Thursday, October 31, 2013

An Open Letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo

Note:  This is the fifth in a series of posts I'm doing here at Citizen of Somewhere Else for Campus Equity Week Previously I've written on Margaret Mary Vojtko, equity in compensation, equity in ranks/titles/contracts, and Campus Equity Week and The Scarlet Letter.  Today, I invite the Governor of New York State, Andrew Cuomo, to live up to his own rhetoric, to follow through on his professed values, and to put the power of his office behind campus equity in the State University of New York.

Happy Halloween, Governor Cuomo!

Tomorrow, the Day of the Dead, is the two-month anniversary of the death of Margaret Mary Vojtko, a professor who taught French at Duquesne University for 25 years but died in abject poverty after being fired without any severance pay or retirement benefits.

How could this happen?  Margaret Mary was an adjunct, a part-timer, a contingent faculty member.  The names change, but the facts remain the same.  She was one of far too many across the country who make up what Gary Rhoades has called academia's working poor.  Just like she did, the overwhelming majority of them are working hard for their students' futures without job security, health benefits, a living wage, or union membership.

Here in western New York, just a few hours from Pittsburgh, we are gathering today to honor the memory of Margaret Mary, to celebrate her commitment and her sacrifice, and to reflect on the meaning of her life and death.  Here, today, we are asking you to recognize that her teaching conditions are her students' learning conditions, to accept that campus equity is more than a labor issue--that at its heart are academic quality and institutional integrity--and to act on those understandings.

We do this because it appears from your actions during the protracted and difficult negotiations between your representatives and the union that represents SUNY's faculty and professionals, United University Professions, that you believe your political future depends on casting yourself as the defender of New York's taxpayers against lazy, greedy state employees and their power-hungry unions.  Despite her cancer and her poverty, Margaret Mary never missed a day of class.  Despite her hard work and dedication, she never made more than $25,000 per year.  And she never lived to see Duquesne recognize the union she and other contingent academic workers voted for--and for which they're still waiting.

The circumstances of Margaret Mary's life and death demonstrate how much of a difference union protections can make.  Thanks to the hard work of faculty and professional activists since the founding of SUNY, along with the wisdom and good sense of your predecessors in the Governor's office, faculty members in contingent appointments on SUNY campuses can earn health and retirement benefits.  In SUNY, only about 45% of the faculty and professionals are working on contingent lines (compared to about 75% nation-wide), while only about one-third of professors are teaching part-time as adjuncts (compared to about half across the country).

But when UUP came to you in the latest round of contract negotiations and said, "it's not enough that we're not the worst in the country--we're New Yorkers, it's time we become the best," you ignored us.  When we proposed that a minimum wage for adjunct faculty of $3,000 per course would be reasonable, you refused to negotiate.  In fact, I've heard from several sources that near the end game of negotiations earlier this year, you threatened to take benefits off the table if UUP continued insisting on keeping a minimum wage for adjuncts on the table.

It's hard for me to square that action with your own words when you succeeded in pushing the New York State legislature to raise the state minimum wage:
A reasonable minimum wage increases the standard of living for workers, reduces poverty, incentivizes fair and more efficient business practices, and ensures that the most vulnerable members of the workforce can contribute to the economy.
Well, yes.  But apparently that doesn't hold true for this class of state employees--the only ones who are working without a floor under their wages.  Why don't adjunct faculty deserve the same deal as any other worker in New York state?  Why do you think it's ok for the most committed of them to their students' success to be vulnerable to being paid less than the state-wide minimum wage?

