1,300+ Kent State Adjuncts Rebuffed by AFT/NEA/AAUP Affiliate With United Steel Workers

by Alex Delaney-Gesing

Traci West doesn’t teach film courses in Kent State’s Journalism and Mass Communication program for the money. She teaches because it’s what she wants to do with the rest of her life.

“I love what I do — I really do. I love being able to talk film with my kids,” she said. “And then there’s always that one person who’s the serious film buff, and I just love being able to have these conversations with these kids.”

Teaching is one of those occupations people who aren’t in for the money do, Ken Jurek said, part-time faculty in Kent State’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

“They genuinely love to teach,” he said.

But a passion for teaching can only get an individual so far, as is the case with West. Last summer, not able to teach, she was forced to apply for unemployment and received food stamps just to make ends meet.

The course load West is allotted to teach varies by semester: She’s teaching two classes this fall, and is scheduled to teach three classes in the spring, providing they don’t get cancelled.

West is one of 1,356 adjunct — or part-time —  faculty members spread out across Kent State’s campuses. In total, 2,693 faculty members are employed by the university this semester.

In response to a growing financial and job security concern among adjuncts at Kent State, the Kent Part-Time Faculty Alliance (KPTFA) was founded this past spring. The organization aims to give adjunct-faculty a voice in the community, as well as make a change for the better of all adjunct faculty.

“Our goal is simply parity,” Jurek said. “Just being on par with (the other faculty). That’s all.”

Adjuncts account for more than 50 percent of all faculty at the university, according to documents obtained through the Office of General Counsel. This matches nationwide numbers provided by the United States Department of Education.

“That’s a point to make: all the part-timers love to teach. They’re not doing it because they don’t like it; they love it,” Jurek said.

Of the total number of part-timers employed at Kent State, 62 percent — just over 800  — of adjuncts teach at the main campus.

While a love for teaching is a strong incentive for many professors, sometimes it’s not enough. Especially for adjunct faculty. Part-time faculty at Kent State haven’t seen a wage increase in more than a decade, Jurek said.

“I think it’s shameful, it truly is, that we all came into this and we are all highly educated people,” West said. “A lot of us have actual real life experience in what we do … (and) have been on the ground. So we do have value.”

Adjunct faculty members at Kent State are hired on either semester or yearly contracts. They typically teach specific courses or a set of courses, according to the Kent State website.

Unlike full-time faculty, adjuncts are not eligible for full-time employee benefits. Their sick leave benefits are dependent on their teaching load, and they receive tuition waivers of up to four credit hours for every semester they teach, according to Kent State’s website.

Unlike full-time faculty, adjuncts are not eligible for full-time employee benefits. Their sick leave benefits are dependent on their teaching load, and they receive tuition waivers of up to four credit hours for every semester they teach, according to Kent State’s website.

West said that earlier this year, when she went to reapply for health insurance, she was just $4 shy of being eligible for Medicaid. “I was advised to go ahead and apply for Medicaid, and then immediately start the appeals process as soon as I got the refusal,” she said.

In September, Jurek attended a Kent State Faculty Senate meeting on behalf of KPTFA with an end goal of getting a vote on the senate.

“If we get a vote on the Faculty Senate, it will at least allow us to be a part of the faculty’s decision making process and say ‘we’re here,’ ” Jurek said.

Jurek retired from a 19-year career in the Time Warner Cable sales industry last December. Before and throughout that time, he taught as a full-time professor at Kent State’s Stark Campus. He started as an adjunct at the main campus this fall.

As a retiree, Jurek has a pension and social security benefits. A portion of other adjuncts are also retirees and receive the same aid. But a majority are young people, he said, who are hurting for money.

“They don’t have a lot of money, and a lot of times they have to work at a couple different (campuses and) take other jobs just to make ends meet,” Jurek said.

Some of these adjuncts travel to various campuses at different universities in Northeast Ohio,”  said Michael Carano, a former adjunct faculty member at Kent State and member of KPTFA’s organizing committee. “Many have much grading, class preparation, families, etc. that makes it difficult to come to meetings. Their life schedules are not conducive.”

It’s this group of adjuncts for which KPFTA is fighting, Jurek said.

Full-time faculty and staff receive benefits such as retirement plans, either through the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System, State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio or an Alternative Retirement Plan. Adjunct faculty receive no benefits or retirement plans. Healthcare is not provided. KPFTA hopes to decrease the number of adjuncts from more than 50 percent to only a quarter of the teaching faculty at Kent State, Carano said.

“We want to be able to be on campus for more classes so we can better serve our students instead of having to rush off to other jobs and other campuses across the state,” he said.

Being recognized and (properly) compensated for the work they do is all members of KPFTA — and any adjunct faculty — wants, Carano said.

“We want to (be) assured of classes to a much better degree than now … so we can plan our lives, figure out how to pay our rent and bills (and) how much food we will be able to buy each week,” Carano said. “When classes are cut, ones we have spent time preparing for, we want compensation of some sort for the work we have done.”

As of this fall, KPTFA has approximately 120 adjunct faculty out of the total list of those employed by the university who have agreed to receive updates on the ongoings of the organization.

The alliance meets each month to discuss progress and plans to increase their benefits at the university. As many as 25 adjuncts meet at a venue in the Kent area — a number that Carano said is rather markable, considering how difficult and scattered the lives of adjuncts are.

During a Nov. 19 meeting at the Kent Free Library, just under 30 individuals — an estimated 5 percent of the total number of Kent State adjuncts — gathered together to vote on unionizing with the United Steelworkers (USW). The organization chose USW after receiving disinterest from other professional unions across the state. During the meeting, adjuncts from different departments and at different stages in their lives shared their experiences:

One communication studies faculty member teaches courses at Kent State, Walsh University and The University of Akron this semester. She voiced her desire and indecision to pursue a Ph. D. for fear she will be considered “overqualified” to teach future classes. She’s only been an adjunct for 1.5 years, but said “I’m really honestly already tired of this.”

A mother of two, who wishes to remain nameless, has taught online courses in the music department at Kent State since 2010. She struggles each semester to make ends meet, and said there have been times when she’s been told just two days before a semester that she won’t be teaching a class. Both times she’d turned down other jobs to teach the courses.

“The worst part is you never know if you’re going to be teaching,” Martinovic said. “Last year I had five part-time jobs because I — ironically — couldn’t find more jobs. They said I was overqualified.”

After facing disinterest from state unions like the American Association of University Professors, the group voted to become unionized with the steelworkers on Nov. 19.

KPTFA plans on meeting again in January, on the second Saturday before the spring semester begins. After that, the group will meet every third Saturday of the month.

In response to the organization’s decision to unionize, the university has “no comment to offer at this time,” said Eric Mansfield, Kent State’s executive director of media relations.

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