I’ve learned a lot during my first semester at Fordham University, like how the concrete walkways here need to be watered at least once a day. I’ve also learned the importance of leaving on the expensive and bright stadium lights looking down on Murphy Field late at night. It’s reassuring to see that student tuition is paying for these necessities, and not going into needless things such as paying adjunct professors a livable wage or hiring more full-time employees. But most of all I’m grateful that our tuition dollars are helping pay the lavish salaries that our administration receives. Thankfully, Fordham students are not the only ones who receive this important education: misuse of university funding, which is causing a lack of full-time faculty and overcompensation of administrators, isn’t just an issue on Fordham’s campus, but at universities all across the nation. This injustice does not have to continue: students have the power to educate themselves and others about the misuse of university funding and to demand transparency from university administration.
The most glaring issue with university administrations today is the pay received by university presidents. The responsibilities that come with being president of a large university are immense, but not nearly as immense as the paycheck that comes along with the position. According to Matt Krupnick and Jon Marcus, the average salary for presidents at public research universities is $450,000 a year. In addition to these already high salaries, bonus perks include housing or a housing allowance, sports club memberships, a car or car allowance, and severance packages (Hiltonsmith). The highest paid president in a public university is Graham B. Spanier of Penn State, who is paid $2,906,721 a year (Lee, Jaeahjlee, and Severns). At some private universities, the pay is even greater. J. Robert Kerry, president of The New School in New York City, has an annual salary of $3,047,703. To put this ludicrous salary in perspective, Parsons, a school within the New School, costs an estimated $76,296 in tuition and fees for the 2016/2017 academic year. Over the past decade, the average tuition in public universities has increased nearly $3,000 (Hiltonsmith). Are students paying large sums of money to have their lives managed by university bureaucracy, or to receive an education from hard-working professors?
The other side of misspent university funding is the increasing number of part-time faculty hired to provide cheaper labor in comparison to full-time or tenured professors. Between 1990 and 2012 the average number of part-time faculty (adjunct professors) in public research universities grew to 60% (Hiltonsmith). For an example of this shift, we can look to Ohio State University. The Institute of Policy Studies reported that Ohio State “hired 670 new administrators, 498 contingent and part-time faculty—and just 45 permanent faculty members” between 2010 and 2012 (McKenna). This is a pressing issue because, while adjunct professors are expected to assume the teaching and advising responsibilities associated with full-time professors, they are often forced to teach at multiple colleges and universities to supplement their low wages (McKenna). According to Laura McKenna of The Atlantic, the average salary of an adjunct professor hovers around $20,000, only $9,000 a year above the federal poverty line. Compare the average salary of an adjunct, $20,000, to the average salary of a university president, $450,000, and the pay inequality in the university system becomes clear. Adjuncts, while expected to put in the same amount of work and dedication to students as full-time professors, must also supplement their income by other means, such as teaching multiple courses across different universities. Because adjuncts are being overworked and underpaid, it is difficult for them to prioritize their students, especially if the adjunct professor’s focus is spread thin across different courses and even different universities.
Even though adjunct pay can affect students in the classroom, many students at Fordham do not know of these issues or simply do not care. In April of 2016, the editorial board of the official university newspaper, The Fordham Ram, published an editorial expressing their discontent with the transparency of university spending. The article points out the shroud of mystery that envelops Fordham’s financial decisions. For example, they highlight that “The Board of Trustees holds four meetings annually, but all of them are closed to the public. The contents of these meetings, including decisions made by the board regarding the operating budget, are not publicized” (“What Administration”). Are students not entitled to see where their tuition is going? Do students even care? The editorial board of The Fordham Ram illustrates how this lack of transparency is a problem. The article later goes on to accuse the university of creating a culture of apathy around financial transparency by not communicating with students about the university’s financial inner-workings, saying, “Of course a student body would develop a culture of apathy if it expected no explanations from its administration on major decisions” (“What Administration”). This powerful insight exemplifies how deep the problem is at Fordham University.
