A group seeking to bring awareness to the issues faced by adjunct professors demonstrated in the Student Center yesterday during common hour, holding up signs in protest and handing out flyers to passersby. The group, which included full-time professors, adjunct professors and members of the Ramapo Federation of State College Teachers, a local branch of the American Federation of Teachers, honored National Adjunct Awareness Day by drawing attention to what they see as unacceptably low pay, a lack of benefits, job security and a lack of recognition and respect in the academic community.
"All across the country, adjunct faculty increasingly teach a larger and larger percentage of courses and in general they are significantly underpaid when compared to full-time faculty," said Martha Ecker, one of the demonstrators, a full-time sociology professor and the president of the local AFT. "We want to make people aware of this, the fact that they get no benefits, the fact that in order to really create a salary that, I mean, any individual can live on, oftentimes adjunct faculty have to cobble together a number of different jobs."
National Adjunct Awareness Day is an alternative name for National Adjunct Walkout Day, which is not an annual, government-recognized event, but rather an independently organized movement. The movement, which was first proposed in October by an adjunct at San Jose State University, gained massive support from academics across the United States after being picked up by different teacher's organizations and unions, including several branches of the American Association of University Professors and the AFT.
Adjunct professors at dozens of U.S. universities planned to take action by staging walkouts, strikes and "teach-ins," or open educational forums serving as a form of protest. At Ramapo, demonstrators instead opted to gather on the second floor of the Student Center, holding up eye-catching signs with messages such as, “Pay me $15,000 per course so that I can make a living wage,” and distributing flyers with information and statistics, including the fact that adjuncts account for 51.5 percent of Ramapo's faculty, and that each adjunct makes about $4,680 teaching a 4-credit course at the College.
"It really has turned into a cost-cutting device over the last 40 years," said Jude Pernot, a union staff member of local AFT, about the hiring of adjuncts. Pernot, a Ramapo alumna who graduated in 2007, was also part of yesterday's Student Center demonstration. "Some of my best professors were adjuncts and I'm proud to defend them, and they really do deserve more than what they're getting. They deserve a living wage, they deserve health benefits."
The group of demonstrators was comprised of about ten faculty and union members of different employment situations and disciplines. The group stood out in the setting of the Student Center, where most tabling events are run by students and include a smaller handful of participants.
"I'm here to support adjuncts which are a very kind-of important community within the college system and, in some cases, almost represent an outsourcing of education," said Hilary Goldstein, another demonstrator and temporary full-time professor of communications who has been an adjunct in the past and anticipates serving as an adjunct again in the future. "They're a much cheaper labor source that provide really valuable educational services for the school and yet there's not a lot of support for them in terms of resources, in terms of payment, in terms of kind of job security, benefits and all kinds of things like that."
One thing some of the protesters criticized was the practice of hiring adjuncts to cut costs and avoid paying more for faculty benefits. During a town hall meeting held at Ramapo last week, on the topic of the school's upcoming schedule changes, Provost Beth Barnett responded to a question about the schedule's possible negative outcomes for adjuncts, saying, "We do not hire adjuncts simply because we don't want to pay them benefits. We actually bring in adjuncts because they bring to this campus expertise that we don't have. We're a small campus. We want people with special skills to come here and teach."
Protesters also indicated a lack of public funding as being a major source of the problems that adjuncts are facing.
"I believe that the real problem is that the state is not funding public education," Pernot said. "It's really falling on the backs of the students, who are experiencing rising tuitions and the faculty, who are seeing fewer and fewer full-time jobs available to them so that they're forced to take adjunct positions."
"Students pay a lot of money to come here; adjuncts are not paid a lot of money to teach here, and we think that the state needs to get in line and treat us better," added adjunct professor and local AFT Vice President of Adjuncts Kathleen Shannon, who was also protesting. "It's not just Ramapo – this is all the nine New Jersey state colleges and it's the plight of adjuncts across the country. There are adjuncts who end up living in their cars because they don't make enough money doing what they love to be able to afford to live the way a person should be able to live."
Although Ramapo did not see any tuition increase this academic year, tuitions at most other New Jersey colleges have increased between 1.3 and 4.7 percent and have been increasing for the past few years, according to NJ.com. This year, government support makes up 28.4 percent of the College's budget.
Governor Chris Christie, who has butted heads with teachers' unions over the last few years, promised continued support of New Jersey colleges in his 2015 state budget address delivered on Tuesday, saying, "For the last four years, we have worked to support the priority of higher education, and this budget again does that, with over $2.2 billion for higher education, including a $20 million increase in Tuition Assistance Grants."
Freshman student and criminology major Vanessa Mirasola, who stopped to speak with the demonstrators, thought that the protestor’s efforts were very informative.
"When Christie came into administration I was in the eighth grade and a lot of my teachers were fired and replaced with part-timers that had no medical benefits and no job security like these adjuncts professors, so it's been something I've been rather passionate about," Mirasola said. "I didn't know just how little adjuncts were making until I saw this and knowing that some of them have literally doctorate degrees and they're making this amount of money, I wasn't aware of that, so that was really eye-opening."
Shannon says she would like to see members of the Ramapo community be inspired to take action to help adjunct professors.
"As Provost Beth Barnett said [during the town hall meeting], we bring expertise to campus, and we think that that expertise is worth more than what we're paid currently," she said. "We're coming up on contract negotiations. Our contract runs out on June 30th – we'll be negotiating a new four-year contract and the state doesn't want to give us even a quarter of an inch on any of our demands. So, putting pressure on the state to treat us better is what I would like to see."