Interaction with learners

Seattle college professors protest stagnant wages as inflation soars

by Ari Robin McKenna

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On Tuesday, April 24, a group of Seattle Colleges faculty demonstrated outside Broadway Performance Hall before heading to their district headquarters, the Siegal Center. Inside, union leaders, who the professors say do not fully represent their needs, were negotiating. Their salaries for the next three years are balanced between the 0% increase that professors say they were initially offered by Seattle Colleges, the 15% increase for which Seattle Local 1789 of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is negotiating and the say 40% increase is needed to keep them afloat during historic national inflation in a city where the cost of living is more than 50% higher than the national average.

The professors and some of their students chanted phrases like “Let us in” and “Work with us, not against us”, “We will win” and “At the table, not on the menu”. They waved signs at passers-by and honked at cars saying “0% is not enough”, “Fund Faculty Raises”, “AFT Worker Solidarity” and “SCD says professors are worth 0%”.

Seattle Colleges professors chant “Let us in!” outside the Siegel Center, where the district offices are located. (Photo: Ari Robin McKenna)

Zahra Alavi, an English teacher who works primarily with emerging multilingual learners, spoke to the emerald outside the Siegal Center on the vital importance of community colleges – such as Seattle College’s three campuses in North, Central and South Seattle – as part of the overall public education system. “They are [community colleges] the entry point for so many older students who have been in the workforce and want to change direction. Community college is the medium that provides upward mobility to so many people who struggled through high school or really couldn’t afford a four-year institution. It is the quintessential American dream. It is freely accessible. It’s a way to upward mobility, and it’s a way to get an education so you can improve your life for your family. Community colleges are absolutely essential to the functioning of our society.

Peter Knutson, an anthropology professor who has worked at Seattle Colleges for 42 years, says professors are desperate and could end up going on strike.

Although he has been able to continue teaching over the decades because he supports himself through commercial fishing in Alaska each summer, Knutson says full-time and part-time staff face a severe inability to survive in the city where he works, and many face food and housing insecurity. Knutson says many professors are barely able to afford their rent, and it’s common for part-time professors to make do with food stamps. He also mentions a tenured Seattle Colleges professor who lives in a van outside the Seattle city limits because his salary at Seattle College hasn’t kept pace with increases in rent and the cost of living here.

“Basically, we [Seattle Colleges] are working class, marginalized schools, and so we get half the per-student funding from the state that the U Dub [University of Washington] gets, and we have a very heavy administration on top of that. Technically, it is illegal for us to strike. Who cares more? It gets to that point where all you can do is put your work on hold. They don’t listen.

A look at the most recent data (2019) on Open Payroll certainly reflects these professors’ concerns about the cost of living in Seattle and salary inequities within their institution. On the three campuses, there were 50 people earning more than $100,000 and 49 were administrators of various titles: chancellors and vice-chancellors, presidents and vice-presidents, deans, officers, managers and executives, and exactly one member of the full-time faculty.

Seattle Colleges’ average full-time faculty salary was $73,190 in 2020, less than all adjacent community college systems except Highline, with Bellevue at $80,206, Renton at $78,800, and Shoreline at $75,509. Considering the $82,000 cost of living in Seattle (for a single person with no children) and inflation that has jumped over 25% in 2022 alone, it seems that to teach in one of Seattle colleges would require living outside of the city whose name bears colleges. The Seattle Colleges spokesperson did not respond to the emerald‘s questions at the time of publication.

Seattle Colleges teachers are protesting for a pay boost. (Video: Ari Robin McKenna)

Anna Hackman, a humanities faculty member who teaches courses in cross-cultural communication, media studies, and hip-hop theory, was thrilled that there was solidarity from the faculty base on the three campuses of Seattle Colleges, but she was exasperated by the injustice surrounding their work. “Our Chancellor is doing more [$310,800 in 2019] that the Governor of Washington State [$171,898 currently]when we have teachers who can barely afford rent, who are homeless, who will have to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet.

Hackman said teachers feel this gap daily and the devaluation is not limited to pay or living conditions, it even manifests in their classrooms and threatens to undermine the education they are committed to providing. to students – unless they organize themselves. “We can have our classes cut at any time… They try to treat us like useless, but what we realized when we started meeting is that we are the first point of contact for students, faculty , staff, academics in contact with students. workers; we have the most interaction with them. We are middle School.”

Egel Legecy, a student at Seattle College, one of the participants in the protest, agrees wholeheartedly. Although they struggled with homelessness during their time at community college, they were able to look back on it as a time of growth thanks to the support of their teachers – and in particular Anna Hackman.

“Anna has helped me a lot over the past two terms. I’ve learned so much about myself and the world through a tough time,” Legecy said.

While praising the experience they had at a college in Seattle, Legecy wholeheartedly agrees with how their teachers are devalued. “I learned so much at university. I have grown so much. I am so grateful to Seattle Central College, and I am grateful to Seattle Central College because of the faculty, not because of the Chancellor. I don’t even know who the hell they are! I don’t understand why they are paid so much while our teachers are fighting for their survival. It is unfair. It’s messed up.


Ari Robin McKenna worked as an educator and curriculum developer in Brooklyn, New York; Douala, Cameroon; Busan, South Korea; Quito, Ecuador; and Seattle, Washington, before settling in South Seattle. He writes on education for the Emerald. contact him here.

📸 The featured image: Seattle Colleges teachers are protesting for a pay boost. (Photo: Ari Robin McKenna)

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