Jesse Rappaport is an adjunct professor at Brooklyn College and Baruch College. He teaches philosophy, a subject also he studies.
“I didn’t have the passion for teaching, but it was something I pursued,” he said.
However, Rappaport faced a major problem last year—going broke.
Rappaport is one of many adjuncts in CUNY who are unable to make a living teaching because of low pay, excessive work and lack of support.
In 1975, 11,300 full-time professors taught CUNY students. Now, less than 8,000 are employed, according to the CUNY Adjunct Project. The roles are now filled by adjuncts.
An adjunct often works part-time. At CUNY, they cannot teach more than three courses at a college, and the starting salary for a three-credit course is $2,700. But living well in New York City, for one adult, requires a wage of $14.30 per hour, according to MIT’s Living Wage Calculator.
Rappaport entered academia six years ago and was part of a fellowship at CUNY as a professor. But the lack of a stable income, along with his workload, made him question whether to continue teaching.
“The pay is really abysmal. My fellowship money ran out last year. Since then, I had to support myself with whatever work I could find,” he said. “[Being an] adjunct is not adequate to paying the bills.”
Rappaport is considering leaving academia. He is interested in getting a technology-related job because he doubts teaching will offer better benefits.
“It feels like I’m being pushed out,” Rappaport said.
Rappaport said students should understand what adjuncts do. For example, questions on the availability of professors relate to the status of adjuncts.
“They deserve to know their professors are being overworked and underpaid,” he said.
Queens College commissioned a task force in 2011 to study the experiences of adjuncts at the college. They found many problems for part-time professors like low pay and isolation.
“Adjuncts are not only isolated from the college as a whole, they are also isolated from each other,” it reads.
Furthermore, the report compared adjuncts to serfs during the medieval times. If they displease someone, then they may “lose a course or lose their jobs.”
“On the Queens College campus, adjuncts are made to feel like second-class citizens. Some critics and sympathetic commentators even call adjuncts the ‘invisible faculty’ or ‘shadow university.’ They may look like professors and work like professors but lack the authority and respect given to full-time faculty,” it read.
But no major changes were created to accommodate adjuncts since the report.
Rappaport said he did not speak about pay with other professors, but felt that needed to change. He was worried about other professors who could not talk about problems with their status.
“I think it’s very hard for people to fight for this,” Rappaport said.
Sometimes, adjuncts cannot reveal their identities. One professor signed a petition made by CUNY Adjuncts for a Fair Contract demanding better benefits and salaries increases. The person left a comment on struggling as an adjunct.
“I work really hard and always have exceptional ratings by the students and faculty members. I’m the first to arrive and the last to leave. I always do what is asked of me, often without compensation,” the person wrote. “I need to make a living too.”