So You Want to Be an Adjunct Art Therapy Professor

What’s the salary, are there jobs, and is it time to unionize?

Posted Jan 28, 2014

Many of my colleagues are art therapy professors at colleges and universities. But the majority of these colleagues make up the massive group collectively known as art therapy “adjunct professors.” Most teach because they enjoy the interaction with graduate students and an academic community; some do it for the extra money (more on that later on); and others do it to class up their CV and get library privileges they may otherwise not have access to. I have been an adjunct art therapy professor for over 25 years, mostly because some of my most memorable professional moments have been teaching graduate students, witnessing how many of them eventually join the ranks of the profession.

First, it is probably no secret that art therapy adjunct salaries are embarrassingly low, generally ranging anywhere from $1700 to $3500 for a three-unit, standard semester-long course, depending upon the person’s terminal degree and experience. There are some even lower salary outliers (states in the Midwest and South) and higher outliers (California), but not many. It is not surprising that other professional fields (including the humanities and social sciences) often pay their part-time faculty more than the average art therapy adjunct makes per course. In most situations, there are also no benefits (healthcare, retirement, disability) included and no guarantee of continued employment or raises despite years of service. Most adjunct professors work out of their car (a.k.a. “the office”), spend countless additional hours each week in prep work, buy supplies for courses at their own expense, engage with students outside the classroom, and complete endless paperwork (incomplete grades and recommendations), sometimes for years after the course is over. “Adjuncting” has been called “the fast food worker of the academic world;” there are plenty of slots because of low wages and lack of security. In brief, I consider any adjunct teaching I do my “volunteer work” for the profession because I could not afford to regularly work at the wages offered.

In comparison, on a search of full-time art therapy professors’ salaries via the Internet, there is a wide range—from $50,000 to $100,000 a year for 10 to 12 month contracts. Most art therapy, full-time faculty salaries are somewhat in the middle of that range, as far as is known. The real salary range is not available because only state universities and colleges are required to list salaries each year on public sites in contrast to private institutions who do not have to post such information (by the way, if you attend a state university, you can easily look up your professors’ salaries by doing an Internet search of that state government's salaries). Most art therapy professors work at private colleges, so the actual salary range is difficult to determine. However, in contrast to adjuncts, regular faculty do get health, retirement, and disability benefits, reimbursements for supplies and travel, and mostly enjoy tenure track positions. 

Anyone who is an adjunct professor or is planning to become one should become familiar with the current movement to unionize part-time faculty in the US. Because the number of part-time adjuncts at most universities is now exceeding 66% of the faculty, adjuncts are a valuable majority in terms of contributors to academia, yet unprotected as workers in terms of job security and benefits. In response, many are joining the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a group that intends to protect the pay and rights of adjunct professors. For example, adjunct faculty (including art, music, dance, and drama therapy) at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA will be voting on their own union after being approached by SEIU last year. Lesley University has an average of 250 adjunct faculty compared with 174 full-time faculty. Even the Cambridge City Council has given its support to this effort and are in favor of a resolution that acknowledges and supports all of Cambridge's adjunct professors in their unionization efforts.

For those of you considering adjunct appointments, I again underscore that some of my most wonderful professional moments have been teaching graduate students. But I also value my fellow adjunct art therapy professors around the US and what they have had to endure in a system that has often taken advantage of them. Art therapy adjunct professors are what keep the art therapy education economy healthy and frankly, they keep regular faculty and administrators in salary, benefits and overhead. It is well past the time when their contributions to art therapy education (and those of our cousins in music therapy, dance therapy, drama therapy, and expressive arts therapy) should not only be celebrated, but also given the rights and respect owed to any individual in the workforce.

Keep calm and join a union,

© 2014 Cathy A. Malchiodi, Ph.D., LPCC, LPAT, ATR-BC

Update on the disparity in pay between full-time, regular faculty and adjunct professors, see recent Boston Globe opinion: "Adjusted for the percentage of compensation attributed to research and service to the university, assistant professors made $12,971.50 per course they taught. In comparison, adjuncts are paid as little $5,115 per course..."(reference to Tufts University, Medford, MA).

For more information about Adjunct Action and SEIU, see

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