ETSU union petitions to keep adjunct jobs

Brandon Paykamian • Jul 6, 2020 at 7:47 PM

A recent East Tennessee State University petition is asking university leadership to “preserve instruction at ETSU” and commit to “no layoffs for adjunct faculty.”

The July 1 petition, addressed to university President Brian Noland and Interim Provost Wilsie Bishop, was drafted by United Campus Workers members and other ETSU campus workers.

It urged university leaders to address the “adjunct crisis at ETSU constructively” and to “ensure transparency in proposed strategies to meet budget shortfalls by providing a clear public accounting of the state of ETSU's reserve funds, a database of ETSU salaries and an accounting of perks enjoyed by the highest-paid ETSU employees paid for through ETSU finances.”

During recent budget discussions, the union said campus leadership began considering potential instructional funding reductions to address a potential budget shortfall during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In June, ETSU administrators expected a 12-15% cut in state funding. The state recently announced no reductions for higher education funding, but the petition said some faculty members believe “ETSU’s budgetary outlook, diminished reserves and spending priorities remain unclear and difficult to follow.”

“Part-time and adjunct faculty face the prospect of mass layoffs,” according to the union’s petition. “Yet the highest-paid university employees, including upper administration, currently face no cuts. The proposed cuts to instruction will be harmful for the ETSU community and for the institution's long-term financial health.”

The union said that instructional cuts could lead to heavier teaching loads for remaining faculty without extra compensation, which could harm research productivity and the quality of students’ education.

At the beginning of June, Noland created a strategic group to prepare for a series of scenarios relating to state cuts. He said that alone would’ve been represented an $8 million cut to the university’s budget. 

Combined with projected losses, he said the university was looking at a $12.8 million decline in funding. 

“That’s above and beyond anything we were planning for in terms of enrollment declines, etc,” Noland said.

Campus leadership then learned on June 26 that there would be no cut to state appropriations. 

“I think one of the things that have happened here is that across campus, there’s been a lot of rumor and conjecture that the scenario plans we were working through when we were anticipating state budgets are going to be the reality,” he said.

Noland said the university has been able to avoid layoffs that have already happened at other institutions throughout the pandemic.

Despite breathing a sigh of relief in regard to state budgets, Noland said campus leadership will still have to carefully look at expenditures and investments in the fall. 

“The biggest thing that’s in front of us is the uncertainty around enrollment,” he said.

Enrollment figures and budget specifics should be released within the next couple of weeks, according to Noland. 

Last year, the university’s College of Arts and Sciences raised adjunct wages by $100 for anyone making less than $800 per credit hour after pressure from the union and students who rallied in support of the union’s Adjunct Action campaign.

Dennis Prater, a union member and adjunct professor in the Department of Literature and Language, said that despite some progress, adjunct professors have little job security and continued pay grievances. He and others “felt it was important for the campus community to voice the need for a creative and positive approach that prioritizes education.”

Prater said temporary reductions in the salaries of the highest-paid ETSU employees could help cover the cost of labor for “hundreds if not thousands of courses” if the university needs to look at expenditures. 

“This would preserve the quality of education and research provided by full-time faculty, save the jobs of a large number of adjunct faculty and offer a better educational experience for students,” he said. “Avoiding cuts for mission-critical faculty and staff will have a direct and positive impact on enrollment and retention, increasing revenue and making this a more financially sound decision than drastically cutting essential campus faculty and staff.”

As of Monday evening, nearly 400 faculty members and others connected with the university signed the petition.

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