Pay cut convinces Youngstown State professor to cancel summer class

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – When a Youngstown State professor found out teaching a summer class would mean a significant cut in pay, he opted out and decided not to teach for the money being offered.

Dr. Chet Cooper has been a biology professor at Youngstown State for 17 years. He’s fully tenured.

He was scheduled to teach Microbiology this summer but when only eight students signed up instead of the required 15, Cooper found out his salary would be pro-rated and cut significantly.

“I felt that it was wrong for me to accept that kind of position given my expertise and my professional position at the university,” he said.

Dr. Cooper sent an email to all the students in his now canceled class:

Dear Students,

I am very sorry to inform you that Microbiology lecture and its associated laboratory section, BIOL 3702 and BIOL 3702L are being cancelled [sic]. You should soon receive an official announcement from the Department of Biological Sciences.

The course is under enrolled [sic]. There are only 8 students registered; a full course requires 15 students. That is not necessarily the problem. The issue is that I adamantly refuse to teach this course for less than full pay. Due to contractual restrictions based upon enrollment, I would have to agree to teach the course for a 43% decrease in salary. As any faculty member knows, it is as much effort to teach 8 students as it is 15. Also, by accepting this egregious decrease in pay, I would be tacitly agreeing that either my expertise is worth less in the summer or that I am overpaid during the fall and spring semesters. Either assumption is an overt insult.

I am under no obligation to accept a summer teaching assignment. I am sorry, but I feel strongly that I must refuse to accept the terms being offered me. I hope you understand my position.

The Chair of Biological Sciences, Dr. Gary Walker, is fully aware of this situation. He is copied on this email message. If you have further questions, feel free to contact him or me.

I wish you all the best of success in your educational endeavors.

Dr. Cooper

“It is strong, yes it is. It’s my honest opinion of my situation,” Cooper said.

He said he received an email from the father of one student who was critical of his decision.

“I did also receive a verbal communication from two other students who fully understood why I wouldn’t teach the class, and my colleagues in my department and elsewhere in the university fully supported my position.”

Cooper said none of the eight students needed the class to graduate and if one had, a teacher would have been found. Six of the students were taking the course to fulfill a requirement at another university.

What about the idea that teachers don’t teach to get rich?

“That’s true but at the same time, I can’t afford to have myself exploited and I felt we were at the point of exploitation,” he said.

YSU Spokesman Ron Cole released a statement on Thursday:

Faculty volunteer to teach in the summer…their pay…is above and beyond what they get paid for the regular nine-month academic year…[Dr. Cooper] did not do anything wrong. He absolutely has the right to [not teach in summer].”

The union contract that YSU professors work under clearly states that teaching in the summer is voluntary.

Dr. Cooper said this was the first time he’s ever decided not to teach a class and Cole said these kind of situations are unusual.