A Slap in the Face to Adjuncts Like Me

January 30, 2021 / Comments (0)

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Terrie Lee • SPC Adjunct and Union Member

After more than a year of bargaining between adjunct faculty and the St Petersburg college administration, our first collective bargaining agreement was due to be ratified at the January Board of Trustees meeting last Tuesday. So, it felt like a slap to the face for those in attendance at the meeting, the Administration, and all the faculty alike when Board of Trustees member Deveron Gibbons urged fellow Trustees to reject the voice of hundreds of instructors that already voted to pass the agreement. His comments during the meeting were damning to a large professional workforce that keeps the college in operation and revealed his ignorance of the contract’s terms.

His main point of opposition was that adjunct faculty should not get a raise:

“We’re in the middle of a pandemic. We have employees that clean buildings, bathrooms, and all kinds of other places. We have full time faculty and other folks who have a tremendous amount of work to do all the time and none of them in the past five years has received one raise.”

The union contract had no raise in it. We did not ask for a raise because we fully recognize that we are in a pandemic and that Florida, and especially its colleges, are facing challenging fiscal issues as a result. Moreover, if facts still count, and as college instructors we feel they do, full time faculty did in fact have a raise within the past five years while adjunct faculty pay has remained the same for more than a decade. Over the same decade, the number of adjunct faculty teaching college classes throughout Florida has risen.   

At the Board of Trustees meeting Mr. Gibbons, summed up his attitude toward approximately 700 highly-educated adjunct faculty who teach about half of the course hours offered by St Petersburg College in these words:

 “When they took this job, a long time ago, they knew that it was a part time job. It would not have any benefits. And they would not have any rights. At any point, we could choose to not do the course, or not have them as an instructor, or not even teach that class for that semester.“

Derogatory toward a workforce of dedicated professionals? Yes. Still, the adjunct union contract contains no request for a raise.   

What does the contract contain, then? 

Mostly it acknowledges the existence of the adjunct union and reasserts employee protections.  

A single item in the union contract has a tiny price tag—a symbolic course cancellation fee of 150 dollars.  

What has become almost a standard in the adjunct union contracts of other colleges in Florida, this fee is paid to adjunct faculty if the class they were slated to teach is cancelled or given to a different instructor within 2 weeks of the class starting. You’ve probably paid a similar fee if you’ve cancelled a flight reservation or a cruise trip. 

Adjuncts don’t have classes cancelled that late very often, but it stings when it happens. Chairs of academic departments—who work hard to build trusting relationships with sometimes upward of 100 highly qualified adjunct instructors to keep offering courses—try like mad to avoid it.   

None of the other colleges with cancellation fees in their adjunct union contracts has ever paid out more than a few thousand dollars in a semester. If the fiscal obligation to the college is so small, why have this in the contract at all? 

Because even during a pandemic, perhaps especially during a pandemic, respect matters to teachers. The fee does not compensate the adjunct instructor for the sudden lost income or the unpaid work hours already invested. This nominal fee simply acknowledges the truth: that the instructor has already invested hours preparing the course, making the syllabus, deciding the course schedule, researching lecture material, talking with tech support, emailing students, and arranging laboratory equipment. This small but concrete act of a cancellation fee by the college is a win-win. It makes academic departments more mindful to communicate in ways that better respect the time and commitment of the adjunct faculty. And if an adjunct loses a class this close to the start of the semester, the cancellation fee is a gesture that helps repair trust in the relationship.

Ratification of the adjunct union contract will make no difference to the SPC budget.  

In his public comments, Mr. Gibbons has insulted one of the largest workforces employed by the college, and the work of the college administration who negotiated in good faith for the past year to forge this contract. Trustee Gibbons may hold a low opinion of the adjunct faculty at SPC and their first union contract. The adjunct faculty, the SPC Administration, and the full-time faculty who have supported us, have made clear they wholeheartedly disagree.    

We ask Gibbons and the Board of Trustees to join with the SPC President and Administration in approving this our contract without delay.