Unions will help, not hurt, at IC
Editor’s Note: Writer has been involved with IC Students for Labor Action.
“I am an IC contingent faculty member. I am on Medicaid.” These words, part of a photo campaign by the group IC Students for Labor Action, put a face on the financial position of many Ithaca College contingent faculty members.
To address these concerns, part-time faculty and full-time contingent faculty at the college have unionized. While progress has been made in negotiations with the administration, the part time–faculty union talks hit a snag on the issues of job security and compensation. The wages of part-time faculty seem to have become the bigger negotiating issue, however. Part-time faculty at the college are currently paid just $1,400 for each credit they teach and can teach up to 12 credits per year, The Ithacan reported, which comes out to just $16,800 of earnings a year at best.
The part-time faculty walked out of their bargaining session on Sept. 23 in response to an offer of a 2 percent pay increase per credit. That was the administration’s counter-offer to the union’s original proposal of a 42.8 percent pay increase per credit, which The Ithacan reported the union subsequently reduced by $275 per credit for professors who have been at the college one to three years. Contingent faculty and student activists then held a rally on Oct. 19 to protest the administration’s low-ball offer. The union has since had another negotiation session with the administration. But as of Oct. 28, the two sides had not come to an agreement.
There is a moral argument to be made in favor of increased pay for part-time contingent faculty, particularly when some faculty members are on Medicaid and another can’t afford to pay their student debt to Ithaca College with their college-provided compensation. But for those who may not be convinced by arguments of right and wrong, here are three reasons the college can and should provide part-timers with a substantial pay raise.
It’s not cost prohibitive
The administration has pointed out that its part-time professors are among the best paid in the Northern region. But all that really proves is that many other colleges are also exploiting their part-time professors.
The administration has argued tuition for students will have to rise if part-timers are paid more. But there are other ways of funding a pay increase for part-timers, such as lowering the salaries of top administrators. President Tom Rochon made $458,318 in 2013, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the second-highest presidential salary among the college’s peer group.
Additionally, according to the college’s 2014 calendar year 990 form, the college paid Rochon, a few trustees and 10 top administrators and deans a total of $2,405,493, with most receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation. Those making that much money can afford to take a pay cut to allow for an increase in part-time faculty pay.
The college could also reduce the amount it spends on unnecessary luxuries. For example, The Ithacan reported the college’s 2016-17 budget included $2.6 million for meals and entertainment. Additionally, part-time faculty say the college has allocated $4.7 million to a contingency fund for cases of low enrollment or emergency. Tahlia Fischer, a part-time instructor of women and gender studies, told The Ithacan the increase in wages part-timers are asking for would only amount to 11.9 percent of the fund, leaving plenty left over.
It’s disingenuous for the administration to argue tuition would have to be raised to pay for the part-time faculty union’s demands. There is excess in the budget that could easily be used for such purposes. To link an increase in part-timers’ pay to a tuition hike is nothing more than a scare tactic designed to turn students against the union.
It’d be better for students
Many part-time faculty work second jobs. “We’re dedicated to our students, and we love teaching. But we’re on Medicaid. We work other jobs to make ends meet,” Rachel Kaufman, a part-time writing instructor, told the Washington Post.
If part-time faculty members are constantly working other jobs, this reduces the amount of time they can spend working with students. Paying part-time faculty a decent wage would ensure that such faculty spend less time at other jobs and more time helping students further their learning.
Additionally, the stress of working multiple jobs and living on such a paltry wage takes a toll. “Part-time faculty members … find it near impossible to sustain themselves and often struggle to find dignity and stability in their own personal lives,” part-time sociology instructor Sarah Grunberg told The Ithaca Voice.
Part-timers facing such instability must experience a lot of stress, which cannot help but have an impact on their ability to teach and be there for their students. It would be better for both students and professors if part-time faculty were paid enough to reduce some of their financial stress. Then, they could focus on the reason they are at the college: to teach.
It allows the next administration to have a fresh start
With a new president on the way, there should be a clear motivation to resolve the faculty union negotiations. That means the administration must significantly increase its offer from its insulting pay raise proposal of 2 percent and actually negotiate in good faith with the union.
Solving the dispute this academic year would allow the next president to arrive with a clean slate. If a solution is not reached by the time the next president takes control, they will be left to deal with a multitude of faculty who are unhappy, and rightfully so.
Resolving the situation before then would allow the new president to move the college beyond the toxic years of Rochon’s presidency. And it would signal the beginning of a fresh start in the relationship between the power figures in the Peggy Ryan Williams Center and the rest of the college.
Evan Popp is a third-year journalism major who wrote this in the IBEW basement wearing his AFT t-shirt. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.