Higher education rests on the backs of ill-paid adjunct professors, who spent years getting a Ph.D., then learned that full-time positions were nearly impossible to find.

This article describes a revolt by the adjuncts in Florida. 

Two half-time adjunct jobs do not make a full-time income. Far from it,” Ximena Barrientos says. “I’m lucky that I have my own apartment. I have no idea how people make it work if they have to pay rent.”

We are not sitting on a street corner, or in a welfare office, or in the break room of a fast food restaurant. We are sitting inside a brightly lit science classroom on the third floor of an MC Escher-esque concrete building, with an open breezeway letting in the muggy South Florida air, on the campus of Miami Dade College, one of the largest institutions of higher learning in the United States of America. Barrientos has been teaching here for 15 years. But this is not “her” classroom. She has a PhD, but she does not have a designated classroom. Nor does she have an office. Nor does she have a set schedule, nor tenure, nor healthcare benefits, nor anything that could be described as a decent living wage. She is a full-time adjunct professor: one of thousands of members of the extremely well-educated academic underclass, whose largely unknown sufferings have played just as big a role as student debt in enabling the entire swollen College Industrial Complex to exist.

As Barrientos chatted with another adjunct in the empty classroom, the conversation turned to horror stories: the adjuncts forced to sleep in their cars; the adjunct who was sleeping in classrooms at night; the adjunct who had a full mental breakdown from the stress of not being able to earn a living after all of the time he had put in getting his PhD. Such stories are common, from campus to campus, whispered by adjuncts who know deep down that they themselves are living constantly on the edge of personal, professional, and financial disaster. Other than academic credentials, most adjunct professors don’t have much. But recently, Ximena Barrientos, and her 2,800 colleagues at Miami Dade College, and thousands of others just like them throughout the state of Florida, have acquired, at shocking speed and on a grand scale, something of great value—a union. And they want nothing less than dignity….

University budgets are balanced on the backs of adjunct professors. In an adjunct, a school gets the same class taught for about half the salary of a full-time professor, and none of the benefits. The school also retains a god-like control over the schedules of adjuncts, who are literally laid off after every single semester, and then rehired as necessary for the following semester. In the decade since the financial crisis, state governments have slashed higher education funding, and Florida is no exception. That has had two primary consequences on campus: students have taken on ever-higher levels of debt to pay for school, and the college teaching profession has been gutted, as expensive full-time positions are steadily eliminated in favor of cheaper adjunct positions. Many longtime adjuncts talk of jealously waiting for years for a full-time professor to die or retire, only to see the full-time position eliminated when they finally do.

What can the adjuncts do? They are doing what they must, the only thing they can do to get decent working conditions and a living wage: they are unionizing.