Card-Carrying Adjuncts Push Toward Election
— Amy Weigand, College of Liberal Arts and College of Education
College of Liberal Arts and
College of Education
In corridors and offices all over the university, part-time faculty are putting in extra hours laying the groundwork for the next major development in labor relations at Temple. With the support of the Temple Association of University Professionals (TAUP), adjunct faculty are organizing their colleagues to seek recognition of TAUP as our representative in negotiations with the administration.
This campaign is significant for two reasons. First, adjuncts are the only segment of the faculty that remains ineligible to bargain collectively about the terms and conditions under which we work. This leaves the vast majority of adjuncts vulnerable to the unconstrained will of the administration. Second, adjunct labor has become indispensable to the fulfillment of Temple's teaching mission. The Adjunct Organizing Committee (AOC) estimates that 900 adjuncts currently teach in schools and colleges covered by the TAUP bargaining unit. And it is wise to remember, as TAUP president Art Hochner observed in the October 2009 issue of the Faculty Herald, that "[the faculty's] working conditions are our students' learning conditions."
What are adjuncts' working conditions?
The AOC does not have comprehensive data on adjuncts employed by Temple University because the administration has made virtually no such data public and has declined to provide any information requested by the AOC or TAUP. So I will describe my own situation as an adjunct in the College of Liberal Arts. Based on conversations with dozens of adjuncts outside CLA, I am confident that much of what I say will reflect conditions for adjuncts in other schools and colleges. Any variations will likely have to do with salary or timing and procedures for appointments.
During a given semester, my department asks adjuncts and TAs to submit their ranked preferences for courses for the following semester. Some time before the semester closes, we receive our course assignment(s), if any. No explicit policy governs the assignment process. Typically, a few days before the new semester begins, "appointment letters" from the Dean become available; each instructor must sign a letter in order to finalize the teaching assignment.
My appointment letter for the current semester specifies that I will be paid a total of $7,632 over four months for my two courses. (Adjuncts are permitted to teach no more than 8 credit hours per semester). My courses are at maximum enrollment, so I have 80 students altogether. This means that out of the tuition it collects from each of my students (about $1200 for an PA resident taking 15 credits), Temple pays me less than $100. This represents the university’s labor costs for the course because, as the letter reminds me, my appointment carries "no fringe benefits."
The defined term of my employment is August 30, 2010 through December 18, 2010, with "no promise or guarantee of any subsequent appointment." The Dean also specifically retains her right to cancel my courses "if, in [her] sole discretion, it is necessary to do so." Taken together, these provisions represent an utter lack of job security, for the semester in question and for the future. The University also frees itself from any obligation to pay me for time spent designing and preparing a course, whether or not it ends up running. Moreover, as an adjunct, I have no access to a grievance procedure, as TAUP bargaining unit members do; adjuncts are "at will" employees, and can be fired or refused re-appointment for any reason or no reason at all.
Combined with deplorably low wages, lack of benefits, and a tenuous job status, there are other practical challenges that remind adjuncts of the degree to which the administration devalues us and our contributions to the university. For example, an adjunct pursuing research during the summer may find herself denied library privileges if she is not teaching during the current summer session. This is particularly likely to happen if the adjunct’s name has not yet been listed on the online course catalog, because that is what library staff check to ascertain employment status. Another such challenge exists for the large number of adjuncts who do not have an office – even a shared office – on campus. I recently spoke with an adjunct in the School of Communications and Theater who holds office hours in a stairwell.
These are some of the conditions under which adjuncts work, and they unquestionably affect the learning environments we can create for our students.
Why do adjuncts agree to work under these conditions?
The adjunct category encompasses individuals with a wide variety of career trajectories and reasons for working as adjuncts. Those who do not depend on their Temple income can afford to reject or overlook the inadequate salary, the lack of job security, and the other indignities of adjunct existence. But a large proportion of adjuncts here make their living teaching at Temple and other area colleges. The figures for full-time tenure-track openings in recent years suggest one good reason for this. As one of the largest academic employers in the region, Temple is a perfect example. In their letter to faculty earlier this semester, President Ann Weaver Hart and Interim Provost Richard Englert proudly called attention to the more than 150 new faculty Temple hired this year. They went on to say, however, that 25 of those new hires are tenured or on the tenure-track (e-mail to faculty, September 16, 2010). This means that five out of every six of the newest faculty members at Temple work outside the tenure system. (The figures presumably refer only to fulltime hires; if so, the message that sends is that adjuncts don’t even count as faculty.) In the face of these diminishing opportunities, it is no surprise that so many smart, talented, and enthusiastic scholars with PhDs or corresponding terminal degrees find themselves accepting a couple of courses here and one or two there, just so that they can do the work for which their academic training prepared them.
What are adjuncts doing about their predicament?
Temple's use of adjunct instructors helps to limit labor costs. The administration has shown no sign that it intends to address the inequities of adjunct employment on its own initiative. The AOC believes that the ability to bargain collectively will enable adjuncts to persuade the administration that it is in the interests of all stakeholders– adjuncts, full-time faculty, students, and Temple University overall – to give adjuncts the salary, benefits, and dignity they deserve as members of the faculty.
That is why in corridors and offices all over Temple, adjuncts are speaking to adjuncts about the importance of union representation. The AOC is collecting signed authorization cards that must be submitted to the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board as a showing of interest in TAUP representation. An election by secret ballot will follow the successful card filing. If a majority of voting adjuncts choose the union as their representative, adjuncts will join their full-time colleagues in bargaining as one united body. The AOC is grateful to TAUP and many individual full-time faculty members – tenured, tenure track, and non-tenure track. We look forward to helping to build a better Temple University for everyone.
Amy Weigand, JD, PhD, teaches as an adjunct in CLA and the College of Education. She is a member of the Adjunct Organizing Committee.