I recently attended, with UFCT local 1460 Secretary Holly Wilson, a Summit on the role of contingent labor in the academy. The Summit was titled, “Reclaiming Academic Democracy: Facing the Consequences of Contingent Employment in Higher Education,” and was convened by a new organization called “New Faculty Majority,” whose goal is to educate about and advocate for equity for contingent professors nationally. They work with existing unions, but are something of a supra-union organization–not unlike, say, the Freelancer’s Union. I encourage you to read MLA President Michael Bérubé’s astute briefing on the summit at the Chronicle of Higher Ed, but I’d like to add my own ‘report-back’ here, too.
It was incredibly enlivening to speak with and learn from my counterparts across the country, and I met many committed unionists who, like our Union, have been innovating ways to garner rights and benefits for their Adjunct members. Of course, many faculty don’t have the privilege and protection of a union, which means (as many of us who work at other institutions perhaps know too well): no rights, no benefits, no assurance of work from semester-to-semester, no say in governance, no clear processes for evaluation and promotion, and so forth. I found particularly acute discussions about how part-timers, because they have to rely mostly on student evaluations as support for being re-hired, don’t in fact have academic freedom–which in turn threatens academic freedom for full timers and students alike.
Now this laundry list of what other Adjuncts don’t have reminds me, once again, just how strong our own Collective Bargaining Agreement is on many of these points–especially ARPT–and how innovative our “Certificate of Continuing Education” is. Of course there’s always more to do, and I left the conference refreshed in my conviction that the future of higher education is inextricable from the role of labor in the academy. If we’re committed to preserving our classrooms as spaces for free and open discourse–that is, for the learning that underpins civil society–then we need to, as faculty, insist that we are the core of the university, and that we therefore must have equity and freedom.
Please do be in touch if you’d like to know more or want to discuss these matters. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Adjunct Assistant Professor, HMS