In what academics say is just one example of a much bigger problem, UCLA recently advertised an assistant adjunct professor position that required extensive qualifications in return for a salary of nothing. "Applicants must understand there will be no compensation for this position," said the ad on an internal recruitment website, which invited people with a PhD in chemistry or biochemistry and a strong record of teaching at the college level to apply, the New York Times reports. The ad was pulled after a backlash on social media, but the controversy drew attention to the issue of underpaid—and unpaid—faculty at universities nationwide.
Union officials and academics say it's not uncommon for institutions to persuade people with PhDs struggling to find work to teach in return for experience and "prestige," though the roles rarely lead to tenured positions. Union president Mia McIver told the Los Angeles Times last month that the $0 UCLA job, which also required at least three letters of recommendation, may have been an attempt to get around a contract the UC-AFT union won for thousands of lecturers (but not assistant adjuncts) last fall that requires them to be paid. "My fear is that UC management’s addiction to cheap teaching labor is so strong that our new contract is not going to be honored," she said.
UCLA spokesman Steve Ritea says the job post "contained errors" and UCLA always offers "compensation for classroom teaching." McIver, however, says the number of unpaid teachers seems to be rising. "From my perspective it doesn’t matter whether someone had another job or another position, or is a retired professor who wanted to come back and teach, or a refugee scholar who needed a position, or a postdoc doing research who wanted or needed to teach," McIver tells the Times. "Ultimately, all of that doesn’t matter because anyone who teaches at a university or any school, let alone the University of California, should be paid for their labor." (Read more higher education stories.)