On September 19, CSAL Co-Director Sue Doe engaged the Colorado State University (CSU) Chair of English in an interview regarding the recent news item in the CSU Collegian about the offer letter received by a part-time instructor in Journalism and Media Communication. Here’s a link to that story in the Collegian: http://collegian.com/2016/09/csu-instructor-speaks-out-about-low-adjunct-wages-inaccurate-offer-letter/ And here are the highlights of the interview with Professor Louann Reid, Chair of English.
Please offer responses, Dear Blog Readers!
1. Professor Reid, what was your reaction when you saw the Collegian story about the adjunct’s offer letter?
Actually, I was surprised that the question hadn’t come up publicly before. Using “the 100% salary,” as some called it, in the letter without some explanation for faculty who were teaching part-time is bound to lead to confusion. In fact, some non-tenure-track faculty in the department have asked me about that part of the offer at various times in the past few years.
2. Have you had to use this letter?
Yes. While the letters have been modified somewhat in my five years as chair, the Provost’s office has provided templates that we are expected to use. There are different templates for different appointments such as temporary, special, or senior teaching faculty. Tenure-track faculty are also hired with offer letters that conform to a template. I can’t speak for other colleges, but in the College of Liberal Arts, someone in the dean’s office ensures that the letter is faithful to the template before the dean signs it.
3. What problems do you see with this letter?
While I would be delighted to suggest edits, because I love to edit and would like clearer, more concise language, I am not a legal expert and do understand that it is important to be completely accurate regarding the terms of the agreement that an offer letter represents. I would, however, like to clarify the statements about salary. We need to learn what the reason is behind using the 100% salary, if there is one. If we must use the 100% salary, then couldn’t there also be a statement explaining that if the offer is for part-time, then the actual salary is a percentage of the annual salary? I have included such a statement in the salary letters that we send to inform faculty of their salary for the coming year. These letters go only to faculty who have taught the year before and are part of the salary exercise, so a shortcoming is that new faculty would not see such a statement.
I haven’t been asked about any aspect of the letter other than salary, but I would like to hear if there are parts of it that faculty find objectionable. There may be, but I don’t have any data.
4. How should we move forward in regard to offer letters?
An offer of employment is a serious agreement between parties. Having consistent language for such letters seems essential, especially given the number of people involved in hiring. If we can improve the language to reduce misunderstandings, we should.
5. How should we move forward generally in terms of the misunderstanding that is reflected in this adjunct’s experience with the letter, which is almost certainly not an isolated experience? That is, how might things be made right with this adjunct and others?
People deserve an offer that is as straightforward and clear as legally possible. I don’t know what has been done or was said beyond the story in the Collegian, but I appreciate that Dean Withers offered an apology. Vice Provost Dan Bush and someone from the Office of General Counsel might offer to meet with adjunct faculty to explain the composition and use of offer letters. If rewriting is a possibility, they should seek faculty input on areas of confusion or concern. I think we also need opportunities such as workshops or PDI sessions or college-specific meetings for non-tenure-track faculty to learn about how their compensation is structured—what are the sources of funding for their positions? How are their salaries structured differently from those of tenure-track faculty? Why do differences exist and what are the implications of those differences?
6. Where do you hope this conversation will lead for the future?
This conversation needs to be part of many others. We are not where we need to be yet as the university hires increasing numbers of faculty who are not on the tenure track and has committed to making this an excellent place for adjunct faculty as well as tenure-track. We need to check our assumptions about the usual ways of hiring, rehiring, compensating and evaluating faculty to accommodate the special roles that non-tenure-track faculty fill. Certainly, compensation is a major issue. And, as this situation highlights, clear communication that leads to a greater understanding about how compensation is structured is one area where we could do better.
Sue Doe: Thank you for your time and willingness to engage in this interview, Dr. Reid!