Editorial: Part-time lecturers deserve better contract

The elephant head statue that adorns the entrance to Dowling Hall, home of the Career Center, is pictured on Aug 20, 2014. Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily Archive

We all know that a Tufts University diploma is an exorbitantly priced piece of paper. Somewhere along the line, we have decided to justify steep tuitions and forthcoming debt with the notion that it will all be worthwhile. We will graduate with a sterling education, coated with wisdom passed down from prudent professors. But if professors are so pivotal in our educational experience, why don’t we pay them all that way?

We have fruit-infused water in our dining halls, heavily discounted Cirque du Soleil tickets and a glittering new Science and Engineering Complex, but some part-time lecturers hired to teach two classes a semester (the same number as many tenured professors) make only $29,200 a year before taxes. 

Is this how much a university should value its professors? More importantly, is this a fair reflection of the value professors give to the university? The answer to both of these questions is a resounding no.

Tufts part-time lecturers’ union is currently engaged in a long-fought battle with the administration, pushing for better pay and job security. If left unsettled by Wednesday, these negotiations may manifest in a walkout, an event entitled “A Day Without Lecturers.” Part-time lecturers, instead of teaching, will unite in a demonstration to send a message to the administration.

Professors should not have to take to the street in protest for the Tufts administration to hear them. Tufts needs to prioritize fair pay for the lecturers who work with students.

To the university’s credit, it did reach a collective bargaining agreement with part-time lecturers in 2014 that significantly increased pay and benefits for part-time faculty. However, the administration has seemingly used this as a way to wash its hands of further negotiation, even though there is still a long way to go for fair pay. Full-time assistant professors in the School of Arts and Sciences made an average of $82,584 last year. Compare that to the most recent collective bargaining agreement, in which part-time lecturers in some departments are promised a base salary of $7,300 per course. That means a lecturer teaching 11 courses in one year, a preposterous amount, still would not make as much as the average full-time Arts and Sciences professor.

Despite clearly underpaying its lecturers, Tufts continues to do it simply because it can. This salary discrepancy does not seem to hinder the hiring of part-time lecturers, as the supply of Ph.D.s far outpaces the demand from universities. Yet just because the university can underpay professors doesn’t mean it should.

Some argue that Tufts may not have sufficient funds to allocate to part-time lecturers. It is true that although Tufts tuition fares similarly to other highly selective universities, the endowment is lower than many. However, Tufts can surely reassess its $1.6 billion endowment to make room for professors’ pay. Indeed, with a $905 million budget (FY16), raising pay for the 405 part-time lecturers by $1,000 per course would, assuming each lecturer teaches two courses per semester, come out to an additional $1,620,000. While that may seem like a large number, it’s less than one percent of our total budget.

Such arguments that the university does not have the money to pay anything close to this amount simply do not hold water, especially in light of the Central Energy Plant construction project and other ambiguous auxiliary enterprises. 

The most effective way to allocate funds might be to slow hiring of extraneous administration members. The Tufts 2016—2017 Fact Book lists hundreds of administrative positions that are much further removed from the lives of students than part-time lecturers are. The finance division, for example, includes a vice president for finance and treasurer, two senior directors, four directors and two bursars. If Tufts could cut down its number of administrative roles, it would save a large sum of money to better pay its part-time lecturers.

Part-time lecturers work just as hard, if not harder, than their full-time colleagues. Many students don’t even know what their professors’ status is, because they all invest immense energy and make major sacrifices to teach us. James Rizzi, a Ph.D. candidate at Tufts, put it best in his op-ed, writing, “What amounts to a negligible part of the university’s budget could allow for pay increases that mean the world to the lecturers.” The university needs to understand this, and act accordingly. Show your support for your professors by joining the picket line this Wednesday at 8 a.m. on Professors Row and the rally at 12 p.m. on the Academic Quad.