Contingent Faculty Have “Husbands on Wall Street”

The Barnard Contingent Faculty Union, BCF-UAW Local 2110, voted to certify their union in Fall of 2015 and commenced bargaining with Barnard College in Spring of 2016. This transcript comes from a meeting held between the Barnard’s President Deborah Spar and a group of students concerned about labor issues on campus. The meeting took place on April 29, 2016 – the same day as the college’s sixth bargaining session with BCF. Issues had already arisen that seemed to compromise Barnard’s stated values. For contract negotiations, Barnard has employed Jackson Lewis, a law firm which specializes in weakening and waylaying union drives, to head its bargaining team. Given its aggressively antiworker clients, Jackson Lewis has recently issued statements approving the likely political shifts in the NLRB and the weakening of federal antidiscrimination protections that will come with President Trump’s new administration. 

In accordance with Jackson Lewis’ techniques, Barnard did not negotiate in good faith, dragged out negotiations for a over a year, and until just a couple days before the strike deadline failed to address several of BCF-UAW’s demands regarding key issues such as wages, job security, and benefits [ ]. The contract won by BCF-UAW on February 16th was a hard fought victory for Barnard workers.

This transcript shows examples of Former President Spar’s refusal to take the legitimate needs of contingent faculty seriously, as well as her attempts to set fair pay for contingent faculty in opposition to financial aid for students and the security of tenured faculty. Former President Spar also neglects to mention in her accounting the costly projects she has undertaken including campus construction, and grossly misrepresents Barnard’s budget. This approach towards the contingent faculty–downplaying their centrality to college teaching, brushing off their financial precarity, pitting their demands against financial aid and other faculty, deprofessionalizing their labor (they are mostly women)–unfortunately remains part of Former President Spar and current Provost Bell’s legacy.

The selection of a new president is an opportunity to change labor-unfriendly reputation.  We need a pro-labor President.  

Student 1: In terms of making the finances more transparent or more visible for students here, I guess the tuition hike came as quite a shock to me – I’m not an economist, I don’t understand necessarily the inner workings of the institution and the stuff that’s happening after I graduate will help, in terms of educating students about that. But, I guess the question that I wanted to ask is: a lot of the stuff in the emails seemed kind of vague to me, like “retaining faculty” – what does that exactly mean, like in terms of your not giving adjuncts what they demand but – and cost of living?

Spar: Right. It’s actually pretty straightforward. So – you know we have… when faculty come in on a salary, like any job, and we pay more every year – so every year we have to give faculty raises because that’s just what one does. Being a faculty member in New York is really hard most people don’t make as much as finance people or media people, and yet they’re in this city which is really expensive. So we pay our faculty, compared to, let’s say Wellesley that has ten times more money, we pay our faculty more because it’s an expensive city to live in.

Student 1: Are you referring to tenured faculty or faculty on the tenure track?

Spar: Tenured and tenure- track faculty.

Student 1: My understanding is that 180 faculty aren’t on the tenure track.

Spar: That’s exactly right. So the core of our faculty are the tenured and tenure-track faculty. Those are folks who come in as assistant professors, they teach, they get promoted to associate, sort of the classic faculty. Let me stick with those for a second. Those folks we have to pay them (??) high, they are the core faculty.

Student 1: That’s how you retain them.

Spar: That’s how we retain them. Hopefully they like teaching here. We also get poached quite frequently, because we do have a really good faculty. We also have a diverse faculty, which means they get extra poached, we have more women, we have more faculty of color, when you have really good faculty of color, they get poached all the time. When we want them to stay, one of the ways we get people to stay is by giving them a salary boost. So 40% of our budget is financial aid, another 40% is faculty salaries. Our budget is kind of fixed. The adjuncts is, if you will, the messier part of the budget so. The adjuncts traditionally have been used here, most places, but moreso here, one of the things we really pride ourselves on doing is we give students opportunities to learn from professionals in New York. So a lot of people (??) dance department – a lot of people come here because they want to dance. So it’s great to be taught by somebody who’s a tenured professor of dance but you really want to be taught by Twyla Tharp or Wendy Whelan or somebody who is a professional dancer and they come and teach one or two classes. So Twyla Tharp was an adjunct faculty member. Now, Twyla Tharp doesn’t earn her living – her life isn’t here. She’s here for a year.

Student 1: One of you was just talking about how you had a professor that’s taught for like 16 years and is an adjunct.

Spar: That’s it. We have three categories, and this is informal, three sort of types of adjuncts. The first is from the performing arts, architecture, theater. These are professionals who come here and teach a course or two. So when you see the number 180, or whatever that number is, most of those are folks who teach one class. So they’re practicing modern dancers and they teach one class. The second category is First Year English because to be totally honest regular faculty just don’t want to teach first year courses. It’s very intensive, it’s writing intensive, so we like most colleges of our ilk we hire outsiders, if you will, we hire adjuncts to teach first year seminars. And yeah these folks have been around for a really long time and we do teach them differently than tenured or tenure track faculty. They don’t advise, they’re not on committees, they’re not promoted the way, so to get tenure, we go through all the tenure cases in this room, you have to write a book, and you have to get reviewed, you come through this committee, I sign off on it, and then Lee Bollinger signs off on it, it’s a big process. Adjuncts don’t have to do that. So they are a different category of faculty. And then the third thing we do is, because another way we retain our core faculty is they go on leave quite frequently. They get Guggenheim Fellowships, they get… whatever – Fulbright. They go on leave, we can’t cancel the classes. So like Anthropology, it’s an interesting example. It’s a small department. So Sev Fowles gets a great opportunity. He goes, we have to hire an adjunct to teach the classes. So those are the three categories.

