“And we have just one world / But we live in different ones”

If you have been following the latest news in higher education, no doubt you have stumbled across this. I could go through the various points and make some semi-intelligent commentary, but I’ll leave that to those who are better equipped to do so.

No, in my little corner of the internet I would like to do 2 things. First, I want to invite you to go read David Perry’s blog. (In this and other matters, in fact. Bookmark it, and read through his work when you have the chance.) Second, I’d like to take up his call, and agree that “These new students need to be taught by full-time, salaried, faculty.”

I have never attended or taught at a community college*, but I know many people who have. These institutions often do great work, and have helped large numbers of students to transition to 4-year universities and gainful employment. These institutions serve a larger public good by serving students. And because they serve the public good, they need to be publicly supported.

As Perry notes, part of that support means that the faculty “must make a living wage. They need health care. They need access to faculty development. They need offices.” And so I support Perry’s call that “Any school receiving funding for the America’s College Promise must have 80% full-time faculty.”

Of course, the problem is that we need people making that claim. The problem is that we need people advocating that teachers should be hired full-time, with benefits, and with proper support for their work. Rarely do I see the need for advocating on behalf of other public employees who serve the public good. But we need to constantly remind lawmakers, taxpayers, students, and most especially administrators at public colleges and universities, that faculty need to be supported.**

Last summer, I posted about my department’s plan (thankfully, it failed) to hire for a 1-year VAP which would have been, in a word, exploitative. And that position was, honestly, one of the better jobs we could have offered. Had we really wanted to screw someone over, we could have done so.

So I’m using this platform to make a call of my own: Stop Exploiting Faculty. I know, easier said than done, right?

But I have a plan. Well, I have several. Plan A would be to stop hiring adjunct faculty. Existing adjunct faculty would remain employed, but we would not hire any new adjuncts. Done. From this day forward, only full-time faculty.***

Of course, that won’t happen. So here’s Plan B: part-time faculty can only be hired for part-time needs. If a department has a continuing need to staff a full-time course load, then a full-time faculty member must be hired to staff that need. So let’s say my department has a sudden need for 2 additional Freshman Composition courses for one semester. We would be able to hire an adjunct to staff that need. However, if we have a surge in enrollment an require 3 additional courses every semester, then we must hire someone full-time to cover that need.

In the absence of legislation to force universities to engage in full-time hiring for full-time needs, we need faculty to make these demands in their own departments when its time to hire new faculty. We need department chairs to stand up to administrators and refuse to staff full-time needs with part-time hires. And we need administrators to stand with us.

I understand why it’s so hard to do this. As faculty, we are often primarily concerned with the students right in front of us. Those students need courses, and they need those courses now. So to serve the students in front of us, we hire part-time faculty. Not doing so, we argue, harms those students in front of us. And because this logic never changes, we do this repeatedly. Every semester, ever year, there is a new crop of students right in front of us who need to be served. We think of this as a part-time need, semester-by-semester, instead of the full-time need that it is.

In all fairness, some department chairs and administrators do recognize this as a full-time staffing need, even though they address it with part-time solutions. But this needs to stop. In short, we need to risk inconveniencing the students in front of us in order to serve all students better.

OK, so I got off on a bit of a tangent here. So I’ll wrap it up.

I support the president’s initiative. And if I’m being completely honest, part of me is hopeful that we may start to see major reforms in higher education. But this will only happen if we push. We cannot sit back and wait for the government to fix things top-down. We need to meet the government half way, if not more. We need to stop making excuses for our exploitative hiring practices.

So to that end, I hereby promise to do what I can in my own backyard. I will demand that my department chair not staff full-time needs with part-time labor. I will stand with him if and when he takes this position with administration. And if I ever serve as chair, I will not make exploitative hires.

I have known a great many academics, from graduate students to university presidents. And not one of them went into academia in order to screw other academics out of a living wage and benefits. We need to remember that, and to remind those who may have forgotten it.

*I did once work as a writing tutor at a junior college, whose mission was similar to that of many community colleges.

**Now seems like the proper time to remind my readers that all teaching faculty at SUNY Potsdam are still dealing with Mandatory Deficit Reduction days. They are very much like furlough days, only instead of a day off without pay, we simply don’t get paid. We still do all the same work, and the university “saves money” by not fully paying us for it. We are told that this is necessary because of budget shortfalls. But thankfully, the budget isn’t so bad as to affect administrators. They still get paid for all the work they do.

***I know I’m oversimplifying here. By “adjunct” I mean part-time employee. In many systems, there are full-time lecturers who, while not tenure track, are also not exploited in the same way, in that they are paid a living wage and receive benefits. However, if other systems are anything like the SUNY system, these positions will quickly become exploitative. One such full-time lecturer contract that is being offered to SUNY Potsdam adjuncts is a 5/5 teaching load with service and advising expectations. For $30,000, with no opportunities for raises. By comparison, tenure track faculty are hired at $45,000+, and only teach a 4/4 load. And have the opportunity for union raises (even if those raises are more then eliminated by the above-mentioned Deficit Reduction days – to give but one example, I was tenured the same year the Deficit Reduction Days were instituted; my resulting paycheck was lower, meaning that instead of a tenure raise, I was given a tenure pay-cut).

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