Let’s celebrate the power of organizing!

We have received some good news in the last couple weeks. First, funds are now allocated for professional development opportunities, specifically for adjunct faculty. Second, adjunct contract stipends increased, to start at $5000 a course, minimum. Third, work is ongoing to set up the adjunct faculty council and give adjuncts a voice in governance at this university.

These changes are NOT the result of any one person’s action, but of a collective of adjunct voices calling for substantive changes to our working conditions and the status quo. While we may have disagreed on the method to achieve these gains, don’t we all acknowledge that none of these gains would have happened if we had not taken the time to get involved and voice our concerns? It’s time to take a moment to reflect on what has been accomplished on our campus in the last few months. Let us recognize and celebrate the power of organizing, of uniting adjuncts in pursuing common concerns.

Let us also recognize that we still have other issues on the table for discussion, most in connection to benefits and job security. So be proactive and continue to stay involved! Because we do not have a union, we have no legal way of protecting the gains that we have made and gains we hope to make. We must remain committed to speaking up for those changes. Your voice is one of many, but it’s needed to achieve a truly democratic and transparent governance process—and for that to be the end goal is perhaps yet another point on which we all agree.

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UST Adjunct Survey: Moving Forward

By Dr. Jason Skirry, Adjunct Faculty, Business Ethics / Philosophy

It’s been 3 ½ months since the election and the administration has done little to address our concerns about job security, improvements in pay, and benefits. At this point they are nibbling around the edges, finding things that will cost UST nothing or very little. We know that Provost Plumb’s handpicked adjunct task force is no doubt working hard, but they are limited in what they can do, being that the provost appointed them and the administration controls the process to suit their own interests. The UST adjunct population has not been contacted to find out what we want as they craft these new policies.

At this time, it appears that we will have no say in any policy changes that come out of the task force, particularly, how the “election” for the adjunct council is going to work. We want our voices not only to be “heard” but also to have a substantive impact on our working conditions. We want a more democratic approach rather than the top-down approach used by the administration. Given that we have been shut out of this process, it is important that we express our collective voice to the administration. This is why we have created this short survey. It will not only give you a chance to voice your personal concerns about teaching as an adjunct at UST, but it will also focus our efforts on what matters to us. Even if you are not for the union efforts, it is still important to fill out the survey. The more voices we have, the stronger we will be. Please take 10 minutes and fill out the survey. Your response will be anonymous.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/QHT5X5W

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Promises made…but not kept

I’m starting this post with a quote, from a July 4th email all adjuncts in the College of Arts and Sciences received from our Dean, during our union election:

“Because of everything she has said, if Dr. Sullivan were to take no effective action following a failed vote the SEIU would have no trouble using a sense of betrayal to collect more than sufficient signatures for another election. In such a case, the administration would have a much more difficult time making a new case against unionization. I would need a new argument to use in asking for a second “no” vote but, frankly, would have little appetite for doing so if Dr. Sullivan really had taken no effective action. But I am as confident as I can be that Dr. Sullivan will not put us all in that position. I am not at all worried.”

So, what effective action have we seen thus far? The draft of the Strategic Plan for UST was distributed for review on September 30. After taking a careful look through the priorities enumerated for our university’s future, one major stakeholder’s concerns and comments were not reflected in this plan: adjunct faculty. And to me, that is worrisome.

I already noted in a previous post that the actual planning process neglected our voice as a major stakeholder. We were told in meetings we attended over the spring and summer, that yes, indeed, adjuncts were present in these committees, in the form of salaried staff members, with full benefits, who occasionally taught a class. Obviously, the three major concerns that pushed many adjuncts to attempt unionization—better pay, job security, and access to benefits—as well as subsequent secondary concerns regarding our working conditions and inclusion on campus were not the concerns of these fully employed staff members.

The general themes identified in the strategic plan “are more properly the specific challenges that various stakeholders and our own research repeatedly identified as areas calling for revision or improvement.” Despite adjunct faculty outnumbering full-time faculty at this university and clearly identifying serious challenges and issues to be addressed over the past months, why is the strategic plan devoid of those concerns? This seems contrary to the goals of One University and commitment to Catholic ideals in providing better working conditions, contracts (pay and job security), and access to benefits for university employees. Such issues were enumerated consistently by adjunct faculty throughout last spring semester and the summer months, within the two strategic planning sessions we were invited to attend and a series of open forums hosted by the president.

