Win for Writing Instructors

Non-tenure track professors at Arizona State, after months of protesting a plan they called unfair to them and their students, receive more money and the option to avoid a 5-5 course load.

June 22, 2015
 
Banner created against the 5-5 course load at Arizona State

Writing instructors at Arizona State University, who have since December been protesting a plan to change their compensation in ways they said were unfair and would hurt teaching and learning, have won both a gain in pay and a new option on course load.

The victory is notable for a group of instructors without the protections of the tenure track, many of whom used social media anonymously to make their points.

The plan announced in December was to require full-time, non-tenure-track writing instructors to shift from a 4-4 schedule to a 5-5 schedule, without any extra pay above the $32,000 base that had been used for a 4-4 schedule. The university said it was relieving the instructors of service requirements, but the instructors said that a 5-5 schedule would have them teaching too many students (25 per section) to provide the kind of feedback students need. The instructors in fact were already over what the Modern Language Association's Association of Departments of English considers an appropriate number of students at 4-4, but would have gone way over at 5-5.

Many instructors said that Arizona State was in essence telling them to do more work without any additional compensation. The dispute attracted widespread attention among composition faculty members nationally.

In January, the university responded to the criticism by raising the base pay to $36,000. While instructors said that the additional funds were welcome, many said that a 5-5 course load for entry-level writing courses remained unreasonable and would result in a lesser quality of instruction for students.

The new plan responds to that criticism as well. The university has announced that it will now offer contracts in which those working a 4-4 course load (the status quo before this push started) will receive $36,000. Those who work a 5-5 course load will be paid $40,000. So a 4-4 option is preserved, with more money than before, and a 5-5 option receives more compensation than 4-4. While Arizona State has maintained a 5-5 option, writing instructors say that the 4-4 option is a crucial development, making it possible to maintain current levels of interaction with students.

A statement from the university says that Arizona State "is taking another step to improve [instructors'] base pay and to strengthen the delivery of critical instruction that teaches students how to be effective, clear and thoughtful writers."

Some lecturers, talking on the condition of anonymity because they still fear retribution for speaking out, said that they continue to believe they are underpaid and that they are being asked to teach more students than is appropriate. Some also noted that there are a few lecturers who because of their past overtime pay may not see gains under the new arrangement. But even as they pointed out these issues, they said that Arizona State has made the situation for most of these lecturers much better.

A statement on the Facebook page of ASU Against 5/5, the group that led opposition to the original proposal, said "while this isn't perfect, this is the first significant pay increase for the rank in 28 years. It's better than the contracts we had in our hand to teach 5-5 for a pay cut." Further, the statement said that Arizona State "took seriously our pedagogical concerns and offered the 4-4 for instructors to choose."

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