Op-Ed: Where is tuition going?: Not visiting or adjunct faculty

It came as a mild surprise to me hearing that students registering to take PHYS 111 next fall were looking forward to taking the class with me. Partially because PHYS 111 is traditionally a challenging required course for non-physics majors, but more so because this was my first year teaching as the ‘instructor of record’ for a physics course, and so there is definitely a lot I’m still figuring out about creating a good course.

Given this news, I feel some regret in disappointing next fall’s PHYS 111 students since I have declined the offer from Lafayette to return as a visiting faculty member. Many factors played into my decision, but foremost among them is that the starting salary for visiting faculty ($68,000 this year, going up to $71,000 next year) is not enough for me to afford living in Easton.

Over the past three years, rents and home prices in Easton have risen an unbelievable 60 percent and the average rent in the Lehigh Valley is over $1600 per month. Moving to Easton last fall, the cheapest rent I could find was $1500, and I had to sign my lease and begin paying rent a month before I physically moved to Easton in order to secure housing. My current monthly take-home pay (after taxes, healthcare and retirement) is about $3800, meaning 39 percent of my take-home pay goes to rent. As someone fresh out of graduate school with almost no savings, this is unsustainable.

Lafayette isn’t to blame for the current housing crisis occurring across the country, but the college seems completely unaware of the impacts of this crisis on its visiting and adjunct faculty. My frustrations with the college were exacerbated by discovering that there are tenured and fully promoted faculty members living in low-cost college-owned faculty housing, leaving it unavailable for visitors who have lower salaries and are on one-year contracts.

For students wondering where their tuition is going, and what is happening with the 5.5 percent tuition increase, part of it seems to be going to raising faculty salaries. However, the 4.4 percent raise given to visiting faculty hardly seems to account for much of the tuition increase.

Nate Crossette is a visiting professor in the physics department.