Adjunct faculty confront university president, demand action

Adjunct faculty at Arcadia University have had enough: After 16 months of protracted negotiations, they still have no contract, so they marched on the university president’s office to demand he intervene.

The adjuncts—members of United Academics of Philadelphia, an AFT affiliate of adjunct faculty across the city—teach the majority of the courses at Arcadia, but they have little job security, insufficient benefits and pay so low they have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Their fight for a fair contract is “a critical test” of university President Ajay Nair, they say: Nair suspended the previously planned layoff of approximately 12 full-time faculty members shortly after beginning his tenure last December. He has not yet intervened in adjunct contract negotiations.


Arcadia adjuncts with president Nair
University President Ajay Nair meets with adjuncts during a protest Dec. 11.

At the protest—which included a crowd of supportive students as well as adjunct faculty—Nair came out of a meeting to listen to adjunct concerns and said he was open to attending a negotiating session. While that makes UAP member Gretchen Haertsch hopeful, she says the administration’s final offer falls far short of what adjuncts deserve, with pay raises as small as $5 per credit hour, very limited job security, and healthcare benefits that could be worse than what was already in place.

“We are not happy with it,” says Haertsch, who calls the plight of adjunct faculty “a national scandal” that ultimately affects the quality of teaching for students. Some of her colleagues are going without healthcare and are even short on food; one describes teaching two classes at Arcadia and two at another university, while working 20 hours a week at a nonprofit just to keep himself above the poverty line. Under the current offer, adjuncts would be paid as little as $975 per credit hour, which is less than $23,400 a year for a typical three-course load.

Another major concern is job security: Like adjuncts at many other universities, Arcadia’s adjuncts must be rehired each semester and can have their classes canceled with no notice. “Not only do we lose income we were counting on, without enough time to find other work to replace it, but also students can lose the chance to take a course that they need to complete their major,” says Maggie Malloy, an adjunct professor in the English department. “It’s time for President Nair to step in and fix this.”

“It’s an ethical issue,” says Haertsch, who also teaches English at Arcadia. The university embraces diversity and inclusion, at least in theory, and Nair is “an accomplished social justice, race and ethnicity scholar,” according to the university’s website. Haertsch would like Arcadia to recognize the inequities inherent in the adjunct faculty system and take the lead to ensure they have livable wages, medical benefits and stability.

“President Nair has said that justice doesn’t quite work if it’s only for some people,” says Mira Kuhn, an Arcadia student supporting the adjuncts. “For justice to exist for everyone on this campus, justice for the adjunct faculty should be the priority of our whole Arcadia community. It is the moral imperative of all of us to support a fair contract.”

The Arcadia adjunct faculty union formed in April 2017. This would be its first contract. 

[Virginia Myers and UAP Communications]