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Boise State History Dept. Adjuncts: They're History

Boise State history department loses adjunct and lecturer funding

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On Monday, March 2, Joanne Klein was called into Shelton Woods' office. Klein is the chair of the Boise State University Department of History, and Woods is her boss—the associate dean of the College of Social Sciences and Public Affairs.

"He said 'something has come up,'" Klein told Boise Weekly. "Then he told me and my incoming chair that funding had been cut for the adjuncts and the lecturers [in the history department]."

Klein was shocked. She said no one had consulted the history department before the decision was made.

The fall semester schedule was already made, though it's not open for enrollment yet. Klein said the news sent her scrambling and she had to cancel seven classes for the 2015-2016 academic year. She typically brings on five to eight adjuncts to carry the class load and relies on two additional full-time lecturers, as well. Not anymore.

"There was nothing we could say," Klein said. "It was a done deal."

According to Woods, the university's budget is being reduced after student enrollment for the current spring semester fell short of projections. He also said a new curriculum put in place a few years ago doesn't require students to take a history course, so enrollment in the department is down. Meanwhile, Boise State reduced the number of credits required to graduate with a bachelor's degree from 128 to 120.

Because of changing program priorities, Woods said instructional money is being funneled away from the history department. And, he cautioned, the "history [department] is not going to be alone in this."

That doesn't bode well for Boise State's adjuncts, who have had an increasingly chilly relationship with the university's administration. The part-time instructors earn an average salary of $18,000 per year and struggle with job insecurity as they are hired temporarily with no assurance they'll be re-hired from semester to semester. Because their positions are considered part-time and temporary, they don't get raises, health insurance or retirement benefits.

In early March, a handful of adjuncts took part in a walkout to bring attention to their low wages and lack of benefits.

"A single parent with two kids on my wage would qualify for food stamps," said adjunct instructor Dana Hathaway.

She was disappointed with the turnout of the demonstration, but added that it's clear why adjuncts would steer clear of a public protest. Because they are at-will employees and can be told at any time they won't be hired back, they tend to keep their mouths shut, Hathaway said. Many adjuncts—and even tenured professors—aren't comfortable talking on the record about the issue.

Yet the university relies heavily on them, with adjuncts making up almost half the instructional staff. One of the reasons for that, according to Boise State Provost Martin Schimpf, is flexibility.

"That's what adjunct funding is about," Schimpf said. "It's about having some flexibility to move where your instructional dollars are going."

Schimpf said there has been a 40 percent decline in enrollment in the history department during the past five years. He said enrollment is shifting to classes in science and engineering, and he doesn't think the lack of adjunct funding in the history department will have a big impact.

"We believe [the history department] can offer whatever's needed without creating bottlenecks with the tenure track faculty that they have," Schimpf said. "There may be a boutique or specialty course here or there they might not offer, but it shouldn't have any impact on the progression of the students."

However, Klein confirmed that a section of introductory history was cut, as well as some survey courses.

"We won't have enough people to teach them," she said.

Schimpf added that the university is looking at "a couple hundred thousand dollars" worth of instructional costs to move around. Though he also said the cuts won't end with history.

"History was an obvious one," Schimpf said. "I'm not ready to give you the specifics, but we know history will be among them."

When Erik Hadley accepted his job as a history lecturer, he was excited to leave behind the job insecurity of adjunct instruction. He taught as an adjunct for four years before he was offered the permanent position last spring.

"It's like a dream job for me," Hadley said. "It's rewarding to have the department recognize your teaching. This was a filled lecturer position so the person who had it before me had it for over a decade. I wasn't worried when I took the position. It didn't occur to me that it could be cut."

Hadley learned on March 3 that he was going to be out of a job. He taught a section of Western Civilization from 9-10:15 a.m., and after he finished, he walked back to the history department's office and was chatting with a colleague when the department chair, Joanne Klein, came in.

"She had this shocked look on her face," he said. "She asked me and Ray [Krohn, the other lecturer whose position will be cut] and she just basically said, 'This is what I was told by Shelton Woods.' She didn't know what to say. I didn't know what to say. Ray had to go teach a class, I don't know how he did it."

Hadley left the office and called his wife, who was already distraught over their teenage son's recent rock climbing accident, which left him with a fractured vertebrae and strapped into a back brace for the next month.

"We've had a pretty tough week," he said.

Unlike the department's adjuncts, as a lecturer Hadley will teach through next year, which gives him time to start looking for another teaching job. He said it's still hard to accept he's no longer needed.

In this past academic year, he estimates that he's taught close to 400 students. He's taught several introductory history courses as well as upper division classes on medieval and early modern British history, a class on the French Revolution and a senior research seminar, plus summer session classes.

Hadley is only contracted to teach four classes each semester, but he took on an additional class in the fall and the spring to help keep up with demand. He said he's taught at 125 percent of his contract for a year and doesn't see the declining enrollment that prompted the job cuts.

"I don't know what the administration is looking at," Hadley said. "I can say from my perspective—in the trenches—my classes are really full. The provost, the deans, the president, they have a birds-eye view of things that's different from mine. ... But when you take in all the students I've taught and all the classes, I guess it's hard to square that my position isn't a revenue generator."

When he met with the associate dean of the college, Shelton Woods, he also heard allusions to cuts happening in other departments.

"[Woods] said we would be notified, but the only notification I've seen is through the news, and I've just seen the history positions," Hadley said. "It seems increasingly not university-wide, but very specific to the history department."

Schimpf said it comes down to retaining programs that can pay for themselves through enrollment revenue. The history department and Department of Community and Regional Planning, which is being phased out over the next two years, have to be subsidized. Without more money coming from the Legislature, Schimpf said "we just can't afford to subsidize them anymore."

Continuing to raise tuition to fund enrollment growth is also not an option, he said.

If saving money is the goal, the decision leaves some wondering why such relatively inexpensive employees are being let go. One university faculty member, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of "reprisal," pointed out that despite a budget crisis, Boise State is expanding.

The school created three new colleges this year—the School of Public Service, the Venture College and the College of Innovation and Design. It purchased part of the building in BoDo that houses the Andrus Center as well as two floors of a new building to be built at the City Center Plaza.

"We're concerned that the hiring freeze is only for people who make less than $200,000," the faculty member said. "The most cost-effective employees of all are the ones that are being fired. ... The people who were let go, they were stars. The state of Idaho invested heavily in those people."

Schimpf said he expects that as a few more years go by with the new curriculum, enrollment numbers will even out and employment at the university will be more stable. But for teachers like Hadley, it's hard to stomach.

"I understand that they need to cut costs and reallocate, but from where I sit, I feel like I've done quite a bit of teaching and the demand is there, at least in the classes I teach," Hadley said. "You don't have to be at the birds-eye view to see that."