However, students are beginning to turn away from apathy and show their frustration over Fordham’s lack of transparency, and they are joining the efforts of the adjunct professors employed by Fordham University who are frustrated with its administration. In September of 2016, as well as in the Spring of 2017, Fordham students and adjunct professors staged protests to bring light to the issues that adjuncts at Fordham University face. Part-time professors at Fordham are only allowed to teach up to two courses per semester and are only paid, at minimum, $4,000 and at maximum $5,500 per course. Comparatively, full-time professors at Fordham are paid an average of $162,000 (Bryne). Fordham students staged protests against Fordham’s initial decision to block adjunct faculty from forming a union that would advocate for improved pay for these professors. One protest in particular, on April 27th, ended with injuries to students and Fordham Public Safety Officers, and created a divide on campus. Students forced their way into the building of the President’s office in order to discuss the blocking of the unionization of adjunct faculty with the university’s president, Father McShane. In the days following, thirteen students were charged with violations of the student code of conduct and suspended from campus, effectively kicking students who lived in on-campus housing out of their homes (“Students Receive”). Some students at Fordham felt that this action was excessive and put students in danger. However, the administration stood its ground on the punishments, stating that students had violated the protesting policy and put other students and faculty at risk of being injured. The affair was messy, but the controversy that spread over campus after the decision was made to punish the students undoubtedly raised awareness for the struggle of adjunct faculty at Fordham. The adjunct faculty at Fordham and other universities deserve higher wages, but the money to pay for those higher wages has to come from somewhere. Cutting down on administrative bloat is one possible way to accomplish that, although such changes will surely continue to generate conflict with Fordham administrators, and presumably administrators employed by other institutions, who would not welcome a cut to their salaries.
I’ve learned a lot at Fordham and I’m thankful for my education. I’m thankful that I’ve had my eyes opened to the mistreatment of university faculty and misuse of university funding, and I’m thankful that both students and faculty are coming together to ameliorate these issues. And while these issues run deep at Fordham as well as many other institutions, they are not irreparable. Students have much more power than they realize: without their enrollment universities would cease to function. Students can use their voices to bring light to issues regarding university administration, much like how Fordham students and part-time faculty brought attention to Fordham’s adjunct laborers through protesting. Students can stand up to administration and demand financial transparency and fair salaries. Teach-ins, or informal lectures or discussions, can be used to educate other students and even faculty about the issues and what can be done to solve them. Teach-ins focusing on administrative wages and other misuses of university spending can help counteract the culture of apathy that was described in The Fordham Ram’s editorial. Thus, although we are faced with the trial of bloated administrations, wage inequality, and misuse of funding, we also have the power to overcome it. I look forward to the day when my professors don’t qualify for food stamps. I look forward to the day when a university will no longer provide its administrators the means to buy million dollar homes while the university’s adjunct faculty sit barely above the poverty line. All over the nation, students and faculty have the power to make these hopes a reality: they just have to act.
Byrne, Mike. “Adjunct Faculty Protest Low Wages, Deliver Petition to University President.” The Fordham Ram. Fordham University, 14 Sept. 2016.
Finkelstein, Martin J., Valerie M. Conley, and Jack H. Schuster. The Faculty Factor:
Reassessing The American Academy In A Turbulent Era. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost).
Hiltonsmith, Robert. “Pulling Up the Higher-Ed Ladder: Myth and Reality in the Crisis of College Affordability.” Demos (2015): n. pag. Demos.org. Demos, 05 May 2015.
Krupnick, Matt, and Jon Marcus. “Think University Administrators’ Salaries Are High? Critics Say Their Benefits Are Lavish – The Hechinger Report.” The Hechinger Report. The Hechinger Report, 2015.
Lee, Jaeahjlee, and Severns. “Charts: When College Presidents Are Paid Like CEOs.”
Mother Jones. Mother Jones, 05 Sept. 2013.
McKenna, Laura. “The College President-to-Adjunct Pay Ratio.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 24 Sept. 2015.
“Students Receive Disciplinary Action In Response to Protest.” The Fordham Ram. Fordham University, 2017. Web.
“What Administration Does Not Care If You Know.” The Fordham Ram. Fordham