UB professors participate in National Adjunct Walkout Day

Contingent faculty members try to bring awareness to low wages and lack of job security


Some of UB’s lowest paid faculty members walked out of their classrooms and visited the offices of some of UB’s more highly paid officials – including President Satish Tripathi – on the fifth floor of Capen Hall on Wednesday. They chanted for better treatment of and payment for adjunct professors.

Approximately 50 faculty members and students participated in National Adjunct Walkout Day by marching in protest of adjunct faculty rights and wages, risking potential termination. Some professors walked out of their classrooms at 12:30 p.m. to attend the demonstration. As the crowd marched from the Student Union to Capen Hall, it chanted phrases like, “Where does your tuition go? Adjunct professors do not know!” and “What’s outrageous? Adjunct wages!”

“This is a problem with higher education nationally,” said Brian Clark, an adjunct professor in the media study department. “This is a day that we bring awareness to the issue of adjuncts.”

The United University Professions (UUP) – the union that represents SUNY employees – president Fred Kowal told UUP adjuncts last month that they should not partake in the walkout, and that UUP does not support, encourage or condone it. UUP’s website says it supports adjuncts and are fighting to raise their wages but participation in the event could result in termination.

The demonstration was held at universities and colleges across the country, as well as in Canada and England. Adjunct faculty, also known as part-time or contingent faculty, make up 76 percent of all teaching positions nation-wide, according to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). More than half of UB’s faculty in 2013 – 52 percent – was not on a tenure track, according to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Adjunct faculty make between $20,000 and $25,000 annually according to an NPR report in 2014. The AAUP reported the average salary for a full-time professor with a doctorate at a public university was $123,393 in 2012-13.

President Satish Tripathi was the highest paid president in the SUNY system in 2012-2013, pulling in $681,139 – more than SUNY chancellor Nancy Zimpher, who made $621,200 that year.

Adjunct faculty are not protected under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which requires most employees in the United States are paid at least the federal minimum wage. The FLSA exempts those in the field of science or learning and that practice medicine or law from being paid minimum wage.

Universities are turning towards part-time, contingent labor because it is cheap labor, according to the AAUP’s website. Contingent faculty does not have professional support or resources available for instruction, according to the AAUP.

"In sociology we are learning about the exploitation of labor. Those same teachers are the ones whose labor is being exploited, which is a terrible irony.” — Emma Frieh

Leslie Nickerson, a UB English adjunct professor who participated in the demonstration, said adjuncts don’t know if they will be hired until around one month before the semester begins and sometimes their courses are canceled one week before semester begins.

“Students need faculty members that are available,” Nickerson said. “Those investing in higher education should get a living wage to do so.”

But the faculty members who participated in the walkout could be susceptible to losing their jobs.

UUP Communications Director Michael Lisi told The Spectrum if UUP members participated in the walkout, they would be in violation of New York State’s Taylor Law, which defines rights and limitations of New York State unions. Lisi said the walkout is considered an illegal strike under the Taylor Law and UUP members on term appointments could be subjected to Article 19 disciplinary action – including termination.

Ramona R. Santa Maria, Buffalo State’s representative for part-time concerns sent an email to all Buffalo State adjunct faculty warning them they could be terminated immediately if they participated in the event. According the email, she said the demonstration could be considered an illegal strike and participators could be subjected to a loss of two days’ pay.

Buffalo State had 56 percent of its faculty not on a tenure track in 2013, according to the Service Employees International Union.

Adjunct professors were not the only ones who participated in the demonstration. Several tenure track professors participated in the demonstration, like Mateo Taussig, a tenure associate professor in the law school.

Taussig said the issues facing adjunct professors affect tenure track professors as well.

“Fewer tenure professors are being replaced with adjunct professors,” Taussig said. “As universities turn to adjunct professors, they should get paid fair wages.”

Students also participated in Wednesday’s march and voiced concerns over the working conditions of adjunct professors. Some said that the treatment of adjuncts directly affects their own education and college experience.

“When my teachers don’t have office hours and don’t have benefits, it affects my education,” said Emma Frieh, a senior sociology major.

Frieh spoke to the other protestors in front of the Tripathi’s office on the fifth floor of Capen as UB officials watched the demonstration from outside their offices. She said that if this is an institution of education, “Why aren’t we supporting out educators?” which was responded to with applause from the other protestors.

Joel Inbody, a graduate sociology student, said adjunct professors should be treated and paid as much as tenure track professors.

“Adjuncts are making this university thousands of dollars,” he said.

Frieh said what she is being taught at UB directly relates with the issues surrounding UB’s adjunct professors.

“In sociology we are learning about the exploitation of labor,” Frieh said. “Those same teachers are the ones whose labor is being exploited, which is a terrible irony.”

Charles W. Schaab is an assistant news editors and can be contacted at news@ubspectrum.com