Given your intransigence on that first, minimal step toward campus equity, it probably should come as no surprise that you apparently believe it's ok for someone with the same qualifications, experience, and responsibilities as another person to be paid a fraction of their salary for arbritrary reasons (such as appointment type).  But wait.  In a June op-ed that you wrote in support of the Women's Equality Act, you rightly called pay inequity "inexcusable and absurd."  At Vassar a couple of days later you stated:
Today is about values, and principles, and stating the obvious, and having the courage to stand up and tell the truth about the obvious. That’s what today is about. It started in January when we did what’s called the State of the State address, and stood up and said to the people of the state of New York, ‘Here is the truth. The truth is we discriminate against women in society in this state and in this country, and it is pervasive, and we haven’t admitted it, and it goes on every day, and it’s a shame, and it’s wrong, and it’s immoral, and it’s unethical, and it has to stop, and it’s going to stop in the state of New York, and then it’s going to stop everywhere.’ That is the truth.
Is it really that difficult to understand that contingency and casualization are also women's issues and human rights issues?  Across the country, between 51% and 61% of contingent academic workers are women.  In some disciplines, female adjuncts outnumber male adjuncts by ratios of 2 or 3 or 4 to 1.  I know you care about your daughters just as much as I care about mine.  How can you turn right around and discriminate against other fathers' daughters who happen to be state employees on contingent appointments in SUNY?  I implore you, listen to your own words, Governor!

Think about it:  if anyone is best living out your own education agenda of putting students first, it's SUNY's contingent faculty.  But how can SUNY continue to attract the greatest teachers if we are relegating more and more of them to contingency and casualization?  Chancellor Zimpher is tirelessly telling and retelling the story of SUNY as the little (economic) engine that could to anyone and everyone who will listen.  But who is doing the real work of making that engine run?  Who is making sure students stay on task, push themselves, and discover what they are interested in and capable of?  Who's in the classroom every day, giving them a pat on the back or a kick in the butt (as needed)?  Contingent faculty are doing this work--the work of workforce development, of developing an educated citizenry--every bit as well as their tenure-stream colleagues. 

Let's turn to more recent initiatives in which you've chosen to invest your political capital.  Part of your support for resort-style casinos is that they'll provide jobs to New Yorkers, revitalize local economies across the state, and provide new revenue streams for education.  I just heard a story the other day on public radio about a stalled contract negotiation for casino workers in New York City that was settled by arbitration.  The terms of the agreement will see many workers' salaries triple from the start to the end of their contract.  Some will be making $60,000 per year in a few years.  It was described as providing entry into the middle class for thousands of workers.

Imagine if you were to do something like this for the 16,000 contingent employees working in the SUNY system today.  The American Association of University Professors has pointed toward successful examples across the country of converting contingent appointments to some form of tenure.  Just imagine the economic impact in towns and cities across the state if thousands of SUNY's hardworking contingent employees were offered less precarious appointments and more equitable rates of compensation.  But why just imagine it?  You could work with Chancellor Zimpher on a proposal to modify the Policies of the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York to make it possible to enact AAUP's recommendations.

I've heard you repeat the phrase, "self-policing doesn't work," when it comes to cleaning up Albany and making ethics matter in the capitol.  You didn't accept self-policing when you helped stop the legislature's slow strangling of SUNY by refusing to accept their decades-long practice of cutting back on state support of higher education whenever they authorized a tuition increase (and often when they didn't).  But when it comes to SUNY's treatment of its own contingent employees, apparently you think self-policing can work.  Well, we're trying to make it work here at SUNY Fredonia--and I include the Fredonia administration in that "we."  President Horvath, Provost Brown, Vice President Schillo and others are putting their careers on the line to set an example for the rest of SUNY and the rest of the country.  They are taking on the issues you didn't have the courage to deal with yourself.

Governor Cuomo, I'm sure you're like the rest of us who have pondered the circumstances of Margaret Mary's death and thought, "There but for the grace of God go I."  You may have even thanked God that Margaret Mary worked for a Catholic university in Pennsylvania rather than a public university in New York.  Well, God may work in mysterious ways, but it's up to us here to reflect on our own complicities and responsibilities and to do what we think is right.  You've shown over the course of your political career that you have it in you to be a courageous leader who takes on big issues and solves tough problems.  Your leadership in providing disaster relief in central New York, where I grew up and got my education, and in downstate New York, where my parents grew up, were educated, met, and fell in love, is yet another example of your promise.  Well, what contingent employees have been facing for decades in SUNY has been a slow-motion disaster.  What will you do to relieve their suffering?  What will you do to restore their dignity?

