Adjunct faculty score a victory, but still lack voice

Christina Szilagyi, adjunct instructor in history, is among the many adjunct professors at Delta College who struggle to piece together enough income to make ends meet. The board of trustees passed a motion Nov. 12 to increase adjunct salary by 2.2%. (Photo courtesy Delta College)

By Michael Piwowarski, editor-in-chief.

UNIVERSITY CENTER – Christina Szilagyi, an adjunct instructor in history at Delta College, spends her weeks commuting between Delta and other schools. She teaches at Mott Community College, Northwood, SVSU and Mid-Michigan.

Like many other adjuncts – professors which are meant to be employed part-time and are non-tenured – she struggles regularly to piece together enough income to make ends meet.

“This semester, I’m working at three different schools,” says Szilagyi. “That’s actually a low for me; it’s usually four or five. [It’s a struggle] whether or not you’re going to know, from semester to semester, if you can pay the bills.”

Delta increases adjunct pay

The average adjunct pay for all community colleges in Michigan is $684 per credit hour taught, with Delta falling below that average at $667. Mott, Grand Rapids, Washtenaw and Schoolcraft all pay higher salaries than Delta, with Mott topping the list at $1,084.

The Delta College board of trustees approved a motion at their Nov. 12 meeting, which calls for a 2.2% increase in compensation for adjunct faculty effective winter 2020, to $682 per credit hour. The board also approved a new three-tier system of pay for adjuncts, where they get paid extra per credit hour if they teach 60 or more credit hours in a year.

The Collegiate reached out to some of the adjuncts that attended the board meeting, and they were satisfied with the outcome, saying “it’s about time.” However, there is work that remains to be done.

Adjuncts long for full-time positions

“One of the things that needs to be looked at is, how often do we have adjuncts covering a full load?” Szilagyi said in an interview with the Collegiate. “And does that need to be considered in whether or not a full time position needs to be created?”

Trustee Robert Emrich first requested at the Sept. 10 board meeting that data on adjuncts be provided. He specifically wanted to know about the market that Delta is competing in for adjuncts, the adjunct salary schedule in comparison with full-time faculty and changes in adjunct pay over the past decade.

On Nov. 12, this data was made ready and provided to the board by human resources (HR) director Scott Lewless, English professor Janet Alexander and assistant HR director Wendy Childs via a presentation.

A study conducted on adjunct faculty at Delta says that, out of 162 adjuncts that responded, 30% said that they are seeking full-time faculty positions.

Delta College has a surplus in adjuncts with a shortage of full-time positions to offer them. In fact, with an adjunct hiring fair taking place on the same day as the board meeting, Delta is seeking to hire even more adjuncts.

As of Nov. 13, the Delta job database only lists two open full time faculty positions and 35 for adjunct instructors.

“I did apply for a full time position about six years ago,” says Szilagyi. “But I’ve been here for 10 years, and I’m just adjuncting along.”

Another struggle that adjuncts commonly face, in contrast to full-time faculty, is preparation. Lula Woodard, adjunct instructor in English, just got her classes for the winter 2020 semester Nov 11, the day before the board meeting.

“Now I’m almost in stress mode to get prepared to roll out syllabus, get textbooks,” says Woodard. “If I had known a little bit earlier, then I could have prepared a little bit because we’re coming to the end of the term in about two or three weeks, four weeks. So I gotta be ready to go.”

‘No comment’ on unionization

All of the adjuncts in attendance declined to comment on whether or not they are planning to unionize like their full-time counterparts have done earlier this year.

“I personally would like to see us have a voice in the senate,” says Bethany Eicher, adjunct instructor in English. “Currently, the adjuncts are not represented in the college senate and we don’t have a say there at all, and I would like to see us move forward.”

Bethany Eicher, adjunct instructor in English, makes remarks at the Nov. 12 board of trustees meeting about the motion to increase adjunct salary. Eicher wants adjuncts to have a voice in the college senate, like their full-time counterparts. (Michael Piwowarski/Editor-in-chief)

Following the meeting, the board went into closed session to discuss union negotiations with full-time faculty, which will take place Friday.

Full-time faculty voted overwhelmingly in January to unionize. The change in faculty leadership made by administration, from division chairs (chosen by faculty) to associate deans (chosen by administration), made faculty members upset. This was seen as a loss in faculty voice, as the Delta College Senate voted overwhelmingly against the move.

“Faculty members at Delta College want to be a part of the governance process at Delta,” Christopher Curtis said in a Q&A provided by union leaders. “We want our voice heard in strategic planning decisions, in College policy discussions, in the day-to-day activities of learning that happen at Delta, not after a decision is made.”

Adjunct faculty are currently trying to figure out how they can get their voices heard as well, and gain senate representation like with their full time counterparts.

“I’m not sure how we propose that […] we have representation in the senate, but it’s something that I think, as a group, we’re going to maybe discuss at our next meeting,” says Trish Finnerty, adjunct instructor in biology.

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