Professors are not normally thought of as low-wage workers, but more than half of all college instructors in the United States are adjuncts—part-time contract workers who don’t enjoy the same benefits or compensation as their full-time counterparts. As part of our week-long series on raising the minimum wage, Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson talks with Pamela Lalande, an adjunct professor at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Florida, about working for low wages in academia.
Interview Highlights: Pamela Lalande
How much are you paid as an adjunct?
“At HCC, we get paid $1,890 per course per semester, which boils down to about $15 an hour.”
How many hours are you working in the course of a week?
“I’m paid to work 24 hours per week, but I actually work much more than that.”
With 3 children at home, how are you able to afford that with your salary?
“I teach as an adjunct professor not only at HCC, but also on occasion at University of Tampa, and I am a professional photographer on weekends.”
Are you collecting any government assistance to make ends meet?
“I receive food stamps and my children are on Medicaid and I get help from the county to pay for childcare for my youngest child.”
Do you think that you’re being underpaid for the task that you are performing? Could they pay you more?
“I don’t know if my colleges – if the University of Tampa or Hillsborough Community College – could pay more. I’m led to believe that they couldn’t actually pay me more than they’re paying me right now.”
Why do stay in that job?
“I’m not going to be able to stay in this job much longer, actually. I think, like a lot of people who start doing this, I started thinking that I would work and prove to be a great teacher. My hopes about a year ago, when I discovered how much I liked it, was that I’ll be able to land something full-time, but I’ve been trying to full-time in the college, even in something administrative and hoping that I’d be able to keep teaching part-time. No full-time jobs have been available to me.”
What do you like about your job?
“I’m really hooked into the community college student body there. They’re incredible, they’re vibrant. A lot of them come from economically or socioeconomically challenging backgrounds, but they’re really thirsty for knowledge and to pull themselves ahead. They don’t generally have much of an entitled attitude. They really appreciate all the help you can give them to move forward in life. It’s a great profession, you just can’t make a living doing this.”
What do you think you’ll do?
“I don’t know, I don't know what I'm doing to do. There’s always the possibility that I could go more full-time into my photography. I am thinking about maybe going in the public school system to teach in high school."
“But what I would really like to do, of course, is stay where I'm at and doing what i'm doing. But I see also, my colleagues, nobody can make it this way. That’s another thing, of course, that I love about this job is that my colleagues are so incredible. They’re really dedicated to what they’re doing.”
Are you colleagues making the same wage?
“Yes, exactly the same wage. And I have one colleague who’s been an Economics professor there for 11 years and he said the $90 raise we just got last month, or this semester, was the first time he got a raise in the 11 years that he’s been there.”
How do you think a minimum wage increase would affect people like you?
“I think that definitely, increasing wages will make a huge change, but I’m getting paid now to teach virtually, what would be full-time, I’m getting paid around $19,000 a year. So to make that even workable, at an economic level, they would have to double my salary, and I don’t see that happening in the next few years.”
- Pamela Lalande, adjunct professor at Hillsborough Community College.
This segment aired on May 3, 2016.