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Fred Kowal: Adjuncts

Rebekah Tolley is an artist whose works have been displayed at the National Library of Quebec, and art galleries in the U.S., France, China and Japan.

She holds a master’s degree in fine arts from Temple University and has taught at schools such as University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Davidson College and Amherst College. Currently, she’s an adjunct instructor at SUNY’s University at Albany, and also has taught at SUNY Oneonta. These institutions are lucky to have her.

She’s one of thousands of adjunct faculty at SUNY, many of whom are forced to work two and even three jobs to make ends meet. Adjuncts like Rebekah Tolley account for one-third of SUNY’s faculty, teaching large classes—and sometimes, like Tolley, at different colleges.  

Yet, their salaries are best described as poverty-level; adjuncts averaged $2,700 per class in 2012-13, according to a study by the American Association of University Professors. Many have doctoral degrees, yet some don’t even have office space to help students. And they have little job security.

There’s also been a lot of talk lately in the news about the exorbitant salaries of SUNY administrators. UUP believes the governor was right to raise the issue. Those salaries are too high. As president of UUP and as a taxpayer, I’d rather see those dollars go into the classroom to pay our hard-working, dedicated adjunct faculty like SUNY Cortland lecturer Bill Lee and SUNY Farmingdale Professor Bentley Whitfield.  

Whitfield has an advanced degree from Columbia University and has received SUNY’s excellence in teaching award.  Lee has a master’s in Education and has been teaching for more than 25 years.

Lee, Whitfield and Tolley represented SUNY adjunct faculty in UUP’s recent statewide TV ad campaign, launched in January to raise public awareness of the precarious situation adjuncts face. Thousands more of our adjuncts have similar stories to tell. It’s time to address this economic injustice. 

And progress is being made.  A recent University at Albany report supported raising the minimum course rate for part-time lecturers from $2,800 to $5,000, and includes 14 other recommendations to improve working conditions for adjuncts. In the fall, starting pay for SUNY Oneonta adjuncts will be $3,000 per course, a $500 raise.

Still, more needs to be done.  UUP has a plan to help. We support the creation of a public higher education endowment that would provide funding to rebuild underfunded SUNY and CUNY academic departments. Those dollars could be used to move adjunct faculty to full-time positions. We’re hopeful that the state Legislature and the Governor will turn this proposal into reality.

Adjuncts are overworked and underpaid. It’s time to right this situation. Doing this would improve the quality of life for our teachers, help make SUNY a stronger University and most importantly, help our students get the highest quality education they deserve and for which they are paying more and more every year.

Dr. Fred Kowal is President of the 35,000 member United University Professions, which represents faculty on 29 New York State Campuses. UUP is an affiliate of NYSUT, The American Federation of Teachers, The National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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