The Ithaca College Adjunct Organizing Committee, a group of part-time professors who are leading a unionization effort for part-time faculty members, held a “teach-in” March 19 to address issues of adjuncts and part-time professors in higher education.
A panel of four speakers addressed the crowd during the event: Brody Burroughs, part-time professor in the Department of Art; Bari Doeffinger, part-time professor in the Department of Languages and Literatures; Chip Gagnon, associate professor of politics; and Zeke Perkins, an organizer from the Service Employees International Union. The speakers spoke about the working conditions part-time professors face and why they believed unionization was an answer to these problems. The event was sponsored by IC Progressives and attended by about 30 students. About 10 part-time professors from Ithaca College, Binghamton University and Burlington College also attended the teach-in.
The teach-in is part of a push by the part-time faculty organizers to educate students about their efforts, Burroughs said. On March 16, Burroughs made a presentation to the college’s Student Government Association to ask for its support. The SGA will discuss the topic more at its next meeting, sophomore Senator-at-Large Josh Kelly, founder of IC Progressives, said. Kelly said the IC Progressives will be gathering signatures from students in support of the unionization efforts.
Kelly said the administration was likely to listen to student opinion since student tuition provides most of the funding for the college, and the college is meant to serve the students. Kelly said he aims to get around 500 signatures.
“[Students] are the people who are paying the administration to allocate this money, and we are giving in to the fund which is allocated,” he said. “If we say that we’re not okay with it, and we put that pressure on them, things are going to change and they are going to change for the better for the adjunct faculty.”
Burroughs, who is one of the organizers of the unionization movement, said he shares his office with other part-time faculty members and said he works other part-time jobs since he is not compensated enough to devote his full time and energy to teaching. Although he loves teaching, he said he is not able to make it work.
“I don’t appreciate having to draw a line in the sand to protect my time,” he said. “I want to be able to … respond to emails [from students] at night and not feel like I have to go out to find a part-time gig to cover my expenses instead.”
Doeffinger said she works as a substitute teacher to cover her expenses and said other part-time professors work at colleges throughout the area, including in Utica, New York, which is a two-hour drive from Ithaca.
“People do all kind of things to make ends meet, because we love working with all of you,” she said. “What we’re trying to do is make our positions more sustainable.”
Burroughs briefly referenced a PowerPoint presentation which included a list of goals for the organizing committee. These goals included: regular pay adjustment, job security through annual or extended contacts with accrued experience, pathways to full-time employment and the benefits that come, pro-rated benefits, improved workplace conditions, consideration in interviews and inclusive hiring standards for full-time employment positions and compensation for work done beyond the classroom such as curricular development, serving on committees and studio/lab maintenance.
Burroughs said part-time professors recently learned that they would be receiving a raise of $100 per credit hour.
“It’s a significant raise, and it’s going to make people’s lives better,” he said. “We’re viewing it as a victory, and we hope to build on it for the other things that make people’s lives dependable and sustainable.”
Gagnon said in September 2011, the Faculty Council passed a resolution calling for an increase in salary for all full- and part-time faculty, including an increase in base pay for part-time faculty. Although pay for full-time faculty was increased, part-time faculty received no pay raise. Gagnon said this led full-time faculty to write a letter to Ithaca College President Tom Rochon voicing concerns. In reply, Rochon wrote back a letter saying he believed part-time faculty should be paid fairly and he would talk to the Ithaca College Board of Trustees, but nothing came of it. Gagnon said unionization is the only way to improve the working conditions for part-time faculty members since the Faculty Council’s wishes have been ignored.
“This really is the only way to get things done, you have to have a union,” Gagnon said. “You have to force [the administration]. And they’re going to cry, ‘Oh, it’s horrible.’ No, they brought it upon themselves.”
Along with discussing working conditions, the event also focused on what students can do. Burroughs said student voice is important in aiding the movement.
“I believe Ithaca College really cares what its students think,” he said. “To address the quality of the education while you’re here, it’s important to be engaged.”
Powell said when he helped students organize in support of workers as a student at Bard College, workers were able to improve their pay and benefits.
“This school exists for you all,” he said. “As a student activist, that is where the real power resides.”
Kelly said he hopes this movement is the beginning of a more engaged student body at Ithaca College.
“Our professors have the right to improve their working conditions, and we do have the power to do something about it,” Kelly said. “I hope this is the start of not only a movement towards improved working conditions, but also a start of a more active IC student population.”
Kelly said the IC Progressives would sponsor another meeting on the topic at 6:30 p.m. March 25 in Friends Hall, Room 205. At this meeting, signatures for the petition will be compiled and be prepared to be presented to the administration.
Freshman Victoria Vasquez, who attended the event, is one of Burroughs’ students and said she thinks part-time faculty should receive equal pay for equal work.
“Brody is my art teacher, and I figured it would be interesting to come,” she said. “I really care about him, he’s a great professor and I think he deserves more.”
Burroughs said seeing his and other students supporting part-time faculty was inspiring.
“I was very excited to see such a great turnout, it’s been great talking to students about this over the past couple of weeks now that we’ve become more public in our efforts,” he said. “It’s very validating.”