December 6, 2021

SUNY Cortland instructors tell of adjunct challenges

Pay, long hours criticized

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

SUNY Cortland full-time faculty member Ross Borden, left, and former SUNY Cortland librarian and United University Professions activist Dave Ritchie talk during a rally Friday in front of Brockway Hall. The event was held to draw attention to the pay for part-time faculty.

Using the example of Dr. Seuss’s “The Sneetches,” English professor Jaclyn Pittsley illustrated for about 25 people in front of Brockway Hall on Friday the atmosphere of exclusion among SUNY Cortland’s adjuncts.

Pittsley told of how contingent faculty are looked down upon by their colleagues, much like the sneetches lacking stars were in the famed book. She said they struggle to make ends meet, something she and other members of SUNY Cortland’s contingent faculty and the United University Professions union want changed.

Members of the contingent faculty rallied on campus Friday, marking Campus Equity Week, which seeks to promote awareness about wage discrepancies and other differences between tenure-track and contingent faculty on campuses nationwide. There is a national “day of action” Tuesday, calling for at least one action to take place on that day at all campuses.

As opposed to tenured professors, who have job security, contingent faculty members have no path to permanence and are considered at-will employees, Pittsley said. So they can be let go at any time.

SUNY Cortland employs 309 full-time professors and 261 adjuncts, said SUNY Cortland spokesman Fred Pierce. Adjuncts are contingent employees, however some fulltime staff are also contingent faculty, like Pittsley and a fellow English lecturer Gregg Weatherby, who also spoke at the rally.

“For several years, we have hired as many new full-time, tenure-track instructors as budget constraints allowed,” Pierce said Friday night. “Adjunct faculty allow us to fill academic needs, reduce the size of our classes and provide individualized experiences.”

Pittsley praised SUNY Cortland administration’s attempts to treat the staff fairly, noting contingent, part-time faculty are paid $2,750 per course, $50 more than the national average. However, she said, that still falls far short of what workers need to make a living wage.

“Compensation for adjunct faculty is a national area of concern, and Cortland reviews what we pay our adjuncts annually,” Pierce said. “For the last two years in a row, we have raised our adjunct base rate as we balanced other budgetary needs and hired new full-time faculty.”

While Pittsley now has a three-year appointment as a full-time lecturer, she said she knows the troubles of working without job security since she was an adjunct for 11 years.

Weatherby, also a full-time lecturer after 11 years as an adjunct, recalls needing food stamps because of low wages.

Weatherby hopes negotiations between UUP and the state, which governs SUNY contracts, could result in a change in the salary structure. Or, he said, the college president could change the salary at SUNY Cortland.

Weatherby kept repeating, “We are not worth less,” and frequently quoted Martin Luther King Jr.:

“No labor is menial unless you’re not getting an adequate wage,” he said. An educated professional, like a college professor, should not have to struggle to make a living wage, he said.

“If professors are on food stamps, or sleeping in their cars … what message are we sending about the value of the college experience,” Weatherby said.

Ross Borden, also a full-time contingent English lecturer, said there is a disparity in the message sent to students when some professors are unable to make ends meet.

“I know my salary is on the backs of people working part time,” he said. “When 200- plus faculty are working slave wages, how do you go before students and profess inclusion and social justice … because down the hall from us someone is sleeping in our car.”

Adjunct philosophy professor Kaeti Manning can attest to the “insanity” of trying to make ends meet through juggling courses as an adjunct.

Manning said she teaches two courses each at SUNY Cortland and Tompkins Cortland Community College and has to run back and forth between the two, preventing her from spending time with students.

“It’s not ethical to treat us this way after all the hard work we put in,” she said. “We make poverty wages and we’re some of the most educated people in society.”

Manning said next year she will teach only at SUNY Cortland, where three courses have been offered. She said the health benefits help (they are offered if you teach at least two classes), and she’ll get to focus on her students.

“If you told me 20 years ago that I would be teaching college full-time and making $20,000 a year, I would have said you were crazy,” she said.