Campus Equity Week seeks solutions for adjunct faculty

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At New Jersey's Rutgers University, students and faculty have already stormed the board of governors meeting, chanting, "What's outrageous? Adjunct wages!" At Monroe Community College in New York, the faculty union will school the community with two films whose titles say it all: "Degrees of Shame" and "Con Job." In Philadelphia, hundreds are planning to march at Temple University in support of 1,400 adjuncts who will be voting to join the union for better working conditions—and therefore better learning conditions—in their school.

Campus Equity Week, Oct. 26-30, is all about educating students, parents and education advocates, who are shocked to discover that many part-time professors live below the poverty line due to wages that are a fraction of what full-time faculty earn. And it is about changing the paradigm of exploitation by circulating petitions and surveys, holding membership drives and crafting fair contracts that provide job security, higher wages and better working conditions so that adjuncts don't have to wait tables to make ends meet.

Rallying for adjuncts at Temple UniversityAdjuncts like Wende Marshall, who teaches anthropology at Temple University, are never sure if they'll have a job from one semester to the next. Marshall was notified just three weeks before classes that she would no longer teach her scheduled course. "It is unfair for Temple to rely so heavily on adjunct labor and then drop us whenever it is convenient for them," she says.

"Our college classrooms have become corporate sweatshops," says Teresa Politano, an adjunct teaching journalism and a member of Rutgers AAUP-AFT. "It becomes increasingly impossible to challenge our students to tackle global problems under such hypocrisy."

For some adjuncts, those conditions mean no office space, limited access to resources as simple as copy machines and mailboxes, and few opportunities to interact with other faculty.

To address the most important of these issues, Rutgers AAUP-AFT members spent the summer visiting the homes of 1,000 adjuncts to find out what they want most on the job. They will spend day one of Campus Equity Week in a bargaining session, pushing for pay equal to that of their full-time colleagues. Currently, adjuncts there earn $4,800 per class; by 2018, the minimum salary for nontenure-track full-time faculty will be more than $7,000 per class. Another key issue at Rutgers is the stark contrast between lavish spending on administrative salaries and athletic teams, and the mere 18.2 percent of the school's $3.8 billion budget devoted to instruction. For the 1,800 lecturers, it's even worse: The local calculates that although they teach more than one-third of all classes, they get just 0.6 percent of the budget ($22.7 million).

Adjuncts activists at Rutgers UniversityAt the University of California, Santa Cruz, job security is a primary concern. The UCSC Lecturers and Librarians chapter of University Council-AFT is facing an ironic twist at the bargaining table: Management claims there is "too much turnover" for them to provide a definitive list of lecturers, a list that could help quantify the use of adjuncts and also pave the way for better communication with the rest of the university. This sort of churning, which destabilizes instruction, is just one important issue UCSC-UC highlighted during its Oct. 22 Rolling Rally for Lecturers' Rights. The protest took place on a bus plastered with signs and on its way to off-site bargaining sessions.

On these campuses and so many others, union membership can make a difference. The 2012 report of the Coalition on the Academic Workforce showed that adjuncts with union representation were paid 25 percent more than those without a union ($3,100, compared with $2,475). They were nearly twice as likely to be paid for course cancellations, and fared better regarding paid office hours and job security as well.

That's why adjuncts are pushing so hard in places like Temple University, where the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board recently ruled they could vote to join the Temple Association of University Professionals, an AFT affiliate. Temple adjuncts will march behind TAUP's 60-foot banner during Campus Equity Week, joining United Academics of Philadelphia, a local that represents adjuncts across the city, to hear myriad speakers speak in solidarity for adjunct rights.

It is likely they will talk about issues such as job security and access to unemployment insurance, for those times when there are no summer classes and the fall semester offers just one section for folks to teach. The AFT is supporting a petition to the Department of Labor that could help secure benefits in these cases. Speakers will also repeat the mantra, "Teaching conditions are learning conditions," a point made clear in the AFT's brochure, "Just Ask." The brochure, distributed to high school guidance counselors and others, urges students and their parents to ask colleges how many of their faculty are adjunct and whether they are paid equitably.

Other actions will continue to unfold over the course of Campus Equity Week. For an overview, links to resources and more information on why it is necessary to spread the word about adjunct exploitation, go to campusequityweek.org.

[Virginia Myers]