On The Open Letter To The Smith Community From Professor Folsom

Photo courtesy of pbs.org || Smith’s actions and resistance to treat adjunct faculty member Jenny Folsom with respect and fairness is deplorable, writes Liz Curran-Groome ’18

Photo Courtesy of pbs.org | Smith’s actions and resistance to treat adjunct faculty member Jenny Folsom with respect and fairness is deplorable, writes Liz Curran-Groome ’18


Liz Curran-Groome ’18
Staff Writer

The Smith administration’s disregard for pay parity between male and female adjunct professors has been brought to light in an open letter by adjunct faculty member Jenny Folsom. The following information has been culled through previously confidential communication with Folsom. Until the publication of her open-letter, which was published after this article was written, she wished for the information to remain private having experienced intimidation and aggression from the University for speaking out, despite never having signed a contract with Smith which required her silence.

Folsom, an adjunct professor and a UMass grad student who is in her third semester of instructing at Smith and is teaching “Statistics for Sociology” and “Media, Technology and Sociology” this semester, discovered last year that she was being paid substantially less than her male teaching assistant. She, the primary instructor for the course, was being paid less than the teaching assistant. To be clear, Folsom has taken on a course in the Sociology department (statistics) which no tenured professors want to teach, and she took on the task of teaching a sociology course on race, while Professor Ginetta Candelario, the professor who typically teaches the department’s courses on race, was away for the spring 2016 semester. Folsom has been a vital addition to the department during her multiple semesters of working as an adjunct, and in return Smith has failed to compensate her fairly for her work.

With the ready cooperation and assistance of her teaching assistant, Folsom presented both of their contracts to the Sociology Department Chair as evidence of pay disparity and he got in contact with the Dean for Academic Development, Bill Peterson. Peterson failed to set up a meeting until Folsom, after waiting weeks for a response, got the UMass graduate employee union, Local 2322, involved. At that point, he immediately scheduled a meeting.

In this meeting Peterson did the following: he questioned her qualifications to teach the course despite stellar evaluations, he claimed that “anyone can teach statistics with a calculator” and he cited his reason for paying the TA more being that he sympathized with the TA’s struggles as a male graduate student.

Folsom and her union, through a prolonged negotiation with a resistant Smith over this past summer, were able to negotiate a contract that ensures she is paid the same as her TA  this semester. Prior to seeking out a negotiation for fair pay, Folsom had been invited back for this Fall to teach the same Stats and Media courses. Smith had to keep her on for this Fall, but Folsom has not been invited back for the Spring of 2017.

This failure to rehire Folsom is undoubtedly due to her speaking out about the discrimination and her refusal to back down. Folsom expresses additional concerns in the letter about not only sex-based discrimination but also about racial discrimination when it comes to pay disparities at Smith, citing the racism evident in two open-letters from professors in the Graduate School for Social Work at Smith. In her letter she calls for greater transparency from the Smith administration in the hopes of correcting any discriminatory practices in their pay-policies — transparency Smith has vehemently resisted at every turn. An institution that refuses to be transparent must have shameful practices it is trying to hide, right?

To my peers, this is a call to action. Our values must be represented in our administration, an administration which we invest in every year with our tuition. We must stand in solidarity, demand change and hold this administration to a standard of transparency which will ensure no such discrimination occurs again. Will we permit such aggressive sexism on our campus, a campus to which so many of us came to exist in a space where we expect to be respected as equals to our male counterparts? Folsom has bravely taken this stand for all those who come after her and we must make sure that we help her follow through. From here-on-out the outcome is in our hands and we must demand policies and practices from Smith which will prevent sexist and racial discrimination; we must demand integrity.


To read the college’s response, click here.

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