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Part-time lecturers in Rutgers Writing Program face layoffs in spring

Howie Swerdloff, a part-time lecturer (PTL) in the Writing Program and an executive board representative for the PTL Faculty Chapter of the American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers, said small class sizes allow him and other professors to work one-on-one with their students.  – Photo by Rutgers.edu

A number of part-time lecturers (PTL) in the Rutgers—New Brunswick Writing Program may lose their jobs in the spring semester as part of the latest wave of ongoing layoffs

Amy Higer, president of the PTL Faculty Chapter of the American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers (PTLFC-AAUP-AFT), said the University announced at the end of September that it would not be rehiring any of the current PTL within the program, but changed its position this week to preserve some positions for PTL after pressure from the Coalition of Rutgers Unions.

University spokesperson Dory Devlin said 71 PTL were hired for the Writing Program this semester, but due to an expected a decrease in enrollment for the spring, the program anticipated needing a maximum of 40 PTL.

"The program proposed to rely, first, on full-time faculty and teaching assistants to teach the curriculum while assisting the University's efforts to control instructional costs given the huge budget deficits," Devlin said.

Devlin said concerns about the impact on PTL employees and the curriculum caused the University to offer 26 remote positions to veteran PTL for next semester as well as expand assignments for non-tenure-track (NTT) faculty to cover the course load.

Although the University restored a portion of the positions, Higer said PTL still face job insecurity at Rutgers.

“(It is) just demoralizing not just for those PTL, but for all PTL because it just reminds us of how precarious our work situation is,” she said. “Many of us make our living this way and then we piece it together from teaching at different universities. We count on these courses.”

The announcement of more layoffs came as a shock to employees because it happened a few days after state officials announced they would be restoring the University’s appropriations, Higer said.

Devlin previously said the restored appropriations only addresses a small portion of the University’s budgetary shortfalls for fiscal years 2020 and 2021, The Daily Targum reported.

Howie Swerdloff, a PTL in the Writing Program and an executive board representative for the PTLFC-AAUP-AFT, said PTL receive little compensation for teaching courses, especially newer workers, who make approximately $5000 per course.

“We make money for them — our courses — but you figure our courses have 22 students in each of them,” he said. “You calculate the tuition that they get, minus the amount they pay us, (and the University is) still making a nice piece of change on our labor.”

Higer said PTL are hired each semester based on course enrollments. PTL who have seniority are sometimes promised positions for two semesters in a row or given priority in the appointment for courses they have the most experience in, but Higer said there is overall little job security. 

“They could offer you a job verbally, or even in writing, and if enrollments aren't there and the course doesn't have enough (students) to fill it, you could have your course be canceled, up to the day the course starts,” she said.

Swerdloff, who said he is now included in the portion of PTL who will be rehired next semester, said he had already selected his courses for the spring when the layoffs were announced.

Higer said the PTL in the Writing Program, along with some NTT faculty and graduate students, are responsible for teaching core courses within the program, including Expository Writing, which is a requirement for all first-years. 

“The Writing Program is the largest employer of adjunct faculty in all of Rutgers,” she said. “All the writing programs on all three campuses are large employers of PTL, and most likely if you took (Expository Writing) you would have had a PTL as your teacher or an NTT.”

Swerdloff teaches a course called Research in the Disciplines which was originally scheduled to have 58 sections in the spring but has since been cut to only 20 sections to accommodate the reduction in PTL.

He said having many sections with smaller class sizes makes it easier for instructors to give students the attention they need, especially for writing courses. 

“The classes I teach, there are 22 students,” he said. “The students get lots of one-on-one attention from me — I have office hours all the time. That's the way I teach writing, and so do my colleagues. We're constantly working with our students.”

Higer said PTL at Rutgers—Camden have already seen an increase in class sizes for certain courses and said it has made their jobs increasingly difficult, especially in an online format.

“It looks like what they're doing is consolidating and increasing class size because, especially online, you don't need classroom space. They think it's efficient, you know one teacher to teach 35 students as opposed to 25 students,” she said. “But if you know anything about education, it's terrible for the students. I think we all know class size is central to how students learn.”

The Targum previously reported University President Jonathan Holloway addressed the University Senate about his goal to create a “beloved community” at Rutgers. Swerdloff cited these comments and said the decision to cut PTL reflects a lack of concern for the employees. 

“The deeds are quite different than the words, and so it's quite demoralizing,” he said. “Especially in a pandemic like this and a bad economy where there really aren't any other jobs out there.”

Although the layoffs have been partially reversed, Swerdloff said it is unlikely that the University would have done so without pressure from the unions and the students.

“This is what happens when a University is run like a business instead of an educational institution, where the people who actually do the work make the decisions based on their experience and the needs of the students,” he said. “The students' needs are obviously not being considered here.”

Higer said the PTLFC-AAUP-AFT and the other unions are still calling for Rutgers administrators to rehire all of the Writing Program PTL next semester and to lift the hiring freeze on PTL. 

Editor's Note: A previous version of this article stated, "Higer said PTL at the Rutgers—Camden Writing Program have already seen an increase in class sizes for certain courses and said it has made their jobs increasingly difficult, especially in an online format."


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