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.
— Sacha Kopp (@CASdeanSBU) October 22, 2017
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.”
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.”