Flyers protesting the recent decision to replace writing and rhetoric professors were distributed outside of the Staller Center for the Arts on Oct. 20. JOSEPH KONIG/THE STATESMAN

Mike Adams, Gary Ghayrat and Brianne Ledda contributed reporting.

Update: Nov. 8, 2017, 3:26 p.m.

The College of Arts and Sciences released a statement to The Statesman saying that they informed Sarah Azzara and two other faculty members that they would be reassigned on Oct. 20. Azzara said she was only told her contract would be renewed, and has yet to receive a contract or any written confirmation of the renewal.

Sitting in her office on the second floor of the Humanities Building, Becky Goldberg, an adjunct professor in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric, contemplates what the future will hold for her family when her contract with Stony Brook University expires at the end of this semester.

“I have a one-year-old baby who has serious medical issues,” she said. “He has been, since before he was born, treated and cared for by Stony Brook doctors. So the thought of losing health insurance is really frightening for us.”

Goldberg and her husband, Chris Petty, are two of the 20 professors in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric who were told that their contracts would not be renewed next semester.

The affected faculty were given notice in the second week of October. Program director Roger Thompson called them in for a meeting, in which he explained that there was no adjunct budget for the spring and that all of them would have to be let go.

Two full-time lecturers, including professor Sarah Azzara, were also told they had been let go. Yet, with class sections still assigned to them on SOLAR, it is uncertain whether that decision has been finalized.

For Azzara, losing her job means losing a hard-fought sense of security for her and her 11-year-old daughter, Madeline.

“When I got this lectureship, I bought a house because I thought ‘at last, a stable lifestyle for me and my daughter,’” Azzara said. “When I was in graduate school I moved her from place to place a lot as the needs arose, so I was really excited she would have one stable place she could stay with her friends and call home. Now there’s a very good chance I have to sell my house if I can’t have a sustainable income.”

“The timing of it was horrible,” said Anthony Teets, another non-renewed adjunct. Since the application process for most spring teaching positions begins at the start of the fall semester, Teets and many of his colleagues have no set plans for where they will land next.

The lack of advanced notice was also a huge blow for Goldberg and her husband, who were preparing to purchase a home in the area. “We had to pull out of our mortgage contract,” she said. “We lost a ton of money in doing that. We had packed up our entire lives. We were ready to move.”

For many of the professors who are not being renewed, the thing that concerns them the most is what will become of their program once they are gone.

“Obviously I care about my job – but this program has been built up into something amazing,” part-time lecturer Margaret Kennedy said. “It’s one of the few programs on campus that basically every single student is going to be touched by.”

In order to fill the demand for courses like the Intermediate Writing Workshop (WRT 102), which most students must complete, the adjuncts were told that full-time lecturers from other disciplines, including pharmacology and geology, would take their places. There will also likely be an increase in class sizes, as President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. confirmed at a press conference with student media last week.

The number of upper division course sections for students enrolled in both the writing minor and the professional writing minor will be decreased from 20 to five.

Azzara took issue with the notion that faculty from other departments could or should teach writing.

“I think it’s possible but I think it would be a herculean if not a Sisyphean endeavor,” Azzara said. “Teaching writing is a very specific discipline. Just because a person can put a paragraph together doesn’t mean they can teach other people how to write. I think it’s going to be hard, just like it would be hard for me to teach intro to geology.”

With increased class sizes and professors who may be more accustomed to teaching in large lecture halls, Goldberg said the personal connection that the faculty has worked so hard to create in their introductory courses could be lost.

“Trust me, I know more about my students than probably any other faculty member in this institution because we meet one on one,” Goldberg said. “I know when they’re stressed, I know when they’re upset, I know when they’re experiencing a bad breakup or when there’s something going on at home.”

At a town hall meeting last Thursday, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Sacha Kopp said the decision to bring in full-time faculty from unrelated departments was made in an attempt to save other lecturers who were at risk of termination.

“I’m not undermining the instruction taught by the adjuncts. I’m also simultaneously managing employment expectations here at the campus,” Kopp said to the audience at the meeting. “We do have our tenure track faculty and our full time faculty and there are expectations of longevity,” he noted, later adding that he felt a sense of commitment to the full-time faculty who had been “solid contributors to the campus for quite some time.”

Teets, who has been at Stony Brook for six years, fired back at the suggestion that adjuncts do not contribute to the university at the same caliber as their full-time counterparts. 

“Last year I received the President’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. And this year it’s ‘hit the road jack.’ I don’t get it,” he said at the meeting.

The faculty demonstrated their sense of confusion and betrayal via twitter after Kopp posted a picture featuring two of the non-renewed professors, praising them for their work in the department.

 

One of the professors pictured, adjunct Steven Dube, tweeted back asking for a response from the dean, but his request was never fulfilled.

“The most vulnerable members of our community, adjunct faculty and also undergraduate students, are paying for the administration’s financial mistakes,” Dube said. “To me, that’s very troubling, and this raises great ethical concerns.”

As a last ditch effort to save their jobs, the professors have organized a protest and a petition calling on the College of Arts and Sciences to reverse the decision.

Despite having their careers thrown into a state of flux, Teets said he and his colleagues have devoted their attention to finishing out the semester the same way they started. “I can’t abandon my students because of my misery. I have to be strong for them.”

As the professors try to preserve a sense of normalcy in their classes, behind closed doors, Goldberg said there is an unmistakable feeling of despair.

“The last decade of my life, more, has been Stony Brook,” she said. “I was a grad student here. I met my husband here. We had our kid here. And now all of the sudden it feels like this part of my life, there’s just a black cloud over the whole thing.”

