Small rally on big issue at SUNY Fredonia

SUNY Fredonia was the site Thursday for a rally to support Campus Equity Week, a nationwide effort to upgrade the status of professors and other campus professionals from part-time adjunct and contingent workers to full-time status.

According to figures provided by United University Professions, the union representing SUNY professors, more than 44 percent of academic faculty and professional staff are in positions that do not allow for continuing of permanent appointment, “contingent” positions. The release also stated those working in those part-time academic positions as adjuncts have little or no job security.

While early attendance was slim, the passion about the issue was evident in those who were present.

“We are, not only on this campus but all the campuses in SUNY, are having demonstrations and asking more for them,” explained Professor Ziya Arnavault, president of the SUNY Fredonia UUP chapter. “When a colleague is making $2,200 or $2,500 for a course in a university it’s heart breaking and we’d like to call attention, and of course, there’s a movement going on nationwide.”

Bruce Simon is a tenured associate professor in English and the local UUP’s officer for contingent employees on campus. He spoke about the most recent union negotiations conducted at the state level.

“I’ve heard from various sources that Gov. Cuomo refused to negotiate on a minimum wage for adjunct faculty. Part-time faculty can be paid any amount, there’s no floor,” Simon stated. “He, in fact, threatened to pull benefits off the table if the union insisted on keeping them on the table at the very end game of the negotiations.”

Simon added he would be reading an open letter to Cuomo “calling on him to act now to do what he can to deal with this slow motion disaster, this invisible disaster, that’s happening all across the state.”

Arnavault said adjunct pay is the same now as it was when he came to Fredonia 17 years ago.

“I always question, where’s inflation?” he asked.

Leonard Jacuzzo has been an adjunct philosophy professor at Fredonia for 10 years, along with holding that status at several Buffalo-area colleges.

“Even as an adjunct, four classes is considered 64 percent of a full-time, even though there are positions where four classes is a full time,” Jacuzzo stated. “It’s kind of a strange – don’t get any raises, don’t get any security.”

Simon said 30 percent of adjunct faculty across the country have the highest degrees in their fields but are not making the same as he is.

“It’s just this arbitrary nature of their appointment that leads to them getting paid less,” Simon added. “There’s no possibility of tenure for professionals; no possibility for permanent appointment. … We even treat grad student labor as being contingent academic faculty because they’re doing the work of the faculty. They’re teaching the students, they’re doing advising, they’re contributing to the success of all these universities and to the success of the students, and yet what do they get for that?”

Simon added that across the country, 75 percent of the professors are on some kind of contingent contract or another.

“Because we have a union in SUNY it’s about 45 percent here. Nationwide, part-time faculty are about 50 percent, it’s about one-third here,” he continued. “Because we have a union we’ve been able to fight back and get some protections and that’s what a contract is worth. But like I said, this governor has been coasting on the achievements of past governors. What is his education agenda for higher education? That’s the question I’m going to be asking.”

Arnavault pointed out SUNY is moving toward a 50 percent level of contingent positions.

“They do not have any prospect (of full-time employment) in the system,” he added. “Moreover, how long are we going to go with this system?”

Arnavault added because the part-timers are not allowed to do certain things more work falls on the full-timers.

“This is also a drawback to our education system. Look at the privates (colleges), do they have these problems? They don’t,” he continued. “Meanwhile, the state wants us to compete with privates but they are tying our hands. It is a dilemma I see in higher education. … Essentially, they don’t know what they want to do. … If you’re serious with the quality of education then do something and approve the number of full-time faculty in campuses across the SUNY system because SUNY is the driving force of middle class and poor people in this state.”

Affordability is one reason for that use of SUNY colleges, but Arnavault added that shouldn’t mean giving up quality.

Simon said the rally was to honor the memory of Duquesne University adjunct French professor Margaret Mary Vojtko who taught at Duquesne for 25 years before being let go. She died Sept. 1, after battling cancer and suffering a heart attack while struggling to make ends meet.

“We want to call attention to the plight of contingent faculty and adjuncts across the country,” Simon said. “We’re actually taking steps here, working with President (Dr. Virginia) Horvath, with Provost (Dr. Terry) Brown, with Vice President (Stephen) Schillo, to make some changes that we can make at the local level. I think they’re sincere in their efforts to find the money and make it happen, but frankly with the economic crisis facing SUNY, the governor can thank all the 16,000 contingent employees for helping keep SUNY afloat when he could have been closing campuses, laying off massive amounts of employees. He managed to avoid those tough political choices because of the sacrifices that contingent employees have been making, not just under his governorship but pretty much every governor in New York state.

“We just want a little recognition. We want a little action on his part.”

Some contingents are going with unions other than the UUP, such as UAW or SEIU, due to conflicts of interests on issues between full- and part-timers, according to Jacuzzo.

“When you think about it, the full-timers who have been here a long time make like six figures, we’re making $3,000,” Jacuzzo added. “If you give them 2 percent, well, take their 2 percent and give it to us because they don’t need a raise, but who’s arguing that? When the floor came up during negotiations they said we’ll take stuff off the table if you want to argue about adjuncts. They said OK, we won’t talk about adjuncts. Let them take these perks away from the full-timers for God’s sake if you want any justice for half our constituency.”

Campus Equity Week 2013 ends today.

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