Ithaca College Adjunct Union Mulls Spring Strike Over Pay

by Alyvia Covert

The cold wind and beginning flurries Thursday afternoon did not prevent contingent faculty members at Ithaca College from rallying outside the Peggy Ryan Williams Center, as they called in unison: “equal pay for equal work.”

In May 2015, part-time faculty at the college passed a vote to form a union in an attempt to fight for equal wages and improved job security. More than 18 months later, the same union is still fighting, asking the administration to “commit to the fair and non-discriminatory principles of equal pay for equal work going forward,” as stated in their proposal.

According to a report published by the Human Resources office at IC, approximately 41 percent of the faculty at the college is made up of contingent members. Part-time professors are paid $1,400 per credit hour. (Photo: Alyvia Covert)
According to a report published by the Human Resources office at IC, approximately 41 percent of the faculty at the college is made up of contingent members. Part-time professors are paid $1,400 per credit hour. (Photo: Alyvia Covert)

The rally on Thursday was initiated after a bargaining session held on Dec. 2, where members of the union thought the situation might be regressing. Union members stated that they are prepared to hold a strike early on in the upcoming spring semester if their demands are not met. The next bargaining session will be held on Dec. 12.

Brody Burroughs, a lecturer in the art department at IC, said in opening remarks that he felt “doomed” to his position at the college, still holding the same status as a contingent faculty member as when he first began teaching nearly ten years ago.

“We met with the administration last Friday and received compensation proposals that, if were not regressive, were very close to it,” he said. “We could investigate, but as a committee we feel that it doesn’t really get us closer to having a conversation about fairness and our wages, so we are sticking to our moral and ethical arguments.”

According to a report published by the Human Resources office at IC, approximately 41 percent of the faculty at the college is made up of contingent members. Part-time professors are paid $1,400 per credit hour, but are limited to the number of credits they are allowed to teach. The most that a part-time faculty member could potentially make amounts to $16,800 per year.

Sarah Grundberg, who teaches in the sociology department, said the difference in pay is drastic between a part-time professor and a full-time professor at the college.

“We have people here, like myself, who are teaching part time and making that $1400 per credit. My status was changed this year to full-time – I’m teaching the same course and getting a 60-64 percent pay raise just to teach it. Next semester I’ll be back to teaching part-time, and I’ll receive a pay cut,” she said.

Data provided by the administration in Sept. showed that on average, the lowest paid full-time contingent faculty member made approximately $48,000 per year. The union has proposed that part-time faculty receive equal pay, meaning the wage would have to be increased to $2,000 per credit hour or $24,000 per year.

Megan Graham, an assistant professor in the writing department, is another member whose status has fluctuated between full-time and part-time. Her frustration with the administration largely had to do with their lack of response.

“They have never engaged with us on (the proposed wages) – they have never given us any criticism or construction. We’re willing to work with them in developing a path to that, we understand that it may not happen right away,” she said. “We’re not trying to be unreasonable, but they won’t even engage with us on what that structure could look like.”

Ithaca College released in a public statement following the rally stating that:  “We want to assure our students, faculty, staff, and families that the college is committed first and foremost to our students’ education. In the event of a strike, the college will implement a plan to continue the delivery of courses. We strongly believe that disruption of the academic learning environment is not an appropriate response to the challenges that the bargaining teams are experiencing in the negotiations.”

Rachel Gunderson, a full-time professor in health promotion and physical education said she has not been asked to return to teach at the college next year despite a major demand for her classes. Gunderson said she found out about the rejection right after the formation of the union in May, and said it “felt like a retaliation.”

“I have committed 11 years of my life to this school, first as a student and now as a member of the faculty,” she said. “Why can’t they commit to me?”

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