In trying to defeat unionization efforts, promises were made by the President and the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences that adjunct concerns would be addressed, quickly and efficiently, after the union vote was either delayed or defeated. Well, as we know, it was defeated. As a staunch supporter of the unionization effort, I was disappointed in the results. In the conversations I had during the election, though, many adjuncts voted “no” to give the president a chance to implement change, to wait and trust in the administration. Is this it, then? In reading through the strategic plan, I see the word “adjunct” mentioned once—in the section on Implementation. Perhaps this is a reference to the formation of an adjunct council? And will we then be working to implement a plan in which we have had no voice?

As the president noted in the letter accompanying the plan draft, “The document is provisional and may undergo further revisions, but with the expectation that these will not affect the overall framework of the plan at this point.” Then let’s make some attempt to revise…here is yet one more chance to keep those promises. As one of the pro-union adjuncts who volunteered for the Adjunct Task Force and was not selected, I hope that those who were, our colleagues who wanted to give the administration a chance, will push to have those promises kept, too.

Otherwise, unionization remains a viable option, allowing us to work together, proactively, for our future. And perhaps the Dean will be unable to argue against a “yes” vote next time…

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The Immigrant in the Mirror

by Dr. Maria Alicia Vetter 

In the different discussions on adjunct work, the image of the migrant is often brought up.  Because of the characteristics of the work that we are all familiar with, migrant imagery seems to fit well with some of the most evident aspects of the exploitative nature of the job.  Going over some of the literature on the subject reminded me of a book edited by Mary Alfred and Raji Swaminathan (2004) on the experiences of immigrant women of color in American academia. “It is not uncommon for immigrant women of color to enter as adjuncts into the profession or as part- time students to get a foot in the door of academe” (p. xi), says Mary Alfred in the intro to the book.  Furthermore, “There are those of us who have entered the ivory tower through the basement rather than the front door” (xi).

First, I want to say that I participated in the publication with a chapter on my experiences as a student and then as a teacher in different work situations.  When I wrote my chapter I was working as an adjunct in a couple of colleges.  At the time, I felt strongly that my position as an adjunct was intimately related to my being an immigrant woman “of color” and I still feel that way.  Nevertheless, when talking to other adjuncts who are not women of color or immigrants, I realize that their experiences are quite similar to mine.  So, is it perhaps that adjunct work has been, not only feminized and made migratory, but made “colored” as well?

When I studied for my B.A. in Spanish at UCLA, all of my professors (tenured faculty) were from Latin America, Mexico, or from Spain.  A university such as UCLA attracted some of the best.  I remember a couple of well-known writers, who taught classes in the undergraduate program.  Of course it was at a time when Latin American professionals were not only welcome in the U.S., but encouraged to come over and share their expertise.  What has changed that today we fill the ranks of adjunct labor in Modern Languages Departments where the tenure track faculty are mostly English speaking?

Images such as the “basement” and the “foot in the door” convey, first, the notion that the real job and the desired position are somewhere else, above, and better than the adjunct position.  They address the fact that some injustice is being committed towards perfectly eligible people, who, if they were not immigrants of color, could otherwise aspire to the “real” positions.  Thus, the adjunct position is virtually made immigrant labor and “colored” by association, and, therefore, perceived as temporary as well.  But, what happens when it becomes permanent and not only performed by students but by people with doctorates, not only employing immigrants and people of color, but whites?  Do then the institutions rush to make it full-time work, with benefits and security?  Apparently, not all do.

 

Alfred, M. V., & Swaminathan, R. (Eds.). (2004). Immigrant women of the academy: Negotiating boundaries, crossing borders in higher education. New York: Nova Science Publishers.

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20 Minutes I Don’t Have on Adjuncts, Slavery, etc.

by Lucy Saliger, Adjunct Faculty, English

In the now 19 minutes I have allowed myself to write a post here – minutes I can’t spare from the papers I’m reading and class prep and everything involved in teaching four classes at two colleges – three of them different from each other – I’m trying to decide how to express my discouragement at where adjuncts are at UST compared to where we could be now had we won a union. It has been almost two months since the election. The president and dean who kept asking us to personally trust them – as if personal trust were even appropriate or possible in relationships of these kind – have now passed the buck to the provost who none of us knew at all. The provost has handpicked his task force – certainly it is HIS, is it not, given that adjuncts did not have a say in how many would be chosen or who they would be – and now we are supposed to passively wait for something to happen.  The senior administration, of course, want employees in as passive a mode as they can manage to get them.

