Part-time faculty rally together in an attempt to gain better pay

Adjuncts may be making less than a local cashier


Photo by Amanda Andrews

Adjunct faculty protest at the corner of Village Park during move-in on Aug. 19.

Written By Nicole Fuschino, For The Globe

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a cashier in the United States earns an average of $11.17 per hour. At Point Park University, the lowest paid part-time faculty member earns $9.73 per hour.

That’s why it’s common for part-time faculty members to work a few jobs at once.

Richard Schiavoni holds two other jobs in addition to being a part-time professor in the Humanities and Social Sciences department at Point Park. When he is not teaching courses during the week, he is working for a local newspaper and takes photographs on the weekends.

Carol Lorenz drives back and forth between Point Park and Robert Morris University, teaching classes in Performing Arts and Communications. She is also a tutor and a substitute teacher on the side for extra income.

Girard Holt is a part-time professor of dance at Point Park, but he also teaches courses at the Pennsylvania Academy of Dance in Sewickley and at Seton Hill University. These schools are between thirty to sixty minutes of driving to one another.

Schiavoni, Lorenz, and Holt all have more in common than sharing the same title of “part-time professor” (also known as adjuncts) at Point Park University — they are also key players in the long fight for better worker treatment of adjuncts through unionization.


August Contract Negotiations

In 2016, part-time faculty from Point Park and Robert Morris formed a union chapter through United SteelWorkers, forming the USW Local 1088. Since then, they have been fighting to increase part-time pay and create job stability for the “adjunct” professors within their respective Universities.

The union helps the part-time professors at Point Park negotiate their contracts with University administration, with their most recent contract expiring on Aug. 1.

Damon Di Cicco, a part-time professor within Point Park’s Communication department and the President of USW Local 1088, says that a new agreement was hoped to be reached before that date. But, as September approaches, no agreement has been made.

“The University has been unwilling to make us a reasonable offer regarding pay,” said Di Cicco. “Over time, our pay has improved, but we’re still lacking compared to what the full-time faculty earns for doing essentially the same job.”

He says that pay increases have been the most significant achievement upon unionization — over the life of their most-recent three-year contract, they received an overall pay increase of 21.5%. (That brought per-course pay range for part-timers from $2,091-$2,727 in the Fall of 2015, to $2,541-$3,315 in the Spring of 2019.) Although, he says that’s still not nearly enough to measure their worth.

“Our initial proposal was ambitious,” Di Cicco admits. “But we compromised, and they have not moved very much.”

He says USW Local 1088 has reached some agreements with University administration regarding how courses are assigned to them and taking leaves of absences, but part-timers will still be entering the school year with no raise.


Rallying Together

Photo by Amanda Andrews
Adjunct faculty protest at the corner of Village Park during move-in on Aug. 19.

On Aug. 19, part-time professors gathered together at Village Park on Point Park’s move-in day in the hopes of bringing attention to their struggles to new students and parents. They distributed informational materials and held signs reading “honk if you support adjuncts” and “don’t nickel and dime the part-time.”

Another event was held at Village Park on Aug. 23, where members of the United SteelWorkers Union from all over the country rallied together on the streets of Downtown Pittsburgh. Students in the United SteelWorker’s Leadership-Scholarship Program composed an original song to the tune of “Seasons of Love” from RENT the musical, symbolizing the University’s emphasis on their theater program.

“How do you measure, measure our worth? In credits, in courses, in groceries and mortgage payments, in dollars, in raises, equal pay for equal work.”

“We can’t give our students the attention they deserve, because we have jobs as bartenders, as waiters, as cashiers, and those jobs pay us better than teaching students of this University,” Di Cicco said in a speech in front of the crowd at the event.


The Death of an Adjunct

The inspiration for part-time professors to form the USW Local 1088 union did not happen on a whim. In 2013, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published an article by Daniel Kovalik titled “Death of an Adjunct,” written in response to the tragic death of former Duquesne University adjunct professor Margaret Mary Vojtko.

After teaching French at Duquesne for 25 years, Vojtko received a letter from Adult Protective Services saying that she needed public assistance to take care of herself. (According to the Labor Center at the University of California Berkeley from 2015, 25% of part-time faculty are on public assistance.)

