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…