About two weeks ago, the Greenville News published an article investigating the unfair pay for English lecturers at Clemson University. The results found that full-time English lecturers at Clemson earn an average of $20,000 less per year compared to the average salary for lecturers at other universities. Lecturers in other subjects at Clemson also earn a salary that matches the national average. A full-time untenured lecturer at Clemson makes $55,000 a year, according to Inside Higher Ed.
Untentured English lecturer Will Cunningham describes his contract as providing a salary that doesn’t match the dignity of his profession. Cunningham was contracted for $34,000 per year, which is below the 10th percentile of postsecondary English teachers according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“We’re not paid a dignified wage.” Cunningham stated.
Given that English lecturers at Clemson teach more classes than tenured English professors, the income disparity English lecturers face is simply unacceptable, and I implore the university to seriously consider giving these faculty members a pay raise, as they claim to be working on in light of the Greenville News’s findings.
Being an English lecturer at Clemson is a full-time, prestigious profession and as such it deserves a salary to match. In terms of the actual job duties that working for the English department entails, tenured professors in the English department teach two courses per semester and may have administrative duties as well, while lecturers teach four courses per semester. Outside of the 12 hours spent directly in the classroom, lecturers must also host office hours, create lesson plans and lectures, do the readings assigned to their students as well, create exams, essay prompts and homework assignments and grade every assignment in a timely manner or risk the wrath of negative reviews on course evaluations. This list doesn’t even include the time eaten up by research, something that English lecturers must do to stay up-to-date in their fields as well as build prestige for a chance to earn tenure, even though tenure-track positions in English are falling, according to a 2018 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The time spent on the job aside, an English lecturer’s work is mentally exhausting. Unlike for some subjects, many assignments that must be graded for English do not feature objective “right or wrong” answers but must be evaluated instead on a case-by-case basis. Thus, this process is not only time-consuming, but it arguably takes more thought to grade than something like math, where a lecturer generally needs to match numbers with the correct answers or match scantron bubbles for multiple choice exams. Instead, for an English lecturer, the process for grading is more complicated. Evidence, grammar and punctuation, relevance, ideas and other aspects of evaluating written assignments all must be considered in different weights when calculating the grade for a paper.
Clemson University currently employs 71 English professors and lecturers, broken down into professors, associate professors and assistant professors (33) and senior lecturers and lecturers (48). Of these 48 lecturers, 25 have PhDs, 20 have MAs or MFAs and three of them do not disclose their education-level.
In the United States, the average PhD holder makes $97,000 per year. The range of salaries does vary when taking into account variables such as race, gender, and age—where younger, female-identifying and non-white PhD holders tend to make less per year than their older, male-identifying, and white cohort does. Perhaps unsurprisingly as well, these younger, female-identifying and non-white PhD holders who go into higher education are less likely to be hired and more likely to remain untenured for longer as well, according to a study of 400,000 professors in the United States published by The Chronicle of Higher Education.
From studying the duties they undertake to the barriers that they may face, Clemson University’s English lecturers deserve a fair, dignified wage created by two main changes. First and foremost, Clemson—and other universities across the nation—need to bring back tenure-track positions in English, as these contain better wages, more job security and less time in the classroom that can be spent instead performing research or making more time available to their students as their instructors, supporters and mentors. Secondly, until such change can occur, salaries need to be raised to match the education-level, value and expended time and effort of the English lecturer. Simply put, Clemson’s English lecturers deserve better.