February 6, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 36°F


Commentary: Administration must support fair wage for all faculty

We are all tossing about in the wake of one of the most disturbing election outcomes in U.S. history. Despite the pro-worker rhetoric of the Trump campaign, the election results will embolden anti-labor and anti-union agents in our society. Our post-election dismay is leavened slightly by our memories of the rally on behalf of contingent faculty on campus last month.  Social justice work begins in our own backyards: the efforts of students, full-time faculty, and staff in supporting the unionization and negotiating efforts of the most exploited sector of the professoriate gives us hope.

But the forces arrayed against a just resolution to the part-timers’ contract negotiations are powerful. We must all continue our advocacy for part-time faculty until they receive a fair contract. To impede this outcome, the college has from the beginning of the unionization process retained the counsel of the notorious anti-worker law firm Bond, Schoeneck, & King.  To date, the college has spent untold tens of thousands of dollars to fight the unionization effort.

Administration attempts to “educate” the Ithaca College community about the unionization and negotiation process have come straight from this law firm’s anti-union playbook, including the “Clarification and Context” missive sent out last month.  With our part-time colleagues back at the bargaining table, we feel we need to clarify the misleading nature of the “Clarification and Context” piece.

To claim, as the administration does, that the $1400 per credit hour wage is consistent with their commitment to a living wage is risible. By administration dictate, a part-timer can teach only 2 courses per semester, a salary of $16,800/year for someone teaching the maximum of 4 courses. Most part-timers must cobble together work from other sources to make ends meet. If they want to remain true to their vocation, earning a “living wage” often means driving hundreds of miles each week to teach at poverty-level wages at other institutions as well.  

The administration further tries to justify its pay scale by comparing it favorably to that offered by other institutions. The people who run our institution seem to be arguing if others are engaging in exploiting vulnerable labor, the college is on firm moral ground if its own policies are slightly less exploitive. This is odd and unfortunate ethical reasoning.

The principle of equal pay for equal work lies at the heart of the current negotiations. Part-time faculty have quite reasonably asked for a per course compensation rate equal to the per credit pay of the lowest paid full-time faculty member, roughly $2,000 per credit hour. The administration’s claim that even full-time faculty on one-year positions have other responsibilities that account for the higher wage is untrue: while some faculty in these positions take on limited advising and service duties, most are almost exclusively engaged in teaching (a 4 course per semester load, 2 courses fewer per year than tenured and tenure-eligible faculty).

Ithaca College, like Walmart, intentionally keeps one-third of its employees at part-time status in order to avoid paying benefits such as health care, retirement, and/or a full salary. Like Walmart employees, many part-time faculty rely on Medicaid, welfare, SNAP, or other government programs to survive. So, the administration’s business model includes relying on public tax dollars to subsidize their low wages and unfair contracts. This kind of cost-cutting aimed at the faculty weakens the institution, its reputation, and its future. Our administration’s strategy undermines the very thing — the educational heart of the college — they claim to be preserving.

We are tenured faculty at IC who both worked as adjuncts early in our careers and who both worked as one-year contingent faculty for many years before being fortunate enough to become tenure eligible. We understand the anxiety and insecurity our part-time and one-year contingent faculty experience daily. We have one simple request. We ask the college to do the decent thing. The college administration should agree to substantially better wages and working conditions for the most vulnerable members of our faculty.

Michael Smith, Departments of History & Environmental Studies mismith@ithaca.edu

Don Beachler, Department of Politics, beachler@ithaca.edu