SFCC Faculty to Board: Full-time Salaries Barely Living Wage

Outcry over salaries and workloads comes as union negotiates contract

Amid contract negotiations, nearly a dozen full-time Santa Fe Community College faculty members last night testified to the SFCC governing board about the need to increase salaries, with Lenny Gannes, president of the union representing full-time faculty, telling the board current full-time salaries at the school barely constitute a living wage unless a faculty member is a single adult, “without student debt and without hopes of buying a home.”

Faculty, he told the board, “should be able to afford to live in the community that they serve. They should be able to afford to raise a family here. They should be able to afford to care for sick parents or other family members. Faculty should be able to afford to retire after serving our community for our career.”

The SFCC AFT-AAUP union began contract negotiations in January to improve faculty salaries, benefits and protections; according to a news release, the number of full-time SFCC faculty decreased by 30% in the last four years, with many faculty leaving because of low wages.

Gannes, a full-time professor of biology in SFCC’s School of Sciences, Health, Engineering and Math, says concerns escalated in 2022 when the state Legislature passed a statewide pay increase of at least $10,000 for K-12 public school teachers, which led to those teachers earning significantly more per year than SFCC faculty members.

“I think that was exactly the right thing to do, but the flip-side was, now we have faculty that could be making significantly more teaching K-12,” Gannes tells SFR. “The increase of the cost of living in Santa Fe has been really fast, and keeping up with that increase just is not happening.”

Gannes cites the MIT Living Wage Calculator, which says one adult with no children living in Santa Fe needs to earn approximately $48,000 per year to cover living expenses. Currently, the starting income for a nine-month faculty member is $49,000 per year. One adult with two children, according to this data, would have expenses of about $106,000 per year, and the average salary of faculty at SFCC is about $63,000 per year.

Professor of Teacher Education sj Miller noted that first-year students in the Teacher Education program make $50,000 as public school teachers before even receiving a teaching license, and that third year students make up to $60,000—more than several of the staff at SFCC, including Miller, earn per year.

“I left a $150,000 salary [at New York University] to come home for $52,000…I am now making barely more than that at SFCC. I work three jobs right now to afford my home; I have no time to rest,” Miller told the board at the meeting. “I only want to work one job. I want to be able to have time to rest. I want to be able to go to sleep at night, and not worry about getting up at 4 or 5 in the morning to be able to keep an entire day going.”

Moreover, Gannes says, the current salary schedule, in addition to the starting pay, leaves little opportunity for faculty at SFCC to “get a meaningful raise.”

Case in point: Gannes read to the board a statement from Steve Gomez, an assistant professor and lead faculty for water operations, algae cultivation and biofuels, and a former department chairman who holds a Ph.D in molecular cell and developmental biology from ACLU. He’s at the top tier of earning, he says, and still he makes less than managers at Panda’s Express and McDonald’s.

“There’s no reward for longevity at the college, and those are the people that we’re losing—those who have maxed out what they’re able to earn here,” Gannes says.

Gianna Hernandez Mendez, for instance, taught in the college’s STEM department from 2020 to 2023 before leaving her $54,000 position to work for a community college in Madison, Wisconsin—receiving a $25,000 raise to do so.

“I really did love my position— I loved my students, my coworkers, I loved the community, so it was really painful to remember why I had to go,” Hernandez Mendez tells SFR. “It wasn’t because I wanted to, it was really because I had to because we could not sustain ourselves, we had two salaries and were barely making it.”

Hernandez says she remains invested in the SFCC community, and will continue to work as adjunct faculty teaching STEM class she personally developed while still working for the school, but says the response faculty received from administrators when expressing their concerns also contributed to her decision to leave.

“The way they would respond to faculty, when we would tell them ‘Hey, we have this need, morale is really low’…it was like listening to politicians talk. We have a hard time living here, we can’t afford medical attention, and they were very nonchalant,” Hernandez Mendez says.

David Sicko, an assistant professor in the college’s history department who is currently on medical leave due to muscular dystrophy, says he plans to retire in May due to his current salary combined with the workload he’s been given.

“The problem we’re in is, we’re just so understaffed that we’re overwhelmed. My department, the whole college—there’s a lot of administrative work they rely on faculty to do, which is part of our job, but there’s more of it than ever before,” Sicko tells SFR. “The combination of the amount of work I have to do and the salary they’re paying me, it makes more sense for me to retire. And I can only retire because of my wife. If we didn’t have her income, her pension, I would not be able to retire.

Shortly after the meeting ended, SFCC President Becky Rowley told attending press members because the college is currently in open bargaining with the faculty union, she cannot discuss the details as bargaining is a “closed, confidential practice.”

Nonetheless, she said: “I do appreciate their comments and them coming forward,” Rowley says. “We know it’s a problem, and we are committed to working on it, and I look forward to working with them on trying to do as much as we can.”

Rowley also noted the college intends to conduct a salary schedule and is “working on securing a vendor” to do so. “We’ll look and see what the results are from that and kind of go from there,” she says. “There’s nothing we can do outside the bargaining process, so it willl have to be bargained, and they’ll have to talk about possibilities and figure out pay proposals and things like that and go from there.”

Rowley also noted that she had hoped the Legislature would have appropriated more to the state’s higher education institutions. This year’s record state budget of more than $10 billion includes $1.3 billion to be allocated as recurring funds for higher education.

“We knew, and we heard pretty early on, that the Legislature was really hesitant to appropriate much money to recurring expenses—which a salary expense is,” she says. “We did hope that would be more than 3%, but in all reality, that’s probably pretty close to what I thought it was going to be as the session moved along. It became really apparent that they were really trying to prepare for a slow-down in oil and gas.”

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