Forgive me for making quick leaps in this rushed writing, but I’ve been teaching Frederick Douglass’s Narrative to the two sections that are the same course, and I was struck by a connection one student made in his exploratory writing paper. He noted that slave holders often did their best to keep slaves from forming close bonds with one another. This way, they were kept isolated and unable to trust anyone, so they were far less likely to attempt escape. I am not one of those people who agrees with simplistic connections between slaves and adjuncts. However, there are lessons we learn from studying the logic of slavery – the economic motives which drove it; its normalization in U.S. society; the ways in which some people’s power over other people changed the slaveholders (as Douglass makes clear with Sophia Auld – a kind woman who hadn’t owned slaves before and initially set out to teach him to read but increasingly grew harsh and selfish); and what it took to end it. When people are conceived of first and foremost as units of labor – means to an end – objects from which to extract as much labor as possible for as little as one can get away with – we get systems that seem utterly logical to those who benefit economically from them while eroding the humanity of those extracting that labor and profoundly harming those human beings who are treated as those labor units. The economic logic in combination with profoundly unequal power relations yields ugly results – for the exploiters (in terms of the kinds of human beings they may become); for those over whom they wield so much power; and for the larger institutions and societies they inhabit.

I keep asking myself what the implications are in allowing this kind of economic logic and these kinds of relationships to increasingly prevail in our academic institutions. If we believe that what we do is at the heart of our society and not simply a jobs project – if we believe in the value of education for something more than accumulating credits to accumulate credentials to accumulate money in (maybe) high-paying jobs – how can we allow this to happen on our watch?

And if we are going to stop it, doesn’t the lesson my first year student noticed in Douglass apply? Don’t we need to forge an active, genuine solidarity? Doesn’t this need to be horizontal – something we build among ourselves?

A key argument in Douglass’s Narrative is that the white slaveholders were the ones dehumanized by their horrifically unequal power over other human beings.  Hoping for them to become ‘nicer’ masters and depending on their religiosity to transform them got no one any closer to the transformations needed.

U.S. slavery isn’t something to study as simply a historical artifact – something to use to make us feel good about ‘how far we’ve come as a nation’ with no critical thought about the lessons we can learn from it. Its economic and power logic continues in the ways available under our current economic system.

But it has been 40 minutes – and this is all I can manage – a choppy post that I can’t hash out well enough… I can either remain silent or write my own ‘exploratory papers’ for this website this semester.

For now… I have 27 hours a week of class preparation; 12 1/2 hours of actual in-class teaching (not counting the minutes before or afterward setting up or talking with students); 39 exploratory papers to respond to; another 25 drafts coming in Monday; 39 more coming in Wednesday; 20 other papers coming in Wednesday…. I work almost all of the time that I’m awake right now. I do all this in my “part time” job for which I will make a total of $16,600 for my work from late August through the end of December (not counting the work preparing before then, of course)…  Next spring, if I am lucky and can get two classes (spring is always harder for English adjuncts to get classes), I will earn another $8,000 or so. If I am really lucky, I may pick up a summer class for another $4,000 to $4,200, for a grand total of about $30,000 with no benefits.

The senior administration will pay these rates as long as they can get away with it. And they can get away with it as long as we stop short of forging real solidarity.

If the powers that be were going to do the right thing, the just thing – if they were going to treat us as they would want to be treated – they would have already done so.

55 minutes…. I’ve taken too long writing this…

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What a Difference a UNION Makes – Pay at UST versus Pay at MnSCU

by Lucy Saliger, Adjunct Faculty Member – English

This semester I am teaching three courses at UST and one at a MnSCU community college. As I begin to understand the way the union contract works at MnSCU, I realize what a HUGE difference there is between what adjunct faculty are paid and the benefits they receive as MnSCU faculty and what they get at UST with no union. The administration seems to be pretending that what adjuncts at UST most wanted was to have people applaud for them in ceremonies and to get to go to a lot of meetings to come up with suggestions to then submit to our rulers who can decide unilaterally whether to grant us what we ask for and suggest – or not. Some may appreciate that and some may not care so much about it, but what so many adjuncts have expressed is a need for better pay, benefits, and job security. In the mean time, as we wait and wait in the passive roles the senior administration most loves to see us in… here’s a little of what it would mean if I were instead teaching these three UST classes at a state community college.

