Precarity at Private Colleges, Part 1: The Adjuncts
August 3, 2012 8:49 am
Represented part-time faculty at Columbia College in Chicago won a hard-fought battle earlier this month, when the NLRB issued a decision stating the university has failed to bargain in good faith, and must provide the union with information on class assignment policy. The judge also ordered 18 part-timers be paid equivalent wages and interest for cancelled classes, and ordered the administration to reverse changes made to the schedules of represented faculty.
The NLRB ruling is just the latest development in a set of ongoing and highly contested contract negotiations. The part-timers’ contract expired in August 2010. In May 2011, P-Fac filed 36 unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB, most of which were dropped when the administration agreed to return to the table.
However, the more recent charge ruled on by the NLRB demonstrates the University’s continuing refusal to play fair. In 2010, senior adjuncts began to notice that their course loads were shrinking, with more classes being assigned to new adjuncts or administrative staff. President Diana Vallera, President of P-Fac (Part-Time Faculty Assocation at Columbia College) addressed the effects of the schedule changes for In These Times:
“If you’ve been there some time you have certain expectations of income, and you rely on that income,” Vallera says. “It was devastating for a lot of our members—especially since those classes were still available.”
July 17th’s NLRB ruling stated that class assignment policy could not be addressed with bargaining, but that the impact of the assignment policy would be covered — and ordered the administration to provide documents related to class assignment policy.
The released documents will allow the union to confirm or deny suspicions that the increasing reliance on more precarious adjuncts is meant to weaken the bargaining power of the part-time faculty union while keeping labor costs down.
Vallera assesses the move to new adjuncts and administrative staff thusly:
“We’re seeing deans teaching classes.” It is likely a cost-saving measure and possibly also a move to reduce the union’s power as the contract negotiations drag on.
“Maybe they’re trying to negatively affect the membership by having our senior members losing classes, but if so that backfired because senior members were upset and came to the union and got involved.”
Graduate student instructors have experienced difficulty organizing and thus do not wield the influence of experienced, unionized faculty. Columbia administration has accused the union of favoring, rather than encouraging, the hire of the most qualified professors.
Nancy Traver, adjunct Journalism Professor and P-Fac spokesperson, provided clear evidence of favoritism towards new, unrepresented instructors:
We are NOT calling on the college to keep rehiring ineffective teachers. The union believes that the college should rehire experienced, committed adjuncts who have proved their dedication to the college. Some have taught 15 to 20 years. Now they are being shuffled to the side in favor of younger, lower-paid adjuncts. The college has even placed ads in local papers looking for new adjuncts, even though experienced adjuncts with many years at Columbia have said they are available to teach and want to teach, according to P-fac.
Image from here