Your Check is In the Mail

University adjuncts say paycheck glitch proves status


About 160 full-time and adjunct Boise State University professors teaching summer courses were recently told their pay would be delayed this month, since the office responsible for filing employment paperwork missed the deadline to process instructors' contracts because it was understaffed. Some of those affected by the glitch say it showcases a problem every bit as pervasive as understaffing.

The delay was due to "the heavy workload caused by processing the 1 percent pay increase for classified, professional staff and faculty," according to a campus-wide memo sent June 7 from Linda Urquidi, director of summer programs at Extended Studies. The original pay date was slated July 1, but according to the memo, those teaching the three affected summer sessions would receive pay July 15. The university approved the pay increase as a permanent raise to boost salaries to a competitive level, school officials said.

Travis Adams, an adjunct at the university for the past year, was one of the 92 part-time instructors affected and one of 11 who fought the pay stall, asking for his paycheck at the date it was originally scheduled. Adams told BW he contacted Urquidi, who blamed Human Resources for the stall. He then called Human Resources, which blamed Extended Studies.

"It doesn't make a difference to me which office's mistake it was," Adams explained. "But now faculty members are being held accountable and punished for a mistake that's nothing to do with them. No one made a mistake on the faculty's part, yet it's going to affect us."

Adams said an assistant to the provost contacted him after repeated calls to several departments, saying she would work to get him paid by July 1. About 45 minutes after he talked to the provost, Adams said, he received a phone message at home that he had been run through payroll and would get paid on the first of July.

The following morning, he said, Extended Studies phoned him confirming he would get paid on the first of July-but that wasn't all. "The twist of this phone message was that they asked me not to tell anyone else that I would get paid early," Adams said. "That phone message probably got me more fired up than anything else up to that point."

Rachel Burgess, who has taught for the English and History departments, said she expected a late paycheck due to her previous experiences of being a contract employee.

"A delay happens each semester you get your contract, so you're getting paid two weeks into it, sometimes you don't get paid until a month later," she said. "I'd been calling about my contract well before school started; I knew something was up. I knew I wasn't going to get paid when I thought."

Burges was shaken, though, when like Adams she was asked not divulge that she was getting paid early.

"I made a big stink for myself to deal with this personally. So when I talked with Linda Urquidi, she told me not to tell anyone. She said 'This is a special thing we're doing for you.'

"In my experience, they were not open and honest about any of this. And the reason being is that they didn't want anyone to know, so they can keep up appearances. You can't go around telling people this is a great university and you cut funding and slight staff.

"I'm just another person who teaches three sections of composition. I get no insurance; there's no incentive for me to continue on in my educational pursuit. (The English department) does not offer adjuncts to take classes for free. What does that say about the university?"

Sona Andrews, Boise State's provost and the vice president of academic affairs, said the paycheck debacle was unfortunate because it made the "part-time instructors feel undervalued. But these people are highly valued at the institution." She confirmed, however, that special, early paychecks were cut for anyone who made a request. Urquidi refused comment on the issue of the pay delay, transferring questions to the dean of the department. Repeated calls to the dean's office were unreturned by press time.

Provost Andrews apologized for the pay delay and said the adjuncts should not feel marginalized. But several adjuncts say they still feel unappreciated.

"It's the whole issue of contingent labor in the university with adjuncts," Adams said. "Adjunct means extra. Adjuncts in the English department teach a majority of classes without which regular faculty would not be able to teach what they do. We carry a lot of the teaching load, and yet we do not get rewarded with pay or benefits-not just health care, but even small benefits of taking classes for a discount, parking or access to the recreation center."

Standards for Boise State's adjunct professors are not uniform across department lines. Mathematics adjunct instructor Joanna Guild, who was also affected by the pay delay, said her department pays for its adjuncts to take classes. But, she complained, the 16 adjuncts in her department work on computers running Windows 95 in a shared office. She and her peers also must pay for parking, and they receive no guarantee of future employment, since the classes doled to adjuncts are kept only if registration is high enough.

Carissa Sindon, who taught as an adjunct with the Sociology department, said the university can cut corners in the face of tight budgets by employing adjuncts, who don't receive health insurance or other benefits packages.

"They hire us so they don't have to hire professors with wages and decent benefits," she said. "It's highly exploitative, because I taught two classes, and if they gave me another class, I should have had benefits and a $30,000 (a year) job. It's a way of downsizing. It's not like things were really that bad for me, but I didn't feel as valued as I could have."

Kerri Webster, who has taught poetry workshops part time at Boise State for two years, said she enjoys teaching at the university, but it's not perfect being an adjunct. "My problem is not the little paycheck blip," she said. "It's with the adjunct system itself. In terms of the work I do, the salary is not equitable, but it's not the university's fault. The university is doing the best with the budget they have."

Webster said this is a nationwide phenomenon, with more universities relying on adjunct and teachers' assistants to deal with growing classes. "(Adjuncts) are cheap," she said. "With a growing university, the adjunct is the cheapest labor. We all do a heck of a lot for what we are paid, but in general, adjuncts don't work for the money, they do it because they love to teach."