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.”
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):
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.