I was a nontraditional student who went back to school when I finally could (which accounts for both my idealism about education and my critique of and downright outrage at the hypocrisy of academic institutions exploiting adjunct faculty or any workers while they teach equality, care for the common good, education as a means to better one’s life, and other laudable premises). So… I fall under the scale that as of 2013 would give me a salary of $17,600 for the three classes (12 credits). I am still working on the equivalent of one year of full time teaching experience. (NOTE: this would be slightly higher because a union raise went into effect this year, but i don’t have the booklet with that newest pay rate.) At UST with our new $200 per class raise, I am getting $12,600 for the three. Okay… so I get… ahem… five thousand dollars less to teach these courses this semester at UST instead of at a state community college. But it doesn’t stop there. In MnSCU, once you are teaching over 5 credits per semester, you accumulate health insurance, sick leave, retirement benefits, and tuition remission for yourself or your partner or kids.
There is more. Every time someone accumulates 30 more credits of teaching experience, they move to the next step. It looks like my friend, with the 46 courses she has taught at UST, would be in column IV at a step 7, which means the full time rate would be $54,500 per year for teaching 30 credits that academic year. So to figure out her prorated amount for the three classes she is teaching  we would take 12 credits divided by 30 credits which equals 40 percent. That comes out to $21,800 for the three courses PLUS money put into a pension, sick leave accumulation, tuition remission, health insurance…. Too bad for my friend’s financial well-being that she is teaching those courses at an institution where she instead is paid $12.900 for that work this semester. She is being paid $8900 less for the same work by an institution that claims it pays “competitive rates.” What does that phrase mean? What is the basis of comparison?
I keep wondering why UST’s senior administration and Board feel entitled to our labor at these rates. Why do they feel entitled to demand that someone at my friend’s level of experience essentially donate the $19,800 more per year she would make doing the same work under MnSCU plus forfeit any pension, sick leave, health insurance, or tuition remission she would have under that system, along with union representation if she were terminated unfairly. She forfeits, also, the right to participate in a democratic entity (a union) with leverage, an entity that creates some real balance of power. But of course, they feel entitled to do this because they ARE entitled to do it unless we change it.
To top it all off, my students pay $700 to take my 4 credit course at the community college and more than $4000 to take my 4 credit course at UST.
For folks who continue to act as if faculty unionization is all a wild, untried experiment… it’s time to stop this provinicialism and contextualize our situation.
When the dean promised us in his July 4 letter to adjuncts that he had seen the president’s plan but was forbidden by labor law from communicating to us what it was – but that it was “exactly” what he had imagined – I – even I – actually thought that maybe, just maybe, it was a plan with some substance – a plan that would move us at least a little closer to bridging this huge disparity of pay in our own region. I thought “exactly” meant that something EXACT was in place – not these vague gestures toward ideas that might be generated by task forces to create councils to suggest things…. I thought the administration was supposed to be so nimble without the need to gradually work out a union contract. But we find out instead that they are plodding along, delaying giving us any additional pay or benefits right now, and so if – IF – we get any real improvements by next fall, that is no faster than we would have seen change had we worked out our first contract this year to take effect next fall.
Imagine what our situation would be had adjuncts won a union ten or twenty years ago and our union contract had us on par with MnSCU faculty. How long will we adjuncts choose to donate many thousands of dollars to UST and our future well-being as we risk getting injured or sick and we look to a retirement in poverty if we rely on our years laboring at UST?  Are the senior administration donating many thousands of dollars, too?  Are they forfeiting pensions? Or is this supposed to fall only on our heads for some reason? “Service” at low pay in precarious conditions for some… Lavish salaries and benefits for others!!
But moral outrage and logical pleas with the administration have not gotten adjuncts anywhere and remain unlikely to get us anywhere where we need to be. What will really make the difference is winning a union. How long will we wait? A year? Two?  And what are we waiting FOR anyway?
(P.S. My apologies for the paragraphs running together; sometimes the site won’t format right. We’re a bare-bones, grassroots organization here (UST Adjuncts Union), so we don’t have the funding for web designers. We write our own posts and try to navigate the technology on our own. My apologies, also, for not writing for so long.  But to those of you who want to win a union – don’t worry… We have no intention of fading away. And to those of you who want a docile labor force of adjuncts who don’t make demands for real democracy and decent wages – don’t get too comfortable… We’re not going away. We know what a difference a UNION makes.)

