Assistant Professor of English hire.
As my friend who I quoted earlier said, “The difference between, say, a prof. in the humanities and a coach in the athletic department is that we lose the university less money.”
We should hold ourselves to higher standards of living than the poverty level. Poverty level wages for jobs that require Ph.D.s are unacceptable.
I am calling for a widespread job application protest: basically, anyone who is angry about this “applies” to this job with a “job letter” that protests this job ad. The letters can be as short as Shame On You. Or if you don’t have time to draft a letter, I am going to write one and you can download it and use it as you see fit. MSU’s job application site can be found here: https://jobs.msu.edu/applicants/jsp/shared/frameset/Frameset.jsp?time=1396225621734