Is St. Kate’s choosing economic advantages over fair wages for adjunct instructors?

 This table shows the wealth St. Kate's has accumulated under the current administration.

This table shows the wealth St. Kate’s has accumulated under the current administration.

In my last article, I laid out some issues with universities hiring adjunct and contingent instructors. You can read the details here. The decision to hire adjunct instructors instead of creating or maintaining tenure-track positions not only affects the welfare of adjunct instructors, but also of students and universities. While hiring adjuncts was once a limited practice to bring in experts or to offer classes that may not be consistently filled, the steep increase in hiring adjuncts seems to be for other reasons. According to pbs.com universities in the U.S. have increased the percentage of adjuncts at an alarming rate for the financial gains and dispensability.

St. Kate’s is one university that benefits financially from adjunct labor. It is important to note at the outset that, according to the 2014 Ten Day Report, St. Kate’s fairs better than most American colleges and universities when it comes to adjunct professors. “Approximately 27 percent of faculty in the School of Health are tenured or on the tenure-track, 44 percent of the faculty of the School of Business and Professional Studies are employed on the tenure track, and the School of Humanities Arts and Sciences is holding steady at 66 percent,” said the report. Nationally, just 24 percent hold tenure-track positions on average.

However, St. Kate’s should not be comparing itself to national averages. Instead, it should be comparing itself to the standards it works to instill in students. According to stkate.edu, students at St. Kate’s are encouraged to work for fair social structures, think about how decisions affect others, and overall become ethical leaders. With these standards in mind, we need to ask: Is a fair amount of tuition going to instructors at St. Kate’s? If not, does the school have the money to allocate to adjunct instructors and professors in general?

At St. Kate’s, adjuncts are paid around $4,000 to $4,500 per course, which is about the same amount one student pays in tuition to take an undergraduate course. According to stkate.edu, the average day classes contain about 17 students. In other words, $1 out of every $17 in tuition paid (six percent) for an average undergraduate course taught by an adjunct goes to the adjunct and the remaining $16 (94 percent) goes to other university priorities.

According to Academe, ranked faculty at St. Kate’s in 2014-15 were compensated about $12,900 per course on average (salary plus benefits). Although this is still immensely below the average when compared to other private universities in the area (which you can read about here) it is well above the amount and share of tuition paid to adjuncts at St. Kate’s. Thus, adjuncts are much less expensive than ranked faculty.

This lack of money allocated to the instruction of students is not reflected in the tuition at St. Kate’s.

“According to data from the Form 990, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and St. Kate’s tuition rates, the inflation rate in the Twin Cities was 49.1% from 1997-98 to 2014-15, while tuition for a four-credit undergraduate day class increased from $1,768 in 1997-98 to $4,480 in 2014-15. This is an increase of 153.4%. Thus, tuition rose at over 3.1 times the rate of inflation. Faculty salaries increased by 58.7% over this time period and thus, increased only slightly faster than the rate of inflation. The increase in tuition rates clearly did not go to faculty salaries,” said Professor James Ashley-Emeritus, former Economics Professor at St. Kate’s. This saving on faculty, especially adjunct faculty, allowed the university to spend increased tuition revenue in areas other than faculty compensation. Some of these areas are: interest on debt, building expenses, depreciation and increased financial aid. By 2014-15 St. Kate’s allocated about 30 percent of tuition revenue back to students in the form of grants and scholarships. However, these expenses don’t account for all of St. Kate’s income.

Outside of these expenses, does St. Kate’s have the money to invest into faculty at St. Kate’s?  “Yes,” responded Ashley, “but most of the surplus of revenues over expenses goes directly to stocks, bonds, buildings and equipment to increase the net assets of the university. Because of the aggressive push to increase the wealth of St. Kate’s under the current administration, the net assets have gone up by $107,357,122 since 1997-98 and by 2014-15 net assets equaled $175,210,725. The question to ask the university is: How much is enough? How much wealth does the university have to store up to before it invests money back into the salaries and benefits of professors and adjunct instructors at St. Kate’s? I’ve asked this question in the past,” Ashley continued, “and there doesn’t seem to be an end goal. You may get a different answer now.”

St. Kate’s did not wish to comment.

The question of “When is the accumulated wealth of the university enough?” is an important one for professors as well as the students, parents and alum who invest money into an education at St. Kate’s. If you are investing in any university, take the time to find out how many contingent and adjunct faculty members are employed and how they are treated. The Adjunct Project gathers information about adjunct salary for universities across the country. You can look up and compare information here: http://adjunct.chronicle.com

If you’re an adjunct at St. Kate’s and would like to share your story, please contact me at wharper@stkate.edu.

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