DePaul faculty, staff send petition to upper administrators requesting protection of adjunct, term faculty as COVID-19 drags on


Bianca Cseke | The DePaulia

DePaul University Lincoln Park campus.

DePaul faculty and staff sent a letter of petition to upper administrators today demanding DePaul’s leadership to consider collective strategies in minimizing the job loss of term faculty, adjunct faculty and staff.

The letter has 331 signatures and was signed by members of every DePaul college and school as well as every rank — from tenured, full-time faculty to part-time adjuncts. 

The signers of the petition ask that the university allot a portion of the nearly $14.4 million stimulus fund received through the CARES Act to prevent job losses.

“Cutting even a handful of faculty positions will have ripple effects throughout programs, units, colleges, schools and ultimately the university — and those effects will in turn affect students’ experiences and degree progress, our Liberal Studies Program and the reputation of the university,” the petition reads. 

The letter recognizes the financial hardship COVID-19 has placed on the university; a net-tuition revenue shortfall of $14 million was already expected for this year, and the university announced at a town hall in February that it intended to make up to $11 million expense cuts, the letter said. 

The petitioning faculty and staff ask the university to consider other financial moves, like using funds from its endowment, to avoid “calamitous personnel cuts.”

“As this is happening, the most vulnerable among us may have to face unemployment and other deflating hardships at a time when prospects for new jobs are dwindling,” the letter reads. 

Adjunct faculty don’t receive an annual salary or consistently receive benefits, so they can be perceived as a cost-efficient alternative to their tenured counterparts. But because firing a tenured professor is difficult due to their contracts, adjuncts and term-faculty are usually the first to go when cuts are made, even though they can still be working full time.  

“What we want is more inclusion and representation from this lower group of people, the adjuncts, in making the decisions that are facing the university,” said Nathan DeWitt, chair of the Workplace Environment Committee and a DePaul adjunct professor.

More tangibly, the letter asks for more town hall sessions and allowing more faculty and staff to participate in planning meeting committees and task forces. 

The letter further alleges the university has provided little or no transparency about how decisions like offering pass/fail options for students, enhancing medical coverage and extending the tenure clock for probationary faculty were made. 

The university could not be reached for comment in time for this story. 

The petition was started by Matthew Girson, a professor of Art, Media and Design, and is addressed specifically to President Esteban, Executive Vice President Bethke and Interim Provost Ghanem.

Girson declined to comment for this story. 

Still, Dewitt feels the petition does not go far enough.

“This petition is a really interesting example of a life at DePaul where there’s a lot of really good will and ethical ideas and Vincentian values that govern the big thinking, but as good as this petition is, there aren’t a lot of nuts and bolts suggestions for how to fix it,” he said.

DeWitt said the issue also lies with DePaul’s Online Teaching Series (DOTS) contract which Dewitt said includes a clause that signs course information, the intellectual property rights of adjuncts and oftentimes their life’s work, over to the university. 

“This is a huge deal for faculty because conceivably as a part-time faculty, you could develop a course in DOTS… and never teach it,” he said. “That course could be given to a full-time faculty or another adjunct.”

This stipulation wasn’t included in the letter, although Dewitt said he had a meeting with Associate Provost GianMario Besana who listened to their concerns and agreed to reexamine the issue through Faculty Council channels. 

“Some of the tangible elements are really really important, but my hope is this will be a jumping off point for the much larger conversations that need to happen in regard to term faculty and adjunct faculty,” he said.