Former Griffin Editor speaks out on adjunct situation

By Justin Smith

News Editor

Last year, several adjunct professors organized into a group called the Canisius Adjunct Movement (CAM).  It was on March 4 that The Griffin began covering the adjunct situation as CAM began efforts to ask for three main things: better pay, benefits, and job security.  The Griffin continued to cover CAM and the response of Canisius administration to CAM–essentially that adjuncts are compensated fairly based on the market, and that job security can’t be guaranteed because it’s a function of enrollment–until the end of the semester, which concluded with the USA Senate declining to pass a resolution which would have requested Canisius administration to remain neutral.

This year, a new Canisius adjunct has come forward to offer a different perspective on the adjunct situation.  Former Griffin editor and adjunct Aidan Ryan, ‘14  spoke to The Griffin about his perspective as someone who’s been a student, covered the school as part of the newspaper, and now has seen teaching from the inside as a current adjunct.

Ryan was on a PhD track in Scotland before finding himself back in the states and back at Canisius as an adjunct.  Aidan said that, upon becoming an adjunct, fellow adjuncts quickly filled him in on some details about their current situation. While he was sympathetic to what he heard, he also pointed out that he didn’t feel that he got the specific details he was looking for in order to fully form an opinion on the specific adjunct situation at Canisius.

“They didn’t really give me much in the way of specifics,” said Ryan, “which I think has been their problem so far.  I’m not going to put my name to anything until I know what the organizational structure is, what exactly we’re demanding.”

Ryan also talked to prominent leaders in the Senate who he claims said that it was a similar lack of specifics that led to the failure to pass the adjunct resolution at the end of last semester.

“I think, to be fair,” said Ryan, “no one can ever say John Hurley is out to screw anybody.  He really isn’t.”

Ryan went on to reference how Canisius adjuncts are “the best paid in the region.”  Based on numbers offered by Vice President of Academic Affairs Peg McCarthy last semester, this is true.  McCarthy provided numbers which claimed that all adjuncts made at least $3262 per class, which would be a higher minimum than at any other college in the region, and that some adjuncts make as much as $5091 per class, which is a higher maximum than offered at any college besides UB, where top adjunct professors are offered a $13,000 maximum.  However, pay is not the only issue at hand.

“There are a lot of things the school could do better and [that] probably wouldn’t cost much,” said Ryan.

Ryan talked about how there are different kinds of adjuncts: professionals (such as lawyers, accountants, etc.) that come in to offer their in-field experience, young people who are looking for a terminal degree and choosing to work in a college setting in the meantime, and a third type that has a family and either no terminal degree or that lack opportunity to convert their terminal degree into a full-time professorship. Essentially, Ryan said that the professional adjuncts can demand a higher price because of market forces, and the young adjuncts aren’t as concerned about these issues because they are using the position as a stepping stone, but for the third type of adjuncts, the conditions are “intolerable.”

“They are paid below minimum wage, and it’s not a sustainable situation,” said Ryan.

Ryan said that there a number of solutions, but none are entirely straightforward.  This conclusion is due, in part, to the fact that adjunct pay is so low that even raising it by a “couple more hundred” dollars per class would still leave many adjuncts living “paycheck to paycheck.”

“We could be paid more,” said Ryan, “but to be paid what they (CAM) would say equitably, we would have to be paid outrageously more, and there simply is no money for that.  If we were paid anything close to full-time [faculty], the school would be broke.”

In his remarks, Ryan echoed things that CAM has told The Griffin, particularly in the commentary both offered on the systematic issues surrounding the adjunct situation.

“The position of adjunct was designed to be only filling a small number of teaching positions.  Now, it’s not like Canisius decided to start farming out classes to adjuncts; that’s just what happened in the market in general, and in fact other schools have it a lot worse.”

Ryan described the adjunct situation as a “delicate balance” which Canisius is managing to maintain at the moment, but is in danger of losing if they continue to rely on an increasing number of adjuncts in favor of increasing spending on various administrators.

