| February 15, 2008 Volume 109 Number 4
Underpaid professors plan to picket PSU
Anyone who thinks being a college professor is a cushy middle-class meal ticket probably hasn’t gotten up close to Oregon’s higher ed system lately.
At Portland State University, a quarter of the classes are taught by part-timers working on term-to-term contracts. Hundreds of PSU adjunct professors have PhDs in their fields and yet gross less than $15,000 a year, with no benefits of any kind.
During any given term, PSU employs over 600 faculty who work half-time or less. About two-thirds are paid the minimum, union-negotiated rate — $676 per credit per term, which works out to $2,704 for a typical four-credit class. While some have full-time employment elsewhere, many others make ends meet by piecing together part-time teaching assignments at PSU and at other area colleges and universities.
Last year, embarrassed at the prospect of malnourished state college professors, the Oregon Legislature approved an 18 percent increase in higher ed funding. PSU, for example, got $23 million more, including $10 million earmarked for faculty raises. So why is PSU’s part-time faculty union having such a terrible time getting an acceptable contract?
The Portland State University Faculty Association Local 3571, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers-Oregon, wants what amounts to 7.5 percent annual raises in base pay in its next two-year contract, which the union estimates would cost $1.4 million.
The PSU administration is offering about 4.5 percent, and says the first raise wouldn’t be retroactive to the June 30, 2007 expiration of the previous contract.
Units at other Oregon colleges have already settled contracts with raises of up to 12 percent, said AFT Staff Rep Eben Pullman. “Why they’re standing so firm is kind of a mystery to us,” Pullman said.
Chief negotiator and unit Vice President Margie McCue says faculty are feeling discouraged; they thought because of the funds released by the Legislature for bringing up faculty salaries that the two sides would be able to come to agreement. “We’re trying to get adjunct salary brought up to a living wage,” McCue says.
After more than nine months of unsuccessful negotiations, the two sides began mediation Feb. 11. The union planned to put up informational picket signs outside Smith Memorial Center on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day —after this issue went to press.
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