As CUNY’s public funding is cut, budget reductions at the department level have been frequent across the University. Reducing the adjunct hiring budget has been one of the most common approaches to cutting departmental budgets. Due to the whipsaw of conflicting pressures on college budgets, cutting the adjunct budget has not always translated into a net reduction in adjunct lines – but the insecurity experienced by adjunct faculty has been on the rise.
These are among the conclusions of a report prepared for the PSC Executive Council at the onset of the Fall semester. “The precariousness of [adjuncts’] status is made quite visible under the current economic conditions,” wrote Michael Batson, an Executive Council (EC) member and adjunct lecturer in history at the College of Staten Island, who prepared the report with PSC officers and staff.
The report aimed “to ascertain the impact, if any, of the 2011 budget cuts on [CUNY’s] academic departments...with particular attention paid to the status and stability of adjunct faculty.” Batson and PSC staff examined CUNY-wide employment data and information collected from department chairs and part-time grievance officers.
PRESSURE TO CUT
A survey of department chairs conducted for the report targeted 149 academic departments, with a particular focus on those where CUNY data or reports to the union pointed to a possible reduction in adjunct employment. Responses were obtained from 42%. While the resulting data was limited by respondents’ self-selection and other factors, the report notes, the results point to some broad conclusions.
Seventy percent of respondents reported feeling the impact of reduced departmental budgets. Cuts are felt “across a wide array of areas,” states the report, but the adjunct hiring budget was the area most frequently affected. “Larger class sizes and full-time lines remaining unfilled appear to be fairly widespread,” states the report.
Cuts in a department’s adjunct budget allocation did not always translate into a net loss of adjunct jobs. Where departments had open full-time lines or unfilled substitute positions, chairs often redeployed these funds to hire adjuncts. In many departments, minimum enrollments and overall class size are on the rise – but CUNY’s recent enrollment has been at a record high. The net effect of these contradictory pressures varies by campus and department.
“Many [chairs] reported pressure to reduce their adjunct budgets by replacing long-serving, and thus higher paid, adjuncts with newer ones,” the report states. This suggests that budget cuts can increase adjunct insecurity even when adjunct head count is not reduced.
As budgets shrink, adjuncts may be reappointed but end up teaching fewer courses. This can trigger loss of health insurance coverage at the same time that their income is reduced. In the surveyed departments, the report estimates that reduction in course load was more than twice as common as a complete loss of employment.
CUNY-wide, the net effect of budget cuts on adjunct numbers is unclear. “Data from CUPS/CUNY first indicate an increase in the number of total teaching adjuncts from 9,903 in Spring 2010 to 12,041 in Spring 2011,” states the report. On the other hand, the final 2010-2011 University-wide performance management report “shows that the number of FTE part-time faculty [i.e., the equivalent number of full-time faculty that would be required to cover all courses taught by adjuncts], after increasing steadily from 3,432 in 2005 to 5,009 in 2009, went down to 4,541 in the Fall 2010 semester”– which may support the reduced workload finding.
What is clear is that, as departments across CUNY wrestle with how to teach more students with less money, adjunct insecurity has increased. Rising insecurity leads to a “sense of crisis or anxiety” among many adjuncts, says the report, to an extent that even sympathetic full-time faculty are not always aware.
MIX OF FACTORS
When department chairs must choose which of several qualified adjuncts will not be reappointed or will have their schedules reduced, chairs in this survey often reported giving weight to length of service or ability to maintain health insurance. The report cautions that this may be less common among department chairs as a whole, since survey respondents were self-selected. But the fact that these job stability factors were commonly cited suggests they could be included more systematically in adjunct staffing decisions.
As the report concludes, “Without a transparent and clear-cut system in place...adjuncts are placed in a very vulnerable situation.”
“Year after year, these cuts to CUNY’s budget increase adjuncts’ insecurity, increase faculty workload and undermine the quality of our students’ education,” commented PSC Vice President for Part-Time Personnel Marcia Newfield. Newfield noted that in contract negotiations, the union has demanded job stability for adjuncts who have been evaluated and rehired by their departments over several years of service. “Adjunct insecurity is a serious problem,” said Newfield, “and we deserve a solution.”