Thursday, March 3, 2016
1987 to 2016: How Much Has Changed?
In “The Wyoming Conference Resolution Opposing Unfair Salaries and Working Conditions for Post-Secondary Teachers of Writing,” authors Linda R. Robertson, Sharon Crowley and Frank Lentricchia write: “From the stories we tell one another, it is clear that many of us regard ourselves as victims by our institutions, relegated to marginal positions and tenuous employment with no benefits” (275).
When I first read this, I was thinking that we do receive benefits from teaching but when I saw that this article was from 1987, I realized that perhaps we really have made some progress in English departments. However, these stories that the authors are referring to are ones that we still hear during “water cooler” conversations. Graduate students grumble about whether or not we can afford to get that extra order of hashbrowns at IHop considering our annual stipend. Contract faculty often take on heavy teaching loads although many of them do receive partial or full benefits from the school, at least at Ball State. My point is that while graduate students do receive stipends and contract faculty or adjuncts are more likely to get benefits compared to 1987, some of the suggestions for minimum salary truly are minimum. The MLA’s suggestions for minimum salary for “full-time appointments at the entry level should be at least $34,000 to $37,000 for those at the rank of instructor and at least $43,000 to $46,000 for those at the rank of beginning assistant professor.” Perhaps this sounds like a decent amount but considering we’ve been in school for a significant number of years and many of us have work experience from teaching, this hardly encourages people to enter the profession. Many graduates today leave college with higher amounts of debt. I don’t mean to complain about the pay because I chose this career course because I love it and not because I want to get rich. My concern is that as cohorts of graduates continue to face student debt and the competition for these jobs increases, we continue to face similar concerns as those who expressed frustration in 1987.
Many English departments recognize these frustrations and do their best to meet the needs of instructors. I know that Ball State has increased the stipend for graduate students and decreased the teaching load to help students. But there’s only so much that can be done on a limited budget. This is where WPAs and other administrators might step in and advocate for better pay or working conditions to upper-administration in the university. This is no easy task and I’m sure other departments across campus feel similar frustrations. I’m interested to hear more about how these changes could realistically be made.