How the Adjunct Crisis Hurts Students and the Importance of Fighting Back



Today I’m pleased to be able to publish this guest post by AAUP member Miranda Merklein, a contract professor serving the Northern New Mexico area. She holds a Ph.D. in English from University of Southern Mississippi, an M.A. in liberal arts from St. John’s college, and a B.A. in political science from College of Santa Fe.

Adjuncts are frequently told that basic necessities like a living wage and health care are not “in the budget” of the institutions that employ us, where we work full time hours as contracted, part time labor in a semester-to-semester purgatory state of what-ifs, often at multiple institutions with little to no control of our teaching schedules. We are the lowest paid, albeit terminally educated and skilled, employees at our institutions where we are treated like untouchables by virtually everyone on campus except our students who, until recently, had no idea we were teetering on…

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College Adjuncts Organize in Maryland

043College Adjuncts Organize in Maryland

Part time faculty decided to form a union by a more than a two to one margin. This came after attempts to negotiate with the college came to nothing. It may well be that traditional organizing methods are the only answer to poor pay, job insecurity and a pervasive lack of support for adjunct teaching.

I will continue to update on this story and others along the same lines. It’s time for the McDonaldization of higher education to end. The spiral of downward wage pressure is gradually ending the prospect of a middle class lifestyle and any job security at all. Do we really want to live in a nation where high education and hard work gets you a little more than the minimum wage?

James Pilant

College Adjuncts Union Scores Victory at Maryland Institute College of Art

Part-time college faculty members at the historic Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) scored an impressive win on Tuesday when they voted overwhelmingly to bring a labor union on campus for the first time since MICA’s opening in 1826.

In secret ballot voting supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the pro-union votes number 160, compared to 75 anti-union ones, reports Katherine Kavanaugh, one of the leaders of the faculty group. This unofficial count has been confirmed by a NLRB spokeswoman, who adds that the agency normally takes about a week to confirm an election of this kind. Once the election is formally certified by NLRB, the part-time college instructors will be represented by Gaithersburg, Md.-based Service Employees International Union Local 500.

Though the election period itself took only seven weeks, the victory represents a major benchmark in the part-time professors’ sustained campaign to improve job conditions and the overall quality of campus life, says Kavanaugh. The professors, also known as adjuncts, began meeting informally in 2011 to discuss ways to raise pay, provide access to health insurance benefits and ensure job security, she says. Those early meetings developed incrementally into a formal part-time faculty committee, she continues, which itself eventually became the MICA Adjuncts Union.

“This wasn’t at all about unionization when we started,” Kavanaugh tells In These Times. “It was about teachers who felt strongly that change was needed both for the benefit of the adjuncts and for the benefit of the students at MICA. … We wanted to work with the full-time faculty and with the administration.” While the full-time faculty remained neutral, Kavanaugh says, the administration ducked the adjuncts’ attempts to discuss the issues—and that’s what prompted the moves toward formal organization.

“It was only when the administration continued to stall us, when they made it clear they wouldn’t work with us in a serious way, that we started talking about a union,” Kavanaugh says.

For SEIU Local 500, the vote marks the latest in a string of union organizing victories for adjuncts at colleges and universities in the region. Last year, the union won an election at Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown University to represent some 650 adjuncts. Another election in 2012 to represent about 700 part-time professors at D.C.’s American University was similarly successful.

Local 500’s organizing efforts are associated with SEIU’s “Adjunct Action” project, which is stimulating union organizing on college campuses in widely scattered sections of the country. Just within the last several weeks, Adjunct Action has been involved in active union election campaigns at Marist College in New York state, Macalester College in Minnesota, and Seattle University in Washington state; all three have yet to be decided.

From Around the Web.

From the web site, CCSNH Adjunct Contract Now, we have a post by Lynn M. King.

Try Greatness, Not Meanness

… One of our most pressing conflicts is in the field of education: Adjunct Unions’ difficulty bargaining within current economic and political climates in New Hampshire and across the country.

When presented with proposals, administrators insist there is no money available to support benefits or pay increases. CCSNH staff and faculty can polarize the institutional landscape when they turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to the needs of the invisible adjunct majority. The overall feeling at numerous campuses is that we are divided. As a result, the needs of the invisible adjunct majority are pushed aside. These challenges need to be met, not just by adjuncts faculty. We are in need of a union collective that supports, protects and encourages the interests of their members. Practically, we can raise the tide for all boats, now for adjuncts, and part-time employees, faculty, and maintenance in the future.

 Feelings of negativity reverberate throughout the college and in the community in which our system existsHow else can we expect negotiations for workers to be balanced, when our own colleagues express ignorance or abandonment of one another? We must first sit down and look at these issues honestly, creatively, and with hope.

Good negotiations and fair contracts make for happy educators. Happy educators create satisfied students, and satisfied students encourage other students to-be to enroll. Under these conditions, students learn better and develop goals that improve their dedication and self-esteem.

Students, however, become angry when budgets are cut, good teachers lost and wonder why employees are not considered valuable by their colleges. Then, they begin to question the college’s commitment to their quality of education and perhaps question the idea of entering education.

With our forefather’s example in mind, let us put aside our differences. I invite the administration of the New Hampshire Community College System to meet with its adjunct representatives (and the support of the community) to engage in honest and fair negotiations. We can likewise produce a foundation of learning that will last for centuries: a college system that both teaches and practices greatness and is based on a culture of mutual respect, founded in logic, largeness of heart, experience, and the fundamental truth of scholarship.