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UUP runs campaign for adjuncts

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By Madeline St. Amour


If you’ve watched TV since being back on campus, you might have noticed a familiar face on the screen.

Rebekah Tolley, a fine arts professor at the University at Albany, is featured in a commercial created by United University Professions, the bargaining unit for SUNY.

The commercial, which runs for 30 seconds, features three SUNY adjunct professors talking about their accomplishments, followed by a narrator’s voice saying, “Nearly one-in-three highly qualified SUNY faculty are adjuncts. Many paid so little, they struggle to make ends meet. Yet students pay more than ever before. SUNY adjuncts deserve better.” It ran from Jan. 10 through Jan. 23 in the Capital Region, Buffalo, Long Island, and Ulster and Dutchess counties.

“I think it’s a difficult topic to discuss openly,” Tolley said. “We’re just suffering in silence.”

She said that while most contingent professors feel they can’t talk with their students about what they’re going through, this ad and other campaigning will help raise awareness for them.

Tolley thinks that the connection between low wages and increased tuition is especially important for students to hear, since that’s the “missing link” many don’t realize exists.

Contingents are faculty that are hired on a non-permanent basis, like visiting assistant professors. Adjuncts fall under the category of contingents and are paid on a per course basis. The per course minimum pay for UAlbany adjuncts is $2,800, and they’re allowed to teach two classes. Since this comes out to a below-poverty level income for the year, many travel between campuses to teach more than two classes or work other jobs to make ends meet.

Mike Lisi, the communications director for UUP, said the union “wants to help get the word out and help these people who deserve better.” When asked why the union chose now to start this ad campaign, Lisi said the issue dovetails well with the Fight for 15 – the push for $15 minimum wage. He also said that there’s an over-reliance on adjunct professors now more than ever.

Tolley echoed this sentiment, saying that the situation has “become more direr now.” She also said that UUP’s contract expires in June, so the union’s contract negotiations are coming up in the spring.

“Getting broader support will help us,” she said.

Tolley said she was asked to be in the commercial because she’s been active in the union and she’s one of the adjuncts who’s not afraid to speak out on the issue. The other two adjuncts were William Lee from SUNY Cortland, who says 192 students took his course in one semester, and Bentley Whitfield from SUNY Farmingdale, who says he has an advanced degree from Columbia University and won SUNY’s Excellence in Teaching Award.

Lisi is hopeful that this ad will help contingents gain a more sympathetic ear from school administrators.

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