Adjunct faculty members at Whittier College have voted to unionize and to be represented by the Service Employees International Union. SEIU is currently trying to organize adjuncts in various regions, and Whittier's vote comes as the union has drives going on at such Southern California institutions as Loyola Marymount University and the University of La Verne. The union has pledged to see better wages, benefits and job security for the adjuncts. Sharon Herzberger, president of Whittier, issued this statement: "We appreciate the contribution that our adjunct faculty makes to our institution. Upon request, Whittier College will meet with SEIU and attempt to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement that meets the needs of both Whittier College and its adjunct faculty."
New projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics predict that 30 professions will be the fastest growing from 2012 to 2022 -- and two of the professions are in higher education. They are health specialties instructors (projected to increase by 36.1 percent) and nursing instructors (projected to increase by 35.4 percent). Among all professions, the number of jobs is expected to increase by 10.8 percent. Many colleges and universities already struggle to fill nursing professor jobs.
The Canadian Association of University Teachers this week called for colleges and universities in Canada to sever ties to Confucius Institutes, which have been set up at many Canadian (and American) campuses with support from the Chinese government. Supporters say that the institutes are a valuable way to expose more students outside China to Chinese history and culture. But critics say that the institutes present an oversimplified and positive image of China and that universities that want the house institutes may feel pressure to avoid certain topics. A statement from James Turk, executive director of the Canadian faculty group, said: “Confucius Institutes are essentially political arms of the Chinese government. They restrict the free discussion of topics Chinese authorities deem controversial and should have no place on our campuses."
Officials of the University of Colorado at Boulder continue to offer new reasons for why they told Patricia Adler, a tenured sociology professor, that she could no longer teach a popular course on deviance that attracts hundreds of students every semester (although they now say she could teach again if the course undergoes a review). The objections concern a lecture on prostitution in which Adler seeks volunteers from her assistant teaching assistants to dress up as various kinds of prostitutes and to discuss (in character) their lives. First, Colorado said that the university was concerned that the activity required approval by an Institutional Review Board. After many professors (and Colorado's IRB) noted that institutional review boards don't review classroom activities, Colorado acknowledged that there was no IRB issue, and said that some students complained that they felt pressure to participate in the exercise (which Adler and many past participants denied).
Then on Wednesday at a press conference, officials said that their primary concern was that some students in the class had their photographs taken (or videos made) of the class without their consent, The Daily Camera reported. Adler told the newspaper that students know that the class -- like many classes -- is videotaped, and that no complaints have been raised. She said come participants ask for copies of the videotape. The press conference followed a closed, emergency faculty meeting called to discuss the Adler case. The Daily Camera obtained a recording of the meeting, and said that "many faculty members angrily expressed their concerns and frustrations with the situation surrounding Adler."
Brandeis University and Penn State University at Harrisburg are ending their institutional memberships in the American Studies Association. Their moves follow the organization's vote to back the boycott of Israeli universities. The American Studies Program at Brandeis posted this statement on its website: "It is a with deep regret that we in the American Studies Program at Brandeis University have decided to discontinue our institutional affiliation with the American Studies Association. We view the recent vote by the membership to affirm an academic boycott of Israel as a politicization of the discipline and a rebuke to the kind of open inquiry that a scholarly association should foster. We remain committed to the discipline of American studies but we can no longer support an organization that has rejected two of the core principles of American culture -- freedom of association and expression."
Simon J. Bronner, chair of American studies at Penn State Harrisburg, said via email: "The withdrawal of institutional membership by our program and others allows us to be independent of the political and ideological resolutions issued by the ASA and concentrate on building American studies scholarship with our faculty, students, and staff. There might be alternative organizations forming in the future that better represent the field of American Studies. When and if that occurs, we will re-examine our independent position. In the meantime we view this move as one intended to protect students and faculty from opprobrium as a result of the ASA's claim to represent scholars of American studies."
John F. Stephens, executive director of the American Studies Association, said via email that he had not heard of other departments leaving, but that one has joined since the boycott vote. Most of the members of the association are individuals, not institutions. He said that since the boycott vote, the association has attracted 43 new members, and that he has received letters of resignation from eight members.
Much attention has been focused lately on the tragic death of Margaret Mary Vojtko, an adjunct professor who had taught French at Duquesne University for 25 years. She died in extreme poverty September 1st at the age of 83, following a massive heart attack she had suffered two weeks previously. Despite good teaching evaluations from her students, Vojtko had recently been laid off, a possibility faced by hundreds of thousands of other non-tenure-track faculty members.
