Patricia A. Schechter
Professor of history
I don’t know anyone who is happy about summer term at Portland State.
In 2013, the abrupt cancellations of some 90 classes, a number of them fully enrolled, left students in the lurch. This move left faculty scratching their heads and earned PSU undesirable coverage in The Oregonian. In 2014, the summer term budget was cut yet units were expected to maintain student credit hours. Departments responded with a patchwork of approaches, most of which involved pay cuts to faculty regardless of rank and a push to online courses, for which students pay more.
The pleasing hum of learning on our summer campus capped by the outdoor August graduation ceremony in the Park Blocks is no more. What will happen this summer? Will empty buildings be rented out to even higher paying customers while we exile our students to D2L? Is this how knowledge serves the city?
Summer term at PSU has become a maquiladora zone in which administrators tinker with schemes to keep tuition flowing but in which questions of student access and retention, program quality and fairness to hard-working faculty appear to be marginal concerns. To be sure, summer term has never been well integrated into shared governance on our campus. This part of faculty work is understood to be part of “additional duties” acknowledged but not exactly regulated in the American Association of University Professors contract.
These additional duties have become financially and professionally essential to many faculty members. Given our low salary rate, many faculty rely on summer pay to make ends meet. “Fixed term faculty have to work summer term to get by. I took a $4,000 pay cut last summer and I know people who got hit worse than me,” said Sam Gioia. “It’s wage theft pure and simple.”
Students stand to lose access to veteran teachers if more senior and tenured faculty refuse to work for less than they have historically earned in summer. Faculty who cannot afford to say no, either due to financial or job security concerns, have little recourse and become vulnerable to even higher labor demands in terms of class size, advising and lack of choice regarding online versus face-to-face teaching. This situation is not just unfair to faculty but it takes student needs and the quality and continuity of our academic programs far too lightly.
Summer term is an important topic of conversation for the health of our campus. The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences deans are currently addressing summer 2015 with the chairs. AAUP is holding a drop-in coffee on Friday, Nov. 21 in Smith Memorial Student Union, room 328. We will gather data, ideas and stories about summer term and start to devise plans for how we can engage its future.
If you can’t make that event, drop me a line at [email protected] Let’s not let another poorly planned summer term erode the best of what our campus should offer our students and the community.