UA Undergrads Were Also Heard on National Adjunct Walkout Day: 'We Hold a Great Deal of Power'

It was great to hear from some undergraduate students today at the UA's participation in National Adjunct Walkout Day, asking the administration where exactly their tuition money heads to and demanding better working conditions for the adjunct, tenure track and graduate students who help educate them on a daily basis. 

More than 150 people (very wild guess), many of them wearing red as a sign of solidarity, took over the UA's Alumni Plaza for two hours today demanding administrative transparency, better wages and benefits, and an overall improvement of working conditions for adjunct and other non-tenure track faculty members, including grad students.

UA freshman Josh Baehr reminded fellow undergrads that their voice matters, and reinforced they have a lot more power to change things at the UA than they think.

"Between the 30-something-thousands of us, we sway what goes on under the surface," he said. "Let's start asking the important questions, 'What is our tuition being put towards?' What are the U of A's real priorities? Let's start by putting this tuition under a bright, heavy spotlight. Let's start by supporting our educators, who have sacrificed for us so beautifully, as one loud unified voice, let's help them get the pay, the benefits and the care they deserve."

 Adjunct faculty and graduate students teach about 40 percent of all undergraduate courses, and have responsibilities as grand as other professors who oftentimes make about five times more.

There was a constant reminder that, while tuition and fees for in-state students has increased 188 percent in the last decade, merely 24 percent of the UA's budget is spent on instruction, leaving adjunct, graduate students and other "part-timers" with very low wages, so many have no choice but to pick up another job to survive, living at or below the poverty line.

"At least the UA does a better job than the University of Phoenix, which (spends) only 12 percent on instruction," said Joel Smith, a UA non-tenure track faculty and a grad student. For lack of a working microphone for half of the event, listeners echoed the speakers' words so that all of those in the far back could hear them.

Sandy Soto, an associate professor in the Department of Gender and Women Studies, said she doesn't know what she'd do without adjunct and graduate students, who have helped her teach many of her classes and take on her role the times she's been away from the university—all while getting a disturbingly low salary.

Ally professors were also represented today, or at least some of them.

Psychology professor and member of the UA Regents and Distinguished Professors Council Lynn Nadel  said he was happy to see the protests directed at where the problem resides: the state Capitol in the budget and political process that is "systematically underfunding public education," as well as inside the university.

"We support you (non-tenure track) colleagues and the quest for changes in the conditions of your academic lives," he said. "It is clearer now than ever before that your well-being is essential to our well-being, the UA's well-being, and most important, our students' well-being, though there may be some discomfort for us, we will support change."

Faculty officers have agreed to make the adjunct and other non-tenure's issues a top priority, he added.

A letter to UA President Ann Weaver Hart, who was invited to the walkout but of course did not show up, was read at the end of the event. Here is part of it thanks to the Daily Wildcat:

This year, the UA is facing another budget cut, as are many of its peers. Even in difficult circumstances, other universities have begun to acknowledge the value of non-tenure track faculty and to improve their working conditions, and we encourage you to do the same. We appreciate your efforts in Never Settle to “recognize and support non-tenure track faculty,” and we are eager for change.

Above all, we are committed to our students, even as the amount of credit hours we generate far exceeds our compensation. For example, NTT faculty in the department of English teach over 100 writing-intensive courses to 2,500 students each semester. These instructors have one-year contracts or less and earn just $33,050 a year when they teach full-time.

At our Arizona Board of Regents peer institutions, English adjuncts make 30 percent more while class sizes are 20 percent smaller. Many of our instructors are UA alumni who have not had a raise in over 10 years, not even a cost-of-living adjustment. To address these inequities, we have met with our department head and dean, and have voiced our concerns to the board of regents and the UA’s CFO.

Recently, you recommended that budgetary decisions should focus on “the UA’s core mission.” According to the NTT Task Force, “non-tenure track faculty are mission-critical, contributing in a variety of significant ways to the teaching, research/innovation, and outreach/impact goals of the institution.”

Until fair wages and job security exist for all faculty who teach foundational courses, we are undermining our core mission and shortchanging our students.

(Added after publication):

Back by popular demand, here's the spreadsheet on all UA salaries.