Teachers. Love them, fear them or be inspired by them, one cannot deny this fact:
Without teachers, there would be no Clark College.
But how many Clark College students, young or old, have paused for a moment to ponder how their professors get through a single day? What goes on behind the scenes when they are not teaching a class? What cost do they pay just to have the ability to support themselves and their family?
Since the beginning of Winter term, faculty, tenured, adjuncts and their supporters have been fighting for fairer contracts and wage increases. For some time, salary pay has been an ongoing issue for those employed at Clark; yet the spark igniting this negotiation, came after their K-12 colleagues won higher pay for their employees after going on strike in Fall 2018.
At every rally, negotiation and meeting, English professor Kimberly Sullivan wears the hat of faculty union representative for the Association of Higher Education (AHE). Sullivan has been at the front helping to fight for what faculty believes is fair compensation for all the time and effort they put in (paid or unpaid) so students can succeed.
“The college is currently conducting a 5% cut with a dubious plan and we have no assurance that the $2.3 million savings we should have realized in 2017 has been realized,” Sullivan said at the March 13 Board of Trustees meeting. “I spend more time in governance meetings, when I should be there for my students.”
Tenured chemistry professor April Mixon was also present at the meeting where she shared her personal testimony.
“I am single, but I always wanted to be a mother. I looked into medical and legal ways, but the process seemed completely out of reach,” Mixon said. “I could not afford as a single income tenured college chemistry professor to have and care for a child.”
Mixon continued telling how when her dog needed life saving surgery she turned to hosting a garage sale selling her couches and then refinancing her home just to pay the medical bills. She realizes that fortune was in her favor with many financial struggles, as she had financial support from her sympathetic to the challenges she faced. Her struggles are not only unfair to her, but also to her parents, according to Mixon.
Before an AHE rally and Board of Trustees meeting on April 24 at Clark, the AHE asked adjuncts to write letters telling of the struggles they endure from receiving unfair pay. At the meeting, adjuncts and tenured faculty members read excerpts of these letters to the Board.
The Indy was granted access to 18 of the anonymously written letters to share with our readers.
“Adjuncts usually wish their comments to be anonymous because they have little-to-no job security,” English professor Arwen Spicer said. “Since they can readily be laid off, they fear voicing criticism may lead to losing their position at Clark or to subtler retaliation in the form of losing certain teaching assignments, losing benefits, etc.”
One adjunct wrote that they felt writing anonymously is proof in itself of the working conditions for all adjuncts here at Clark. “I work in fear. I fear losing hours as we lose students. I fear losing my job for the same reason, however, I also fear losing my job if I speak up and offer a differing opinion,” they wrote.
The adjunct questioned if it had been worth facing the challenge of earning a graduate degree, if all that waited for them was a career spent living in fear of losing their job, just for having an opinion.
Another adjunct revealed that while writing their letter, they were sobbing from the pain of a spinal issue. Fearful of losing pay, they feel there is no other option than to teach class as scheduled. Facing the potential of having no benefits or insurance also plays as a reason for not wanting to lose any cent of what little they get anyway. The potential of losing benefits or insurance also played a part in them not wanting to lose a single cent of their meager pay.
“My students, our students, Clark’s students. They deserve teachers who can put the majority of their effort into their classes and students, without wondering how to pay rent next month,” the adjunct wrote. “This is not a fear I should have as a college professor.”
Another adjunct mentioned how working at Clark felt more like being a volunteer than paid staff. Another adjunct wrote that they chose to teach at Clark to have more time with their daughter, but that extended hours have taken that opportunity away.
At the end of one letter, the adjunct wrote that,” I look forward to the day when all classes are taught by artificial intelligence and all instructors are obsolete. Then the revolution…”
Another adjunct wrote that they no longer saw positivity in teaching as an adjunct at Clark. “I have chosen to leave Clark because it feels like an abusive relationship. My (also highly educated) friend just got a job at New Seasons making $19 per hour with benefits. I think I’ll go apply there.”
In many letters, the adjuncts revealed how they felt underappreciated after all they do, taken for granted and insulted by it all.
One adjunct wrote how adjuncts are the hidden backbone to the institutions of higher learning. “The lack of institutional respect and labyrinthine layers of administration are bearable, though frustrating when they question our worth or even blame us for the challenges we face while serving our students with minimal support.”
“Acknowledge us, appreciate us, treat us fairly, and we will keep fighting for the students of Clark College,” another adjunct wrote.
After reading through the letters, the Indy reached out to college President Bob Knight for comment. Knight gave the following response through Kelly Love, chief communications officer for the office of the president.
“Clark faculty are dedicated to their students and work very hard. I appreciated hearing more about their experiences at the board meeting last night,” Knight wrote. “It is my hope that while the negotiating teams are focused at the table on trying to reach an agreement on faculty salaries, we can all maintain our focus on the college’s mission- our students and their success.”
Knight was not able to comment on the specifics to the salary requests due to the negotiations still being in the process. Although he stated they are continuing to bargain in good faith.
In a recent press release from the AHE Bargaining Support Team, Sullivan stressed the importance of negotiations ending as soon as possible.
“The next time a president of Clark College will have the power to increase our wages will not be until June 2021 after the new president’s probationary period has ended,” Sullivan said.
The bargaining support team also stated that the majority of the money they are asking for is going to the lowest paid faculty members, the adjuncts.
“When is Clark going to find a way,” Mixon said. “When is Clark going to value its teachers?”