Fordham University: Tuition Over $45,000 — and Professors on Medicaid?

Fordham Lincoln Center, Protest
Protest in front of Fordham’s Lincoln Center Campus, April 8, 2017. Photo credit: Yasmin Sara Merchant / WhoWhatWhy

Large parts of the faculty at one of the most expensive universities in the world are struggling to make ends meet and rely on government assistance while their students pay close to a quarter million dollars for a four-year program.

It is not cheap to attend Fordham University, known as the Jesuit university of New York City. The tuition and fees are $47,317. Add room, board, and other miscellaneous fees, and the total comes out to a whopping $67,457. Even with financial aid, most students are paying tens of thousands a year for a Fordham education.

With fees that high, one would expect that all members of the school’s faculty would make a decent salary.

But they do not. Prospective students visiting the Fordham campus at Lincoln Center on April 8th were greeted by a crowd of protesters equipped with megaphones, signs, and flyers. The crowd was demanding a livable wage and healthcare for all faculty, and calling out the university administration for its apparent unwillingness to provide it.

Fordham Lincoln Center, protest

Photo credit: Yasmin Sara Merchant / WhoWhatWhy

At the heart of the dispute is Fordham’s increasing use of adjunct faculty.  An adjunct professor is officially a part-time employee, meaning there are little to no benefits included.

They are paid per course taught each semester, and there is no guarantee that they will be hired for the next semester. Most adjunct professors have multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Chris Brandt, an adjunct in the Communication and Media Studies department, said he does not make enough at Fordham to live a sustainable lifestyle.

“If it were not for Social Security, I would not be able to both eat and pay my rent,” he told WhoWhatWhy.

Alessandro King, another adjunct, commented on the issue of health care. He said they are offered something called the Fordham Bronze Medical Plan.

“As of last December, zero adjuncts had signed up for it, possibly because it costs $822.20 a month,” King said. “I took a staff member’s suggestion and signed up for an ACA plan.”

Where Does the Money Go?

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Brandt estimated that about 17% of student tuition pays all the faculty, but he is not sure of this number because the administration has been secretive about how tuition dollars are used.

Referring to his estimate, he said, “If this isn’t true we’d like the administration to come out with it.”  The faculty, he claimed, has been asking for answers for the past couple of years.

In an April 13 email sent to the university community, Bob Howe — Assistant Vice President for Communications and Special Adviser to the university’s President Father Joseph McShane, S.J. —   insisted that discussions between administration and faculty “have been — and continue to be — cordial, frank, and productive.”

Howe gave very different numbers than Brandt, stating that “92% of our operating revenue comes from tuition and student fees, and 63% of the University’s costs are related to the salaries and benefits of those who work at the University.”

He expressed optimism that the issue will be resolved, despite the fact that the Faculty Senate plans to hold a no confidence vote in Father McShane.

Fordham Lincoln Center, protest

Photo credit: Yasmin Sara Merchant / WhoWhatWhy

After failing to get answers — even when they directly petitioned the university president — they decided to organize with Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

“It’s very unpleasant to do this but we feel we have absolutely no other option because the university won’t talk to us,” Brandt added.

Unionizing Interferes With Religious Freedom?

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In response, Fordham administration’s legal team announced their intention to delay the union vote, claiming the faculty’s petition “calls upon the Board to exert state power to regulate and interfere with religious freedom, liberties and beliefs.”

Their claim that unionizing interferes with Jesuit beliefs is raising eyebrows considering the Jesuit order’s and Catholic Church’s historical stance on the matter. St. John Paul II once stated that unions are “indispensable” for a just society.

Adjunct faculty were permitted to unionize at Georgetown University — which, like Fordham, is a Jesuit school — and at Catholic schools Trinity Washington University and Saint Mary’s College of California.

Fordham Lincoln Center, protest

Photo credit: Yasmin Sara Merchant / WhoWhatWhy

However, Fordham is not the first religiously affiliated university to make such a claim. According to National Catholic Reporter (NCR), an independent news source covering topics on the Church, three Catholic universities in Chicago contended that the First Amendment entitles them to be exempt from National Labor Relations Board jurisdiction in 2016.

