Saying that their lowest-paid members make less than they would at area community colleges, about 30 Western Michigan University part-time instructors and their supporters rallied Thursday at Sprau Tower before marching around campus.
“A barista at Starbucks has a better compensation package than a part-time professor with a master’s degree or a PhD,” said Thomas Kostrzewa, president of the Professional Instructors Organization (PIO), the part-time faculty union at WMU.
WMU’s 675 part-time faculty members taught 1,742 courses in 2012, but their pay lags behind many other Michigan colleges and universities, the PIO said.
Kostrzewa said the PIO decided to hold the rally after receiving what he characterized as a “flatline offer” from the university.
WMU has been in negotiations with the union for more than a month, confirmed Cheryl Roland, executive director of university relations, characterizing the proceedings so far as “cordial and productive.”
Calling part-time faculty in the U.S. “the most exploited part of the university teaching corps,” Kostrzewa emphasized that the issue of part-time pay is by no means unique to Western.
“We’re part of what’s happening nationwide,” said Kostrzewa in an interview before the rally. “There’s been a shift at universities to part-time faculty.”
Given universities’ drive to become more efficient during lean economic times, he said, this is an issue that is only going to grow.
Other industries, such as retail and hospitality, also are shifting to part-time work that falls below the threshold needed to qualify for benefits, he added.
“We want to bring attention to this fact. This is unsustainable,” said Kostrzewa.
The statistic brought up the most by those attending the rally: The lowest-paid part-time instructors at Western Michigan University make less per credit hour than their counterparts at Kalamazoo Valley Community College.
The minimum pay per credit hour at WMU is $750, plus a $20 wellness credit, for a total of $770, said Kevin Wordelman, the administrator for the PIO. Part-time instructors can teach a maximum of nine credits per semester, he said.
At KVCC, the minimum per credit hour for part-time faculty starts at $787, said Kelly O’Leary, co-president of the KVCC-FT, the community college’s part-time faculty union. KVCC pay goes up to $826.15 per credit hour, she said, with lab instructors receiving additional compensation.
“It really is comparing apples to oranges. You really can’t compare a university to a community college,” said O’Leary, adding that part-time faculty at WMU can negotiate for more with their individual departments.
While some of its members, who have specific skills such as aviation, have been able to negotiate as much as $2,000 per credit hour, Wordelman said, about one-third of the PIO’s 675 members make the minimum rate.
Under the university’s current offer, part-time faculty’s minimum pay would go up to $780 in first year, $785 in second year and $790 in the third year, said Wordelman.
“Given the context how of far behind we are,” said Wordelman, “Our goal is to get up to $800 in the first year – not the third year.”
That would put WMU’s part-time faculty at the same minimum rate as Central Michigan University.
“We’re looking to catch up to our sister institutions in Michigan,” said Kostrzewa.
WMU instructors do make more than their counterparts at Kellogg Community College, $695 per credit hour, and Grand Valley State University, $700 per credit hour, according to data supplied by the PIO. At the other end of the scale, Grand Rapids Community College instructors make $937 minimum per credit hour. Eastern Michigan University’s part-time faculty make $1,125 per credit hour.
Nationally, the average for a three-credit course taught by part-time faculty was $2,987, or $996 per credit hour, according to an article by The Chronicle of Higher Education. In 2012, Kalamazoo’s cost of living was 13 percent lower than the national average.
The issue of part-time pay is affecting WMU’s ability to attract top talent, said the chair of one department.
“The low pay for part-time instructors puts WMU at a considerable competitive disadvantage in the market for quality teachers,” said D. Terry Williams, chair-emeritus of the WMU Department of Theatre, in a statement. “Chairs in some departments need to hire several, if not dozens, of part-time instructors each semester, knowing that they cannot afford to pay the same as department chairs at nearby universities and even community colleges. We expect that, all things being equal, a teacher will take the job that pays the most, and WMU is not even in the middle of the pack.”
While, Kostrzewa and others interviewed said that students by and large are not aware of the issue of compensation for part-time faculty, one student did turn out Thursday to march along with the part-time instructors.
“It seems very wrong to me to pay them any less than the rest for their service,” said Ian Hollenbaugh, a senior, who said that part-time instructors have been among the best professors he’s had at WMU. “These people are very important to the university. It seems a shame that they not be properly compensated.”
Lynne Hall, who has taught at WMU both full-time and part-time since 1972, was among those marching Thursday.
“We all have to have other jobs. There are no benefits. You can’t live on it,” said Hall, who teaches interdisciplinary health. Hall has now retired from everything but her teaching job, but said that she worked for the Center for the Blind and had her own private practice during her four decades at WMU. “We love to teach.”