A major contract provision for adjuncts
Meeting one-on-one with students is work that many adjunct instructors have done for years at CUNY, often without pay. Starting this semester, teaching adjuncts are being compensated for this time.
Adjuncts who teach three or more classroom contact hours at a single college are now responsible for and paid for 15 additional office hours per semester. The number of paid office hours is doubled for those teaching six classroom contact hours at one college, and tripled for those teaching nine.
The addition of paid office hours represents one of the biggest contractual gains the PSC has made, as it boosts teaching adjunct pay significantly and provides tens of thousands of students with access to scheduled time with their instructors outside of class. In addition, the new provision recognizes the professionalism of adjuncts and takes a step toward further incorporating adjuncts into the academic life of their departments.
A WIN FOR STUDENTS
Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez celebrated the new paid office hours saying it “will restructure workloads to enable our faculty to devote more time to working individually with students, and to professional development and other activities that play a key role in our students’ success.”
As with many significant changes to the contract, implementation hasraised several issues, but overall, says PSC President Barbara Bowen, “department chairs have been extraordinarily conscientious in making the hours work, and adjuncts have shown great flexibility and commitment to students in fulfilling them. As one department chair pointed out to me: ‘Adjuncts were doing this work without pay for years. There is no reason to think that they will be anything but responsible and conscientious now that they are being paid.’”
PSC Vice President for Part-Time Personnel Carly Smith said, “We need to make sure adjuncts aren’t being coerced into performing additional, uncompensated labor or forced to hold in-person office hours under inequitable, unreasonable conditions. We’re continuing to educate [department] chairs and adjuncts about the new provision.”
(Adjuncts who are experiencing problems with the new hours or who have questions about implementation should contact the PSC office and speak to an adjunct counselor.)
CUNY adjuncts who spoke to Clarion expressed happiness that they were getting paid for the work, but said colleges need to do a better job of facilitating useful office hours for students. In particular, more private spaces are needed for office hours to ensure confidentiality for students.
Genevieve LaForge, an adjunct lecturer in the philosophy department at John Jay College, has held hours in a shared adjunct office space on campus for years.
“Generally what happens at the beginning of every semester, our departmental administrator sends out an email asking for our syllabi and the office hours we’ll be holding,” LaForge said. “She’ll type up a chart and hang it on the department’s door. [The chart] will list the office hours and what classes we’re teaching and when students can contact us if they want.”
Students typically start visiting her in her office later in the semester, she said.
“If they’re proactive enough, they’ll at least come meet with you before the midterm. Usually, it’s after the midterm because they realize, ‘Oh, okay, I need some help,’” LaForge said.
Under the Memorandum of Agreement, adjunct office hours are to be formalized as directed by the department chair. The union’s expectation is that departments will use the same method of publicizing part-time faculty office hours that they use for hours held by full-timers.
In the psychology department at Baruch College, the implementation of the new office hour provision “has been relatively seamless,” said Jennifer Mangels, the psychology department chair. Mangels said adjuncts in her department typically meet with students in the department’s assigned cubicles.
Noting that adjuncts can use up to three of their office hours for approved professional development, Mangels said. “While we always reviewed syllabi submitted by adjuncts for some mention of how students could contact them and whether they held office hours, we now make sure that an office hour is listed explicitly on the syllabus, and we also post the office hours outside the department (which we do for full-time faculty as well).”
At Brooklyn College, the political science and sociology departments have long provided a shared office space for their adjuncts. “The department has individual cubicles for up to about 20 adjuncts, although we rarely have more than five or six adjuncts at any one time. Adjuncts can use that space for office hours, and some also use it as a personal work space,” said Naomi Braine, chair of the sociology department.
At times, adjuncts find that these shared spaces are a challenging environment.
“Some student conversations need to happen in a private space, as students often raise concerns – medical, financial, family, personal – that should be confidential,” said Susan Fountain, an adjunct professor in human relations at the CUNY School of Professional Studies (SPS). “SPS has been pretty flexible about when and how we do office hours, but I hope that going forward, more spaces will be found that ensure the confidentiality that our students deserve.”
Peter Dudek, PSC adjunct liaison at Hunter College, echoed this concern.
“Many adjuncts do not have an office therefore they hold hours in their classroom. However, even when adjuncts do have an office it’s usually so small, and shared with multiple adjuncts, that it makes it difficult to discuss matters that are personal, political or simply sensitive to their students,” said Dudek, who is also an adjunct associate professor in the art and art history department at Hunter. “This is a problem.”
Dudek has always held office hours in his two decades of working at CUNY, even though he wasn’t paid for most of them. He does not have an office, but he holds an “open studio hour” for students who wish to attend and to seek his guidance.
“That hour can be used as an open studio hour for students to continue working on projects,” Dudek said. “Invariably in art classes there is always a need for more studio time, so this ‘office hour’ allows them to not be concerned about finishing within class time.”
For Trinity Martinez, an adjunct assistant professor of art, limiting the time she spends with students is a challenge she has encountered in her three semesters teaching in the art department at Brooklyn College.
“Last semester I officially held one office hour per week but since I get to campus a few hours before class and stay a while after class ends, and I had students constantly coming to me for help,” Martinez said. “A few students would stay for a full hour and I would have to tell them that other students needed my attention. Basically, it can become overwhelming when combined with lecture prep, grading, and teaching.”