Steve M. Street, Prominent Advocate for Adjunct Faculty, Dies of Cancer

Photo by Anne Wiegard

Steve M. Street taught writing and literature off the tenure track for 30 years, and was active in many groups advancing the goals of academic employees.
August 17, 2012

Steve M. Street, an outspoken advocate for adjunct faculty members and a frequent contributor to The Chronicle, died Friday morning of cancer. He was 56.

Mr. Street had taught writing and literature off the tenure track since 1980, and had been active in the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor, the New Faculty Majority, and the United University Professions, a union that represents academic employees at the State University of New York. His essays for The Chronicle (see links below) often expressed the frustrations he and other adjunct faculty members felt in seeking decent pay and benefits and equitable treatment from their employers.

Mr. Street was working as a lecturer in the writing program at the State University of New York's Buffalo State College when he took sick leave last fall. In his last Chronicle essay, published in December, he described how the melanoma that he had been treated for 12 years earlier had reappeared, primarily in his lungs, and how he was lucky to be working for a university system that provided him with affordable health insurance.

He had expressed hope of being able to recover and return to teaching, but according to Maria Maisto, the New Faculty Majority's president, his condition deteriorated last week. He died in a hospice in Buffalo, in the company of his brother, after receiving expressions of support from many of his colleagues and friends.

In a message published on an e-mail list for adjunct faculty members, and cited with her permission, Ms. Maisto on Friday described Mr. Street as her hero and personal mentor, whom she thought of as "a beautiful writer and sharp, perceptive thinker," and who was "extraordinarily generous and encouraging as a responder and collaborator" on writing projects.

"I can't help thinking," she said, "of the thousands upon thousands of students who benefited from his teaching and mentorship."

Ms. Maisto added that Mr. Street "was never afraid to speak truth to power," and she partly credited "his persistent, fearless insistence that adjuncts deserve a living wage and health benefits" for the United University Professions' success in negotiating health insurance for adjuncts who teach at least two courses. That insurance enabled him to survive his bout with cancer 12 years earlier.

Anne Wiegard, a lecturer in English at SUNY-Cortland who worked with Mr. Street in the UUP and the New Faculty Majority, said, "We will sorely miss Steve's brilliant ability to frame concepts and to capture and analyze the subtle nuances of the complexities of contingent-employment issues. But we will miss even more his warm friendship, great kindness, and razor-sharp wit."

In a 2010 Chronicle interview, Mr. Street described how he had a middle-class upbringing as the child of a tenured college professor but became "intensely aware of class issues" in trying to make ends meet as an adjunct instructor. He said, "I feel like a working-class person in my day-to-day existence, considering where I live, considering the feedback I get on my job, the opportunity for advancement."

Buffalo State on Friday issued a statement in which Michelle Ninacs, director of its writing program, said: "Many students wrote really wonderful things about Steve as a mentor." The statement said "he was tireless in his efforts for part-time instructors. But most of all, he really loved teaching."

Correction (8/18/2012, 8:57 p.m.): This article originally misstated the month of Mr. Street's birth. He was born in November 1955, not August. That correction means he died at 56, a more exact age than "about 57," which appeared in the original article. The article has been updated to reflect both changes.

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