“Our understanding of the law, Catholic social teaching on workers’ rights, and church doctrine on religious freedom convinces us this is not a valid exercise of religious liberty” said NCR writers Gerald J. Beyer and Donald C. Carroll.

Adjunct Professor of Anthropology Alan Trevithick said the announcement came as a shock to the faculty. Trevithick has been actively involved in the fight for better working conditions for the past couple of years. In 2015, he participated in a fasting campaign to raise awareness.

Alan Trevithick

Photo credit: Image courtesy of Alan Trevithick

Speaking directly to the visiting students and parents gathered on campus, Trevithick asked for the university to simply “find another process” to meet the faculty’s concerns if they do not wish to go through a union.

“We’re here to make sure they don’t use legal tactics to avoid their moral responsibilities to support the faculty, which is the heart of this university,” he said.

Alan Trevithick, Fordham, Protest

Prof. Alan Trevithick holding a banner saying “McShame Give Faculty a Voice.”
Photo credit: Yasmin Sara Merchant / WhoWhatWhy

Fordham Lincoln Center, protest

The protesters marched inside and interrupted the catered lunch for prospective students.
Photo credit: Yasmin Sara Merchant / WhoWhatWhy

The administration’s attempt to block the vote prompted New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, to respond.

“I encourage Fordham’s administration to agree to a fair process in a timely manner that allows for the non-tenure track faculty to vote on whether or not to join a union, and be given the same opportunity for unionization as many other employees and faculty at Fordham,” de Blasio said.

“I Object to Students Being Used as ATMs.”

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Students, like Reyna Wang, a Fordham College at Rose Hill junior, have been rallying behind the faculty. Wang is a member of Fordham Students United, a coalition of student activists that has been supporting Fordham’s adjuncts for over a year.

“A union for Fordham’s contingent faculty benefits the entire Fordham community: contingent faculty would receive fair wages and benefits, securing their basic financial needs and allowing them to devote more time and energy to their students,” Wang said.

She also noted that students pay upwards of $6,000 for a class, “Yet adjunct professors, who make up more than half of our faculty, are paid around $4,000 a course.”

Professor King concurred with Wang’s sentiment. “It’s hard to overstate just how much the students’ education will benefit if the faculty is allowed to unionize,” he said. “With appropriate compensation and benefits, professors will be able to concentrate and provide the students with the attention and focus they expect and demand.”

The contingent faculty is refusing to back down. They will continue to rally and protest, and have plans to launch a public campaign backed by the Catholic Tradition.

For Brandt, it all boils down to one issue: “I object to students being used as ATMs.”

The author is a student at Fordham University.


Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Fordham protest (Yasmin Sara Merchant)

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19 responses to “Fordham University: Tuition Over $45,000 — and Professors on Medicaid?”

  1. Emily Pierce says:

    What I don’t understand about Fordham Students is they will come and speak out for faculty, but fear speaking out against the constant discrimination that goes on with LGBQT & people w/ mental health issues, particularly students with mental health issues. Do the students know that every time there is an office of civil rights investigation, their information is collected randomly and it can be requested through the Freedom of information act ? So your education records are protected 100% , but your medical records whether mental health or medical are not, whenever there is a office of civil rights investigation? You should be outraged that Fordham discriminates against such vulnerable individuals and that they put your information out for the public to look at, it’s all covered under FERPA.

    That’s where your dollars are going – to Fordham’s lawyers who know Fordham is wrong in lawsuits but will continue to put students’ information at risk of being FOIA. It’s a random pool, or is supposed to be. With Fordham you never know what you will get.

  2. Sebastian Kolaj says:

    N.B. I have two degrees from Fordham and almost $200,000 in student loan debt.

