Want to teach at UCLA? You can! (For free, that is…)

At first, I thought it had to be a spoof, or perhaps the latest example of misinformation intentionally unleashed on social media. But it’s real. I’m talking about a job listing from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) for a part-time teaching position in its Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. I’ve added emphasis in this quoted portion of the listing:

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.

Responsibilities will include: teaching according to the instructional needs of the department. Qualified candidates will have a Ph.D. in chemistry, biochemistry, or equivalent discipline and have significant experience and strong record in teaching chemistry or biochemistry at the college level.

The University of California, Los Angeles and the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry are interested in candidates who are committed to the highest standards of scholarship and professional activities, and to the development of a campus climate that supports equality and diversity. . . .

That’s right, the lucky applicant chosen for this position will be “on a without salary basis.” Or, if that’s not clear enough, “Applicants must understand there will be no compensation for this position.”

To see the full ad, go to the Inside Higher Ed listing or directly to the UCLA listing.

Beyond unpaid internships

Long-time readers of this blog may recall that I have done a considerable amount of scholarship and legal advocacy work challenging the exploitative practice of unpaid internships. (Go here for a summary.) I’ve also taken a jabs at a related practice, that of “non-stipendiary fellowships” being offered by artistic and creative organizations.

In 2016, I participated in a symposium on equality in employment, sponsored by the University of Idaho Law Review. I spoke about unpaid internships and contributed an essay titled “‘Mass Exploitation in Plain Sight’: Unpaid Internships and the Culture of Uncompensated Work,” which may be freely accessed here. In the piece, I criticized an emerging set of practices that “undermines the basic exchange of compensation and decent treatment in return for work rendered.”

In addition, across the U.S., colleges and universities are reducing the number of paid full-time teaching positions and replacing them with part-time, low-paid appointments that come with little — if any — job security. UCLA has taken this exploitation to a new level, by offering a part-time teaching position and making it abundantly clear that no pay will be available in return for the professor’s hard work.

Perhaps UCLA considers this a form of pro bono, public service. Now, I’m fine with volunteer service and try to do my share of it. But this teaching announcement is materially different than a solicitation for volunteers. Among the applicants will be newly-minted Ph.D.s trying to gain credentials to attract full-time academic employment. Some may be barely making ends meet. And yet UCLA claims to value “a campus climate that supports equality and diversity”?

I hope that UCLA reconsiders this job announcement and replaces it with one that ensures compensation. Surely a university with an international reputation can scrounge together sufficient funds to pay its faculty, yes?

***

Story update, Sunday March 19: Since the original story broke in the Twitterverse, two explanatory threads are developing. The first is that UCLA has taken down the ad and added an apology plus explanation suggesting a more legitimate purpose for it:

One academic posted that the position is to help a Ukrainian scholar who would be paid through a non-profit agency.

The second thread is coming from the UCLA adjunct faculty union and its supporters, saying that UCLA has used unpaid positions before — using the same ad language — and has been called out for it. The union calls it a union-busting job listing and suggests that even if there’s a defensible intention, the listing itself misclassifies a position that should be paid (and thus, presumably, violates the collective bargaining agreement):

Best scenario is that if this is part of a legitimate (and laudable) attempt to help a scholar fleeing the war, then UCLA’s use of ad language that has triggered legitimate objections before and its vague explanation for the ad didn’t help matters. It also would’ve been appropriate to consult with the union on this, which apparently wasn’t the case.

 

Story update, Tuesday, March 22: After facing an outcry via social media, UCLA issued a statement clarifying that all adjunct faculty will be compensated. Scott Jaschik reports for Inside Higher Ed (link here):

It turns out the University of California, Los Angeles, will actually pay all its adjuncts who teach.

The university on Monday afternoon issued a clarification of a job advertisement seeking an adjunct, without pay. And the university apologized.

“A recent job posting by UCLA Chemistry and Biochemistry contained errors and we are sorry. 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. Our positions are open to all applicants,” read a statement by Bill Kisliuk, director of media relations at UCLA.

9 responses

  1. Dear UCLA,
    I am applying for your position in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. I am a 70-year-old retired university professor who likes teaching. I don’t have a Chemistry degree but I did once get a C in a high-school chemistry class. My lack of a Ph.D. shouldn’t discourage you from appointing me as I will put forth the effort which is commensurate with the compensation. I look forward to hearing from you.

  2. This is an outrage. Are they getting around the FLSA and other regulations by claiming this is a volunteer position? I thought that adjunct professors at public universities were covered by collective bargaining agreements. Higher education has become a complete farce.

  3. Roger and Bob, thank you for your comments. The plot is thickening on this story. See my update in the text of the post. Even if this is a legitimate attempt to help a scholar in a unique situation, the execution of it by UCLA was botched and the job posting likely violated the collective bargaining agreement with the adjunct faculty union.

  4. As a UCLA alumna I was appalled at this. Even with the explanations, this posting highlights the underlying problem you refer to, which is the ongoing exploitation of students and academic professionals through absurdly low compensation in the form of unpaid internships and severly underpaid positions. A position paid through a non-profit agency doesn’t sound like a very good paying one in any case. And, given that students are paying higher-than-ever costs for tuition, paying adjunct class instructors the least of anyone in academic ranks shows a failure to prioritize what is important at a university. Thanks for writing this.

  5. Sobering stuff: make that chilling. Just when the nation commoditizes the liberal arts, the corporate machine finds the teaching of these “all-important” SEMAST courses unworthy of remuneration? All hail, Gordon Gecko! In The Extraction Economy, greed is the one quantity worthy of reward.

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