The PhD Now Comes with Food Stamps is an interesting article on the struggles of adjunct university faculty.
Adjuncts are freelance faculty who are paid per course taught. According to the article, the average adjunct is paid $2500 per course taught, but it can be as low as $600. As freelancers they don't have job security or, in most cases, benefits.
This is very different deal than what tenured professors get. Tenure is granted after a 5-7 year process at most universities, and once tenured professors are almost impossible to fire. They're also well paid and, generally speaking, have excellent benefit packages.
Not surprisingly, given the labor rigidity and costs associated with adding tenured professors universities are choosing to hire more adjunct and non-tenure track staff. And since there is a glut of Ph.Ds in many fields, schools don't have to pay well to attract temp professors.
All of this adds up to situation like the one described in article - a women with a Ph.D in medieval history is teaching as an adjunct and makes so little she's on food stamps.
This article clearly overstates the problem. The vast majority of adjuncts aren't on food stamps. But just as fields like journalism have been hit with oversupply and the shift to freelancers, so is academia.
We think the shift away from tenure is just beginning. Many colleges and universities are in financial trouble, which means more temp faculty members. And the Internet is just starting to impact higher education. As Internet based learning expands, it's very likely the demand for college professors will fall.
All of this means expect big changes in how colleges are run in the coming years.