Heads Up, Parents: Your Kid’s College Education is Built on Tired, Poor, Sometimes Even Homeless, Teachers

By now this story about Indian diplomat and “women’s rights activist” Devyani Khobragade has turned into a thing. Some are wondering how Khobragade got away with allegedly paying her female housekeeper $3.31 an hour and lying about it, but the only thing that surprises me about this whole thing is … well, nothing. There is nothing surprising to me about this. Maybe the one thing that I am confused about is that this wasn’t going on for far longer and that the legal and ethical violations are not far more widespread. They probably are, but in other cases they are just covered up more carefully.

This is why I am not surprised: I work in the state university system. When you work at a state university, you begin to see that some of the very people who espouse the most “ethical” beliefs, the most forward and progressive and community-invested views, are the very ones, in actuality, whose hearts are marred and disfigured by power and money and greed. Many of these people, the most highly-educated, powerful people, the ones who tout their university administrator statuses, are doing “their” work not for themselves but on the backs of those who do not even earn a living wage. These same people, in my experience, are the ones who deny merited raises to hard-working, impoverished staff and adjunct faculty.

If you want to see disparity between upper and lower class, the state university is the place to be. For secretarial lines at the particular university that I work at, the annual salary range is $24,000-$30,000. According to the most recent data available from the Florida State University System salary disclosures, our school president makes $496,613 per year. Staff members generally don’t bring in million-dollar grants for the university, but they sure as hell write the grant proposals, process the grants, disperse the money, schedule the courses and plan the lectures that are paid for by the grants, and find, clean, move, and set up offices for those hired with the grant money.

Still, I know I’m not a 65-year-old man with a PhD in Higher Education Administration, so my earning power is not very strong. Fair enough. But if the above doesn’t give you a double take, listen to this: According to data taken from hundreds of colleges and universities around America published in the American Association of University Professors’ 2011-2012 annual report, more than 75 percent of total instructional staff at our universities is made up of non-tenure track and part time adjunct instructors. Inside Higher Ed reports that nationally, adjuncts earn about $21,600 annually working the same (or a heavier) course load than tenure-track faculty members whose annual starting salaries average $66,000.

Heads up, parents: Your kid’s precious education, the one you are spending your retirement money on, is being led by people who are overburdened and who, in most cases, are not earning a living wage. And yet these issues are never, ever raised in a promotional brochure or bulletin from your favorite university, and they are certainly not raised or fully-addressed by those in powerful university positions. Maybe some of these powerful people do consider the plight of the homeless adjunct or staff member, but on the whole, nothing seems to ever be done about it.

There are all kinds of problems with higher education, and there are all kinds of problems with the Khobragade story. These are complex issues that I have neither the training nor the time to sort out completely. I have, though, over the past few years, learned to be cautious in placing my trust in anyone, even those who claim to have good intentions. We’re all humans and we’re all horrible, even if we claim not to be.

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lc-e1358128566135Laura Creel (@Little_Utopia) is the managing editor of Little Utopia.

Previously from Laura Creel:
Waiting for Christmas in America
♦ Grocery Stores: Expensive? Yes. Universally Designed? No.
♦ “Angry Birds” Movie Leads the Promotional Campaign with the Tagline: “So Many Birds Have to Die”
♦ Celebrity Hair-Cutting News: #WhyJenWhy
♦ An Interview with Documentarian Jeanette Garcia on Video Games, Storytelling, and Her Upcoming Film “World 1-1″

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