Duke adjunct faculty demand higher pay

Posted June 19, 2017 5:09 p.m. EDT
Updated June 19, 2017 7:21 p.m. EDT

— Some Duke University instructors say they are paid below the poverty level, but university administrators say they are working to improve the situation.

Adjunct professors are trying to negotiate a contract with Duke, saying they want more job security and professional development in addition to higher pay.

"I really enjoy teaching. I enjoy Duke undergraduates. I love my co-workers," said Christopher Shreve, who teaches in Duke's biology department. "I don't love my pay."

Shreve said he has been teaching at Duke for 14 years, and he earns $34,000 a year – less than a first-year teacher for Durham Public Schools. He also holds down two part-time jobs to make ends meet.

"We do have members of our unit who are on food stamps currently because the university doesn't consider what they do worth investing in, despite the fact that these faculty, no matter their salary, invest their energy and their lives in their students," he said.

Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations at Duke, said university administrators have met with representatives from the Service Employees International Union and adjunct faculty members covered by the union twice a month since September and have reached tentative agreement on 23 points.

"We continue to negotiate in good faith and remain optimistic that we will finalize a contract with the union soon," Schoenfeld said in a statement.

Shreve said the total increase being sought by the instructors is about $150,000, but Duke isn't budging on their demands.

"This is primarily a moral argument, that a full-time teacher educating Duke students to go out and be successful in the future should not be living in poverty," he said.

A Duke alumnus himself, he said he is aware how expensive it is to attend school there, and he doesn't want tuition to go up to cover the cost of higher salaries for instructors. The administration should find money for faculty elsewhere, he said.

Duke administrators are meeting with the instructors again this weekend to continue their negotiations.

Faculty members said in an online letter to Provost Sally Kornbluth that there could be a strike in the fall if salary demands aren't met.