CORRECTION: A previous headline said non-tenure faculty are being advocated for when it's non-tenure adjunct faculty. Elon News Network regrets this error.
Alana Campbell had never met Robin Gary, but when she saw Elon students on Twitter retweeting an open letter from the former sociology professor to her colleagues about her recent removal from the university, she decided to reach out.
“Some of my all-time favorite professors were/are adjunct professors and I am so thankful for what they’ve taught me,” Campbell, a junior, wrote. “Robin seems to have left an impact on many of her students as well, I just don’t find it fair at all.”
Gary was one of many non-tenure faculty members who found out recently she would no longer be teaching at the university for the upcoming academic year.
Campbell, along with juniors Cole McCorkle and Izzy Gagliardi, started a GoFundMe for Gary to “ensure her stability in the near future.” Campbell said the fund has raised over $2,000 from students, alumni, parents and strangers since it was started. The GoFundMe page says Gary would like support from students and colleagues to ultimately regain her position at the university, and it advocates for students to contact senior staff on behalf of Gary.
Students and faculty at Elon University, along with Duke University’s faculty union, have taken to social media to address the actions of Elon University regarding the treatment of non-tenure track faculty and to urge the university to reconsider their actions Gary.
The Boldly Elon Solidarity Collective, a group of student organizations advocating for policy change at Elon University, condemned the actions of the university regarding adjunct faculty and announced a list of demands the collective would like answered by July 31.
The collective formed to represent students and their intersections of identity and support member student organizations in their respective needs. They address issues facing the faculty union, the university’s plans for operations during the pandemic, police accountability, financial transparency and racial injustice on campus.
The collective previously stated its solidarity with Elon’s non-tenure faculty earlier in July, calling on President Connie Book and senior staff to drop all legal appeals with the Elon Faculty Union, Elon Faculty Forward, and allow faculty to bargain for their wages and benefits. In addition to their statement on the BESC Facebook page, the collective has also begun posting statements from alumni regarding the treatment of non-tenure faculty at Elon University.
The collective has also encouraged staff, faculty, alumni and students to email Book and Provost Aswani Volety regarding adjunct faculty, specifically on behalf of the decision made to not rehire Gary, and to post on social media regarding the decision.
Junior Cameron Birtcher, who is involved in BESC as well as Students for an Equitable Elon, a group primarily dedicated to the Elon Faculty Union, said while adjuncts often face food insecurity, lack of healthcare and poverty, the coronavirus pandemic has only “exacerbate[d] these circumstances.”
“BESC stands in support of Professor Gary, Professor Bush, and all faculty and staff who have been terminated as a result of the university's efforts to cut costs in preparation for the Fall semester,” Birtcher said. “For many of us, Professor Gary's termination was particularly disturbing considering President Book's remarks only days prior claiming Elon's commitment to social justice and diversity on campus.”
Birtcher said the collective plans to release a larger project on the issue “in the near future.”
In collaboration with Elon ROSE —which stands for Revolutionizing Our Student Experience — BESC launched the #DoBetterElon campaign, which encourages people to post to Elon University’s Facebook page and not recommend the institution based on actions taken during the pandemic regarding adjunct faculty, financial transparency and racial injustice.
Tenure faculty offer to forego possible raise
When the Budget Forum announced Elon University’s priorities for the upcoming academic year, preserving the teaching and learning environment was first, followed by full-time employment — which included salaries and benefits, including a 2% raise in October. Part-time salaries, included in the fifth priority of the six addressed in the forum, were included with overtime under “other operational and wage expenses.” Part-time salaries were just after financial aid and mandatory program and operational expenses such as debt services, service contract requirements and utilities.
“Our part-time faculty members make a serious commitment to students and the university. The university should make an equal commitment to part-time faculty,” said Scott Windham, associate professor of German. “Doing so would mean prioritizing part-time salaries as highly as we prioritize full-time salaries. I am willing to forego a raise — and am even willing to take a pay cut — in order to do so.”
Windham was one of multiple full-time faculty members to offer forgoing a raise to preserve part-time faculty member opportunities. Kathy Lyday, professor of English, saw another faculty member offer to forgo a raise in an email and decided to do so herself. Lyday said in a faculty and staff forum that she hoped adjunct faculty would be given “equal consideration” for their jobs.
“Our raises are tiny, so I felt that if that very small sacrifice would help the adjuncts in my department, I’d be willing to do that,” Lyday said. “There is also no guarantee that anyone will actually get a raise this year. I made my offer because it seemed the right thing to do.”
Volety, the university provost, said a raise will depend on the “financial outlook” come October, and it is not guaranteed. The raise would be for all faculty as well, not just tenured faculty.
“I wish I could tell you how things will look in October, but I'm crossing my fingers and hoping everything will work out … I'm very confident about the steps we have taken as an institution,” Volety said. “But what we don't control is what happens outside our institution.”
Duke Faculty Union calls on university
The Duke Faculty Union issued a statement in support of the Elon University adjunct faculty, which has over thirty signatures of support from Duke Faculty Union members. The statement calls on the Elon administration to reinstate the faculty who were not renewed for the upcoming academic year and to provide protections for students, staff and faculty on campus. Duke’s faculty union has supported the Elon Faculty Union since the union’s inception. Christopher Shreve, instructor of biology and president of the Duke Faculty Union, said it is “truly disheartening” to see Elon decide not to renew many adjunct faculty members.
“These faculty have committed themselves and their talents to Elon for years and to be exiled at this moment, during an economic crisis and ongoing pandemic, is truly the height of cruelty,” Shreve wrote. “Anything less than full restoration will be an insult to these faculty and their many students and alumnae/i and an affront to faculty at all academic institutions.”
Duke’s Faculty Union was originally set to negotiate new three-year contracts in May and June, but due to the circumstances of the pandemic, agreed with the university to continue the existing terms of their first contracts. In solidarity with other faculty members of the university, union members also agreed to a similar freeze on salaries at last year’s levels.
Shreve said one of the administration’s “best choices” was to poll faculty members on how many would be willing to teach in-person classes before the final decisions were made, and all faculty were guaranteed that they would not be required to teach in-person, if they chose not to. Shreve said Duke is a “brilliant example” of the gains that universities can make when administrators and faculty work together to “improve conditions for all faculty.”
“Faculty across the country are unionizing in droves because the university system no longer works for all its constituents,” Shreve said. “Elon can still choose to be on the right side of history and stand with its faculty instead of fighting against them.”