Adjunct Ruckus at Columbia and Northeastern

As I mentioned earlier, the adjuncts and their union over at Columbia are raising some noise. Interestingly the adjuncts at Northeastern are, too. And the noise at both places is getting louder, according to an article in this week’s Reader:

Over the last couple weeks, while the eyes of the nation have been on the workers’ rights standoff in Madison, Wisconsin, two normally quiet Chicago colleges have seen their own labor uprisings. At Columbia College and Northeastern Illinois University, faculty and students are protesting what they call dictatorial governance and exploitation. In both cases, the plight of adjunct teachers—the dirt-cheap, dispensable day laborers of academe—is at issue.

Adjuncts now do a major portion of the instruction at both schools, handling more than 50 percent of the classes at NEIU and accounting for nearly 77 percent of the teachers at Columbia, which has 360 full-time faculty and about 1,200 adjuncts.

Those ratios are part of a trend, one sign of the increasingly bottom-line-oriented, corporate attitude behind the tweedy facade at colleges across the country. What’s atypical about Columbia and NEIU is that their adjuncts are represented by unions. And the unions aren’t afraid to make a fuss.

Potentially Tangential Philosophical Aside (is that redundant?): This is all happening just as the City Colleges adjunct union begins preparations for negotiations on its next contract.

All of which raises in my mind an interesting hypothetical thought experiment. Remember back in 04 when we went on strike? Our union, and some (but not all) members unofficially suggested that adjuncts honor the picket line, which then led to more than a little trouble for some of those who did.

If the adjunct union went on strike, do you think our union would ask US to honor the picket line? Do you think theirs would? I’m guessing they wouldn’t because that would be a violation of our contract, which would conceivably be grounds for termination. In such a case, though, what would the obligations of full time faculty be, I wonder?

It’s clearly in our students’ interests to have better treated adjuncts (better pay, health insurance and/or other benefits, better job security, some support for self-determined professional development–all of the work conditions that get negotiated in these things and for a host of reasons. It’s clearly in the interests of the institution we serve and support to have the people who make up 2/3rds of our teaching faculty happy/happier and (more) justly treated, and it’s also clear that any change in their situation (to the positive), in the current climate (no state funding, etc.), likely means a change in either affordability for students or future contract benefits to us.

Would our full timers stand up for adjuncts? Should we?

PS: I’ve been thinking about this since I read a different article (HERE) on the ways that the interests of FT faculty conflict with those of Adjuncts. Thus, it is not because I think our adjuncts will go on strike or should or that we will or should or any of that. Just thinking ahead to what I/we might do if it were to happen, because that’s what philosophical people do. It’s a habit. Maybe a flaw. Still, you could have stopped reading six paragraphs ago, so, really, whose fault is it that you’re here now considering this question?

5 thoughts on “Adjunct Ruckus at Columbia and Northeastern

  1. Great post! A few points. At Northeastern, the adjuncts and the full-time lecturers and the tenured/tenure-track faculty are all in the same union, so everyone would be going on strike if it came to that. But from what I know it’s correct to say that the interests of the adjuncts at NEIU have not been represented by the union. The teachers have been without a contract for a few years now at NEIU.

    I don’t think the full-time faculty at CCC care much about the plight of the adjunct faculty members. And of course we should. We should care passionately, ethically, rigorously for what happens to the adjunct faculty. We should stand with them as much as we possibly can. But I don’t think that will happen. This is a combination of selfishness with the fact that we are too busy fighting our own fight. But their fight should be our fight. Their fight is bigger than our fight.

    One wonders why the full and part-time unions can’t stand together and try to make sure that our contracts end at the same time.

    Also, you’d think that given the sheer numbers of adjunct faculty that this would be a great time for their union to take a stand and bargain hard. Given their wages, they should be demanding a 100% pay increase. I imagine it’s very hard to organize the adjunct faculty, given the disparate times spent on campus. Still, I wish they would bargain hard and really organize. It’d seem that they could have enormous power.

  2. I think most full-timers would want to support adjuncts, at least in a moral sense, but how would that support manifest itself in tangible terms? I have no idea what that answer is. Yes, most of us know about the plight of our adjuncts, but only in a general sense. They get paid nickles and dimes to teach the majority of our classes, yet their issues are even less publicized than Local 1600’s–and that’s saying something. Where is the voice of CCCLOC, and why isn’t it telling 1600 what we can do for them? Or for that matter, is 1600 asking them how it can help? Do the two even talk at all? Anybody know?

    Another issue that doesn’t get much attention is administration’s involvement with adjuncts. Other than a once-a-year two-hour orientation, what does our administration do to develop adjuncts? When I was an adjunct for three years at HWC, I was observed twice by an administrator. To my (limited) knowledge, that practice has essentially stopped. Does anyone have info to the contrary?

    The reality is that our largest workforce gets the least attention.

  3. I was a full-time adjunct at Northeastern when we all went on strike and at that time, adjunct issues were pretty well-represented. I have a friend who is a full-time adjunct and she is on a paid sabbatical leave right now. The whole category of lecturer (full-time adjunct with benefits) is problematic because they teach and have a full-time, non-tenure-track gig but make a fraction of tenured people’s pay and have a year-to-year contract. This is clearly exploitation, but it also provided a living wage and benefits for me when I was desperate for a job. I could also do the job with just a MA, and they could not hire anyone tenure-track who did not have a Ph.D.

    This past summer members of Local 1600 had a meeting with members of CCCLOC. I was there and felt that the environment was respectful, but I’m not sure if there was any follow-up.

    It is crazy-hard to organize adjuncts, in part because of their working conditions. I was a CCCLOC member before I got hire full-time and I could never make meetings, etc. I know there are some legal issues (CCCLOC is NEA, we’re AFT/IFT), but I would love it if we could incorporate CCCLOC into our union. I think it would make both of us much stronger. My NEIU experience pushes me hard in this direction.

    I think we have to recognize that adjunct issues ARE our issues and we may have to “give some to get some.” We may need to put adjunct issues before our own issues in some ways so that we move closer to justice. Also, given that adjuncts teach most of our classes, “their working conditions are our student’s learning conditions” and that must come first always.

    • We would all be in the same union if not for a vote back in 2001 or so (MathArt–is that right?) where the 1600 membership voted against organizing the adjuncts in the same union.

      Norm Swenson hated the idea of negotiating for anyone other than current membership, made the case, and that was that. It’s too bad, in retrospect, I think.

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