Canisius Adjunct Movement to Organize, looking for student support

On Thursday, the Canisius Adjunct Movement (CAM) held an open meeting in the Campus Ministry Conference Room on the second floor of Old Main. Present were several adjunct and tenured professors, and sophomore student and J.U.S.T.I.C.E. Board Chair Alexis Grebenok, as well as other interested, though non-affiliated, people. The goal of the meeting was simple: organization. Overall, the meeting was designed to bring people together for discussion, but it quickly became apparent that to move forward, organization was the primary thing to focus on.

“I came to learn more about it,” said Grebenok, “because this is the first time I’ve really heard about it.”

As of this semester, adjunct professors Kurt Schneiderman and Ed Taylor have been hard at work putting together CAM. Their early goals have been limited to educating the campus–including full-time professors, faculty, and students–about the realities of working as an adjunct. They have written an open letter and created a petition in order to raise awareness of the issue that adjunct professors get paid near poverty wages and are often forced to work in difficult conditions, whether it be not having a personal office, or having to commute between colleges in order to be able to teach enough classes to make a living. They argue that since Canisius has the highest tuition in the region, they should be paying their adjuncts a more livable wage.  Schneiderman and Taylor were present at Thursday’s meeting to talk about some of the movement’s progress thus far and their plans moving forward.

Schneiderman claims to have been in contact with Georgetown University, whose adjuncts successfully organized themselves with the help and support of its students, and says economists from Georgetown looked into Canisius’ publicly available 2013 990 tax returns to find that seven administrators at the College at the time made at least $200,000.

“[This] is pretty stunning for us adjuncts who are working, by my math, for less than minimum wage—certainly less than a living wage.” Schneiderman went on to add that this “is painful, and it’s a stark reminder of just how unfair the whole situation is.”

Aside from Georgetown, another university that has shown close support to the CAM is the University of Missouri. Part of the reason for this is Canisius alumnus Connor Lewis ’11. Lewis read the March 4 Griffin article on CAM and spread word to his fellow faculty, who posed for a picture to show solidarity with the Canisius adjunct faculty.

“Wife and I are both @CanisiusAlumni and DiGamma members,” said Lewis in a tweet. “[No] donations until adjuncts get fair pay.”

Lewis admits he has yet to donate to Canisius, but he is indeed a member of the DiGamma Honor Society, which the College’s website recognizes as a “prestigious community” comprised of the “finest students, alumni, faculty and administrators.”

“I feel very strongly about it because Canisius taught me to,” said Lewis, who says that he has also been an adjunct professor. He added, “I have [firsthand] knowledge about what exploiting academic labor looks like. When I look at the situation at Canisius, that’s exactly what I see.”

Canisius administration, beginning to hear the voice of the adjuncts, responded to some of their concerns in an email from Vice President of Academic Affairs Margaret McCarthy to Canisius faculty. The opening paragraph of the email claims that approximately thirty-percent of all three-credit hour courses this semester are taught by adjuncts.

The email goes on to give a bulleted list of things adjuncts are entitled to, such as use of the Faculty Lounge on the first floor of old main, as well as the Adjunct Suite on the fourth floor – in lieu of personal offices. One point adjuncts found particularly off-the-mark read simply, “Adjunct faculty are welcome to use of the Koessler Athletic Facility.” Overall, the adjuncts represented by CAM sensed that administration didn’t quite grasp their plight.

One major point of contention, however, was centered around a chart included in the e-mail that broke down adjunct salaries at Canisius in comparison to other local schools.

The chart ranged from a $1,950 stipend at Erie County Community College to the $3,262 to $5,091 range at Canisius. Colleges such as Niagara, Medaille, and the University at Buffalo fell somewhere in the middle of these.

Yet these numbers surprised Schneiderman, as he claims to make less than the $3,262, which is supposedly the low end of the scale. And his case may not have even been the most egregious.

“I was a little dismayed that I fell toward bottom end of salary scale,” said Mark Hammer, who has been an adjunct professor at the college for 28 years and says he hasn’t gotten a raise in the past eight.

To administration’s credit, they have, for the moment, seemed to have solved one of the adjuncts’ concerns, which is the issue of the pay schedule. As it stands, adjuncts only get paid twice a semester: once halfway through—right around now—and once at the end. This means up until March 15, adjuncts had technically been working without pay. In an effort to change this Dr. Melissa Mosko of the Philosophy Department and the Faculty Welfare Committee met with McCarthy and claims to have brokered monthly pay for adjunct professors to match the payroll schedule of full-time faculty. The change has yet to take effect, but Mosko seemed confident that it would. Mosko emphasised, however, that the existence of problems such as this in the first place shows “administrative disconnect” and a “lack of access to administration.”

According to Mosko, “Administration’s been out of touch with the on-the-ground issues.”

Much of Thursday’s meeting was dedicated to working out how to convey these issues to administration. CAM’s petition is growing and Grebenok plans to introduce it both to her J.U.S.T.I.C.E. Committee as well as the Undergraduate Student Association Senate next session. Beyond that, CAM wants to start generating support for some sort of public rally. Schneiderman pointed out that the more regional Buffalo Adjunct Movement (BAM), has taken interest in CAM. According to Schneiderman, who has been in contact with BAM, CAM “typifies everything they’re talking about.” Schneiderman says that BAM plans to hold an event at UB and wants to make it a “one-two punch” with a second event at Canisius.

“It’s a serious offer we should think about,” said Schneiderman.

Perhaps the only divide among people at the meeting was the issue of organizing a potential rally.

“A rally is supposed to raise awareness, but we can’t get people to a rally until we raise awareness,” said adjunct professor Sean Johnston.

People present at the meeting debated over whether to build support for a rally first, and if doing so would take too much time and kill CAM’s momentum.

“Part of what drives me crazy is when to do things,” said Schneiderman.

One of the big things to come out of this meeting is the new potential for increased student involvement. Grebenok seemed enthused about the issue and determined to make it a larger issue within USA.

“My mind was blown,” said Grebenok. “I could not believe this is happening at Canisius.”

Grebenok encouraged adjunct faculty to come to a Senate meeting in order to build support for the passage of a potential resolution advocating the adjuncts’ cause. Professor Tanya Loughead, who was present at the meeting, pointed out how going through the student Senate may be the best option for CAM, as faculty senate currently lacks adjunct representation as well as, according to her, people sympathetic to the adjunct cause.

“Students are always ahead of faculty,” said Loughead.

At this point in the semester, time is the biggest enemy for CAM. The rapid approach of spring break will quickly draw an end to March and by May students will be too focused on exams to show support for their adjunct faculty. That leaves April as the critical month if CAM is to see success in their goals of organizing adjuncts and negotiating improved working conditions. CAM’s next open meeting is currently scheduled for Thursday, April 7.


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