By Tanner Mondok
In February 2017, adjunct faculty at Youngstown State University gathered to “celebrate” 25 years since their last pay raise with a birthday cake. Since that party, there still hasn’t been a raise for part-time faculty. The cake didn’t work.
“We invited all of the university administration; shockingly none of them came,” Katherine Durrell, a part-time physics professor, said.
Staughton Lynd, a peace and civil rights activist, described the part-time faculty situation at YSU as “bush league,” or second-rate.
“It’s pretending to be a university, but not really being one,” he said. “It’s an absolutely oppressive and unsatisfactory system to the extent that you have so many adjuncts depending on this work. Something is going to have to change.”
There are more than 500 part-time faculty at YSU compared to about 370 full-time professors.
In relation to those numbers, part-time faculty teach over 50 percent of the total credit hours at YSU.
Pay for part-time faculty is based on the professor’s education level. For those with a bachelor’s degree, they receive a pay rate of $650 per semester hour. Adjuncts with a masters degree are paid $800, while those with a doctorate receive $1,050.
In 1991, an adjunct with a masters degree was earning $800 per credit hour and student tuition was $2,415. In 2018, the pay for part-time faculty is the same, while tuition has raised to $8,807 — a 235 percent change for tuition compared to zero percent for adjunct pay.
Durrell broke down the pay received by adjuncts per semester hour and what it looks like after a full year of teaching. If a part-time faculty member with a Ph.D. teaches the maximum number of courses, which is nine semester hours, they will be paid $18,900 a year.
“That’s not a very good wage for someone with a Ph.D.,” she said.
Durrell, who is married to Patrick Durrell, associate professor of astronomy and the Ward Beecher Planetarium director, said between her salary and her husband’s full-time salary, they’re financially stable.
When she thought about those who live on a part-time salary, she got emotional.
“There are people who try to live on my salary. And I don’t know how they do it … ” Durrell said. “If I had to live on this, I wouldn’t be doing this. I’d be doing something else.”
Because adjunct salary isn’t sufficient at times, Durrell said she and many other part-time faculty members teach at other schools and work additional jobs on the side.
“There was one semester I taught [at YSU] and at Eastern Gateway. I also do online tutoring, and I teach a fencing class in Austintown,” she said. “I have multiple jobs. I accumulate jobs here and there because my salary is not sufficient.”
Neal McNally, vice president for finance and business operations at YSU, said there was a time when YSU was paying part-time faculty higher than other universities paid adjunct professors.
“Basically, what has happened is the university has overpaid part-time faculty for probably 20 of the last 25 years and now the market has caught up to them,” he said. “The reason we know that is because we have data from other campuses and other institutions. Not just in Ohio, but from around the country that show we’re pretty much in line with part-time faculty pay.”
Other universities such as Kent State University, University of Akron and Cleveland State University are paying part-time faculty similar to what YSU is paying, according to McNally.
Unlike those other universities, McNally said YSU provides adjuncts with free parking, a fee that would usually be $115 per semester.
“So, I think the misconception that they’re underpaid, relative to what other universities [pay adjunct faculty], is one that’s a notion or a misconception that I think is based more on emotion than economics,” McNally said. “Because certainly if you haven’t had a raise in 25 years, I can see where that would be an issue.”
He said even though YSU is doing well financially, the university isn’t in a position to provide raises for adjunct faculty at this time.
“We’re not particularly well-positioned to increase our compensation costs needlessly. If we were going to do that, we would want to do that for real, good strong strategic reasons,” he said.
Rachel Faerber-Ovaska, one of two adjuncts on the university senate and a part-time French and German instructor, said she believes a raise is possible for part-time faculty.
“You have to examine the case on its merits. It is not true that YSU cannot afford a raise for part-time faculty,” she said. “They’re doing many great things here like putting in the AstroTurf along the streets, so the grass always looks green and that’s nice, that’s good. But I think the budget for that would give a raise to part-time faculty for two whole years. I think that the work we do is so important and they need to fund it properly.”
