Gargantuan steps they weren't. But members of the Delegate Assembly, the MLA's main deliberative body, approved two motions Wednesday aimed at improving the lot of part-time faculty members.
By an overwhelming margin, the delegates endorsed a proposal from the MLA's Radical Caucus that would require the association to invest time and some financial resources in efforts to "reestablish basic labor rights for graduate employees and other term workers" -- adjuncts and other part-time instructors.
Like all motions endorsed by the Delegate Assembly, this one will not take effect unless it is approved by the MLA's Executive Council, which next meets in February.
Specifically, the motion directs the MLA to work with other scholarly associations and labor groups to overturn a July 2004 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that stripped graduate students at private universities of the right to unionize. That decision, in a case involving Brown University, reversed an NLRB ruling from four years earlier, when the panel was dominated by Clinton administration appointees.
The Radical Caucus motion directs the MLA to provide administrative and financial support for a conference, planned for 2006 by the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor, aimed at overturning the NLRB ruling, and to pay to send several representatives to the meeting.
Before the Delegate Assembly passed the motion, it was amended to include a call for the MLA to "encourage the process of voluntary recognition of graduate student unions in an atmosphere free of intimidation and coercion." In other words, the MLA would be urging private universities to agree to negotiate and bargain collectively with their graduate student workers, even without a shift in the NLRB's policies.
The second motion approved by the Delegate Assembly Wednesday is an internal MLA matter, but a significantly symbolic one for the part-timers, who have continued to push to be treated less like second-class citizens.
The association recently created a fund to defray some of the costs to graduate students of traveling to and attending its annual conference. The executive committee of the MLA's Discussion Group on Part-Time Faculty Members offered a motion to request equal treatment for its constituents, many if not most of whom have to pay their own way to the meeting -- limiting their opportunities, they say, for professional development.
The motion adopted by the Delegate Assembly, if approved by the Executive Committee, would direct the MLA to create a fund to partially defray the costs of part-time and contingent, nontenure-track faculty members to attend the MLA meeting. The size of the fund and of the individual allocations would be determined by the Executive Council.