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  • Hawa Saleh

EDITORIAL: Students Demand Fairness for Professors “Say No to Au$terity” town hall highlights where

On Friday, April 8, the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) held an anti-austerity town hall to a nearly packed room featuring two English adjunct professors, Dr. Rizzi and Mr. Kryder. The town hall began with Dr. Loughead, philosophy professor and president of the Canisius chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) an advocacy organization and not a faculty union — talking about what austerity means. Austerity is categorized by the following: difficult economic conditions created by administrative measures to reduce a budget deficit through making cuts rather than raising additional revenue.

Dr. Loughead stressed that this term requires a critical eye, as many typically think of austerity as being equally distributed across an institution’s budget. However, at Canisius and many other universities, that is simply not the case: the cuts in pay, benefits and positions are often at the detriment of faculty and staff but not highly paid administrators or coaches.

This has been proven to be an unfortunate track record for the College. Since 2017, the number of full-time professors was reduced by around 30%, yet the areas of athletics or administration were not cut by 30%. Dr. Loughead shared an “Anti-Austerity Petition at Jesuit Institutions” — a document created and supported by students, staff, faculty and organizations across Jesuit universities in America.

Faculty and students at Canisius have been harmed by the trustees’ and administration’s heavy-handed and rash decision making. In her opening statement on austerity, Loughead pronounced that “administration broke a promise” to its tenured faculty: professors who have gone to incredible lengths in their academic journey to earn a Ph.D., to compete in job searches that often involve hundreds of other qualified applicants, to move to Buffalo from across the nation and to get tenure which they were promised that if they performed their jobs well, they would have lifetime employment. Dr. Cochrane, chair of the English Department, stressed this point by emphasizing that professors earn that tenure.

However, in 2020, the track record continued as we found that over 90 full-time workers, including around 25 professors (most of whom had tenure), were given a shocking call. Faculty and other workers were told that in the name of a “$20 million projected deficit,” their position was being terminated. Administration claimed that they had to make “difficult decisions.” These “difficult decisions” fell particularly hard on the humanities: majors such as classics and religious studies were terminated, while departments such as English, history and philosophy all had excellent (and tenured) professors fired. Two of those fired included recent award-winning professors: the best scholar and the best teacher.

Can you imagine a Jesuit liberal arts college function without an accredited religious studies major? I put the infamous “projected deficit” number in quotes, because the Canisius chapter of the AAUP found that this number was a lie. They hired an auditor and discovered that Canisius was not in deficit in terms of cash flow: in actuality, we experienced a revenue of more than $1.5 million that year.

The YDSA event primarily focused on understanding the full scope regarding the exploitation of adjunct professors. One problem with eliminating those 25 full-time faculty positions is that their termination did not coincide with the dissolution of the courses that they were offering. Most of the professors who were cut were teaching full course loads with full seat counts. Their courses could not be eliminated, because students need them in order to graduate. So, who was given those courses to teach? It was none other than the adjunct faculty, who are paid on a per-course basis, to which they have no benefits (no health care or retirement) and no job security. Their pay (when considered hourly labor) is a poverty wage. For a full-semester’s course, an adjunct professor in the humanities is paid around $3,300.

After knowing these details, we engaged in a discussion about the situation of adjunct labor, especially as an organization that is dedicated to social justice. Mr. Kryder echoed Dr. Loughead’s sentiments on the 2020 firing of faculty as he reflected on how painful it was to lose a beloved Shakespeare professor, Dr. Marshelle Woodward. As an English major, I have heard her name said with an inexplicable poignancy: she was a staple of this community, and to be deprived of the chance of being taught by her is unforgivable. She was named “best teacher” in the School of Arts and Sciences just before she was fired. Why couldn’t that be enough?

When asked how the firing of faculty affected him, Dr. Rizzi professed himself to be a “scab” as he mitigated the loss of the Shakespearean in the English Department. This word immediately had Dr. Cochrane console and reaffirm the latter’s lack of culpability as he did nothing wrong. Why should Rizzi feel a burden for something that was never in his control?

What was eye-opening in this discussion was how Dr. Rizzi gave us a sneak peak into what the life of an adjunct professor entails. As mentioned above, his salary for one class/semester is $3,300. He told us that he had to have uncomfortable conversations with his partner regarding whether or not they can afford a child. Although he emphasized that he adores Canisius students, Dr. Rizzi sadly professed that he “will never be able to call Canisius home,” and how could he? Although he loves his colleagues, Dr. Rizzi has to woefully remind himself that “they are not family.” Why is that so? The life of an adjunct professor is precarious, because they never know if their job and its terrible wages are guaranteed for the next year. In the midst of preparing lesson plans for a class that he may or may not teach, Rizzi is filing applications for jobs that 300 other qualified candidates are vying for. Administration knows that teaching students is the lifeblood of an educator, so stiffing professors of their deserved salary is unfortunately a concession that many adjuncts make.

Towards the end of the conversation, we asked what we as the student population could do in terms of raising awareness. Both Dr. Rizzi and Mr. Kryder emphasized that overcoming ignorance is the biggest stumbling block and that by openly discussing adjunct labor issues, we are helping. Many students simply do not know that their education is being provided on the backs of underpaid and disrespected professors. Mr. Kryder did share some guarded optimism that perhaps President-elect Stoute might be willing to have difficult discussions about Canisius priorities. Dr. Rizzi, who has a background in union organizing, highlighted that unions are key in protecting the rights of workers, and in the case of unions at universities, they protect the excellence of education that professors want to provide and that students deserve. He mentioned that, although the AAUP provides clarity in these situations, it is important to remember that they are not a union which has the power to bargain collectively at Canisius.

Our professors reignite our love for Canisius. Many of us came here for the small class sizes and to be able to establish a rapport with admirable professors. How can we allow the perpetuation of these injustices to continue? We are taught our Jesuit values upon our entrance into this school, and it is these precise values that I will use to end this piece.

If we are truly “men and women for and with others,” shouldn’t that include our adjuncts as well?

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