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Adjunct cuts compel students to act

Freshman Alex Lowe didn’t mind going to Nancy Barbara’s 8 a.m. classes – including the ones on Fridays. And neither did most of her classmates, she said.

“A good majority of the students do show up,” Lowe said. “That says a lot for the class. She teaches you, and you laugh and you cry … all at the same time.”

Barbara, a Department of Women’s Studies adjunct who teaches Human Sexual Behavior, has such a following for her three-day-a-week class, students are often told by their orientation leader that her course is a must, Barbara said.

So when Barbara’s students learned in mid-March that her teaching load would be drastically reduced next fall because of budget cuts, they weren’t happy.

More than 350 students signed a petition supporting Barbara and sent it to the administration. And at Tuesday night’s Student Government senate meeting, the administration responded.

“Under the current reality and the budget cuts, we’ve had to make some tough choices,” said Bruce Cochran, associate dean of Graduate and Undergraduate Studies for the College of Arts and Sciences. “Yes, the budget played a role. But it also involved strategic decisions by the faculty.”

Cochran said one of the university’s missions is to lessen its dependence on adjunct instructors. It’s a movement Cochran said Wednesday that was in place long before budget cuts were handed down from the state. The budget crisis only escalated the transition.

“Women’s studies and Professor Barbara were not singled out,” he said.

Cochran said the history department has reduced its adjuncts by 18. Seven sections of the introductory course in sociology were being taught by adjuncts. None of them were renewed, he said.

“We don’t have the money any more,” said Cochran. “That’s just the bottom line.”

Ofelia Schutte, chairwoman for women’s studies, said adjuncts are hired on a semester-by-semester basis, part time. Different adjuncts make different salaries, she said, and are paid by the course.

Schutte said her department had already cut several adjuncts before renewing Barbara’s contract was an issue. And because of the cuts, Schutte said hiring more adjuncts wasn’t an option.

“So I had to let go of every single adjunct with two exceptions,” she said.

One of those exceptions was Barbara. She won’t be teaching as much as she does now – she has four sections of Human Sexual Behavior this semester – but Barbara has agreed to teach one section of the course this fall.

The other course in women’s studies being taught by an adjunct next fall, Schutte said, will be by someone with a law degree for a women in law course. It’s a course so specialized that none of her faculty could teach it, Schutte said.

Schutte explained that Human Sexual Behavior is a course that can be taught by a full-time instructor. And come fall, a full-time faculty member, Marilyn Myerson, who once served as an administrator, will return to the classroom and teach the course.Barbara, who has been teaching at the university since the mid-1980s, said she wants her students to understand that what is taking place is a function of the state government.

“(USF) is obliging by adhering to what Jeb Bush wants,” Barbara said. “And they want this to be a Research I (institution).”One way to move toward that national distinction, administrators have said, is by replacing adjuncts in the classroom with full-time faculty.

“We are facing reaccredidation in two years,” said Cochran. “One of the things they look at is to what extent is the instruction of the university being taught by full-time faculty. We do have a heavy dependence on adjuncts, and we are trying to change that. We are trying to change that for the better of the students.”

John Husfield, one of Barbara’s students who started the petition, said he understood that the university was not to blame for what’s happening to all adjuncts at USF.

“But without this important dissent against the decision, we would not, as students, be doing our job to give our input,” Husfield said. “That’s why in the petition we fault Gov. Jeb Bush and the Florida Legislature. We don’t fault President (Judy) Genshaft or the fine faculty of the University of South Florida … It’s a decision they were forced to make by the Florida Legislature.”

Lowe now better understands what’s happening to adjuncts at the university. The explanation wasn’t so appeasing, but, “If that’s the way the system goes,” she said, “then fine.”

Contact Kevin Grahamat