September 10, 2012; Source: Chronicle of Higher Education

In two recent articles, our friend and mentor Pablo Eisenberg has done what he always does so well: revealed that the high and mighty emperors of part of our sector have no clothes. Writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education, he points out that “More than 700,000 employees at American colleges – gardeners, security guards, cleaning crews, janitors, food-service personnel, etc. – do not earn a living wage, the bare-bones amount sufficient to provide a minimally decent standard of living for their families.” He calls this “a disgrace to our system of higher education and a sad reflection on the moral leadership of our colleges.”

Suggesting that many colleges are no more than big businesses with corporate values, Eisenberg describes a widening divide between the top salaries of administrators and the colleges’ blue-collar and service workers. To Eisenberg, these underpaid personnel have “become the ‘untouchables’ of our higher-education caste system.” Efforts to organize these college employees through unions or living wage campaigns have been stridently opposed by college administrators who in other realms of public life are, as Eisenberg notes, seen as liberals or moderates. He cites a very small number of examples – Georgetown University, Harvard, the University of Miami – of universities that have, after long struggles, raised wages.

Writing for the Huffington Post, Eisenberg takes on the colleges’ treatment of another low-ranking caste in higher education: the misuse and abuse of adjunct faculty. College students frequently get to take courses with professors named “staff,” actually adjuncts hired only weeks before classes start, often given little or no time to prepare for their classes, frequently given little or no staff or technological support, thrown into classes with next to nothing in terms of curriculum guidelines, and faced with doing additional work for their classes because of the lack of support they get from their departments.

He notes that the average pay of an adjunct professor per course is $2,700, with no health or retirement benefits and no job or academic rights or protections. Adjunct faculty comprise 75 percent of all higher education professors (Eisenberg reports that there are 540,000 part-time adjuncts and 240,000 full-time adjuncts teaching in U.S. colleges), no doubt because they are extraordinarily cheaper to throw at college students than permanent faculty. Eisenberg calls adjuncts the Rodney Dangerfields of college life because they get no respect. He also includes them in his caste definition of college “untouchables.”

Those of us who have worked in these part-time, low-wage college positions know that Eisenberg is spot on. Many of the Brahmins in higher education who keep the untouchables in their underpaid places are ensconced in nonprofit institutions, which makes the problem, in a way, worse. Why is it that so many nonprofit leaders are focused on trying to find justifications for paying executives huge salaries but don’t give a rat’s ass for raising the salaries of nonprofit laborers? When did the advocates of big nonprofit CEO salaries – Eisenberg counts how many college CEOs have million dollar salaries – ever speak up when some nonprofits tried to exempt themselves from living wage coverage? Is it any wonder why some unions do not think of some nonprofit employers as friends and allies?

Eisenberg has joined the board of the New Faculty Majority Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that tries to educate the public about the problems and challenges of contingent faculty and supports the 501(c)(6) New Faculty Majority membership organization which advocates for equity in compensation, job security, academic freedom, equity in benefits, and opportunities for advancement for adjunct faculty.

The treatment of low-wage college employees – blue collar workers, service workers, adjunct faculty – is one bellwether indication of the values of the nonprofit sector, or perhaps how the values of the nonprofit sector aren’t there for everyone in the sector. –Rick Cohen