Professors struggle as a result of heavy course cuts

“I would much rather be teaching,” Jason Markle said, sitting behind the desk of his small office at K.I Sawyer International Airport. Markle, an English professor, is one of many adjunct faculty whose work load has been severely cut.

To make up for the lost pay, Markle was forced to take a second job as an assistant at the airport.

Northern Michigan University will be short even more professors come next fall in the wake of new departmental position cuts.

The blame, university officials cite, rests on multiple years of declining enrollment, the most recent being a loss of 478 students and the need for more austere budgetary control measures.

“We are down in enrollment,” said Dale Kapla, assistant provost for undergraduate programming and faculty affairs. “If there are fewer students, there are fewer sections of courses we have to offer, which means we need fewer instructors.”

In an effort to find out how exactly position cuts affect the individuals involved, The North Wind staff sought to locate members of the adjunct faculty who are no longer employed at NMU or who have had their teaching loads drastically reduced.

Markle was one such faculty member whose contract was not renewed last year. Markle is not unemployed, but rather falls into the “underemployed” category.

He now devotes most of his time to his second job, which he likely could have gotten without a degree, while teaching one online course on the side.

“Coming into the summer and having to find a job—that was an eye-opening experience,” Markle said. “I realized I was not qualified for anything in the real world.”

Markle said he spent a few months searching for a job in the area. Soon the situation got to the point where he considered applying to work at McDonalds.

The two-time Northern grad said his experience working for a small regional airline during his undergraduate years finally landed him the job at the airport.

As a term professor for five-and-a-half years in the English department, Markle was well- liked among his students and routinely filled his courses to near capacity.

When professors reach six years at NMU, they enter what the university calls “continuing status,” which gives faculty a more permanent position.

When Markle’s students discovered he would not be returning for the 2015-16 school year, they started a petition online, which has since garnered more than 200 signatures, as well as comments of support.

At a recent town hall meeting, however, President Erickson declined to comment on his case.

Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Kerri Schuiling said the administration is asking departments to be more efficient in some ways. According to Schuiling, cuts were a necessary step.

“It isn’t that we don’t value [professors], but when we can’t justify a need, we are a public university, we have a fiduciary responsibility to the public. The public would not be happy if we were just not being careful about the bottom line,” Schuiling said.

Heidi Stevenson, Ph.D., director of the NMU writing center and assistant professor in the English department, is yet another victim of non-renewed contracts.

This was her fifth consecutive year under a term appointment contract, and she has been at NMU in one capacity or another since 2013.

“As I leave this position, I am very concerned about who will direct the writing center,” Stevenson said. “In our composition faculty, there are very few [people], and I know that our department is working hard to figure out what they will do with that position, but there is no obvious, permanent replacement that I am seeing already.”

For faculty like Stevenson and Markle, the cuts run deep—and point to a bigger concern in the education industry. As higher education continues to evolve, the concept of faculty receiving tenure may begin to disappear altogether, Markle said.

“Unfortunately, education is a big business,” Markle said. “Especially now, for a university it’s more about the numbers.”

When asked why he doesn’t move on and look for another job in academia elsewhere, Markle’s answer was simple: he has children in school here and a wife who immensely enjoys her job.

He said he would rather she remain doing what she loves than force her to move elsewhere. The pay, he says, is nowhere near what he made as a professor, but the Markle family continues to get by.