Despite the reported opposition from New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, the resolution supporting a $5,000 minimum starting salary per course for adjuncts was debated and passed April 4 by the statewide SUNY Student Assembly, which represents some 463,000 students.
The following report is by James DeArce, an adjunct teaching sociology at SUNY New Paltz, who is also a nursing student and Student Trustee Member of the Board of Trustees at SUNY Ulster County Community College:
The resolution DID pass after much heated debate. I was very surprised and discouraged about how strong the opposition was to the resolution, right from the start of the discussion. This was mostly based on fears that paying fair wages would bankrupt their institutions, especially by reps from some community colleges and Potsdam. One student [Reynaldo Muniz III, President of the SUNY Jamestown Community College Student Senate] said he personally spoke with Governor Cuomo on the telephone and the Governor told him that it would cost his school about 6 million dollars more to increase the adjuncts pay to $5k per class. In spite of Roberts Rules, I could not help calling out and asking how many adjunct faculty they had, and the speaker replied about 300. I told them that 300 times $5,000 is nowhere near $6 million, especially since adjuncts usually only teach 1 or 2 courses.
As time was running out for discussion, I was the last speaker allowed. I delivered a very passionate speech using examples from my life. I told them that one of the things we do at SUNY is to educate under-served populations and the poor, so they have the tools to rise into the middle class. Yet at the same time, the adjuncts doing this work are being pushed out of the middle class by SUNY. I told them to think about their teachers and how they have been influenced by these teachers who have to try to feed their families with poverty-level pay and no job security. This exploitation has been going on for decades.
I also challenged the $6 million dollar figure and other fear-mongering statistics as “baloney.” I told them that the money to increase pay can be found if there is a will to do so. I said that the Chancellor wants to spend millions on Open SUNY and other initiatives, and they find the money. The costs of bloated college administrations have skyrocketed, and somehow they find the money. The students should let their voice be heard: that is a priority, and they care about the conditions of the adjunct faculty, and that their working conditions definitely influence the quality of the classes that adjuncts teach.
When I finished there was great applause. There was then a motion that passed to extend the discussion time another 15 minutes. A delegate from SUNY New Paltz then spoke to support the resolution. At some point, the opposition made a motion to take out any reference to the $5k amount—but the delegate who brought the resolution [Caitlin Janiszewski, President of Albany Graduate Student Assn.] indicated that without the $5k reference, the resolution would be pointless. That motion was defeated. Some of the “opposition” crafted a “friendly” amendment to the original resolution that did not harm it, and seemed to be a way to save face and make the resolution more palatable to them. Then the vote was taken and it passed.
I really believe that things were going against the resolution and that my input did change some things. I am very glad I went and was allowed to talk. A friend yielded her time to me, since I am not a member of the Student Assembly and not a voting delegate. It was an emotional roller coaster, but time well spent.
James DeArce, Adjunct in Sociology, SUNY New Paltz Student Trustee Member of the Board of Trustees, SUNY Ulster County Community College