On November 1st, All Saints' Day, many faithful around the world believe that the spirits of the dead return to the living and that it's the responsibility of the living to greet them demonstrations of love and respect.  What kind of offering should we make to Margaret Mary's spirit?  That's for each of us to decide.  But what if you were to honor the work contingent faculty do to help provide paths to the middle class and ways to wealth for New York's SUNY students?
  • What if you were to pledge to compensate adjunct faculty for teaching on the two days they'd otherwise have to cancel classes under the terms of the Deficit Reduction Program you forced on them?
  • What if you were to urge SUNY to put more contingent faculty on longer-term contracts, so that they don't have to go off and on health insurance over the course of a year?
  • What if you were to find a way to ensure that all contingent employees in SUNY become eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, so that they can at least get out from the burden of debt for the advanced degrees they have earned--and which your own actions are devaluing?
  • What if you were to offer them the same tax relief as you do to employees hired under the terms of your own START-UP NY program?  What if you were to exempt them from local and state income taxes?
Do it for Margaret Mary, Governor.  Do it for SUNY's 16,000 undervalued contingent employees.  Other Governors have helped do the heavy lifting that makes it unlikely any long-time SUNY adjunct will suffer and die like Margaret Mary did.  What will be your contribution?  What will be your legacy?  What record will you be able to point to when you seek reelection...and beyond?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Campus Equity Week and The Scarlet Letter

Just wanted to mark the confluence of Campus Equity Week and The Scarlet Letter on "wear red Wednesday."

The office of the scarlet letter on some campuses is to prevent contingent faculty from participating in shared governance, despite the recommendations of the AAUP to the precise contrary.  More generally, the organizers of Campus Equity Week want to turn the "scarlet A" from a mark of shame for adjunct faculty (abatement or even a badge of servitude?) to a badge of honor.

Let's hope the rest of us react better than Hawthorne's Puritans or even his narrator did to Hester!

[Update 1 (10/31/13, 4:03 pm):  Here's Joseph Fruscione in Inside Higher Ed.]

Campus Equity Week Issue #2: Towards Equity in Ranks, Titles, and Lengths of Contracts for Contingent Faculty

Establishing a university-wide floor for starting compensation for contingent faculty who are paid by the course or credit hour is a necessary first step toward achieving campus equity, but it is not sufficient in and of itself.  Recall the major extant definitions of equity:
  • NCTE: Compensation, per course, for part-time faculty should never be lower than the per-course compensation for tenure-line faculty with comparable experience, duties, and credentials.
  • AHA/OAH: Fair salaries, proportional to tenured and tenure-track faculty compensation for comparable teaching, advising and service work.
  • AAUP: Positions that require comparable work, responsibilities, and qualifications should be comparably compensated.
  • AFT: Part-time/adjunct faculty should be paid a salary proportionate to that paid full-time tenured faculty of the same qualifications for doing the same work.
Equity, in all these examples, requires those with similar credentials/qualifications, experience, and responsibilities/duties/work to be compensated similarly.  This is where the diversity among contingent faculty matters a great deal.  Some are newly-minted Ph.D.s, while others never intend to seek a terminal degree but have decades of experience in college and university classrooms.  Some are brought in temporarily to replace a faculty member on leave, some are brought in to teach specific courses for which they have specific expertise or experience, while others are essentially permanent hires regularly and repeatedly contributing to programs that (purportedly, at least) couldn't afford to stay afloat without them.  Some would love to compete for a tenure-track position were it to open up in their institution, while others wouldn't want to run the risk of losing the work they do have or add research and/or service obligations to their existing work load.  (See the recent reports by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce and the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education for more details and specifics.)

