Editorial: Unfair Adjunct Wages Go Against Jesuit Values

Adjunct instructors and students gathered on the steps of Dealy Hall to hand out pamphlets and publicly deliver their petition to the office of the president. (Andrea Garcia/The Fordham Ram)

Adjunct instructors and students gathered on the steps of Dealy Hall to hand out pamphlets and publicly deliver their petition to the office of the president. (Andrea Garcia/The Fordham Ram)

From the time Fordham students step on campus freshman year, it is clear the university’s identity as a Jesuit institution is a hallmark of the Fordham way.

The university’s Jesuit tradition dates back to its origins. Jesuits began populating the campus as early as 1845 and purchased a seminary on the Rose Hill campus in 1860. Jesuits have run the institution and its classes for years and continue to reside on campus. We would say the impact of Jesuit teaching on Fordham’s campus is still very high.
Due to the emphasis on Jesuit teaching, students and faculty heavily scrutinize Fordham and its 27 national Jesuit peers for their affordability, volunteerism and social justice.

In an era of rising tuition costs and increased reliance of part-time, adjunct faculty, these institutions must hold themselves accountable for answering a pivotal question: to what extent can a university be considered Jesuit while engaging in practices or ideologies that run contrary to Catholic teaching? For Fordham and several other Jesuit institutions, the wages and usage of adjunct faculty has evoked questions pertaining to Fordham’s Jesuit nature by the adjuncts themselves.

A Catholic framework of economics follows the Jesuit principle of cura personalis, “the care for the entire person,” which gives individualized attention for the needs of others with a respect for the person’s unique circumstances and appreciation for his or her insights. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Catholic church believes the economy exists for the person and should be shaped by moral principles. It believes all people have the right to life and the ability to the basic necessities of life, like food, clothing, shelter, education and economic security.

With this in mind, the question remains whether or not it is ethical for Fordham to have a sizable portion of its teaching staff is underpaid lecturers. In 2008, part time faculty made up 43 percent of all faculty. According to the Office of Institutional Research that ratio had jumped to 53 percent by 2016. Part time faculty enrollment increased 64 percent in that time period, compared to seven percent for full time faculty and four percent for students. Adjunct faculty, who often have masters degrees or doctorates, are compensated a minimum of $4,000 per course and are capped at teaching two courses per semester. Their job stability is nonexistent.

Adjunct faculty plays an important role in a university’s operations. It is necessary for some faculty to be contingent, so that contracts are not broken if a class cannot run due to enrollment sizes. Some working professionals want to work as adjuncts to supplement another salary, and for them Fordham provides an opportunity to do so.

However, more than half of all instructional staff hired as adjunct faculty making as little as $16,000 a year despite holding advanced degrees and seeking permanent positions. Part time workers are increasingly relied upon and these men and women often go without the pay that can sustain their careers in their current locations. People expect more from Catholic universities, but universities are businesses, and the supply of adjuncts is high.

Catholic universities have to decide whether or not running a business that utilizes adjuncts in this way fundamentally contradicts the Catholic teaching. Adjunct pay is not just a Fordham issue — it is an industry wide issue. However, Jesuit universities are in a unique position because they are held to expectations that their business practices will also adhere to “cura personalis.” It would appear that caring for the whole person is very difficult when it affects the bottom line.

There are 2 comments

  1. Ben Arisen (@BrightLeaf88)

    Although I would hesitate to agree that businesses owe their employees a certain salary, because wages are set by the market and agreed to by employees, this article raises some interesting questions and I agree with the sentiment expressed. Though it is not exactly fair to expect the university to pay higher-than-market rates for adjunct professors, because the students would just be the ones footing the bill in the end, I think a good point can be made for the reduction in the proportion of adjunct positions utilized in the first place.
    Ultimately, though, I think the time to expect a model of Jesuit behavior from the University administration has long since passed. Fordham stopped being a Jesuit institution in 1969 when it came under the control of an independent board of trustees. It now claims to be “in the Jesuit tradition” which I am sorry to say really means nothing at all.

  2. Anna Harrison

    As a Fordham University alumna, I am especially disheartened to learn of the University’s overuse and abuse of contingent faculty. This undermines Fordham’s purported commitment both to providing an excellent education (contingent faculty do not have the resources available to their tenure-track colleagues) as well as to social justice and cura personalis. This is an excellent piece. Congrats to the Ram! Shame on you, Fordham administration. Practice what you preach and teach.


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