Last year, New Mexico’s Legislature enacted Senate Bill 1 which guaranteed a living wage to all public educators teaching pre-K through 12th grade. This year, New Mexico’s Legislature should enact House Bill 417, a bill that proposes to establish a comparable living wage for all faculty teaching at New Mexico’s public colleges and universities.
The establishment of a living wage for faculty at New Mexico’s public colleges and universities will be especially important for our state’s adjunct faculty.
Adjunct faculty are part-time contingent faculty. They possess the same credentials as their full-time colleagues, teach at all levels of their institutions and are essential to fulfilling New Mexico’s higher education’s mission of supporting at-risk, first-generation students, and yet adjuncts receive wages low enough to keep them in a state of perpetual financial precarity.
Though New Mexico’s public colleges and universities would not be able to fulfill their mission to New Mexico without these essential public educators, New Mexico’s public colleges and universities systematically disrespect adjunct educators by providing them no benefits, no pathway to job security and little more than poverty wages.
Many adjuncts provide their students and institutions years of continuous service, yet each semester they are held in limbo, not knowing if their next appointment letter will come. They are deemed temporary — employees without recourse if their classes are cancelled or rescheduled.
My union, United Academics of the University of New Mexico, represents adjuncts who have been temporary faculty employees at UNM for 10, even 20 years. Most UNM adjuncts receive no benefits. In most cases, their teaching loads are intentionally capped to ensure that they remain ineligible for benefits.
Finally, on average, adjunct faculty at New Mexico’s public 2- and 4-year institutions earn annualized salaries of $27,300 and $31,300, respectively. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the federal poverty line in 2023 for a family of four is $30,000. These poverty wages mean that many adjuncts experience food and housing insecurity, especially during times of inflation; some adjuncts work at multiple universities, and many work second and third jobs to support themselves and their families.
The establishment of a living wage for faculty at New Mexico’s colleges and universities will go a long way toward achieving wage parity among public educators and ensure that New Mexico’s public colleges and universities will continue to be able to recruit and retain talented faculty who are committed to mentoring and educating New Mexico’s future scholars and leaders. It is time to end the gross exploitation of adjunct faculty and to pay them a living wage.
Ernesto A. Longa is the President of the United Academics of the University of New Mexico
Get content from The Daily Lobo delivered to your inbox