Growing number of part-time professors join unions

By Sam Hananel

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Nov. 1 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

In a statement, Bentley noted that it's one of the few universities where adjuncts in arts and sciences and the business school are paid the same rate. Bentley also has adjuncts represented on the faculty senate, making them more involved in faculty matters.

Universities used to call on adjunct professors in mostly technical fields such as allied health, journalism or business to bring students more practical training. Many adjuncts still have full-time jobs and teach a class on the side. But as tenure-track positions decline, those who want to make teaching a full-time career have to cobble together jobs at multiple colleges and universities to make ends meet.

Colleges are relying more on adjuncts to teach basic classes as cash-strapped state governments have reduced funding for public universities, said Adrianna Kezar, a professor of education at the University of Southern California who studies the role of adjunct faculty.

Private universities also are under pressure to keep skyrocketing tuition levels down. Universities like the flexibility that adjuncts offer to deal with the uncertainty of predicting student enrollment.

A recent study showing median pay per course is about 25 percent higher on campuses where adjuncts have union representation. The report last year from the Coalition on the Academic Workforce, an advocacy group that seeks better working conditions for part-time faculty, found that median pay nationwide for teaching a standard three-credit course was about $2,700.

Besides low pay, Kezar says, adjuncts tend to have little involvement in curriculum planning, interacting with deans, or how class evaluations should be used in hiring decisions. Many receive no professional development or training and even struggle to even find office space to meet with students or grade papers, she said.

Bill Shimer, a part-time lecturer in management and organizational development at Northeastern University in Boston, said he never imagined being part of the union movement. But he has been rallying colleagues to support an upcoming vote on whether to form a union.

"It's not that people want to unionize, but we really don't see any other way. There's nowhere to turn and nobody is looking out for us," said Shimer, who teaches five classes at Northeastern and two at another local university.

The university has responded by hiring a prominent law firm used by many corporations to discourage union organizing. Northeastern's provost, Stephen Director, sent a letter last summer warning part-time faculty about the impact of "ceding your rights" to negotiate with the university to "an outside organization which is unfamiliar with our culture."

Kezar said critics of labor unions argue that they aren't always supportive of evaluations, which play an important role at many schools in the decision to rehire. Unions consider protecting teachers' interests first, and don't always consider student interests as strongly, she said.

Unions argue that having well-compensated faculty with more training leads to better education for students.

Try out the new DeseretNews.com design!
try beta learn more
Get The Deseret News Everywhere