If I don’t become a rockstar artist making big money, then I’ll teach. Artists and my students consistently voice this sentiment. However, what was once thought to be the “fallback plan” for creatives, reality is a different story. Evidence to back this claim is growing.
On February 6th, PBS NEWSHOUR aired the television story Is academia suffering from “adjunctivitis”? Low-paid adjunct professors struggle to make ends meets. Reporter Paul Solman interviewed educators Nicole Beth Wallenbrok, Arik Greenberg, Rob Balla, and Joe Fruscione who currently have no medical benefits/sick time/family leave, and some have required food assistance.
Student’s learning suffers from the mistreatment of educators. Mr. Solman: “And you have now met barely a handful few examples of what might be called the adjunctivitis epidemic, adding these part-timers, who are half of all faculty, to full-time professors without tenure and much lower pay. More than 70 percent of America’s college teachers are so-called contingent. Many are unavailable to their myriad students, given their necessarily shorter office hours, says longtime adjunct Joe Fruscione, less energy in the classroom, fewer comments when grading papers or tests.”
Unfortunately, this is the standard corporate model in this “new” economy. The epidemic has spread from Wall Street to public and private education. Part-time employment equals full-time work without benefits. Companies don’t want to pay for healthcare, sick time, mandatory meetings, or prep time. Athletics, car collections, and parties are sexier and more exciting. Just tell educators: “I know that you don’t get paid well but we (fill in corporate company name) need you (fill in your name) to do x, y, and z (additional work for no pay but more accountability) starting yesterday. Have a great semester!”
This isn’t “new” news. However, why do the people working closest to students get paid so little compared to the ones at the top of the ladder?
I tell my students to diversify and to not rely on art, teaching, and family. If you want to be an artist, learn how to hustle and survive. Define your “success” beyond the paycheck and learn to set healthy boundaries with time and energy. One of my favorite San Francisco bay area artists (name withheld to protect some dignity), whose work is in art museum collections, made less than $18,000 last year working full-time through teaching, art sales, and odd jobs. Is this “success”?
The current education system based on profits represents our future. This legacy doesn’t represent the dedicated professors teaching and mentoring students. However, not saying anything is being complacent. My conscious is calling…