Burmeister leads class walkout for equal pay among faculty

On Wednesday, Feb. 24, an English adjunct instructor, Kevin Burmeister, led two of his ENGL 1010 morning classes on a “walkout” protesting low pay wages.

For Burmeister, the walkout consisted of him reading his grievances over the issue of adjunct pay. After he finished voicing his opinions, he took his students on “field research,” where the English students sat in public places such as Swoops and the library and continued class. Although Burmeister facilitated the walkout during his classes, he completed his lesson plan for the day. Burmeister asked the students to write about their current surroundings for an in-class project after the students left their conventional classroom.

Before the walkout occurred, Tennessee Tech President Philip Oldham hosted an open forum Tuesday, Feb. 24 for students, faculty and staff to voice concerns and ask questions about campus life. At the forum, Burmeister voiced his concerns about adjunct faculty pay rates.

“I didn’t expect to talk to the president,” said Burmeister. “I want people to realize that people are paying for an administrative machine rather than an instructive machine. The temptation was definitely there to bust the door and not look back, but I wanted it to be constructive.”

At the open forum, Oldham addressed the issue by stating Tech is limited in adjunct salary flexibility. The Tennessee Board of Regents places restrictions on the amount of money adjunct faculty are compensated.

The average full-time instructor, which is the lowest full-time educational staff, is paid an average of $43,383.31. However, adjunct instructors are paid much less. According to TBR guidelines, adjunct instructors receive a maximum pay of $12,600 per year. This amount is $2,480 less than what the yearly average for the federal minimum wage worker receives.

Burmeister voiced his concerns of holding a lesser status among faculty on campus for many reasons. Being part-time contractors, adjuncts do not currently receive benefits or hold a permanent office space on campus.

Students sympathized with Burmeister and the other adjunct faculty receiving low wages. Colby Brown, a freshman finance major, voiced his concerns about adjunct instructor compensation.

“It’s a good idea. It’s a good thing to stand up for what you believe in,” said Brown. “He’s a good teacher, very unique. He deserves a full-time gig. What else needs to be fixed?”

However, this is not uncommon in other universities across the country. The U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce reported that part-time faculty has been growing since 1975. Adjunct instructors across the country facilitated events in protest against low wages.

These growing conditions have sparked debate across the nation on how the colleges should treat the adjunct membership of their workforce. Wednesday marked a nationwide event called National Adjunct Walkout Day.

The TBR Task Force for Adjunct Faculty proposed to make serious changes to the current policy. The policy includes giving a more clear definition for adjunct faculty, allowing colleges to become more flexible and to revamp the pay scale. That proposal was made in 2011.

However, Burmeister continues to hope the issue will not be forgotten.

“I hope it starts a conversation,” said Burmeister. “It's important to let undergrads know what's going on.”