Given that diversity, a more substantive step forward than a university-wide floor would be to establish a system of ranks/titles for contingent faculty that allows for promotion/advancement, comes with compensation floors and/or bumps, and leads to lengthier contracts and/or adjustments of teaching load in light of changing professional obligations.  Such a system should allow contingent faculty sufficient choice to pursue the kind of rank/title that makes sense for them at each contract renewal, with criteria for the various ranks/titles clearly laid out and consistently and fairly applied.  While the Policies of the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York seem to preclude following through on AAUP's call for conversion to tenure without first modifying the Policies, there is room to develop a more rational, consistent, transparent, and equitable system of contingent (or "qualified," in SUNY-speak) ranks/titles on individual SUNY campuses.

That's exactly what the leaders of the Fredonia Chapter of United University Professions have called for at SUNY Fredonia.  Building on the successful negotiation of the Handbook on Appointment, Reappointment, and Promotion (HARP), which specifies that "This Handbook...shall remain in full force and effect unless modified by written, mutual agreement of UUP and SUNY Fredonia administration" (IB, p. 8), Provost Brown and Chapter President Arnavut have agreed to form a joint task force consisting of eight members, which will be charged with reviewing UUP’s proposals in light of best practices in the SUNY system (such as at Stony Brook, Cortland, and Farmingdale) and nation-wide, with the aim of proposing specific revisions to HARP IV (pp. 32-35) by a date (to be determined) in 2014. The Fredonia Chapter Executive Board envisions that the joint task force will be formed and charged by Provost Brown and Chapter President Arnavut when the schedule of HARP review, revision, and approval demands it or when negotiations on establishing a university-wide floor have ripened, whichever is sooner.

Stay tuned for updates on these matters!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Campus Equity Week Issue #1: Towards Equity in Compensation for Contingent Faculty

Paying part-time contingent faculty substantially less than other faculty in other positions that require comparable work, responsibilities, and qualifications is arbitrary, unsustainable, and unfair.

Every group that has ever studied these issues has concluded that the end goal should be some form of equity.  For instance:
  • NCTE: Compensation, per course, for part-time faculty should never be lower than the per-course compensation for tenure-line faculty with comparable experience, duties, and credentials.
  • AHA/OAH: Fair salaries, proportional to tenured and tenure-track faculty compensation for comparable teaching, advising and service work.
  • AAUP: Positions that require comparable work, responsibilities, and qualifications should be comparably compensated.
  • AFT: Part-time/adjunct faculty should be paid a salary proportionate to that paid full-time tenured faculty of the same qualifications for doing the same work.
SUNY Fredonia is not alone among colleges and universities in being a long way from achieving this kind of campus equity.  The only real questions remaining are:  what form should that equity take? how close can we afford to get to it right now? what long-term plan can we develop for achieving it?

While different campuses might answer these questions in different ways, Fredonia should take its cue from the contract governing terms and conditions of employment for faculty and professionals in the SUNY system.  According to the 2007-2011 Agreement between the State of New York and United University Professions, the salary minima for every full-time rank are:
  • Instructor: $32,945
  • Lecturer/Assistant Professor: $37,706
  • Associate Professor: $44,608
  • Professor: $55,283
Supposing that a 4/4 (24-credit) teaching load is the normal full-time course load for faculty who do not have any service or research expectations (and hence that tenure-stream faculty with lower teaching loads than 4/4 are replacing the courses they otherwise would have been teaching with their service and research), then we arrive at the following minimum rates of compensation per credit hour for each full-time rank:
  • Instructor: $1373/credit hour
  • Lecturer/Assistant Professor: $1571/credit hour (+$198/CH or +14.4%)
  • Associate Professor: $1859/credit hour (+$288/CH or +18.3%)
  • Professor: $2303/credit hour (+$444/CH or +23.9%)
When the 2011-2016 Agreement is published, expect those minima to rise about 2%.  However, for the purposes of establishing a university-wide floor for starting part-time contingent faculty compensation, the Lecturer’s minimum is most relevant, as Lecturers are not required to do any service or research.  It is difficult to understand what would justify the difference in compensation between a full-time contingent faculty member with a Lecturer’s appointment and a part-time contingent faculty member with some other rank or title.  Supposing Lecturers receive higher compensation because of a real difference in their expertise and hence in the kinds of courses they are assigned to teach, how large should that premium be relative to a minimum for starting part-time contingent faculty members?

