UB adjunct faculty hold rally for fair pay

Faculty argue they are not making living wage


Sigrid Fertig has to share her office space with four other adjunct professors. She said she always has to go out of her office to meet with students because there isn’t enough room and couldn’t hold her oral evaluations this year because of lack of space.

When Fertig came to work at UB as an adjunct professor, it did not occur to her how labor conditions could be so different from working in her Austrian hometown.

Fertig taught for 27 years in Austria and said she had “great benefits and tenure.” She said she currently isn’t making a living wage, has no job security, no pension plan, and without her husband’s salary, she couldn’t support herself.

Fertig, along with roughly 60 other adjunct professors, full-time professors, teaching assistants and undergraduate students held a rally with United University Professions outside of UB Commons Thursday afternoon. The rally was followed by a march around campus to Provost Charles Zukoski’s office in 562 Capen Hall.

“Adjunct faculty are not the exception anymore but the rule,” Fertig said. “Without adjuncts, the education system could not exist in its current form – and yet universities still pretend we do not exist.”

A full-time adjunct works more than 40 hours a week but isn’t paid for most of those hours, according to Fertig.

Fertig, an adjunct German professor in the UB linguistics department, has been a teacher for roughly 40 years.

Seventy-six percent of teachers nationwide are adjunct professors and 50 percent of teachers at UB are adjunct professors, according to Fertig.

“It’s to the point the education system relies on adjuncts rather than on tenure-track faculty,” Fertig said.

She said adjunct professors are “invisible” to administrators and tenured faculty and are among the “poorest” workers in the country.

A lot of salaries are “set in units,” according to Zukoski. He said this is an ongoing topic and the deans and chairs of each department decide the salaries. He said he knows of no specific plans to higher the wages, but he will “think very hard about it.”

“We are highly qualified and we are doing valuable work for American colleges and universities,” Fertig said. “In return, we receive such low pay that being an adjunct professor may be the job with single biggest discrepancy.”

Dorothea Braemer, an adjunct professor in the Arts Management program said the average starting salary for an adjunct professor is $2,700 for one course and said this salary is less for an adjunct English professor.

She said the average UB professor teaches two classes.

Some tenured faculty members in attendance felt strongly about the issue.

“I believe in higher education. I believe higher education is a highly valuable thing and we cannot value higher education when we pay adjunct teachers who do some of the most valuable work poverty level wages,” said Martha McCluskey, who has been a tenured faculty member at UB for roughly 20 years.

Some adjunct professors at the rally said they are living on food stamps, a governmental food assistance program.

“UB can be a leader. We should distinguish ourselves by valuing what our students come here to do, which is to learn to have a real and valuable education,” McCluskey said.

Some teaching assistants are also angered about the rights they don’t receive.

Leslie Nickerson, a graduate student and teaching assistant in the English department, said she got a zero paid maternity leave and had to take the entire fall semester off. She said she also had to pay for her health insurance.

Adjuncts do not receive any form of maternity leave either, according to Nickerson.

She teaches one course per semester and said she makes just under $14,000 in a year.

She said in her department, adjuncts receive $2,200 per course, which she said is less than the national average.

Nickerson also said she also has to pay tuition.

“If you’re a graduate assistant and an employee of the university, you should not have to pay tuition at all,” Nickerson said.

Stephen Halpern, a full-time professor in the political science department, said it’s unfair for the school to allocate their money to “untold” athletic programs and “highly paid” administrators. He said it is a source of open embarrassment.

“The truth is we’re all this together. The system only works if it works for everybody,” said Brandon Absher, a tenure-track professor at D’Youville College and member of the Buffalo Adjunct Movement who once worked as an adjunct. “They pull us apart, separate us, make us feel isolated and alone.”

Absher said this is happening all across the country “campus after campus.”

Malcom Gray, a junior political science major came to the rally to support his professors. He said it was “alarming” for him to learn his teachers were being underpaid and would like to see more effort from the university.

“This system has to change. Something has to exist for everybody that works for everybody in a just way that guarantees fair pay and benefits, that guarantees respect and a voice in work,” Absher said. “Those are baseline expectations. That’s not stuff we should even have to show up and argue for. That’s what you should give somebody because they are a human being.”

Hannah Stein is the co-senior news editor and can be reached at hannah.stein@ubspectrum.com