She also included an idea of what kind of raise could work for YSU and its part-time faculty.
According to the information Faerber-Ovaska provided on her idea for a raise, if an average adjunct were to teach three credit hours a semester, or six a year, increasing the pay by $500 per course would cost YSU $600,000 a year to give part-time faculty that kind of raise.
This number represents 0.34 percent of YSU’s fiscal year 2018 budget, an equivalent to a rounding error in the university’s almost $200 million budget.
Gabriel Palmer-Fernandez, professor in the department of philosophy and religious studies, said YSU athletics is an area where money could be cut from to give a raise to adjunct faculty.
“Probably unbeknownst to the vast majority of YSU students, in your tuition is a fee of about $1,000 a year that goes to athletics,” he said. “You didn’t have a choice in any of this.”
The exact amount of the yearly tuition fee that goes to YSU Athletics is $991. This number comes from an article published on April 30 on Cleveland.com regarding cost per student on campus to subsidize sports.
Palmer-Fernandez said allotment of money reflects what the university values.
Joseph Mosca, interim provost and vice president of academic affairs, said adjuncts are valued by the university and “critical to student learning.”
“They bring a tremendous amount of applied knowledge and expertise, and are able to help our students to integrate and connect theoretical foundation knowledge with applied real-world employment experiences,” Mosca said.
Faerber-Ovaska said she has seen the university lose valuable instructors because of positions they found with higher wages and better benefits, and mentioned how teaching at a high school could be more beneficial to teachers because of better pay and benefits.
She said adjunct faculty are great people who have a lot to offer, but they work until they find a better job or “until they can’t stand being underpaid” because it makes them feel like they are not valued.
Jim Zupanic, a former YSU associate professor of engineering technology who retired in 2006 after teaching since 1978, has been standing outside on campus protesting the lack of pay raises for adjunct faculty.
At 70 years old, Zupanic said it’s not easy for him to go out and hold a sign.
“I don’t want to say it’s embarrassing, but I’m more embarrassed to go home at night and look at myself in the mirror and say ‘I wasn’t willing to do that,’ then I am to go out there.”
Zupanic said it was a long time before he felt like he needed to protest on campus.
“Out of the 27 years that we developed this problem, for 22 years I was part of the problem,” he said. “Twenty-seven years ago, I was teaching here full time and a coordinator of a small program within the department. The small part of my responsibilities was to recruit a small number of part-time faculty.”
Zupanic said since he was part of the hiring process, he realized how important adjuncts were to their department in regards to their practical, professional, industrial experience and technical expertise.
“At the time I never really ran the numbers or looked at them in detail, but I knew financially they were a good bargain,” he said.
Zupanic said five years ago he began to have more free time, so he decided that he wanted to take a look at the adjunct situation at YSU.
“The kinds of problems that we’ve had are not unique in anyway. They’re very common,” he said. “The only thing that’s really unique is this 27 years thing.”
After talking to the administration several times, Zupanic said he has encountered the same situation every time. They would always bring up the budget.
“It’s the same thing year after year,” he said.
He said adjunct faculty pay needs to be part of the budget making process, not an afterthought.
As for why he protests on campus, Zupanic said it is because he owes it to the people who made his career possible.
“Universities like to be thought of as this shining city on the hill that has rational reasoning and takes everything into account, and people at universities seem almost compelled sometimes to tell everybody in the world how to run everything,” he said.
“So, if you get to a point where the university won’t make an honorable effort to clean up the dirty laundry in their own backyard, then I think their credibility and making pronouncements on all sorts of issues can be justifiably questioned that they’re not the shining city on the hill,” Zupanic continued. “And I want them to be.”
For more information on part-time faculty at YSU, go to http://ysuparttimefaculty.blogspot.com, a website created by Zupanic.