Full-time faculty prepare to boycott unpaid directed studies

Photo+credit%3A+Courtesy+of+Nancy+Allen

Photo credit: Courtesy of Nancy Allen

By Dana Gerber, Deputy News Editor

Emerson’s full-time faculty union has recommended that its members stop advising directed study courses beginning fall 2020 semester unless the college begins paying them for this work.

Directed study courses, according to the college’s website, are four-credit classes that allow students to work one-on-one with a professor on a topic that is “not realizable through an existing course.” Term faculty—who are non-tenured, full-time professors—previously received a $416 stipend if they chose to take on a directed study course.

However, Nancy Allen, term faculty and union member, said the college chose to eliminate this payment when term faculty members joined the same union contract as tenure and tenure-track faculty in 2017.

The full-time faculty union contract states that tenure and tenure-track faculty are not paid for any additional credits they take on in addition to their normal workload, such as directed studies or honors theses. However, the contract never explicitly mentions these additional credits or their compensation in regards to term faculty. Affiliated faculty receive 10 percent of the salary they would make for a normal four-credit class to advise a directed study course.

Allen said the union has no plan to reopen the contract before it expires in two years to clarify the directed study issue. Since the lack of compensation is not explicitly stated in the contract for term faculty, she said it’s up to the administration to decide whether or not to begin paying them again.

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“It was not part of the negotiation—it was just not addressed in the contract,” Allen said in an interview. “So they chose to interpret that as if ‘it’s not addressed in the contract, we no longer have to pay.’ That’s not the same thing.”

Data from the Registrar’s Office obtained by The Beacon shows that as of December 2019, there were 92 directed study courses scheduled for the 2019-20 school year. According to the college’s website, one credit at Emerson costs $1,517.50, so a normal four-credit class costs $6,070. Allen explained that directed studies have no direct costs associated with them as they don’t require a classroom nor materials, so the college will make $558,440 from directed studies this year. If every directed study class held the previous $416 stipend for the advisors, the college would continue to make $520,168 in profit.

Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Michaele Whelan wrote in an email to The Beacon that a full-time faculty member’s expected duties includes discretionary projects such as directed studies.

“The expectation was that any full-time faculty who elected to give directed studies would do so without additional payment, as has been the case historically for tenure-line faculty as part of teaching,” she said. “Advising and mentoring students is part of full-time faculty’s responsibilities and they are not compensated for these activities, and directed study, which faculty can choose or not, is considered part of these full-time responsibilities.”

Allen said the union initially proposed the stipend be used for professional development, or be put into a fund to help lower the financial strain on students, such as by offering financial aid or helping individuals buy textbooks.

“We think you should put this money aside for the students—that it should be going into a fund to help students defray costs,” Allen said. “And they still said no.”

Heather May, senior lecturer and union member, said she brought the directed study issue to a Feb. 12 SGA Joint Session meeting after raising it to administration to no avail. On Feb. 26, SGA voted unanimously to approve a resolution in support of the faculty in their decision to stop teaching directed studies without compensation.

“It’s an incredibly difficult decision, because faculty benefit [from] and enjoy directed studies as well,” May said in a phone interview. “When you have a student that you know is just able to excel in a certain area—and you want to foster that, and you’re being held back because you can’t, in good conscience, sort of make a trade of the extra time with no compensation whatsoever. As an educator, that’s heartbreaking.”

The resolution, authored by SGA, also notes the importance of a strong directed study program in view of the Marlboro College merger, since its curriculum was heavily based on one-on-one studies.

Allen said faculty brought the issue to students to inform them of the college’s use of their funds.

“I would hope that administration would be more responsive to the students, because it’s the students’ money,” Allen said. “I think students should be asking, ‘Where does that money go?’ Especially every time there’s a tuition increase. Why are you paying more money for something that there’s no cost associated with?”

Allen added that the union feels the directed study issue is representative of a larger issue with the faculty’s relationship with the college.

“For most of the faculty—we’ve been talking about it—it’s come up more as an issue of its proxy for the fight that we’re having with the administration about what feels like increased expectations for workload, while at the same time they’re pulling back even small amounts of stipends and compensation,” Allen said.

Directed study advisors are usually chosen based off of a previous relationship with the student, or based on specific expertise on the student’s chosen topic. May said faculty time commitments for directed studies varies by project, but it can often require four to five hours a week with the student, as well as grading assignments and their final project.

“As faculty at Emerson, we never want the students to suffer,” May said. “We also want to make sure, as a union, that the faculty is treated fairly. And so those two things are being pitted against each other a little bit.”

Should full-time faculty stop participating in directed studies next semester, affiliated faculty will still be available to advise. However, Allen said that since affiliated faculty often teach at multiple colleges and may not have the speciality a student wants to focus on, it may narrow students’ directed study options.

“I think it’s going to vary considerably from affiliated faculty member to affiliated faculty member as to whether or not this is something that they can add on to their already-full plate,” Allen said. “If there’s not an affiliated faculty member with that specific topic area expertise, that student might be out of luck.”

The Emerson College Student Union posted about the directed study increase on its Instagram, contesting President M. Lee Pelton’s argument that the proposed tuition for the 2020–21 school year will be partially going to faculty compensation. May said the ECSU attended the full-time faculty union’s January meeting.

Jonah Puskar, a senior Writing, Literature, and Publishing major, completed a directed study last year entitled American Myth and Folklore. While Puskar said the directed study option is valuable for students, he didn’t believe professors should be expected to expend their time and efforts without pay.

“I personally do understand why the faculty union would be advised against it, because it is the school now asking for professors to do unpaid labor,” Puskar said in a phone interview. “I’m still paying four credit hours. So where is that money going if it’s not going to my professor?”

Allen said she has made her peace with the possibility the college will not reinstate the stipend—and she hopes the college has, too.

“That’s their choice to interpret it, but they also have to live with the consequences of how that interpretation is seen by faculty and by students,” she said. “And it is not a good look.”