Voting Rights for Adjuncts

Boston University gives those who do a lot of the teaching the right to have a say in faculty governance.

March 5, 2012

Colleges increasingly rely on part-time faculty to teach, but when it comes to giving them voting rights to decide issues before the professoriate, many institutions are reluctant.

Officials of Boston University's Faculty Council announced today that the Faculty Assembly had voted to approve assembly membership for lecturers with half-time appointments or more. Online voting took place from November to March 1, and the measure passed with an approval rate of more than 90 percent. BU’s Faculty Assembly now has about 2,300 members and its membership is expected to rise by about 350 once the new rule is ratified by the university's Board of Trustees. (Note: This article was updated at 10:30 a.m. Monday to reflect the results of the Boston University Faculty Assembly vote.)

The measure was put to vote after a task force for non-tenure-track faculty at the university suggested that the Faculty Council find ways to include faculty members who have taught at BU for “a considerable length” but cannot take part in faculty governance. The task force was appointed by Provost David Campbell in June 2008 to enhance the role of non-tenure-track faculty and give them recognition and support.

“The idea behind the ballot initiative was to include faculty with more than 50 percent of their professional lives devoted to Boston University,” said Adam Sweeting, the Faculty Council chair.

BU’s Faculty Assembly includes among its numbers full-time tenured and tenure-track professors and non-tenure-track professors with the rank of associate, assistant and full professor. The vote's results mean that about 350 lecturers who teach at Boston University’s Charles River Campus, one of two campuses at the university, will become full voting members of the faculty assembly, but 14 adjunct faculty members and at least three emeritus professors will lose their voting rights. Faculty Assembly members elect the Faculty Council and can also serve on the council and various faculty committees.

About 40 percent of Boston University’s faculty members are non-tenure-track professors, according to a university fact sheet. Steve Brady, secretary-treasurer of BU’s Faculty Council and associate professor of psychiatry at the Boston University School of Medicine, said though BU was committed to maintaining traditional faculty rank and the tenure system, the university also wanted to clarify the roles of people who do a lot of teaching at the university for long periods of time.

Adjunct membership in faculty bodies has been a hot issue in the state, with the Massachusetts Community College Council’s Delegate Assembly deciding last year to give full voting rights to part-time members in electing chapter and statewide leaders -- after previously rejecting such proposals.

Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority, a national group that advocates for the rights of adjuncts and contingent faculty, said before the results were announced that although she was pleased that lecturers might get representation in the Faculty Assembly at BU, she wished that some adjuncts were not being disenfranchised. “We don’t believe that it’s a good idea to take away voting rights, since anyone who teaches ought to have representation,” she said.

Susan Lee, who is a senior lecturer in the School of General Studies, said she supported the measure since many lecturers have been with the university for years. “Now they will have more of a voice and can decide on who represents them on the faculty council,” she said.

Other lecturers see the measure as a symbolic recognition of their contribution. “I certainly hope that the faculty votes to extend voting privileges… more than anything else this is a sign of respect for what full-time lecturers do and their contribution to the university and its mission,” said Scott Marr, a social science lecturer at BU. “We are highly invested in the university and it is a recognition of that investment. It is about our voice and our perspective.”


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