Part-time faculty and full-time tuition

February 15, 2008

AT THE University of Vermont (UVM), the student body has grown by 30 percent in the past five years, but the number of professors has grown only half as fast.

Instead of investing in faculty, UVM has increased the salary pool for its 21 vice presidents, provost and president by 207 percent and built a $60 million student center that doubles as a for-profit conference center (rented out recently to a national group of homophobes who oppose gay marriage).

Meanwhile, students, paying tuition and fees that have skyrocketed nearly 50 percent, are in bigger classes that are too often taught by adjuncts, who the administration wants to pick up and let go from semester to semester.

Administrators say they're just following the national trend of high-priced education and part-time professors, but UVM students and faculty are organizing to fight back. On February 6, we came together in a news conference organized by United Academics, the union that represents most full- and part-time faculty at UVM. Here's an excerpt from my remarks at this event:

When a university tries to meet growing student demand not by hiring more professors but by hiring people for the short-term only, everyone suffers.

For instance, one of my colleagues has taught in the English department since 2000. Most often, he's been given three courses each semester. But UVM calls him 'part-time,' which means that he isn't eligible for UVM's health insurance plan.

As a result, he pays $356 each month for an individual insurance plan, with a deductible of up to $18,750 a year. He also has cancer and has just gone through a second round of chemotherapy, for which each infusion carried a bill of $8,200. At this point, he's teaching literally to save his life--to pay these medical bills.

UVM's administration isn't responsible, of course, for health care inflation. But they are responsible for consistently, increasingly and, I believe, deliberately underemploying the faculty we need for this30-percent bigger student body.

And it looks like if the administration is left unchecked, things will get worse. In my department, two long-time professors--one a poet and fiction writer, one a scholar in 20th century Irish and British literature--are about to retire. To replace them, the administration currently is telling us that we can hire one lecturer.

For the university, one lecturer to replace two professors means less they have to pay, and less they have to commit. For faculty and students, it means we have to fight for the future of this university--for the dignity of everyone teaching here and to make sure UVM is actually delivering what it promises to students: meaningful access to long-term faculty who can mentor students from first-year to graduation and beyond, and without sacrificing their own health.

At the same time we're pushing at UVM, through our contract negotiations and public campaign, to make the university stop funding its boardroom and start funding classrooms, we need a national fight for health care and education as rights.

Last fall, Dan Clawson from the University of Massachusetts' faculty union, pointed out to students and faculty on my campus that just a portion of the Bush tax cuts are all that's needed to fund free education for everyone at U.S. public universities, colleges and community colleges.

Just imagine the health care, education, veterans' benefits, and home-heating and mortgage assistance that could be funded with the billions that have been transferred into the pockets of the wealthy and that have gone to inflicting senseless misery on the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tax the rich and stop the war! Health care, education, housing and livable wages should be everyone's right.
Nancy Welch, Department of English, University of Vermont, UVM United Academics-AFT/AAUP

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