Duquesne stripped Vojtko’s courses away from her over the years, eventually “letting her go” for being “too old and too sick,” according to Kovalik’s story. Although, at 83 years old with cancer, she never missed a day of class and had “many glowing evaluations from students.” Her loss of employment thrust the woman with health problems to be stuck in extreme poverty, ending with a deadly heart attack.

Kovalik wrote “Death of an Adjunct” after becoming friends with Vojtko during her time of distress, and talking her through difficult times. He is an adjunct professor of Law at the University of Pittsburgh in addition  to a human and labor rights lawyer. “I may have been the last person she called before she died,” said Kovalik.


Point Park Part-Timers Joining the Fight

When Sharon Brady, USW Local 1088 Vice President and part-time Theater Arts professor at Point Park saw this story, she became so “morally outraged” that she and others began the effort to unionize other part-timers. They started organizing the faculty in 2013, won the vote in 2014, and got certified with their first contract in November of 2015.

“Unionizing shed a light on the issue,” said Brady, “because many people didn’t even know what an adjunct was.”

The “Death of an Adjunct” article also inspired Point Park part-time professor Richard Schiavoni, who works three part-time jobs to survive, to join the unionization efforts. Since he is not provided with healthcare through the University, he was in shock when receiving his medical bills after visiting a specialist from sickness.

“It really opened my eyes,” said Schiavoni. “I could always afford to pay my healthcare, but not if I got really sick. I don’t want to end up like Mary.”


A Day In The Life of a Part-Time Professor

Richard Schiavoni: part-time professor in Point Park’s Humanities and Social Sciences department

Richard Schiovani wakes up at 5 a.m. Monday through Thursday so that he can make it to his first job at the Valley Mirror newspaper in Munhall, Pa., before heading downtown to Point Park to teach classes. After squeezing in meeting with students, grading papers, preparing lectures, and answering emails, he drives back to the newspaper to finish his work there. (It takes twenty minutes to drive between each destination.) On the weekends, Schiavoni is also a photographer.

Schiavoni says that after taxes, he’ll take home about $6,000 from Point Park for three courses in one semester. He had been a part-time professor at Point Park for five years before he began seeing the pay increase within his own paycheck (which was once the unionization process started). He says that he’s known adjuncts who have been teaching for 20 years who have never seen an increase in their paychecks, since unionization hadn’t happened yet.

He calls the world he is working in “the gig economy,” because it takes a few “gigs” to make one income. Because of this, he practices creative budgeting to safeguard how he spends his money. He once carried his iPhone 6 around with him for four-and-a-half years, getting to the point of having to carry an extra battery attached to it. While he says he could have purchased a new phone, it all goes back to creative budgeting.

“It looked like I was carrying a corded phone around,” he said. “There are months where I live paycheck to paycheck, and some months where I go a little over,” said Schiavoni.

Despite earning two master’s degrees, Schiavoni was nominated for a Distinguished Teaching Award by his students, but was told by administration that he does not qualify for it since he is a part-time professor and not full-time.


Carol Lorenz: part-time professor in Point Park’s Conservatory of Performing Arts and School of Communication

On a typical Monday morning, Carol Lorenz wakes up at 5 a.m. to drive into Downtown Pittsburgh so she can teach courses within the Conservatory of Performing Arts and the School of Communication at Point Park. She then drives to Robert Morris to teach more humanities classes, then drives back to Point Park to work in the Tutoring Center for the rest of the afternoon. She sometimes substitute teaches at local high schools, and spends the remainder of her time grading student outlines or completing research.

She received her Ph.D. in Theater from the University of Pittsburgh, and is a member, trustee, and steward of the USW Local 1088 union.

“People didn’t know children were being taught by people who didn’t get paid well,” said Lorenz. “My friends who aren’t in higher education ask me how they can help. I tell them that when they’re going on college tours, ask the tour guides what percent of the faculty are adjuncts? How much do they get paid?”

While Lorenz ping-pongs back and forth between many different workspaces, her office is located in her home. She says that she does not have an office space at Point Park, which she says does not allow for much collaboration and communication between her and her colleagues.

“It would be wonderful and helpful to have somewhere you can go and work,” says Lorenz. “There’s no real opportunity for contact. You get to know each other by seeing each other, and without someplace central, it does not foster much communication.”


