Dear Fordham Faculty and Staff,

First, I want to thank all of you who attended the town halls at Lincoln Center and Rose Hill and took in my overabundance of data, charts, and graphs. It matters very much to me to be able to share the details with you, and the insights I’ve gained since I arrived. And (as one of you pointed out) it’s important that each of us has access to the whole picture—from finances to retention, from admission strategy to fundraising. I appreciated your hard questions and I will continue to ask them myself.

I began to give you an update at those town halls about our negotiations with the union representing many of our non-tenure track faculty, including those in both part-time and full-time positions. After the latest negotiation yesterday afternoon, I had hoped to give you good news about an agreement, but even after these many months, we still didn’t quite get there. I’m still hopeful that we’ll reach a resolution soon, though. Yesterday we formally requested that we make use of a federal mediator as our best chance to help us find a middle ground.

We have so much respect and empathy for our adjunct faculty, and we’re working hard to make a difficult situation better. Like so much else, higher education in this country has become increasingly divided. Universities invested in research by gradually reducing the teaching load of tenure-track faculty. As a result, none but the wealthiest schools could then afford to hire enough tenure-track faculty to cover the curriculum with reduced teaching loads. Instead, most universities have increasingly relied on adjunct faculty to teach, creating a divided and difficult academic marketplace.

Fordham has no choice but to function in that academic marketplace, however, and to stretch our compensation budget across the increasingly divided markets of our employees.

And we have no choice but to live within our means. As I showed you in detail in the town hall, Fordham is deeply dependent on the tuition dollars of the students. Just as inflation is hitting all of you, and hitting Fordham’s other costs, it is hitting our students and their families. It is unlikely that tuition increases in higher education will keep pace with inflation rates. We work to constrain our costs because we must.

Our compensation can never keep up with neighboring schools like Columbia and NYU, which serve a very different student population and sit on endowments many times the size of Fordham’s. We can be frustrated that we are not as privileged as they are, but that doesn’t change the reality. And we have to remember, though it is of little comfort to those who are struggling, that our compensation is higher than the vast majority of schools in this country, including all but the wealthiest schools in this region.

We are working hard to increase compensation for our adjunct faculty within our very real financial limitations. We have focused our offers on wages, because of the extraordinary expense of paying for health care for our part-time adjuncts (an average of $26,000 per employee).

We also face difficult questions of balancing the needs of different categories of lecturers within these negotiations. Faculty across the university work within different disciplines that command different market wages. Added to this, part-time adjuncts also range from those with jobs outside academia (who bring our students their professional expertise) to those who focus entirely on teaching across multiple institutions. In Fordham’s last contract, we made a greater investment in equity for the latter group. Now we are struggling, along with the union leadership, with how to maximize fairness for all of the differently situated union membership.

My own career in academia began teaching night classes as a part-time adjunct after work. When I began full-time teaching, I was tenure-track but also had the title of clinical faculty. I keenly remember the petty disrespect and indignity from those who felt they could only measure their own status by looking down on others. So one more thing—and this is not a focus of the negotiations but is important to me—let’s not do that here. It’s not who we are.

One thing within our collective control is this: the level of respect we show our adjunct faculty here at Fordham. We can do that in ways both cultural and structural (referring to them as “faculty,” including them more in shared governance). Respect is no substitute for compensation, but it matters.

In the meantime, we have negotiated with union leadership for 23 sessions. We have empathized as they navigate the divergent needs and demands of their varied membership. We’ve come very close to what we thought was the goal, only to be presented with competing membership priorities.

And so we continue with true Jesuit discernment, to take in information and arguments of justice, to acknowledge pragmatic realities, and to make the best of constrained choices. I look forward to taking these next steps with the union with the benefit of a mediator, and I will continue to update the community on our progress toward an agreement.

All my best,

Tania Tetlow
President