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A Surprise in the Mail

by Jason Skirry, Adjunct Professor, Business Ethics / Philosophy

Right before the election I received a small pamphlet in the mail called “Catholic Administrators and Labor Unions” by William Droel and Ed Marciniak. It was sent to me unsolicited by the National Center for the Laity. Given the intensity of the election, I glanced briefly through it and put it on my “to read” pile. Now I’ve finally had time to read it and found it to be a very thoughtful account of the moral responsibilities of Catholic administrators to their employees. I was struck by how our arguments for unionization align with this account. Let’s examine a few passages.

 The official 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church says that definitions of justice and a just wage are not dependent on even the best intentions of an employee or an employer. Morality in regard to those concepts is objectively informed. Exploitation cannot put on the coat of acceptable arrangement simply because a worker consents to the situation (15).

I was struck by this passage because a typical argument against unionization is this: “If you don’t like working as an adjunct at UST, then you should quit and find something else.” This objection misses the point. Fairness is not contingent upon whether a person accepts an adjunct position or not. It is the job itself that is objectively unfair, no matter who occupies the position. So quitting does not solve the problem or somehow make adjunct positions fair or just. This is similar to the reasoning behind why we cannot voluntarily enslave ourselves to another because we know that the practice of slavery is objectively wrong. So, it has nothing to do with the teachers who occupy these positions, but with the institution of ‘adjuncting’ itself.

The institution of adjuncting is discussed in detail in a recent article of Bioscience titled “The End of the Academy?”. The evidence provided is quite shocking. Here’s an example:

From 1976 to 2011, according to data compiled annually by the American Association of University Professors, part-time faculty grew by 286 percent nationally, full-time non-tenure-track faculty grew by 259 percent, whereas tenured and tenure-track faculty, combined, grew by just 23 percent. An even bigger boost went to “nonfaculty professionals”—purchasing agents, human resource professionals, loan counselors, lawyers, and so on—whose ranks grew by 369 percent. A February 2014 report by the Delta Cost Project, which researches the cost of higher education, showed that “As the ranks of managerial and professional administrative workers grew, the number of faculty and staff per ­administrator” continued to decline. The average number of faculty and staff per administrator declined by roughly 40 percent in most types of 4-year colleges and universities between 1990 and 2012, and now averages 2.5 or fewer faculty and staff per administrator. (http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/64/8/647.full ).

Given that 76% (3 out of every 4) positions in higher education are contingent or flexible positions, most of which are adjunct positions, there appears to be a serious “justice” problem in higher education (AAUP: http://www.aaup.org/report/heres-news-annual-report-economic-status-profession-2012-13). One could argue that the institution of adjuncting is not the result of economic forces akin to an earthquake that is destroying tenure-track jobs, but comes from the systematic dismantling of tenure over the past 40 years by a new administrative class that has taken over American universities. Arguably, this is part of their strategy to “corporatize” the university.  Adjuncts are the unwitting agents of their own demise. That is, administrators are reducing tenured jobs and replacing them with adjunct jobs. And adjuncts, who want tenure track jobs, can’t find them because they are being used to reduce tenure track jobs. You can cut the irony with a Civil War era bone saw. If you don’t believe me, then just type in “adjunct professor” in Google and a mountain of evidence will be at your fingertips. Or just check out our Resources pages. But I digress.

Here’s another passage that quotes Msgr. John A. Ryan:

 Effective labor unions are by far the most powerful force in society for the protection of the laborer’s rights and the improvement of his or her condition. No amount of employer benevolence, no diffusion of a sympathetic attitude on part of the public, no increase of beneficial legislation, can adequately supply for the lack of organization among workers themselves [my emphasis] (24).

