Labor Day, 2016
Tony Frank, President, Colorado State University
Benjamin C. Withers, Dean, College of Liberal Arts
Greg Luft, Chair, Department of Journalism and Media Communication
Rick Miranda, Provost and Executive Vice President
Dan Bush, Vice Provost
Grant Polzer, Business and Financial Services
As a journalist of 30 years and an instructor in Colorado State’s Department of Journalism for 17, I thought I knew better than anyone the power of words. But I hadn’t experienced their full force until I received my offer letter for this academic year. It began:
We are pleased to offer you a part-time special 9-month appointment at the academic rank of special Instructor at Colorado State University at a starting 9-month salary of $40,120, plus benefits, and a start date of August 16, 2016.
That one sentence literally changed my life—as it would for any adjunct professor. It said the work I do with students has real value. It said that sharing three decades of excellence in my profession with people aspiring to join that profession meant as much to society as getting the toppings right on a person’s sandwich. That one sentence meant I could spend more time with my students and researching the many changes in my field and less time on projects to bring in much-needed supplemental income.
I spent last month living that new life, in a world where University officials recognized the contributions of adjuncts. And then payday arrived and that new life ended. My salary is half what the letter stated; roughly $5,000 per semester per class or $20,000 for the academic year. This was a shock considering that my offer letter nowhere mentioned the stated number was a full-time salary. I’m part-time and have been my entire tenure at the University.
As a freelance writer I’ve signed hundreds of contracts for my work. I have gotten paid by the hour, by the article, by the inch and even by the word. I understand contracts, but I’ve never seen one where I would be getting paid half the amount appearing in the contract. My last 32 offer letters were for the semester and have stated the amount I would make per class. That amount was roughly $4,000 when I started in 2000 and was $4,750 per class in the spring semester of this year.
Typically I would be thrilled with $60-a-month raise. After all, I’ve gotten used to teaching at the college level for compensation hovering near minimum wage. I’ve accepted this unacceptable wage because, like other adjuncts, I teach not for money, but because I love what I do.
I love the moment when a student who has struggled with a concept finally gets it. I cherish the letters from past students saying that my class set them on the road to the success they are now enjoying. And honestly I care for my students as individuals. Many of my students are freshman, away from home for the first time, and need to know that someone on this teeming campus sees them, hears them and cares if they are OK.
I’ve gotten used to teaching as an act of charity, but then I got this year’s offer letter and believed it could be something more. After a glimpse into that world, I’m finding it difficult to go back into a system that thrives on the unjust subservience of others. I find it difficult to explain why I work with such dedication for such little compensation. I find it difficult to explain to my students and my own daughters, because I would never want any of them to be exploited this way.
Perhaps most importantly, after finding out I won’t be receiving an equitable salary, I can no longer explain this exploitation to myself.
You most likely expect me to end this letter with my resignation. I’ve already met my students for the semester and will not put them in the position of losing an instructor once class has begun. Maybe I need to take a stand and quit before next semester starts. Maybe after I voice my opinions in this letter I won’t be asked back next academic year. Both of those options sadden me because I’m good at what I do, I love what I do and there are so many students out there yet to meet and usher into the noble profession of journalism.
Thank you for reading this letter and giving consideration to its contents.
Instructor, Department of Journalism and Media Communication
CC: Amparo Jeffrey, HR Liaison
Jennifer Aberle, Adjunct Committee
Newsdesk, Rocky Mountain Collegian
Newsdesk, Fort Collins Coloradoan
Newsdesk, The Denver Post