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Boise State Adjuncts: 'It's a Broken System'

Boise State adjuncts stage walkout on wages, benefits, security

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Some Boise State adjuncts say students suffer because of low wages paid to the part-time instructors, particularly when it comes to being available for one-on-one time during office hours outside of classes.

On Feb. 25, several Boise State University adjunct professors gathered in the quad to talk about the importance of benefits, higher wages and greater job security as part of National Adjunct Walkout Day.

Standing at a folding table stacked with flyers and bright red stickers reading "A is for Adjunct," Dana Hathaway led the demonstration, which grew to more than 60 people. She explained the plight of adjuncts to onlookers.

"I'm paid to teach about fairness," Hathaway said. "Yet I'm not treated that way."

The issue has been simmering at Boise State for at least a year. Many of the university's adjuncts work nearly full-time hours but take home a little more than $1,000 per month.

Hathaway said she teaches three classes and makes about $18,000 per year. She doesn't receive any retirement contribution or health insurance from the university.

"A single parent with two kids on my wage would qualify for food stamps," she told BW.

Hathaway brought her Philosophy 103 class to experience the walkout, which she said fits nicely into her curriculum. She said her class will study income equality in the next few weeks.

"It's strange that you earn less than what I'm going to end up earning once I graduate," said Tylana Davis, one of Hathaway's students. "Once I graduate and become a nurse, I'm going to earn a lot more money than you. You guys are teaching me so I can go earn more money than you earn."

Hathaway thinks her students suffer because of the low wages paid to adjuncts, specifically when it comes to being available for one-on-one time during office hours outside of classes. Many adjuncts work part-time jobs to supplement their teaching income.

"Oftentimes, you'll see faculty at the local Starbucks meeting with their students because they don't have an office," Hathaway added. "That's shameful. That's not how it should be."

Cristen Iris isn't a student or an adjunct; she works in Boise State's Risk Management and Insurance Office. She stood near Hathaway holding a sign that read, "Alumni for Adjuncts—A is for Alumni for Fair Wages." She said she receives benefits and is better paid than her adjunct colleagues.

"The custodial staff gets benefits and paid more than adjuncts," Iris said.

Standing on the edge of the demonstration, Elizabeth Barnes, an adjunct, said she was disappointed by the turnout.

"There are 550 of us that could be out here," Barnes said, referring to the total number of adjuncts at the university. She pointed out she had to pay a babysitter so she could attend. She said that's hard for people in her situation to do.

Barnes planned to host teach-ins for her classes all day, letting her students know that the average annual salary for Boise State adjunct instructors hovers around $17,000. Adjuncts make up about half of the university's faculty, yet they are not given benefits and are considered temporary employees.

"It's a broken system," Barnes said. "Someday hopefully something will change."

Hathaway was also disappointed that she didn't see more adjuncts willing to walk out with their students. She understands why, though.

"Not many instructors are willing to walk out. We are at-will employees, so I could very well be told, 'You know what? We're not going to hire you back next term,'" Hathaway said. "I've accepted that. I don't really have a whole lot to lose. I'm not making lots of money and there's little chance of getting a full-time job here because most faculty here are part-timers. It's just gotten to a point where I've had it."