Adjunct News

Taylor Fontes

Plan Offers Better Pay, Job Stability, and a Career Path for Contingent Faculty

Posted on: June 16th, 2012 by Taylor Fontes No Comments

Amid the discourse surrounding the rapidly changing face of the American professoriate emerges the first comprehensive policy initiative to better the situation for adjuncts.  I say comprehensive, because it is not as though universities haven’t applied Band-Aid methods to adjunct injuries. But as the analogy goes, a Band-Aid will not stanch a gaping wound…or some variation thereof.  Furthermore, if the wound is a symptom of a systemic malady, then the treatment requires a more holistic approach.

So how does this translate to the adjunct condition?  This was one of the topics discussed at AAUP’s annual meeting last Wednesday.  With approximately 70% of professors nationwide consisting of contingent faculty (i.e. part-time, non-tenure track professors) and the reluctant acceptance that this is the long-term trend of the professoriate, institutions are finally devising policies which better support adjuncts and their careers.

The fact of the matter is, the term part-time as it is used to define adjunct, or contingent faculty, is a misnomer; most adjunct faculty work full-time and even overload.  What defines them as adjuncts is their lack of job security, even if they are “lucky” enough to have worked in an adjunct capacity for 30 or more years.

An article submitted to the Chronicle of Higher Education on June 13th entitled, “Plan Offers Better Pay, Job Stability, and a Career Path for Contingent Faculty,” outlines the AAUP’s proposal, which incorporates standards first introduced by Middle Tennessee State University’s English Department.   A group of professors at the university were prompted to create a four-phase employment plan for adjuncts as they saw their numbers grow from 15% in 2005 to 26% in 2011 but with sustained feelings of marginalization due to their status as temporary employees of the university.

The goal of the plan is to provide not only better pay and benefits, but a progressive path of promotion with accompanying rights and responsibilities.  Adjunct faculty would be allowed to serve on more committees and be more actively involved in governance, giving them a greater stake in the institution overall. The ultimate payoff would be mutual between the faculty and the university in that adjuncts would feel a deeper commitment to the success of their students, resulting in a subsequent improvement in student retention.

While it is about time that concrete measures are taken to improve the working conditions for adjuncts, including their need for career advancement and job stability, there is another side to this which is worth considering.  As more effort goes into making adjunct positions more attractive, or at least tenable, less energy goes into exalting the virtues of tenure, which has always been the hallmark of excellence in academe and which the AAUP has has fought to protect for nearly 100 years.  The challenge is going to be to reconcile the dialectic between austerity and posterity; acceptable and exceptional.  We must forge a policy which accommodates the needs of the present without sacrificing the future of the professoriate.

To read more about the Four Phases of Employment, read the full article by Audrey Williams June at:

http://chronicle.com/article/Plan-Offers-Better-Pay-Job/132273/?sid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en

Taylor Fontes

Steeling for Battle

Posted on: June 8th, 2012 by Taylor Fontes No Comments

The next time you make a trip to your local supermarket you just might want to ask yourself if the produce guy has a PhD.  These days, this is not as far-fetched as one might think.  According to an article in Inside Higher Ed reported yesterday, an adjunct teaching English Composition and Writing at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh took a job at a Trader Joe’s supermarket after learning only days before the semester began that his classes were canceled.  (This type of short notice has become commonplace at Hofstra as well, and only adds insult to injury as far as the treatment of adjuncts goes.)

The adjunct found that many of his colleagues were similarly disheartened by their lack of job security and decided to approach the United Steelworkers, the nation’s largest industrial workers union, for help. Officials at the USW were shocked to hear about how adjuncts are treated, and probably not just because they do not represent academics.  Back in 2009 when this occurred the working conditions of adjuncts were largely unknown to even their own full time colleagues.

But now that the word is out, and has spread beyond traditional academic unions to powerful manufacturing unions like the United Steelworkers Union, there is huge potential to organize adjuncts.  In fact, since the adjunct at Duquesne approached the USW, a handful of campuses in the Pittsburgh area have petitioned the union to help them organize.  The lead organizer for the USW in the Duquesne campaign stated that there are over a “there are over a dozen campuses here and thousands of adjuncts that deserve job security, fair wages, health care and all of the benefits workers have been organizing for since the birth of the labor movement.”

The advantages of partnering with a trade union as opposed to a faculty union in are, according to another adjunct at Duquesne that there is less tendency for a conflict of interest and, perhaps more importantly, the union has strong ties to the community, as practically everyone has a friend, family member or neighbor who works in the steel industry.  While I agree wholeheartedly with the latter, I take issue with the statement made that the decision not to go with a traditional faculty union such as the AAUP is because these organizations are more focused on tenured and tenure-track faculty than on the issues that pertain to adjuncts.  This is a defunct notion, as we can attest to our own efforts to organize and uplift the status of adjuncts on our own campus.

Having made that point, I find it tremendously inspiring that unions are blurring sector lines in order to stand for the rights of workers regardless of trade or profession.  A professor of labor history at Cornell University remarks, “in another era, a union would not overstep its jurisdiction and try to get members from a different sector.” But in today’s economy, this no longer the case.  And the shift to more diverse representation is more a result of declining membership than an act of general goodwill, but it is nonetheless a step in the right direction toward securing the future of unions overall.

Later this month, about 100 adjuncts at the university’s McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts will fill out mail-in ballots sent out by the National Labor Relations Board to decide whether they will form a union with the steelworkers. The union has provided logistical and legal help to the university’s Adjuncts Association.

To read the full article by Kaustuv Basu go to:

http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/06/07/duquesne-adjunct-group-wants-organize-steelworkers-unions-help#ixzz1xCUuwdLn

 

Taylor Fontes

Part-time instructors vote in favor of union at Kalamazoo Valley Community College

Posted on: June 1st, 2012 by Taylor Fontes No Comments

After receiving late paychecks in September, eleven part-time faculty members at Kalamazoo Valley Community College began organizing a union.  In a vote of 162-38, part-time faculty now have an official collective bargaining unit with the American Federation of Teachers.  It was determined that at the end of 2011, more than three-fifths of the faculty were working part time.   These individuals assert that they are equally qualified and dedicated as their full-time counterparts and therefore deserve fair pay, benefits and protection that tenured and tenure-track professors enjoy.  The Administration is in support of the union and as soon as a constitution is created and officers are elected they may proceed with negotiating their first contract.  On the table will be better job security, salary increases, health insurance, and clear policies governing evaluations, grievances and absences.

To read the full article by Ursula Zerilli go to:

http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2012/05/part-time_instructors_vote_in.html