Teaching college is an odd job because it has high prestige but low wages. More than half of all teaching faculty are “adjuncts” — part-time, precarious workers paid on a per-class basis, with no benefits or guarantee of continued employment. One survey revealed that more than half (50%) of adjuncts work in teaching. less than $3,500 per 3-credit courseIn 2012, the median salary per course was just $2,700. That’s roughly $24,000 annually for a full-time teacher load. Many of the introductory courses at large research universities can also be taught by graduate students. Graduate students are typically paid between $2,000 and $24,000 per year. $13,000 and $34,000 per yearDepending on their school and subject, Graduate student workers at Columbia, New York University, Harvard All of them went on strike within the last year because student workers aren’t paid a living wage, even at the most elite universities.
However, these wages are still extremely exploitative and pitiful. The median adjunct rate of $2700 per course is five times higher than what Grinnell College in Iowa pays some of its language teachers. And Grinnell — one of the most prestigious liberal arts schools in the country — isn’t the only college doing it. Similar practices are quite common.
The source Left Voice spoke with knew of two so-called “language assistants” at Grinnell who make $12/hour, although wages for each language assistant are at the discretion of each academic department. They teach lab sections and conversational courses, and they also tutor. The language assistants receive less than a quarter the amount that an adjunct would get to teach the same class on a per-credit fee.
Language assistants at Grinnell can be asked to work up to 20 hours per week, although it’s unclear how many hours are actually scheduled for the typical student worker. But, even if someone worked 20 hours per semaine for the entire academic year (nine month) at $12/hour, their income would still be $9,072. Even including the value of room and board, which the language assistants receive for free, their income is still only $23,470 for the year — about $5,000 less than what is considered a living wagePoweshiek County is Iowa’s Grinnell County.
Student Workers and Exploitation
It’s an adage among student workers that whether they count as “students” or “workers” depends on which label benefits the university most at any given time. Students workers trying to unionize are often told by universities that the labor they do isn’t count as “work”. part of their studiesSimilar to an internship, they should not considered workers. This happened. at GrinnellThe union of dining hall workers voted in favor of expanding membership in the year 2000. AllStudent workers were notified by the National Labor Relations Board that the university claimed that tutoring and research assistant jobs were not real labor. However, when unionized student workers strike, they suddenly violate their labor contracts. should have pay deducted accordingly.
One of capitalism’s internal laws demands that every employer seek to minimize labor costs as much as possible without sacrificing productivity. It’s part of how capitalists extort “surplus value” from workers. This is done in many ways by universities, including through adjuncts and students. As of 2018, more than 90 percentGrinnell students all work for the college during their time there. Without them, the college would not be able to function.
It can be difficult for rural areas such as central Iowa to attract adjuncts. Grinnell College offers only undergraduate programs and has no graduate students to help teach classes. Instead of investing in full-time permanent faculty, the college hires young adults to provide language instruction for 1-year contracts. They do not receive any pedagogical training. The language assistants receive tuition free of charge, but most of them have undergraduate degrees from their native countries. Therefore, one year of Grinnell credit is not worth much, even if it’s transfer credit.
One way universities justify this sort of behavior is by claiming that lab sections and conversational courses are not “real” classes, so they hire student workers at rates far lower than a faculty member would make. The total hours spent in labs and conversation classes is much less than that of a seminar or lecture, so the total compensation will be lower. However, the pay will still be substantial. Each hour spent in the classroomIt is still shockingly low. These classes are considered real credits and students receive actual grades.
This is academic labor that should be paid for regardless of who is teaching.
The college also benefits from international student workers, as it strives to maximize its financial position in other ways. First, international students cannot work on campus without a student visa. This visa type makes it more difficult for workers to find other employment.
Second, the university has additional leverage to defend itself from exploitation by employing student workers. The labor the language assistants are hired to perform is framed as supplemental, as a “great opportunity” for young adults to make a little bit of money while enjoying the “main” experience of studying and socializing abroad. Even though there are many student workers who have been hired for these positions, Do Enjoy yourself, exploitation still exploitation, and $12/hour still is not a living wages. These workers are being taken advantage of regardless of whether the experience has some “enjoyable” elements.
Grinnell’s full-time lecturers make nearly 10 times the hour teaching as their assistants. This means that there is a lot of value in hiring student workers rather than faculty. Even private tutors, who only work with one student at the time, are often paid at a higher salary.
Student newspaper at Grinnell College wanted to run a piece about underpayment of language assistants, but was unable to do so because all of the language assistants they reached out to declined to comment — most likely out of fear over losing their jobs. Given that at least twoAlthough they had previously been open to discussing their working conditions privately with each other, it appears that the university may have issued a gag order.
These labor practices, namely the exploiting of international students to teach languages courses, are not restricted to Grinnell. The source Left VoiceThe person I spoke to already had direct knowledge about similar systems. Wesleyan UniversityAnd Pomona, Middlebury, Williams colleges — all very highly ranked schools. Fulbright Language Teaching Assistant Program has many more schools that participate in a very similar manner. For speakers of “less commonly taught languages” in this program, universities are not required to pay students a penny in wages, and instead are recommended to give students a monthly stipend of $500–$600 OrFor up to 20 hours of work per semaine, you get room and board free of charge. This arrangement is even more exploitative then the Grinnell conditions.
Exploitation is an economic relationship that has a material component, and not a feeling. Over half of billionairesOne survey found that 60% of respondents said they worked 60 hours a week. While they may feel tired, they are not exploited. Both teens who spend their summers at the pool with their friends or campus tour guides who are passionate about sharing their schools with people are being exploited. It doesn’t matter how easy, fun, or even well-paying your job is; if someone is generating surplus value from your labor over which you have no control, you are being exploited.
Colleges and universities like Grinnell are exploiting international students for their multilingual capabilities, paying them a tiny amount compared to what a faculty member or even a graduate student would make, and claiming it is okay because the real pay comes in the form of a “cultural experience” and the tuition value of the courses they take — even when those courses count toward no degree or other useful credential. They don’t provide food for their families. These student workers are entitled to a living wage at least equal to that of other instructors on campus who instruct labs and other classes for one credit.