This supports our arguments in favor of a justice model rather than a charity model. Under the latter case we depend on the generosity of the administration and in the former we take responsibility for our work conditions. By taking responsibility we uphold the “Catholic ideal of responsible freedom” (24). This idea of responsible freedom is also at the heart of the US Constitution. A union is the best mechanism we have to create fair working conditions (http://www.aaup.org/sites/default/files/Unions-Shared-Gov.pdf).

Here’s another passage that speaks to our concerns that the UST administration should have been neutral during the election and not hired anti-union lawyers. They should have respected our dignity as full autonomous persons to decide on our own whether we wanted a union or not.

 An administrator’s initial impulse might be to call an anti-union consulting firm…these consultants rarely deal directly with the workers. They place expectations on supervisors, creating a wedge of resentment. Whatever the brochures, videotapes or sloganeering they bring to the institution, divide-and-conquer is always the basic strategy of a union-busting lawyer. There is no healthy recovery, even if the union sentiment is squashed (37).

A healthy recovery in our case might be difficult because the administration did hire a union-busting law firm to implement a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy’ in their determination to defeat adjunct collective bargaining.  Moreover, their communications to adjuncts since the election suggest that this strategy is still in place. For example, the idea that some of us who voted for the union might try to undermine the administration’s efforts to improve conditions for adjuncts couldn’t be further from the truth. We are all in this together and any improvements for adjuncts are welcome. The administration must welcome ALL adjuncts to the administration’s adjunct task force and council. This will aid in our healthy recovery. I still believe that the administration should respect our “full freedom” as human beings to exercise our right to collectively bargain and we are still organizing to make this happen. Our efforts are not inherently incompatible with the administration’s effort to correct our unfair working conditions. A union will enhance the process and afford us the opportunity to exercise our “full freedom”. The administration’s charity model leaves no substantive room for this.

I wish the administration had read and applied the Catholic Social Teaching clearly explained in the pamphlet. Nonetheless, we will continue to work towards a university that embodies that kind of freedom and justice for those who work at St. Thomas.

 

 

 

 

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Resources to Check Out – August 2014 – Week 1

Because we’re continually adding to and better organizing our Resources section of this website, we’re going to start posting weekly about new information we’ve added or existing links, books, or organizations we want to spotlight in case you’d like to take a look at them.

For this week:

“Adjuncts Should Unionize” by Carlo Rotella. Boston Globe, August 1, 2014. Find that and more here: http://ustadjunctsunion.com/resources/adjuncts-broad-contexts-and-general-news/ under the subheading “Institutional Responses to Adjuncts Organizing.” An excerpt:

Because I direct Boston College’s American Studies and journalism programs, a better deal for adjuncts would make life more difficult for me, by limiting my flexibility in hiring, firing, and stretching my budget. Such changes could make already-expensive higher education even more costly unless cuts were made somewhere else — by curbing the proliferation of non-teaching academic bureaucrats, for instance, or by paying administrators, coaches, and tenure-track faculty like myself a little less. It would appear, then, that supporting the unionization of adjuncts goes against my narrow self-interest. But not against my broader self-interest. A university is a community of inquiry in which all sorts of people meet one another’s needs in pursuing the vital work of learning, teaching, and discovery. Like a society, it functions better for everyone if it’s not designed expressly to use up and crush the many in order to serve the privileged and increasingly isolated few.

 

“The End of the Academy?” by Beth Baker. Oxford Journals, Science & Mathematics. BioScience.  Volume 64, Issue 8, Pp. 647-652. Find that and more here: http://ustadjunctsunion.com/resources/critical-university-studies/ under the subheading “History and Purpose of Colleges and Universities.”  An excerpt:

 According to 2011 data from the National Center for Education Statistics (the most recent available), just under 30 percent of higher-education faculty members today are tenured or on the tenure track. In contrast, in 1969, 78 percent of faculty members were tenured or tenure track, and less than 22 percent were not. The majority of today’s non-tenure-track faculty members are low-paid part-timers, whose working conditions often adversely affect learning outcomes for students.

“In the biology department at Rowan University, it is possible for a freshman biology major to go their entire 4 years for a bachelor’s of science without taking a course taught by a tenure-track professor,” says Nathan Ruhl, an adjunct professor at the Glassboro, New Jersey–based school.

