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?