NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The nation's adjunct professors staged a walkout on Wednesday to highlight the plight of non-tenured faculty in overwhelmingly non-tenured academia.
"We are striking today and walking out, really, to raise awareness nationally of the situation that adjuncts face across the country," said Louisa Edgerly, an adjunct professor at Seattle University's College of Art and Science. Universities, in fact, could not be more aware. About 75% of all university faculty are non-tenured, have no job security and are working for far less than their tenured counterparts. Seattle University is already fighting its adjuncts' attempt to start a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
That didn't keep Seattle University from expressing support for the adjuncts while trashing SEIU.
"We welcome the show of support for our adjunct faculty and adjuncts nationwide," Seattle University said in a statement on Wednesday. "Seattle University has a proven record of supporting out adjunct faculty. The steps we have taken compare more than favorably to other institutions, including those whose adjuncts are represented by SEIU, like American University and George Washington University."
While an estimate on the number of participating schools was hard to come by, walk-outs were reported at a variety of campuses, including George Mason University, Jefferson Community College in New York, San Francisco Art College, the University of Arizona, the University of California at Santa Cruz and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The event, which was spawned on social media, included those who wanted more than one day. The National Mobilization for Equity (NME), a group of unions that represents people in higher ed occupations, wanted a national Adjunct Action Week from February 23 to 27, an idea that was supported by Professional Staff Congress of the City University of New York (PSC-CUNY), which scheduled events like teach-ins throughout the week. PSC-CUNY represents some 25,000 people at the City University. In a statement on its website, the NME said that it "doesn't support, encourage, anyone violating state laws” by walking off the job.
Most of the week’s events were less about going on strike and more about educating people in the reality of professors on food stamps. But this first-ever event presents university administrators with a sobering prospect. With adjuncts being the vast majority of the nation’s classroom work force, the wheels of academic commerce could grind to a halt if a significant number withheld their labor.
Among the things that adjuncts have in common with their students are student loans. The average adjunct gets paid $3,000 per course. Four courses per semester spread over two yearly semesters would amount to $24,000. According to the College Board, the average debt for people with advanced degrees needed by adjuncts is $61,000, putting adjunct compensation and student loans seriously out of whack. The SEIU’s adjunct organizing unit recently set $15,000 per course plus benefits as a goal.
Part of the problem is that adjuncts are not new. Over the last several decades, the adjunct life-style has been baked into contracts with universities. The CUNY Adjunct Project at the City University of New York points to a rule in the PSC-CUNY contract limiting adjuncts to 9 credits in one of CUNY's colleges and 6 credits in a second each semester, creating added travel time and costs that make meeting with students more difficult. Organizers are looking to change onerous work rules along with increasing the pay scale--a demand the CUNY Adjunct Project wants met in its ongoing contract negotiations with CUNY.
--Written by John Sandman for MainStreet