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Adjunct faculty turn union campaign outward

Adjunct faculty turn union campaign outward

By Hannah Schuster and Charlotte Aaron

Section: Featured, News

October 16, 2015

Brandeis students, staff and faculty spoke in support of creating a union for non-tenure track professors on Tuesday, Oct. 13. In the ever-busy wake-and-shake area between Usdan and the library where students pass on their way to classes or lunch, union supporters discussed why they believe adjunct faculty members need collective bargaining rights and a place at the table with administration. 

The unified faculty will seek higher pay, improved job security and career advancement opportunities. Non-tenure track professors often have year-to-year contracts and, each year, must wait to find out if they still have a job, according to speakers at the event. 

“I have taught hundreds of students, and can say without question that I love doing this … but my own situation is such that I am still an adjunct instructor who works on a year-to-year contract, every year having to wait to see if there is a position,” said adjunct professor Christopher Abrams (FA). “I myself have to struggle every time that my wife and I want to finance our house or apply for financial aid at daycare,” he said at the event. 

Part-time faculty receive lower pay than tenure-track professors. Each student at Brandeis pays around $6,000 in tuition per class, yet some professors earn less for teaching a class with many students, according to a fact sheet for Brandeis Faculty Forward. The national median pay for an adjunct professor is $2,700 per three-credit-hour course, according to the American Association of University Professors, whereas the national average for tenured professors is over $80,000 a year. Also according to Brandeis Faculty Forward, if an adjunct’s course is canceled or reassigned, the professor receives no compensation for the time they spent preparing. 

The Service Employees International Union spearheads adjunct action organizing campaigns, Faculty Forward movements, at universities such as Brandeis to help adjunct professors form unions. In 2014, Tufts became the first school to approve a union affiliated with the SEIU, a three-year contract. Through the Tufts deal, adjunct faculty hope to see pay increases and receive health, retirement and other benefits if they teach at least three classes and be guaranteed the chance to interview for full-time positions when they become available, according to Andy Klatt, lecturer in Romance languages at Tufts who spoke at the Speak Out. The “agreement grants a 22-percent pay raise over the next three years,” according to a BU webpage, bringing their average salary per course to over $7,000. 

SEIU represents 21,000 “college and university adjunct and contract faculty,” according to the Brandeis Faculty Forward website. The SEIU unionized faculty demand $15,000 total compensation per course, according to the SEIU’s website. “The amount of $15,000/course reflects a fair and proportionate amount for non-tenure track faculty at four-year institutions to receive. The dollar amount factors in the standard salary and benefit package of tenure track faculty and then takes into account the other non-instructional duties they also perform,” SEIU Faculty Forward website reads. 

SEIU also represents faculty at Northeastern University, Boston University and Lesley University. Non-tenure track faculty at Northeastern voted to unionize in May. In response to the election results, the provost wrote in a letter, “Northeastern will now bargain in goodwill with SEIU about the terms of employment for part-time faculty members who were eligible to vote in the election.”

In 1969, only 21.7 percent of college and university faculty were non-tenure track. By 2009, this percentage rose to 65.5 percent, according to SEIU. In 2013, up to 75 percent of college professors were non-tenure track, said an NPR article. 

The Brandeis Labor Coalition hosted the Speak Out event on Tuesday and has endorsed the Faculty Forward movement along with Brandeis Democrats. 

Brian Hough, vice president of College Democrats of Massachusetts, has worked with their labor movements and supports unionization efforts to “respect and advocate” for faculty. He also wants students and professors both to be involved with the movement. 

Adjunct professor Marc Weinberg (ENG) is proud to teach at Brandeis, he said at the Speak Out event, though he sees many injustices within the school’s system. Earning a teaching position here, as Weinberg says, is difficult, and most professors have postgraduate degrees. “We love teaching, and we are good at what we do,” he said. However, he believes the situation with the non-tenure track status poses challenges. 

At the event, there were stickers that read “I support the Brandeis Faculty Union” as well as free Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and Munchkins.

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