• April 24, 2014

Even in New York, Adjuncts' Paychecks Can Take Their Sweet Time

There are worse things than trying to make ends meet on a modest paycheck—like trying to do so on no paycheck at all.

Ask Anthony M. Galluzzo, who began working as a part-time English instructor at the City University of New York's Queens College in late August, when the fall semester began. He went uncompensated until last week because the college did not send him the first two paychecks he was due. Lacking enough savings to pay his bills, he borrowed money and stayed with a friend while renting out his own bedroom in a Brooklyn home.

"I live paycheck to paycheck," says Mr. Galluzzo, who is earning about $3,700, before taxes, for each of the three classes he teaches at Queens and had been expecting a paycheck of about $1,100 every two weeks. He describes having to turn to family and friends to scrape by as "sort of demoralizing," and says that he feels badly for other Queens College adjuncts who "don't have that support network" to help them get through an unexpected period without income.

Of 1,070 adjunct instructors hired by Queens College for this semester, at least 340 did not receive checks on their first pay date, scheduled for September 19, and more than 60 remained uncompensated as of Monday, three pay periods later, according to statements issued by the college's administration.

The college, which has blamed the problem mainly on difficulties encountered in adapting to a new payroll system, has offered adjuncts who have gone unpaid payroll advances of up to 60 percent of owed wages. Some adjuncts, however, have not known the advances were available to them, according to the City University of New York system's faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress.

Queens College is not the only CUNY campus to fail in recent years to pay adjunct faculty members on time. York College, also in Queens, similarly failed to pay more than a third of its part-time faculty on time last fall. The Professional Staff Congress filed a systemwide grievance in early 2009 after four of the system's 23 campuses were weeks late in sending adjuncts their first check for the spring semester.

Nevertheless, a CUNY spokesman, Michael Arena, on Monday described the late payment of adjuncts as "rare, infrequent, and isolated."

Repeatedly Starting Over

Throughout the nation, many adjunct faculty members end up waiting long periods for payment for their services. As faculty members who are hired off the tenure track and on a contingent basis have become a growing share of colleges' work forces, institutions have struggled with the task of updating their payrolls each academic term.

Colleges that meet their first deadlines for paying adjuncts often do so only by scheduling their adjunct instructors' first pay dates well after the first pay dates of other employees. Maria C. Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority, an advocacy group for instructors off the tenure track, says the start of every semester brings a wave of calls to her from adjunct instructors confused over how their colleges can get away with waiting so long to pay them.

"The reason that it happens is that there are so many adjuncts that administratively it is a huge task to process all of these forms," says Ms. Maisto, who calls the time and money spent by colleges to add successive waves of adjuncts to payrolls "one of the hidden costs of contingency."

Because adjunct instructors are paid by the course and their workload at a college often varies from one contract period to the next, colleges generally feel they have no choice but to start over each semester or term in putting adjuncts on their payrolls. This constant churning of payroll information occurs even though a 2010 survey by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce found that more than three-fourths of part-time instructors had taught the same course at a college for at least three terms.

Among colleges where adjuncts have endured substantial waits for pay, faculty members at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, in Michigan, felt compelled to organize a food drive for part-time instructors last January. The college's spring semester began January 7, but its part-time employees were not paid until February 1, later than many had believed would be the case based on the faculty handbook.

'Room for Improvement'

When colleges miss one or more deadlines for paying their adjuncts, the question of how to reimburse them raises tough questions. In the past, CUNY campuses have given adjunct faculty members who did not get paychecks lump-sum reimbursements in a subsequent pay period, but the resulting spike in income temporarily bumped some adjuncts into a higher tax bracket and caused some to lose eligibility for government subsidies such as food stamps.

Queens College is reimbursing its adjuncts for lost pay incrementally, over several paychecks, but Mr. Galluzzo complains that that approach has left him unable to repay those who lent him money to get by.

Queens College's administration issued a statement on Monday that blamed that institution's failure to pay adjuncts on time on the nature of the adjunct-hiring process, which can result in the late submission of needed information on new hires, and on glitches in the college's switch from a manual payroll system to an automated one.

In an email this month to Jonathan Buchsbaum, chairman of the Queens College chapter of the Professional Staff Congress, Meryl R. Kaynard, the college's general counsel, pinned much of the problem on the late submission of forms by deans and academic-department heads. "No one disagrees that the semester-to-semester on-boarding of adjuncts leaves room for improvement," Ms. Kaynard wrote.

The statement that the college's administration issued on Monday said it had established a panel of administrators and faculty and staff members to review what went wrong and to recommend changes. "Our adjuncts have a right to expect timely paychecks," the statement said, "and we are committed to making that happen."

Correction (10/29/2013, 12:15 p.m.): This article originally stated that Anthony Galluzzo of Queens College taught two classes, but he teaches three. The article has been updated to reflect that.

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