    Adjuncts, TAs, and Post-docs nationwide overexert themselves, serially and thanklessly, for a dream that is getter harder and harder to realize: getting that tenure-track position. This is not particular to Fordham, or to private, not-for-profit (in this case, Catholic) institutions. This sort of unconscious, undesirable, unavoidable exploitation also happens at public institutions. Economic and liberal values are simply not matching up. We want everyone to be as educated as possible, but we’re using an archaic system to do it. By taking a little back from the mostly very comfortably compensated professors, Fordham is trying to curb metastasizing tuition costs. Fordham is a very fine school in a very expensive city that doesn’t have the wealth or cache of NYU and Columbia to handily balance both sides of the equation. Fordham also doesn’t have a pay-to-play mentality and a minimal campus life like Pace, Manhattan College, and other respectable, but mostly commuter private colleges, in the New York Metropolitan Area. Fordham, as my time there can attest to, strives to create an atmosphere and an experience that shapes you culturally and academically — in a word, spiritually. This commendable mission is being derailed by hard economic facts: it costs a lot of money to do that. I’m confident that Father McShane is doing a thoughtful and delicate job at walking the tightrope for now. The protestors and faculty (whom I support), and perhaps even the administrators and board of trustees on the “other” side (whom I also fully support), are missing the forest for the trees. Costs are going to continue to rise, Fordham is not going to diminish it’s campus life and academics, and there needs to be a way to increase the university’s wealth from alumni-giving and by providing more services to society: NYU and Columbia both have medical campuses, though that raises other ethical dilemmas. There has to be a third path, one that combines the prestige and intellectual vitality of a liberal arts college and the diversity and affordability of a public university, which would nicely ally with the cosmopolitanism that Catholicism teaches us. Step up, alumni. Be reasonable, faculty. Protest sometimes and study often, my dear students.

  3. Bálint László says:

    Rent in the tri state area is very high even if you are not in the city; for many living here, that’s where the majority of our paycheck goes.

  4. Sandi Thomas Murray says:

    Position Minimum pay Average Salary. Avg Fringe Benefits. Total
    Professor
    232. $100,850 $159,800. $51,900. $211,700

    Associate
    254. $81,941. $111,700. $42,000. $153,700

    Assistant
    163. $73,536. $96,300. $32,400. $128,700

    Instructor
    4. $73,536. $85,500. $32,100. $117,600

    Lecturer
    57. $40,000. $64,300. $25,000. $89,300
    These are the pay and compensation scales 2014/2015….I do understand that the cost of living in the city are high…I’m from NY, I also understand that each and every member of the facility signed up to teach for this compensation….I am not saying that the school shouldn’t be more efficient and more cost effective but when you signed on you made a choice..no one makes them teach at this school

  5. Sandi Thomas Murray says:

    Just out of curiosity how much do these professors need to “live on”
    Professors at Fordham University have an average annual salary of $205,810. This salary is a projection of salary for teaching a full twelve month year. The average annual salary for male professors is $212,066, which is $124,304 more than the average for male professors at universities…..

    • russbaker says:

      That’s a lot. Assume you’re talking about tenured faculty, not adjuncts. So kind of extreme opposites. Though, if you dont live in NYC, you probably have no sense of how incredibly expensive it is. 200k is very middle class in the city. And Fordham has to compete with other eastern schools for talent. On the other hand, if you look at what the adjuncts get, it’s incredibly little.

    • Yasmin Sara says:

      It’s a bit more difficult to estimate the annual salary for an adjuncts, as they are hired per semester and are paid according to the amount of courses they teach. The overall average salary for professors is going to be a misleading because it includes the tenured faculty. As far as how much they need to live on – the main concern here is the cost of health care, since they university does not provide them benefits. Rent in the tri state area is very high even if you are not in the city; for many living here, that’s where the majority of our paycheck goes. Then you have to consider that many professors have families to support, so even if they seem like they’re making a livable enough wage, it will fall very short of what they need to provide for their children.

    • J C says:

      Do you not understand how averages work?

      Look, non-tenure tracked adjunct professors are also underpaid at the University of Minnesota–doesn’t make it right in Minnesota either.

  6. Mike says:

    As a parent of a student I think this is a pity. Also, faculty are very fortunate to be in their profession.

  7. iamdum says:

    I can say with certainty that the bloated administration, which is coincidentally keeping spending translucent, is where the money is being wasted. Many times did I wait in the administrative offices, watching people idly sitting around, smacking bubble gum, watching videos, and literally talking about how sweet of a gig it was.

