As reported in today’s Insidehighered.com, the for-profit firm Kaplan, Inc. has just inked a collective bargaining agreement with 65 English-as-a-second-language (ESOL) part-time instructors in New York City. This is on the heels of several other recent adjunct collective bargaining victories over the past months.
Of course, there’s lots of work to do, and this particular deal was in a particularly union-friendly environment (New York), and that this was not Kaplan’s higher education division. SEIU organizer Malini Cadambi Daniel has suggested that for-profits might actually be more fertile ground for unionization than at non-profits or religious institutions, because for-profits would be less ideologically opposed to unionization and only see it as a “business decision.” I must admit to being baffled by this line of reasoning: since when has for-profit American not been ideologically opposed to unionization?
Small steps, admittedly, but all steps in the right direction.
Today the NY Times at least finally recognized that the casualization of college faculty is a serious problem that affects students’ education and results in poor employment conditions and compensation. No kidding. What’s amazing is that the Times editorial board appears to think that it’s the first to realize this issue (maybe part of the Old Gray Lady‘s long assumption that, as the self-proclaimed paper of record, if something wasn’t reported there, it didn’t exist). Maybe that’s why this editorial seems not to offer much in terms of real solutions, or a recognition of how deep the problems are. The problem is not simply too little money, although that’s a big part of it. The problem is what we value in higher education. Read more
Adjuncts at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) are voting now on unionization. Here are three of them speaking about the benefits of unionization, as well as, from their perspectives, the difference between being part-time, contingent faculty and tenure-track faculty. For a more detailed discussion of some of the particulars, see the interview (scroll down that page for a transcript) between MICA adjunct Hnnah Brancato and Maria Maisto, an organizer for the New Faculty Majority.
Sadly, as the Chronicle relates, many full-time faculty members at a variety institutions are ambivalent at best or hostile at worst to the efforts of adjuncts to unionize and to have a voice in shared governance. Why? Probably to retain the illusion of control over their jobs, or a sense of superiority to adjuncts. Of course, this is short term thinking, because our corporate overlords many upper administrators would like to make us all into interchangeable, cheap labor units. Folks, if you are among those who do think that way, or know someone who does, please tell yourself or have that person say out loud: but for the grace of god (or God, or the gods, or the fickle choice of a hiring committee, or whatever fate you may believe in), I too could be an adjunct. That may breed just a little bit of sympathy, and deflate perhaps some unnecessary ego.
Adjunct organization is on the move. As noted in the Chronicle, adjuncts are now very close to becoming organized city-wide in Washington, DC. Georgetown, American, and George Washington are already signed on, and Howard will be joining soon. This will give much greater leverage to adjuncts in their relationship with universities there, and it already shows: they’re going to get health and retirement benefits prorated to hours worked. They’ll also save time job-hunting, because their union chapter, the SEIU Local 500, will create a “hiring hall,” a central database to match up universities with adjuncts (that will be a boon to departments, too, especially trying to hire on short notice). It’s a fantastic victory, but the prognosis on its long-term and wider effects are still hard to predict. Read more
As Evan Rowe reports, he and his fellow adjuncts are working to unionize at Broward College (it’s the community college of Broward County, FL, which includes Fort Lauderdale). Rowe is one of the BC army of adjuncts making $16k a year, usually teaching only one class fewer than tenure-track professors who make several times as much, get health benefits, have job security, and get keys to the tenured-faculty washroom, where they wear smoking jackets and eat bon-bons. OK, I’m exaggerating on the bon-bons, and no one ever gave me a smoking jacket. But here’s the main point: especially given the kind of “leadership” provided by BC president J. David Armstrong, this is further proof of the intentional casualization of the academic workforce for no other reason than to cut a few financial corners, burnish upper-administrators’ sense of toughness, and to deny faculty and any meaningful say over the terms of employment, much less curriculum or how universities ought to be run. Read more