  • Chris K

    “Your suppostion that adjunct professorships must needs be a “low paid temporary job” does not mean that labor automatically accept that as a forgone conclusion when the bulk of a university’s teaching load falls more and more on the backs of contingent faculty.”

    It’s in their contracts. For now they have to work within the contracts they signed. That’s all SBU is obliged to uphold.

    “Labor has the right to negotiate their position.”

    Sure, and Azzara should have waited until she had negotiated a secure position before plunkering down on a house in a risky job market. She is now in a pretty bad negotiating position. Labor negotiations are about arguin from a position of strength. Now that Azzara has a mortgage she has no way to turn down any meager offer from SBU.

    “To blame her for the predatory nature of management is akin to blaming the victim.”

    She put herself in this mess. SBU didn’t tell her to buy a house. She should have rented until she secured a stable position.

  • beelzbubba

    ” there has never been a moment when “adjunct lectureship in writing” had any relationship to “a stable lifestyle” for someone and their kid.” Not true in all programs in all places. For example–the University of Wisconsin had rolling 3 year appointments, with yearly renewal, so after completion of year one, you get renewed or you don’t. If you don’t, you have two years to do a job search where you and your department know that 1) the position is ending and 2) you will be actively searching for another position. Other places, where contingent faculty have successfully bargained their labor position relative to the school, there are various examples of 1 up to 7 year contracts. Of course, even the 7 year contract does not commit the institution to pay for 7 years if there is no enrollment, but it does at least pay for a minimum of 1 semester up to 1 or two years (depending on circumstances and contracts). Your suppostion that adjunct professorships must needs be a “low paid temporary job” does not mean that labor automatically accept that as a forgone conclusion when the bulk of a university’s teaching load falls more and more on the backs of contingent faculty. Labor has the right to negotiate their position. To blame her for the predatory nature of management is akin to blaming the victim.

  • Chris K

    The point that an adjunct professorship is known as a low paid temporary job. No one else is responsible if Azzara acted as if she had a permanent position, the mistakes from that assumption are all hers.

  • College Guy

    So universities aren’t giving out too many doctorates that don’t have natural job paths?

  • beelzbubba

    Chris K, a program in writing & rhetoric has little to do with “creative writing,” and instead has to do with teaching students how to write in the diverse situations they will find themselves in as they navigate their careers. Eliminating these positions will lead us directly back to the days where business, professional, and technical communication are obtuse and impenetrable. Please, while your lack of empathy is astounding, learn whereof you speak before you put your foot so firmly in your mouth.

  • Chris K

    >For Azzara, losing her job means losing a hard-fought sense of security for her and her 11-year-old daughter, Madeline.

    >“When I got this lectureship, I bought a house because I thought ‘at last, a stable lifestyle for me and my daughter,’” Azzara said. “When I was in graduate school I moved her from place to place a lot as the needs arose, so I was really excited she would have one stable place she could stay with her friends and call home. Now there’s a very good chance I have to sell my house if I can’t have a sustainable income.”

    Azzara took an adjunct lectureship in writing, there has never been a moment when “adjunct lectureship in writing” had any relationship to “a stable lifestyle” for someone and their kid. It’s hard to be sympathetic that Azzara had deluded herself into thinking she was getting way more then is being offered. Looks like we could use less creative writing and more financial planning.

  • Cygnifier

    It is not that too many PhDs are being produced. It is that universities have sold their souls and decided that hiring adjuncts was a fine way to cut costs — so it becomes the WalMart model of hiring, jobbing out dozens of part-time positions to avoid paying anyone full time and to avoid benefits. Those adjuncts are typically expected to have PhDs. A look at a public university recently showed 6 tenure-track positions and 98 adjunct posts, with many of the adjunct ones calling for 3 to 5 adjuncts in any given department, adjunct positions that would have in the past been 2 or 3 tenure track positions. The “too many PhDs” is ridiculous. They want them and need them, but don’t want to pay fair wages and so replace the FT positions with bunches of PT ones.

  • College Guy

    While I agree that President Stanley and company are being extremely condescending to think “anyone” can teach English 102, let alone in a large lecture hall, I also don’t buy that adjuncts are getting mortgages on pricy Long Island or banking their future security based on the precarious and low-paying nature of adjunct gigs. The problem is the system — including Stony Brook — is graduating too many Ph.Ds in fields where the expected ending is college teaching. Thus it’s a buyer’s market for the colleges, and they can exploit these well-meaning adjuncts.

  • KareemAbdul

    The poisoning of America thanks to the Waltons, Jack Welch, Jamie Dimon et al.
    Profit at any cost.
    It’s particularly disturbing when it happens in academia (for-profit schools, Charter Schools, mail-order diploma mills, etc.).
    Apparently the SUNY System isn’t immune. Sad times.

  • KareemAbdul

    Welcome to SUNY S(B)parta.

    This lack of vision, the Academic Inferno of follow-the-leader into “Everything STEM” will be the ruin of a great school and so many great programs.

    Please, bring back Shirley Strum Kenny or some other Virgil to save Stony Brook.

    At least football is now ranked Top 20 in the nation. Priorities…. (/sarcasm)

  • Nancy Warren

    Won’t there be accreditation issues when they have faculty without degrees in the field, or even degrees related to the field, teaching writing courses? We have to fill out paperwork every semester certifying the credentials of faculty members, whose degrees show up by CIP code. When there is a mismatch between the faculty member’s degree and the course, we have to indicate how / why the person is qualified to teach the class.

  • Dennis O’Connor

    Another public university embracing the Walmart model. Ironic how those so dedicated to the humanities, are treated so inhumanely.

  • MaryAnn Duffy

    Thanks for acknowledging the very real and emotional side to this troubling maneuver by a few people from a much larger community. One would hope that inclusion and transparency would rule the day, but alas, no such luck.