Student 1: What percent of the courseload do you think is taught by the adjuncts?

Spar: It varies hugely by department

Student 1: And along with that what percentage did you say only teaches one class?

Spar: A lot. I’m looking at Jomysha because she’s been doing all the data. General Counsel: I don’t think it’s half. I think it’s roughly half that teaches one class.

Student 2: I understand the difficulties inherent in this model especially in New York with the high cost of living and given that there is this competition with other institutions which is unfortunate. But I think from our perspective and what we would like taken into consideration in the operation of the school we’re going to is that a lot of our teaching is actually being done by these professors…

Spar: Right.

Student 2: …and to us they’re our professors…

Spar: Right, Right

Student 2: …and as you said First Year English is intensive. It involves a lot of time that’s not really being accounted for in the compensation. And obviously it’s important to have these distinguished faculty who are doing interesting and exciting research. But we care about the people who are teaching us.

Student 1: Also, I think part of what makes Barnard so great is that it’s always pushing its students to think more ambitiously about their careers. When I first came here my dad was like, “maybe you want to be an academic?” And I was like, yeah I don’t know, maybe I would. I don’t think I’d want to be an academic forever but maybe I would want to go to grad school and become an associate professor or an adjunct. Now I don’t want to be an adjunct. I don’t. Because I don’t think that…

Spar: It’s [muffled]

Student 1: …I would be able to handle it. I don’t come from a wealthy family. It doesn’t have any job stability. I don’t think I could work at Barnard as an adjunct with what I have now.

Spar: Most people, and there are always exceptions, don’t expect at first that they want to be an adjunct professor. A fair number of them are, they got their Masters, PhDs, had kids, didn’t want to work full time, so they like the opportunity to come back and teach classes here.

Student 1: But they probably don’t like that they don’t have health insurance.

Spar: Sometimes, but sometimes they’re in relationships where quite frankly—because I know a lot of them—their husband’s on Wall Street and they’re doing this because it’s good. That’s not all of them. Some of them are [muffled].

Student 2: But not all of them. And given that, given what Barnard is actually about, it shouldn’t be that way, right?

Student 1: We shouldn’t depend on the fact that people have resources, elsewhere…

Student 2: Especially from their husbands.

Student 1: …if you’re trying to encourage women to step forward.

Spar: Let me ask you what you think (muffled) you would have to deal with. We don’t have a lot of options. So we could… Let’s imagine we could pay the adjuncts like we pay the tenured faculty. First of all, you’d have a riot on your hands from the tenured faculty, but – that would cost us so much that we would have to either slash financial aid or raise tuition by some extraordinary amount. How do you square that circle? There’s no other money, there’s just no other money.

Student 3: We heard that the law firm that you guys are paying is a lot of money per hour.

Student 1: Can you tell me how much it is? If we’re trying to be transparent about finances here… General Counsel: It’s no more than any other law firm.

Student 2: Any other law firm? But law firms like that are expensive.

General Counsel: Actually no, in New York there’s a fair variety of law firms, but this is not a particularly law firm.

Spar: We’re very careful with our legal fees. That’s not a drop in the bucket. The budget of the college is $200 million dollars.

Student 2: Right, but also I think in a meeting with the Provost talking about how many students are actually employed at Barnard, and how many hours a week they’re working, that is actually not that much either.

Student 1: She said, in one of the meetings, I think she said – this was before the announcement came out – “this isn’t an issue of whether or not we can afford it, we can afford it.” She openly said that to us.

Spar: It’s about a half-million dollars a year, that’s what (muffled). It’s not a drop in the bucket, it’s a question of where do you find that? What do you not do? So 40% of the budget is financial aid, you really don’t want to cut that budget. 40% of the budget is faculty, and that includes adjuncts. 20% is, it’s heating, it’s snow removal, it’s copying machines, it’s you know… the fear for me, my biggest fear is that, because ultimately the finances of the college are run by the Board, they’re not run by me, I play a big role in them, obviously, but they’re run by the Board . The Board, the easiest thing for the Board to do is to say “why are we so generous on financial aid?” And that’s what I’m trying to prevent, right? Because I really really really don’t want Barnard to go back to not being need-blind. It would change the complexion of this place. That’s the temptation for the Board, because… and that’s my fear, right? Because that to me is the core to what Barnard does. We can’t fire faculty. We can’t make faculty teach twice as much as they’re teaching because they will leave. So we don’t, you know… I don’t mean to tell you all my problems, but there’s no more quarters under the couch.


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