 

THE JUST-IN-TIME PROFESSOR: A Staff Report Summarizing eForum Responses on the Working Conditions of Contingent Faculty in Higher Education.” House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Democratic Staff. January 2014.  Find that and more here: http://ustadjunctsunion.com/resources/adjuncts-broad-contexts-and-general-news/ which is a sub-page under Resources.

 

 

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A Response to the Dean’s Letter

by Dr. Jason Skirry, Adjunct Faculty, Business Ethics / Philosophy

 I appreciate the dean’s “Post-Election” letter that was sent last night to CAS adjuncts. Of course I could quibble over the dean’s characterization of the election. (We challenged the 24 votes because we believed they did not meet the criteria for eligible voters; we will never know how they voted, but could speculate with equal confidence that a majority could have been “yes” votes. There is no way to know, so why speculate? This type of speculation does not pass intellectual muster.) But I want to respond to other aspects of his letter.

There’s one thing that we all agree on: adjuncts have been treated poorly for years and the election in no way validated or justified this treatment. The administration tacitly agrees with this or they would not have put together an “action” plan in the first place. So we all agree that there is an “adjunct problem.” I think we disagree about the magnitude of the problem, the mechanisms by which we can solve it, and what ‘solving it’ means. The administration wants to keep in place the basic power dynamic/imbalance between adjuncts and administration, but wants to add and increase some benefits to better our conditions. We don’t know what these benefits are going to be, hence my criticisms, but I applaud the gesture nonetheless. The major flaw of the administration’s charity model is that we will never have the independent means to challenge or check administrative power. We will not be able stop future administrations from taking away what was given to us during this administration. So whatever benefits we gain from this administration are merely “contingent” just like us. Under the justice model that I’m advocating, we would have the power to make these benefits permanent no matter who’s in office or how the deck chairs change within the UST bureaucracy. The best way to do this is through a union.

 Of course, the administration could give us this independent power. For example, they could recognize us as a union, design some sort of irrevocable legal document that puts us on equal footing with them, or radically change the hierarchical administrative structure of the university into some sort of worker owned enterprise. However, given their concerted effort to squash our organizing efforts , they don’t want us to have this kind of power. Let’s face facts. They have all the power and they don’t want to give it up. History has shown that in almost every case when any group has all the power, the exploitation of the powerless inevitably follows. And sadly, it’s exactly what’s happening to adjuncts here locally and nationally. The antidote to this is democracy. If done properly, democracy spreads the power around so that no one group has it all. This applies to us here at UST. We have to have an effective democratic process put in place that gives us the independent power to check the power of the administration. A union can do this. So this has nothing to do with the current president, the new provost, or the dean. I’m sure they are nice people and competent administrators. This has to do with correcting the power imbalance between adjuncts and the administration, and building a permanent structure where we can come to the table as equals to work together cooperatively. The adjunct council under the administration’s charity model does not do this. Given that there are 600 adjuncts and only 466 full-time or tenure track faculty (56.3% to 43.7% which is downright scandalous in my opinion), we need to make sure that all adjuncts are treated fairly now and in the future.

One more point. I could not help but feel that the dean was talking about our Organizing Committee (there’s no other group I can think of) when he said:

“For the very few of you who are hoping that this efforts will be wholly unsuccessful so that you might call for another election in twelve months…I only ask that you not take steps to undermine the efforts of the administration and those members of the adjunct faculty who will be working hard during that time to bring about the improvements that you say you desire.”

 We are all in this together. We would never try to undermine the administration’s efforts to make things better for us adjuncts. But let’s not confuse “undermining” with “constructive criticism.” Given the nature and intention of a university (i.e. a space where diverse ideas are expressed and welcomed), I believe that we have the right to voice our opinions and advocate for our positions. Being a philosopher, and tracing my intellectual lineage back to Socrates, I’m working within the Socratic tradition of being the horse fly pestering the noble horse of UST to live up to its own ideals expressed in its mission statement. So I would take offence to being characterized as “undermining” the efforts of other adjuncts. I’m fighting alongside them in order to make UST the best university for all adjuncts. Again, I argue that the best the way to do this is by forming a union.