Girard Holt: part-time professor in Point Park’s Conservatory of Performing Arts

On a typical Wednesday, Girard Holt teaches dance classes at Point Park and Seton Hill, two universities that are about an hour away from each other. He also teaches at the Pennsylvania Academy of Dance in Sewickley, Pa., and teaches dance on the weekends.

Holt says that one benefit of unionization that has benefitted him is union-negotiated “preferential hiring pool,” where part-time faculty who have been teaching at the school consistently are given priority to choose their course assignments, and which may result in more definitive scheduling.

“Before unionization, our schedules would go out the week before classes started,” said Holt. “Now, there’s more of a push to have classes finalized, making it easier for the adjuncts to incorporate their other jobs into their schedules as soon as possible.”


“Adjuncts” Aren’t What They Used To Be

An “adjunct” looks different now than what they have looked like in the past, according to Robin Sowards, Organizer and Researcher for the United Steelworkers. He says that part-time professors used to be people who were teaching on the side as a hobby, not teaching for a career. “They’d bring some special expertise to the table,” said Sowards. “Like a tax lawyer teaches one course in tax law. They’d be a practitioner.”

Sowards says that today, many people who intended to become full-time professors ended up falling into their positions as part-time professors, because less and less full-time positions are available. “They treat people in this disposable way,” he said.

The National Center for Education Statistics stated in its “The Condition of Education” 2017 report that over a twenty-year period (from 1995 to 2015) the number of full-time faculty at postsecondary institutions increased by 47%, while the number of part-time faculty increased by 95%.

Di Cicco earned his Ph.D. in Communications from the University of Washington. “What you end up with is a lot of people like myself, who have PhDs and graduated from doctoral programs with plans to be career academics, who were unable to find full-time positions,” he says. “People end up in this hamster wheel of driving around to two or three different schools to try to cobble together enough classes to make a living. Universities figured out it’s a lot cheaper to hire four adjuncts than one tenured faculty member.”

Sowards said that universities have a “structural incentive” to poorly pay their part-time faculty, because they produce more and more people with graduate degrees, but have fewer livable jobs for them. Universities make money off of these future “adjuncts” while they’re in graduate school, but then don’t fairly compensate them upon graduation when they’re looking for a job in a university, Sowards explains.


Full-Time Faculty Have Their Backs

Part-timers at Point Park have more support than just that of each other’s; full-time faculty also are supportive of them. Karen Dwyer, a full-time professor of creative writing classes in the Literary Arts and Social Justice Department at Point Park, says that the part-time faculty are their “allies.”

Point Park full-time faculty has been a part of the Newspaper Guild Union since 2017, forming Local 38061, where Dwyer is the chair. “We stand with our colleagues in the part-time union,” said Dwyer. “Professors are grossly underpaid in the Pittsburgh area.”

While the immediate concerns of full-time and part-time professors differ, Dwyer says that they are all advocating for the same things through their unions: compensation and security. She says that if the part-time faculty decided to go on strike, the full-timers would refuse against the administration to substitute in for them. “We would stand with them,” Dwyer.


Grievance Procedures

Another main advancement that the unionization process has made is a grievance procedure. If a part-time professor feels that their rights have been violated or not respected under their contract, such as a course being unjustly taken away from them, or being discriminated against on the basis of gender or race, they now have the option to file a grievance.

Once they file, they can sit down with administration and talk it out. If the adjunct and administration can’t reach an agreement, they have the option of taking that grievance to an arbitrator. While Di Cicco says that they have never had to reach this at Point Park, “It is a really useful tool to have in your toolbox.”

“Normally, under the law and without a union contract, you’re an at-will employee in the state of Pennsylvania, and that means they can fire you at any time, for any reason, or for no reason,” said Sowards.


For the Right Reasons

Di Cicco said it’s important to remember that part-time professors aren’t teaching to become rich, they are all committed to teaching students. Although, “Just because someone doesn’t do it for the money, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be paid reasonably,” said Di Cicco.

United SteelWorkers members and University faculty members say that they are trying to put the needs of the students above everything else. “If somebody has to work four jobs, they don’t have any time to meet with you, they don’t have time to respond to your emails in a prompt fashion, they may not have time to do more labor-intensive kinds of assignments that will take them longer to grade,” said Sowards.


How Can You Help?

To support the part-time faculty at Point Park University, people are encouraged to sign their online petition. “The University is sensitive to public perceptions,” said Di Cicco. “This will turn up the heat on the University.”