‘Something has to give:’ CSU faculty petition University for living wages

Samantha Ye

Students aren’t the only people bearing financial woes at the University.

A petition launched last Monday titled “Fair Pay for Faculty at Colorado State University” highlights the struggle non-tenure track faculty have in obtaining a livable base salary.

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“Non-tenure track faculty are paid 30% below the cost of living in Fort Collins and can be subject to variable teaching schedules that lower pay even further,” a flyer about the petition reads. “There are examples of NTTF, some of whom have been working here for decades, living under difficult and even dangerous conditions across CSU campus.”

The petition demands that CSU implement guaranteed minimum salaries for non-tenure-track faculty next fall, starting with at least $52,000 per year for all full-time faculty working at CSU. The flyer states this can be done without raising tuition rates.

We talk so much about climate and culture, and I can tell you that among a lot of us, it’s not very positive.” -Denise Apodaca, non-tenure track faculty in music

Launched last Monday, the petition has collected over 800 signatures in six days. The goal is for 1,000 signatures by May 3.

Online comments indicate a wide range of supporters from past and present CSU faculty to alumni and current students, as well as general community members.

“This school would be nothing without the instructors and professors that make waking up every morning easy,” one petition comment read. “I know my tuition alone could raise the salary of one instructor, imagine what a school of 30,000 could do. Support those who support us.”

The petition was launched by Justice for Non-Tenure Track Faculty at CSU, a small, temporary group that was formed for the sole purpose for managing the petition, said Dan Stephen, the lead of the group.

flyer about adjunct pay petition
Flyers alerting people to the petition to establish a living wage for non-tenure track faculty around campus.

According to flyers, the issue is also supported by the Committee for Non-Tenure Track Faculty, the official NTTF representation of CSU, though Stephen said the group did not have any involvement in creating the petition.

After the petition closes in two weeks, Stephen said the goal is to present these signatures to administration and hopefully open up negotiations.

Faculty pay has been a longstanding issue at CSU, but with President Tony Frank leaving in June, now is a critical transition opportunity to enact actual change, Stephen said.

“Tony Frank has brought a lot of changes to the University, and some of the changes have been fairly dramatic,” Stephen said. “But at the same time that we’ve had improvement in research on campus and buildings on campus, the issue of salaries for non-tenure track faculty has been completely left behind.”

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The Frank administration only started addressing NTTF concerns last year, Stephen said. It resulted in new rank definitions and a promotional ladder but pay remained untouched.

Frank’s replacement could bring a different story.

CSU’s new presidential hire Joyce McConnell has shown a reputation of successfully promoting gender equity and raising faculty salaries, according to CSU Source. Stephen said they hope to appeal to McConnell for a change in the current pay system.

Professor Apodaca enjoys singing with her music appreciation class. (Collegian file photo)

Denise Apodaca, a full-time music instructor, said it will be imperative McConnell address the common exhaustion among NTTF from needing second jobs, from teaching massive lecture classes and from feeling undervalued by their institution.

“We talk so much about climate and culture, and I can tell you that among a lot of us, it’s not very positive,” Apodaca said. “And it needs to be addressed seriously because I don’t think it’s going to die….Something has to give.”

In an email to The Collegian, Mike Hooker, director of public affairs and communications for CSU, wrote the University is “continually assessing the quality of life for all of our faculty and staff” and shares the goals of improving compensation and job security for NTTF.

“While we feel good about the progress that has been made, we share in the sense that more work needs to be done to keep us moving forward, and that we cannot allow progress to be rolled back,” Hooker wrote. “We look forward to continuing to work with all those involved in efforts on behalf of NTTF.”

What’s the situation?

Stephen, a specialty faculty appointment in the history department, has been at CSU since 2008, just like Frank. Unlike Frank however, Stephen said he has only seen his income stream fall over the last ten years.

Stephen is one of the hundreds of NTTF employed by Colorado State University to teach on a contractual basis. That means they are offered teaching opportunities and thus receive fluctuating course loads (and therefore salaries) dependent on the department’s needs.

Currently, Stephen teaches four classes per semester and gets paid $5,000 each. That brings him to a salary of $40,000, far below Fort Collins’ median household income of $60,110, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Stephen said he has spent years living in “shoebox apartments” and furnishing secondhand. Since being diagnosed with cancer, he has not even been able to hold his old part-time jobs, further cutting into his financial security.

Currently, a full-time, special faculty instructor’s mean salary is $43,406 to $77,967 per year, varying by college, according to a 2018 report from CSU’s Institutional Research, Planning and Effectiveness service. The College of Liberal Arts pays the lowest, as NTTF issues are highly concentrated there, though the issues are campus-wide, Stephen said.

Despite the progress in NTTF rankings and representation, the lack of attention paid to salaries demonstrates how NTTF are used as a “low-wage workforce” to subsidize other University activities, Stephen said.

He pointed to the many courses with over 100 students per class (a problem itself), where the large number of students brings in money for the school but the NTTF who teach them receive low compensation.

About 41% of CSU’s 1,884 faculty are not tenure-track, according to the IRPE report. This reflects a larger national trend of moving away from tenure-track positions, according to the Association of American Colleges & Universities.

2018 analysis by the American Association of University Professors shows that nationwide, 73% of all faculty positions are off the tenure track when including part-time and graduate students.

Faculty equity issues are not limited to pay, either.

Certain NTTF ranks are hired on an “at will” basis meaning the appointment is subject to termination by either party at any time.

Apodaca is familiar with the instability those offers can cause. After a successful first year of teaching in 2012, she was not rehired due to budget problems. She was invited back two months later, but, as she says, “those two months were hell.”

Now, around seven years later, she teaches five classes a semester for $1,667 per course credit and must hold two other part-time jobs to sustain her family as Fort Collins’ cost of living continues to rise.

And while that has not stopped her from earning high accolades from her students, Apodaca knows she can’t keep this up forever.

“It’s hard sometimes to find the energy to put all of me into fully commit to one institution when I feel like they haven’t committed into me,” Apodaca said. “To stand there, I feel devalued and ignored, not by my students but by the administration, and it’s deflating.”

What has been the response?

“Surprising,” Stephen said. “The response was surprising.”

The petition racked up 50 signatures within an hour of it being sent out and sits at 811 signatures as of Sunday evening.

Some of the signers rally behind specific instructors, others criticize the University and many call for a change. Apodaca, who has signed the petition, said reading the comments left on the petition was validating.

Apodaca says most undergraduate students are probably not aware of these issues, despite NTTF teaching 60% of undergraduate classes, according to a 2016 Collegian article

Since NTTF do teach so many undergrad classes, their situation is important to students’ quality of education, Stephen said. And right now, students are getting “a very tired teacher,” Apodaca said.

The response was surprising.” -Dan Stephen, non-tenure track faculty instructor in history

So whether or not a student chooses to sign the petition, at least the knowledge of the problems has been put out there, she said.

“Even at the end of the day, even if I don’t get a raise…at least I know there’s a community of people who are pulling for us and know now,” Apodaca said.

Administration definitely seems aware of the petition, Apodaca said, though she fears they may just return a previously discussed 10% wage increase, which for her is an extra $4,000 a year.

But between CoNTTF gaining traction in the last years, the CSU community taking more notice of the issue and now Joyce McConnell becoming president, this could be the moment, Apodaca said, for a real cost-of-living wage.

“I don’t know what will happen,” Apodaca said. “But I will always have hope.”

Samantha Ye can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @samxye4.