Adjuncts: How, Why, and What Next?
In April, while some Loyola University Chicago community members were riding high on school spirit as the Ramblers made it into the Final Four, many others weren’t so happy with Loyola.
After over two years of contract negotiations with the University for higher wages, job security, and benefits, some Loyola faculty, working with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73, orchestrated a full day strike. This was in response to an 11-hour provision the University brought to the negotiations table on April 3rd which would have supposedly undermined all of the progress made with the new contract.
For years, several schools across the country have slowly shifted away from employing full-time and tenure-track educators and toward hiring adjunct faculty.
What Caused This Unrest?
Faculty expressed concern about paying benefits to their full-time and qualifying part-time educators when costs come up that require a monetary cutback. Being able to fire and hire people on a semester per semester basis allows hiring flexibility when unforeseen enrollment numbers or recessions come around.
“[Universities] can’t offer contracts that could result in having to raise tuition. That would be cutting off our nose to spite our face,” Rev. Tom Regan, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Loyola, told the Washington Post.
At the same time, Loyola plans to build an $18.5 million practice facility which will pull $2 million from university capital and ultimately raise tuition prices.
By hiring part-time educators, colleges and universities are able to save money on salaries, benefits, professional development, retirement, etc. This means that 76 percent of college instructors are part-time. For a business model, this makes sense, but for educators living from part-time wages with no benefits, it seems unfair.
According to a report from the American Association of University Professors, between 1975 and 2011, adjunct or part-time faculty appointments have increased by 300 percent. The pay, however, has remained relatively stagnant. An adjunct professor’s median pay per course in 2010 was $2,700, according to a report by the Coalition of Academic Workforce.
An adjunct instructor for Loyola’s English department, Alyson Paige Warren, warns “non-tenured track or adjuncts make up 61 percent of the teaching faculty, [the University] has been exploiting that.” Having wiggle room for educators with a poor performance is one thing, but creating “disposable faculty” is another.
Fine Arts Instructor Sarita Heer said she thinks unionization of college faculty is imminent.
“Unionization is going to happen, across the United States and universities. They’re moving away from tenure-track positions, it’s not just Loyola it’s everyone and it’s very much a financial decision,” Heer said.
In 2014, SEIU launched several campaigns in hopes of attracting more college faculty to join or create local sections on their campuses. In 2016, William A. Herbert, executive director at the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education, reported a 30 percent increase in faculty bargaining units, compared to the preceding four years.
Just this year there have been faculty across Pennsylvania and Colorado have stricken and marched to demand better pay for primary, secondary, and post-secondary educators. With the growing push for unionization at colleges and universities, we can only expect to see more.
College educators have been fighting for better rights for decades and the fight isn’t over.
“We hope Loyola admin wants to make Loyola a great place to be and to teach,” Warren said. “This isn’t a group of people being pushed into action, we all want better.”