UCLA apologizes and backtracks on controversial ad for unpaid adjunct job



A job listing for an adjunct faculty position at UCLA attracted attention because of one benefit that it did not offer: compensation. The university has since pulled down the posting from its recruitment page and apologized.

“A recent job posting by UCLA Chemistry & Biochemistry contained errors and we are sorry,” said Bill Kisliuk, director of media relations at UCLA, in a statement to EdSource on Monday. “We always offer compensation for formal classroom teaching. We will do better in the future and have taken down the posting, which we will make sure is correctly written and reposted.”

Inside Higher Ed reported that the original advertisement was very straightforward about the lack of pay: “The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UCLA seeks applications for an assistant adjunct professor on a without salary basis. Applicants must understand there will be no compensation for this position.”

The listing asked applicants to have a Ph.D. and a strong record of teaching chemistry or biochemistry at the college level. The position as an assistant adjunct professor would entail teaching “according to the instructional needs of the department.”

The job listing received a drumming over the weekend on social media. Brooke Newman, an associate professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University, posted the job listing in full on Twitter on Friday and asked, “Is this a joke?”

On Saturday, a statement from UCLA’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry affirmed that the job posting was for an unpaid position, although it attempted to provide context saying that “arrangements such as these are common in academia and, in cases where formal classroom teaching is a component, compensation for these services is provided commensurate to experience and with an eye to equity within the unit.” The statement affirmed that “some positions may be without salary when individuals are compensated by other sources and a formal affiliation with UCLA is necessary which may be needed to apply for or maintain a grant or conduct research.”

UCLA’s job advertisement hit a nerve. The role of the adjunct professor in higher education has come under scrutiny as universities increasingly rely on the part-time workforce to teach courses.

“Wow, and I thought my pay was low as an assistant adjunct professor,” wrote Megan Shepherd, on Twitter.

Adjuncts are compared to other precarious gig workers, earning them the moniker “Uber drivers of academia.” They receive lower compensation, fewer benefits and have less job security than full-time faculty members. A recent EdSource investigation into the poor working conditions of adjuncts in the California Community College system calls this precarious part-time workforce the “backbone” of the state’s community colleges, the nation’s largest college system with about 1.5 million students.

But it wasn’t just part-time faculty who used the job posting as a springboard to discuss how academia treats its workers.

“Academia knows how to abuse the concept of ‘prestige’ very well,” tweeted Miraz Rahman, professor of medicinal chemistry at King’s College London. “Nothing to see here.”

In his statement to Inside Higher Ed, Kisliuk also noted that these arrangements are “common in academia.”

“Some positions may be without salary when individuals are compensated by other sources and a formal affiliation with UCLA is necessary,” he said. “These positions are considered when an individual can realize other benefits from the appointment that advance their scholarship, such as the ability to apply for or maintain grants, mentor students and participate in research that can benefit society.”

But that, too, brought on a new round of criticism to the university. Some academics said it looked as though there may have been a candidate in mind before the job advertisement was posted — one who came with outside funding. Not every job posting is actually looking for a candidate, wrote Inger Mewburn, director of research training at Australian National University.

“I teach people to recognise ‘jobs ads that are not really jobs.’ When you think about it, that’s kind of nuts,” she wrote on Twitter.

UC-AFT at UCLA, the union that represents lecturers and librarians, called the move “union-busting.”

“Let’s be clear: it doesn’t matter whether the job post was intended for a specific person or where they might already be employed,” wrote the group, on Twitter. “The post misclassified a position that ought to have been unionized, presumably to avoid paying a fair union wage.”

UCLA responded to this criticism in its latest statement.

“Our positions are open to all applicants,” Kisliuk said.

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