Letter to the editor

In response to “PSU Adjuncts: The problem with being a part-time instructor”

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Letter to the editor in response to Feb. 14 news article, "PSU Adjuncts: The Problem With Being a Part-Time Instructor. Illustration by Robby Day

We’re writing in regard to your recent article “PSU Adjuncts: The problem with being a part-time instructor” (Feb. 13, 2017). Thank you for bringing attention to this important issue. As of fall 2016, 47 percent of Portland State faculty were part-time, and we taught 35 percent of student credit hours. For comparison, tenure-track professors taught 36 percent with the remaining 29 percent being taught by full-time instructors who are not on the tenure-track. This usually means they work on one to three year contracts. Our contributions are essential to  PSU’s  students, other faculty, and the community. It would be nearly impossible to get a degree from PSU without taking classes from us. Yet, as Justin Thurer pointed out in his article, most students are unaware we work under substantially different labor conditions than our full-time counterparts.

In light of this, we would like to clarify a few points that the Vanguard reported:

  • As of fall 2017, the minimum pay for adjuncts is $892.00 per credit hour, not $858.00;

  • The article estimates that an adjunct teaching two classes per term—or six per year—would make $27,464. However, that amount would actually put someone over .49 percent. Part-time faculty at PSU are only allowed to teach a maximum of five classes, or 22 credits per year—plus summer classes, if they’re available. So, the most we can make, if we teach F/W/S/Su, is $21,408 for the year. Keep in mind, this does not include any health or retirement benefits and most adjuncts are not assigned all 22 credits. Many of us teach at multiple schools or take on second and third jobs;

  • No adjunct/part-time faculty are eligible for benefits (e.g. health care, retirement, and so on). If they were, they would be teaching more than .49 time, and thus would have to be given a full-time contract;

  • PSUFA Union, Local 3571, our adjunct union does indeed provide a health insurance fund to offset the cost of insurance premiums for part-time researchers and instructors. All part-time faculty and researchers are eligible if they are working that term. They do not need to be a member of the PSUFA Union;

  • As the article states, being an adjunct instructor or researcher comes with greater risks than being full-time. Some call us part of the “precariat” (a reference to the national trend towards temporary, unstable employment). However, it isn’t quite accurate that we need to reapply for our jobs each term. Our most recent collective bargaining team fought very hard to ensure us one and two-year contracts and additional pay for late-hires and class cancellations. More work needs to be done in this area, but it’s a very big change that will help us predict our income a bit further into the future, while enabling students to plan their courses more consistently.

Thanks again for addressing this topic. In less than a year, PSUFA will be reopening our collective bargaining relating to pay and benefits. This will be an opportunity for all of us to let the administration know that quality of instruction for students should be our school’s first priority. Our working conditions are students’ learning conditions.

Sincerely,

The PSUFA Executive Council

Staci Martin, President ([email protected])

Anna Gray, First Vice-President ([email protected])

Jea Alford, Secretary ([email protected])

Travis Neel, Treasurer & Interim VP of Communications & Community Partnerships ([email protected])

Sara Bernstein, VP of Membership ([email protected])

Ariana Jacob, Co-VP of Grievances ([email protected])

William Cornett, Co-VP of Grievances ([email protected])

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