In the end, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation right now if adjuncts across the university didn’t take a stand and demand justice. In fact I’m following the dean’s advice. He argued that the “threat” of unionization would force the administration to do right thing, so if we delayed we would still be able to play our “threat” card and unionize in 6 months if the administration failed to make things substantially better. Well, instead of 6 months we now have 12 months. I’m still holding onto my card.

 

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A Whole Bunch of Nothing

by Dr. Jason Skirry, Adjunct Faculty, Business Ethics / Philosophy

 Out of respect for President Sullivan, I refrained from commenting on anything about the election until she presented her much anticipated “action plan.” I wanted to give the administration the benefit of the doubt. In fact, deep down I hoped that the administration would take immediate action and do the right thing like they promised to do. Given that nearly 40% of us adjuncts voted for a union, I thought that President Sullivan would be forced to “go big” to stop another union vote in a year. Unfortunately, I was completely underwhelmed by the “action plan.” Is this the great action plan that Dean Langan trumpeted as everything he had hoped it would be? Is this it? Really? As they say, the proof is in the pudding. However, in this case, there’s no pudding.

 (1) It’s not really an “action” plan. It is a plan to set up some plans so that the administration can plan some actions. And the planning stage to plan for implementing some actions is going to take a few months? What? She argued that if we won a union that we would have to wait a whole year to bargain and that her hands would be tied until then and she wanted to act now, immediately. At this point, the president is assigning people tasks to look into some things. Why didn’t she do this last month during the election? The administration was going to have to do something no matter what, but it appears that it did nothing at all except to come up with a plan to plan for some plans. I agree that legally the administration could not publicize it, but they could have been ready to implement some things right away. It appears that we are three steps removed from doing anything. It’s the typical “roll up our sleeves” strategy that has been used at other universities, such as Loyola Marymount, the institution that the new provost just left.

(2) The adjunct council, whose membership will be selected through some elective process set up by the administration, reminds me of something… hmmm…. let me see… I can’t quite put my finger on it…oh yeah – a union. A union provides the independent legal space for adjuncts to come together freely and discuss issues that might be unpleasant for the administration to hear. It allows us to speak our minds without fear of retaliation or not being “re-hired.” Are administrators going to be present at these council meetings like they are when the faculty Senate meets? The adjunct council will have the veneer of a union, but without the most important thing a union provides: power. That is, the power of the vote. “Well, hold on,” you might be thinking, “won’t the president grant the adjunct council some power?” The operative word here is “grant.” Adjuncts will have no independent means to challenge administrative power. As some tenured faculty mentioned on this website, the faculty Senate can pass legislation, but the president has ultimate veto power that can’t be overridden. The adjunct council will be merely a formal “suggestion box” where we can submit ideas, but have no power to bargain for or implement them. This will be left up to the President and administration. Basically, the administration gets to set the table, decide how many chairs are around it, decide how we get to elect people to fill those chairs, and decide whether they will implement our ideas or not. We get to decide… well… nothing. In the end, the adjunct council reminds me of the Roman republic after Augustus consolidated his power. Rome had the appearance of a republic, but it was a republic in name only. The union election was really about giving us adjuncts power and responsibility over our work situations. The adjunct council papers over this fact just as the “trust” argument conflated benefits with power. The only way to rectify the extreme power imbalance between adjuncts and administration is through the legal framework of collective bargaining.

(3) Finally, I must say that I was quite disappointed about the administration’s communications over the past week. They don’t even mention or include those of us who voted for the union. No graceful conciliatory comments (e.g. “for those of you who voted for the union, we take your concerns seriously and we want to work with you to make UST a great place for adjuncts”). They have been more like: “the vote was not even close” (false: over 1 out of 3 of us voted for a union); “by voting ‘no’ you have shown that you can think critically and act wisely”(implying that those who voted “yes” did not think critically or act wisely); “now we can work directly and collaboratively with each other” (assuming that we could not do this with a union). These implied slights do not comport well with the mission of “one university.” In the end, I fear that our concerns for fair treatment and justice will die by a thousand committees—buried in the bowels of UST’s bureaucracy – if we continue to rely on the administration to do the right thing. A union will give us the substantive voice and vote that we need to rely on ourselves to make UST a great place for adjuncts to work.

 

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