How have other SUNY schools answered that question?  For the 2011-2012 academic year, SUNY Cortland’s university-wide floor was $863/credit hour, according to the most recent version of their Handbook for Academic and Professional Part-Time Employees that we could find.  At Cortland, then, Lecturers received a premium of $708/credit hour, or about 82%!  In March 2013, SUNY Oswego’s Provost announced the following university-wide floor agreement:  $950/credit hour (retroactive to the start of Spring 2013), $984/credit hour (effective Fall 2013), $1018/credit hour (effective Fall 2014). Currently at Oswego, then, the premium is $587/credit hour, or nearly 60%!  (At Oswego, by the way, an adjunct hired in 1992 made $770/credit hour; in March 2012, the Oswego UUP Chapter pointed out that if that amount were adjusted only for the rate of inflation over the previous 20 years, an adjunct hired in 2012 would make $1249/credit hour.)

When you consider that the 2007-2011 Agreement posits a premium for full professors relative to starting assistant professors of $732/credit hour, or about 46.6%, then equity starts to cut both ways.  The lower you set the university-wide floor for starting part-time contingent faculty, the more unfair the Agreement seems to those in the tenure stream!

Nobody doubts SUNY salaries are low across the board.  After all, the Modern Language Association recommends a floor of $2363/credit hour for the 2013-2014 academic year, which is more than the current floor for full professors.  The Mayday $5K! Campaign proposes a floor of $1667/credit hour, which is more than the current floor for assistant professors.  Clearly SUNY, the Division of Budget, and the Governor would have to agree to raise compensation rates for all faculty if they were to accept floors this high for part-time contingent faculty members.  But there's nothing stopping individual SUNY campuses from deciding on their own, right now, to set their own university-wide floors at some fraction of the $1571/credit hour floor for full-time lecturers.

As campus leaders work together to determine what that fraction should be, they should keep in mind that the national average for part-time faculty compensation is about $996/credit hour, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Adjunct Project.  In 2010, the median for contingent faculty in the Mid East was $1000/credit hour, the median for contingent faculty represented by a union was $1033/credit hour, and the median for contingent faculty represented by a union and working at Master’s-level institutions was $1200/credit hour, according to the Coalition on the Academic Workforce’s June 2012 Portrait of Part-Time Faculty Workers (p. 11 and Tables 24 and 25).

Also worth considering is what percentage of the overall campus budget, of the budget for Academic Affairs, of the adjunct budget, and of the fixed adjunct budget it would cost the campus to move to different university-wide floors in a given year and/or over several years.  Every estimate the leaders of the Fredonia Chapter of United University Professions have run suggests that doing the right thing for the most vulnerable and underpaid members of the bargaining unit and university will have a miniscule impact on these budgets.

Further Resources

  • SUNY Cortland, Handbook for Academic and Professional Part-Time Employees
  • SUNY Oswego Provost Memo, “Adjunct Base and Extra Service Funding” (8 March 2013)
  • SUNY Oswego UUP Chapter, “The Case for Increasing Adjunct Salaries” (26 March 2012)
Professional Associations
Other Organizations

Monday, October 28, 2013

Campus Equity Week 2013 @ SUNY Fredonia

Fredonia UUP Chapter Devotes Campus Equity Week to Honoring the Memory of Margaret Mary Vojtko

When Campus Equity Week is celebrated on college campuses across the country from October 28th through November 1st, SUNY Fredonia's United University Professions Chapter will be doing its part to advance the fight for quality and equality in higher education by holding a rally to honor the memory of Margaret Mary Vojtko on Thursday, October 31, from 12-1 pm, in the Amphitheatre (located between Maytum Hall and Reed Library).  Vojtko passed away on September 1st at the age of 83 after a 25-year career teaching French at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA.  But as Daniel Kovalik, perhaps the last person to talk to her, described the circumstances of her passing,
She begged me to call Adult Protective Services and tell them to leave her alone, that she could take care of herself and did not need their help. I agreed to. Sadly, a couple of hours later, she was found on her front lawn, unconscious from a heart attack. She never regained consciousness.