Ryan said that in order for the school to be able to afford to pay adjuncts more, they would either need to raise tuition (which he described as “unthinkable”) or ask top-level administrators to take “voluntary pay reductions,” which he said would be an “uncomfortable” thing to ask and not result in enough additional money to solve the problem.

“Yes,” said Ryan, “we have a lot of top-tier administrators making over two-hundred thousand dollars a year, which is a lot of money, but then again, that is the market price.  If you want to attract people who are competitive at that level, if you want to attract the best VPs, et cetera, you need to offer that kind of money.”

Ryan also, however, said that the school “could trim a lot of fat” and suggested that there are “whole offices” he would eliminate (although he didn’t offer the names of any specific offices).

“That’s the way I felt when I was a student,” said Ryan. “I think I feel the same way now.  But I don’t see some quick fix.  I don’t see some fix this fiscal year.”

Ryan then moved on to other issues besides basic pay that could help adjuncts.  Firstly, he mentioned an issue which CAM has brought up in the past: Adjuncts should be allowed to send their children to Canisius tuition-free, the same way that facilities workers can.  Secondly, he brought up another issue CAM raised, which is office space. (Ryan somehow got an office on the ninth floor of Churchill, which he shares with one other adjunct, but most adjuncts only have access to common lounges).

“Could we just heat Griffin Hall?” said Ryan.  “I mean, it’s sitting there, it’s empty, and it’s a block away from campus.  Turn the heat on, turn the power on, let adjuncts plug in their laptops, and let’s go.”

Ryan also mentioned that job security is something which “theoretically costs the school nothing” and would do a lot to satisfy adjuncts.

Ryan then turned his attention to the example of Georgetown University, which CAM often cites as an example of how a school should treat its adjunct professors.

“Cautiously,” said Ryan, “I could say that they should look to Georgetown .  You can’t deny the success they’ve had, but Georgetown is not really comparable with Canisius.  They’re really not comparable with any other Jesuit school.”

Ryan articulated that not only is Georgetown generally more liberal in its philosophy, but from a pragmatic perspective, it also has “a much larger endowment” and they are not going through the same recruitment and retention struggles that Canisius is.

“They’re in a position to offer concessions that we’re not,” said Ryan.

On a different note, Ryan said he’s been pleasantly surprised so far by the academic freedom he has and his pay rate.

“However, the pay is pretty low,” said Ryan.  “There’s no getting around that.”

He was also shocked by how many adjuncts there were, and also by how the school is asking secretaries to do more work, such as doubling up on how many departments they attend.

Ryan said he’s at school from about nine to five and teaches only one fewer class than some full-time faculty, and still gets paid significantly less.  However, he acknowledged that there are other things he does not have to do, such as research, administrative concerns, club involvement, et cetera, and that these things make him less comparable to a full-time professor.  From a purely class load-based look, Ryan said the pay discrepancy is “criminal,” but when the other factors are taken into account, it becomes more understandable.

Ryan discussed his coverage of the SEIU Union (composed largely of Canisius maintenance workers) and how it provided him some insight into situations of pay issues between administration and faculty.  He said that some issues were that leadership wasn’t “cool-headed.”  Ryan said that the SEIU situation was unnecessarily drawn out because administration was unwilling to hear and meet demands, or at least appeared so.  He acknowledged that the Facilities Union escalated things, but it was unclear how necessary that was because of administrative behavior.  Ryan suggested there should be an “attempt to meet and hash things out immediately on both sides,” in order to avoid history repeating itself.

“Someone was at fault for failing to maintain a productive dialogue,” said Ryan.

Ultimately, this issue boils down to transparency.  Ryan said Hurley should personally reach out to CAM and reveal the current budget so that there’s nothing to hide.  The current budget remains hidden from most people at the school, and therefore it’s impossible to know for certain that Canisius truly can’t afford to pay adjuncts more.  If Hurley sat down with CAM and everyone was allowed to view the budget, all involved parties could have all the facts and agree to what is a reasonable and realistic solutions to the problems at hand.  At the end of Ryan’s conversation with The Griffin, Ryan thought the possibility of incentivizing some sort of administrative buyout, to reduce the number of administrators in the school might be an interesting idea, but one that would need more research.

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