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Keep Me Proud RMU!

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by Dr. Robert Trosky
I’m very proud of my affiliation with Robert Morris University. As a former doctoral student, I acquired knowledge that changed the direction of my life. I was taught and mentored by some of the most articulate and challenging professors who encouraged me to expand my knowledge and ways of looking at information systems and communication. I made friends with faculty members and fellow students that will last a lifetime. While a student there, I was given the opportunity to teach as an adjunct; an opportunity for which I am extremely grateful. Based on my performance and obvious love of teaching, I was asked to teach more courses than normally permitted by University policy by two different departments. I felt that I was on the fast-track to a full-time position--the pie in the sky. Then, the bottom fell out. 
My department heads were replaced and I found that I needed to campaign to get 6 courses a year. After a semester or two I was back to being sought after as an adjunct, but the future no longer looked so bright. No longer was there talk of a full-time position. As I attended department meetings, I noticed that many of the faces of my fellow adjuncts had changed. The adjuncts who had worked with me for a few years started to become frustrated as they realized that classes may or may not be offered to them, with no reasons provided. Experienced and professional adjunct professors were being tossed aside and replaced with fresh, inexperienced (and presumably less expensive) adjuncts. I also noticed that as full-time professors left their positions, they weren’t being replaced. Initially, I thought the frustration was only being experienced in the departments where I taught until I started talking with adjuncts from other departments and found the same thing happening elsewhere on campus.
All of this suggested that the University was in a financial crisis. So I did some research and found that enrollment and tuitions were climbing each year even though the cost of professors had to be going down. Enrollments in online programs, a lower cost, facilities-free solution, were also climbing. I found that revenues from sporting events had increased substantially as well. I then realized that I had reached the top of the pay scale as an adjunct with no path to full-time employment at RMU. So where was the money going and, more importantly, how were students’ educations being affected by the University’s choice to replace experienced teachers with less-expensive, inexperienced instructors?
A wider search shocked me as I learned that universities and colleges throughout the U.S. were resorting to the same cost-saving measures, apparently following the model developed by the for-profit schools of recent notoriety. Our education system has become a part of corporate America, where profit is the driving force behind every decision. It turns out that 2/3rds of the revenue for RMU, as with many other colleges and universities, is being funneled to administrative salaries, which are at an all time high, as well as campus infrastructure improvements and student support programs. This is the precise opposite of how things were just twenty years ago when 2/3rds of a university’s budget was used for academic resources. 2/3rds of all resources are now allocated to non-academic enterprises at the university, which has happened at many universities over the last twenty years. In 1994, RMU had just about the same number of students it currently has—5000—but it did not have the administrative bloat. In 1994 there were three people who did all the finances of the university, but there are now over thirty, and the administration no longer publishes full organizational charts. The administration says we have to meet the increasing needs of students, but somehow those needs are everything but educational [For a full description of this alarming trend, see Benjamin Ginsberg’s The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why it Matters (Oxford, 2011)]. 
So what choices do we have as adjunct professors? We must continue to teach in some capacity to be considered for an ever more elusive full-time faculty position. Conditions for adjuncts are declining as corporate-minded administrators continue to find ways to cut costs on the academic side of the house. Do we give up on our dreams to make a difference by teaching the future leaders of tomorrow? Or do we gain recognition by organizing a collective bargaining unit which will help level the playing field when asking for fair and equitable working conditions? I choose the latter!
Hopefully administrators will come to see that a satisfied, experienced faculty (full-time and adjunct) will benefit all parties involved as students get the education they’re paying for, faculty get the compensation, job security, and respect they deserve, and the university continues to grow as more students are attracted to their commitment to quality in education. RMU—make us all proud by treating its adjunct faculty with fairness and dignity!