Meanwhile, I called Adult Protective Services right after talking to Margaret Mary, and I explained the situation. I said that she had just been let go from her job as a professor at Duquesne, that she was given no severance or retirement benefits, and that the reason she was having trouble taking care of herself was because she was living in extreme poverty. The caseworker paused and asked with incredulity, "She was a professor?" I said yes. The caseworker was shocked; this was not the usual type of person for whom she was called in to help.

Of course, what the caseworker didn't understand was that Margaret Mary was an adjunct professor, meaning that, unlike a well-paid tenured professor, Margaret Mary worked on a contract basis from semester to semester, with no job security, no benefits and with a salary of between $3,000 and just over $3,500 per three-credit course.

Too many professors are working under the same conditions as Margaret Mary across the country.  Campus Equity Week (CEW) was founded in California in 2000 and became a nation-wide event in 2001 in order to change those conditions and, in so doing, to restore institutional integrity and enhance educational quality.  By seeking public recognition that faculty employment conditions are student learning conditions and that equitable educational experiences for students require equitable institutional support of all faculty, CEW events have drawn new activists into the labor movement, helped provide training through information-sharing and community-building, increased press and public interest, and created strong incentives for local administrators and state and local politicians to become visibly involved with the issues--not to mention led to significant gains for contingent faculty, particularly those represented by unions.

In the State University of New York (SUNY), contingent faculty are represented by United University Professions (UUP), which has been able to secure health benefits, sick leave, and office space for most SUNY adjuncts.  However, the typical three-credit course salary for SUNY adjuncts is between $2,500 and $3,000 and Governor Cuomo and SUNY have refused to establish a state-wide minimum salary for SUNY adjuncts (unlike every other state employee).  Here at Fredonia, President Virginia Horvath, Provost Terry Brown, and Human Resources Director Michael Daley have been discussing a range of issues regarding contingency and sustainability with Chapter leaders, from compensation to length of contracts, from systematizing titles and ranks to compensating contingent employees for certain categories of professional service.  We are working together to ensure that what happened at Duquesne will never happen at SUNY Fredonia.  And we intend to succeed.

Please join us at the Amphitheatre at noon on Halloween to honor Margaret Mary!


Fredonia Chapter Executive Board
Fredonia Chapter Contingent Employees Advisory Group

p.s.--For CEW stickers and buttons, please contact Fredonia Chapter President Ziya Arnavut or Officer for Contingents Bruce Simon!

For more on Campus Equity Week, see

For more on Margaret Mary Vojtko, see

For more on the conditions of contingent faculty, see
 [Update 1 (10/30/13, 5:05 pm):  For more #CEW2013 blogging here, check out:
 Next up is an open letter to Governor Cuomo that I'll be reading at the rally.]

[Update 2 (10/31/13, 4:01 pm):  Here's the open letter to Andrew Cuomo!]

[Update 3 (11/1/13, 1:25 pm):  Here's Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer's coverage of the rally.]

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Recommended Look-Sees: Nathaniel Hawthorne Society and UUP Campus Equity Week Websites

Really just a "get ready for more from me here" kind of post, but have you seen the Nathaniel Hawthorne Society's new website ( and UUP's Campus Equity Week page (  Lots of interesting things to come here starting 10/28 with CEW's, I'm trying to complete a pitch for a 2-volume study of race and Hawthorne over the winter break, by which time I should have found out if I made the American cut for another teaching Fulbright in Japan....  (Long-time readers will recall I started this little ol' thing during my 1st Fulbright over in Fukuoka!)