“I have a question,” Stony Brook University adjunct professor in the program in Writing and Rhetoric, Steven Dube, shouted into a microphone. “Do you want a geologist to teach writing?”
A resounding “No!” echoed from the crowd of over a hundred Stony Brook students and professors rallying outside the Humanities Building on Wednesday, Nov. 15. Rally participants gathered in protest of recent job cuts affecting as many as 20 adjunct lecturers in the Writing and Rhetoric program.
“I’ve taught writing here at Stony Brook for almost 10 years,” Dube said. “I’ve given my all, my heart to this university. I do not want to be replaced by a geologist. So, I’ll ask again, do you want a geologist to teach writing?”
Aside from the adjuncts, protesters included members of the Young Democratic Socialists of America and members of the Graduate Student Employees Union. The 90-minute protest started in front of the Humanities Building, with supporters listening as Dube and his fellow adjunct from the writing program, Margaret Kennedy, voiced their concerns. The group planned to march to University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr.’s office to deliver a petition to help save the adjuncts’ jobs.
“We need to be taught how to write by people who know how to write,” freshman physics major Thomas Baruzzi said. Baruzzi mentioned his own issues related to the university budget cuts and how they are affecting his college career. “I’m a physics major, but I have a great passion for writing; in fact I’m at a point right now where I’m considering either combining science and writing,” he said.
In early October it was announced that the Writing and Rhetoric program had zero budget for adjuncts, and in turn, none of them will be renewed for the spring semester. The cuts will affect students across all majors since everyone must fulfill the requirements for the Introductory Writing Workshop (WRT 101) and the Intermediate Writing Workshop (WRT 102). With these 20 adjuncts making up nearly half of the program’s total staff, replacements will need to be hired and class sizes may be increased, Kennedy said.
“Wherever practical we seek to maximize teaching assignments for full-time faculty,” Dean Sacha Kopp wrote in an emailed statement. “That is why we’re working to provide more and more sections of the Writing Program to be delivered by full-time faculty.”
But Dube and other adjuncts claim that many of these professors will come from unrelated disciplines such as geology or pharmacology.
“They are not trained to teach writing, however talented they may be in their own fields,” Kennedy remarked at the rally. “I would not presume to teach geology or statistics any more than a science professor or mathematician should teach writing.”
Freshman environmental development major Marine Magee, who attended the rally with her fellow YDSA members, said she thought the administration’s actions are unfair. “This school isn’t just a technical school. I came here expecting to have a diverse education. I’m scared that this isn’t going to be the case anymore.”
Ceren Usta, a first year Ph.D. student studying comparative literature, said she feared the changes would negatively impact her coursework since her program is being merged with the program in European languages, literatures and cultures. “There is no sensitivity. They look at our department thinking that we all deal with language or humanities and think, ‘let’s lump them together.’ But in reality, our programs are very different.”
For the adjuncts being cut, the effects are much more profound. “I am losing my primary source of income and health insurance for myself and my two young children,” Kennedy said.
“We don’t want to talk about ethics,” Dube said, referring to Kopp’s remarks on the matter at last month’s town hall meeting. “We want ethical actions.”
In search of action, several of the adjuncts delivered a black binder containing a petition to save their jobs, as well as dozens of student testimonials discussing how the program’s adjuncts personally impacted them.
“This was the first time we’ve actually been able to meet Dean Kopp and President Stanley face-to-face on this issue,” Kennedy said. “President Stanley mentioned that seeing us helps to ‘humanize’ the issue,” she said, adding that this made her feel hopeful.
“He listened to what we had to say, mostly in silence with politely folded hands. He thanked us for coming, shook our hands and at the very least listened to us with, it seems, genuine sympathy.”
Update: A portion of Thomas Baruzzi’s quote was removed from the fifth paragraph, on request, to better reflect his comment.