Parsons School of Design, part of Manhattan’s prestigious The New School, is arguably considered the top school in the US for studying fashion. Its tuition fees alone can top 200,000 dollars for a 4 year BFA design course. Many of its students who have joined this week’s picket line to support the part-time faculty striking in protest of what adjunct refer to as "poverty wages" are left wondering where exactly their tuition fees go.
In September FashionUnited reported on the "Rally for Respect" protest which united members of faculty, union, city council and a supportive student body in protest in front of the school's Fifth Avenue main building. It was just a few weeks into the semester and the situation already seemed at boiling point as the union communicated frustration that their demands for renegotiation of a new contract had been ignored over many months by the school. The subsequent 14-hour bargaining session between university administration and the union bargaining committee on November 13 ended in stalemate at midnight.
87 percent of the faculty at The New School are part-time which makes them an integral component of the Parsons education and they are disappointed that the school is unwilling to recognize their contributions to its top reputation and the success of its students. The average pay for a part-time faculty member teaching a 3-credit course is 4,500 dollars per semester. Most have other jobs in order to be able to live in the most expensive city in the US. According to The Real News Network, an independent, nonprofit news organization, part-time faculty teaching a comparable course at neighboring NYU may earn up to 10,500 dollars per semester for a 3-credit course, according to the terms of a recently reached agreement.
The New School makes the case that it cannot be compared to other big universities in the area due to being a small tuition-dependent private institution. In a statement it argued that the union’s proposal “would cost an additional 200 million dollars plus over the course of a five-year contract,” something which would be “unprecedented and unsustainable.”
Parsons high tuition fees at odds with low part-time faculty salaries
The union, ACT-UAW Local 7902, had agreed with the school to extend the terms of its prior contract which ended in 2019 through the duration of the pandemic. Its new proposal seeks among other things improved pay, healthcare eligibility, and job security. Addressing the salary of part-time faculty, the union said the following: "The university's spending on their salaries comprises a mere 7.5% to 8.5% of its budget. While administrative bloat is a problem in universities across the country, The New School pays 2.3 times the national average on administration relative to instruction."
The Real News Network article includes an analysis of university spending by Sanjay Reddy, associate professor and chair of the school’s economics department, which estimates that 54 percent of the university’s total compensation expenditure went to non-instructional staff, including administrators. He also outlines that between 2014 and 2019 the school experienced yearly revenue increases of between 17 and 19 percent while faculty salary decreased by 2.1 percent annually during the same period. The school which has boasted of its commitment to social justice issues faces accusations of having a “corporate mindset” by the union and of having lost all connection to its progressive roots wherein its founding document called for the removal of “presidents and deans and the usual administrative retinue” and for keeping “overhead expenses to the minimum.”
The strike, authorized via vote by 97 percent of union members, and 1,307 of the 1,678 part-time faculty, is the result of the expiration of the existing contract with no new agreement in place. On November 16, the striking faculty assembled a picket line at the school’s Fifth Avenue main entrance. Full-time faculty have expressed solidarity and many agreed to suspend class in support of the strike. The New York Post reported that the school had advised students to cross the picket line by attending class despite the fact that the student might receive no instruction. The school said in a statement that it will continue bargaining through Thursday and Friday with the help of a mediator.