    If you want to get money back, look at those wastes of spaces in the administrative offices.

    • jason says:

      I can also say with certainty that the observation is pretty unfair and very general to make it across the entire administration. Most lower and mid-level admin often times are overworked in conditions and resources not facilitating a more effective way of working. The problem is at the highest levels of the university management. To accuse clerical, or admin employees who are often times getting compensation below industry
      standards is just as unfair as to the treatment faculty are receiving.

    • iamdum says:

      You can say this with certainty based on… what? Scapegoating the highest levels of management doesn’t absolve the loafing administrators of responsibilities. Sure, some of them work, and do so diligently, but your claim that most lower and mid-level administrators can be disproven with a simple look inside their offices, or even a recording of a few days of their “arduous” labor.

      The only part I would agree with is that yes, higher level management needs to reduce wasteful spending on incompetent, bumbling oafs and compensate industrious administrators more fairly.

  8. Jan Susan says:

    The tuition money goes to bloated administrative salaries and real estate purchases. Same thing is going on at many campuses. Good for the adjunct faculty in demonstrating before prospective students!

  9. Luba Petrusha says:

    Funny how they never seem to have adjunct administrators………

    • Jason says:

      They do. Although they are not called adjuncts. These non-benefitted employees only live off the paycheck they receive, which often times is significantly less than the paycheck of an employee in the same role who has full-on compensation.

  10. drapeblind says:

    Pretty soon most universities will be asking for $50,000 a year to watch pre-recorded videos by businessmen instructing students to submit. Fordham looks to be ready to implode due to administrative logic replacing educational goals.

  11. Kevin Jenkins says:

    There is only one way that Fordham will comply. Reduce enrollment dollars ENTIRELY.

  12. Gwenyth Jackaway says:

    The Fordham administration broke the university’s governing statutes in 2016 by imposing salary and benefit changes on the faculty and allocating the salary without the agreement of the Faculty Salary and Benefits Committee and the Faculty Senate, which is required by the statutes.

    The administration is on the verge of breaking the statutes again in 2017—and this time, it wants to cut two of the three health care plans currently available to faculty. The one plan that would be offered would shift thousands of dollars of costs onto the sickest, most vulnerable members of the faculty by offering a plan with high co-pays, a high deductible, and extremely high out of pocket maximums. The university is also refusing to discuss raises unless the faculty accepts the one, pared down health care plan.

    The Fordham faculty is taking the unprecedented step of holding a vote of No-Confidence in the university president to show their displeasure with the current situation and the lack of faith it has in the leadership of the university to uphold the contracts and agreements it has made.

    “We have been negotiating in good faith for months, but the Fordham administration simply will not live up to the provisions already in our 2014 contract—and now they want to cut even more,” explains Andrew H. Clark, Professor of French and Comparative Literature, Chair of the Fordham University Senate’s Salary and Benefits Committee. “Students come to a university to get an education, and we do the educating. Our faculty should receive decent pay and benefits for the tireless work they do for Fordham students. Plus if the university will not live up to its own rules, it sets a terrible precedent for our students and the future of our institution.”

    Fordham’s full-time faculty supports the contingent faculty’s desire to unionize, and are deeply distressed by the Fordham administration’s attempts to block such unionization. The poor treatment of contingent faculty is another reason the leaders of Fordham’s Faculty Senate are urging colleagues to vote no confidence in Fordham’s president.

  13. 0040 says:

    Ah the wonder of for profit education, so cheap, so efficient, a boon to both students and teachers who experience the full impact of austerity, as the management team gorges on the savings.

  14. Citizen Quasar says:

    Overpriced textbooks, where, if anything “new,” a chapter has been moved, are a scam and a ploy. Filling college professor positions with “adjunct” professors strips professors of full-time status and reduces their efficiency as most of them have a second job.

    “Accrediting” professors is another scam, which is designed and intended to submit professors to unjustifiable administration and destroy their ability to actually teach. In this, it has been a roaring success.