Unfortunately, there will be many more tragedies like Vojtko’s in the years to come. Contingent faculty members today make up three-quarters of the workforce in higher education. They are not on any tenure track leading to permanent employment. Underpaid and typically without benefits, they lack the academic freedom that comes with job security. They lead precarious lives, never more than one small step away from disaster for themselves and their families.
Contingent faculty, whether part-time adjuncts or full-time lecturers, can usually be non-renewed for any reason or no reason at all. Even if they are union members, they are generally not afforded any due process in a non-renewal, such as would be the norm when laying off a janitor, a secretary or similar union worker. As is typical with most adjuncts, Mary Margaret Vojtko received no severance pay or retirement benefits.
“Duquesne has claimed that the unionization of adjuncts like Margaret Mary would somehow interfere with its mission to inculcate Roman Catholic values among its students,” according to an article in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by Daniel Kovalik, senior associate general counsel of the United Steelworkers union. Kovalik twice wrote to Duquesne to inform the university of Vojtko’s plight, but never received a reply. Duquesne’s president, Charles J. Dougherty, makes over $700,000 with full benefits. So much for Catholic values at that institution, whose website describes Dougherty as “a nationally recognized scholar and expert in health care ethics.”
Unfortunately, this situation is not limited to Catholic or even to private institutions. Things are just as bad at public institutions of higher education. Take the State University of New York, for example. Its top academic officer, David Lavallee, recently stepped down from his position as executive vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost. Lavallee is currently on a six-month “study leave” while continuing to receive his full salary of $316,000 per year. Despite repeated Freedom of Information Law requests, SUNY has been unable to produce a single document detailing the purpose of this “study leave.”
Lavallee, age 66, will return next spring to his former campus at SUNY New Paltz and receive ten-twelfths of the $199,000 salary he had previously received when he was provost at that college. As the second-highest-paid employee on campus, Lavallee won’t be working either as a teacher or as an administrator. Instead, he’ll be conducting a few leadership workshops, mentoring one lecturer and “building candidate lists for senior leadership positions.” This is one example of the extremely generous packages that many senior system administrators arrange to take with them when they return to their home campuses.
Meanwhile, thousands of adjuncts within SUNY, who deliver a substantial portion of our educational mission, continue to work for near-poverty wages. Adjuncts are the only employees for whom there are no minimum salaries in the contract between New York State and United University Professions (UUP), the nation’s largest higher education union with over 35,000 members. My research shows that when adjusted for inflation, adjunct wages at New Paltz have plummeted by some 49 percent between 1970 and 2008.
The union pushed hard for a salary minimum that would have benefited thousands of part-time faculty throughout the system. However, top SUNY officials adamantly refused to accept any salary minimum whatsoever. At a recent meeting in New Paltz where SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher was confronted by demonstrators demanding a $5,000 minimum starting salary for adjuncts, she went so far as to publicly deny that SUNY had even been present at the negotiating table.
When asked about SUNY’s refusal to increase wages for adjuncts while doling out hundreds of thousands of dollars to a former provost who is still on the payroll, a SUNY spokesman said that “they’re completely unrelated.” Actually, nothing could be further from the truth: they are indeed very much related, and the sooner we acknowledge this relationship, the sooner we can begin to fix the staffing crisis in higher education.
We absolutely must find a way to pay the majority of college teachers a living wage and stop squandering resources on overpaid college executives, expensive facilities, extravagant athletic programs and lavish services that do little to advance the true educational needs of our students. The quality of education will be enhanced by focusing our limited resources on instruction.
Our UUP chapter at SUNY New Paltz launched a $5K campaign in May to raise the minimum starting salary for a standard three-credit course to $5,000, about twice the current national average, but considerably less than the $7,090 recommended by the Modern Language Association. This campaign has been endorsed by a growing list of unions and organizations around the country, including UUP and New Faculty Majority, the only national organization advocating exclusively for contingent faculty. The $5K Campaign was one focus of Campus Equity Week during the last week of October and should become part of every union’s legislative program next year.
Class warfare in the academy is unlikely to end any time soon. Meanwhile, we urgently need to connect the dots, to stop underfunding and privatizing public higher education. At the same time, we need to put an end to wasteful spending and overly generous perks that top administrators dole out to themselves. Saddling our students with backbreaking tuition loan debt is simply unsustainable. They, their parents, taxpayers and legislators deserve to know where their hard-
earned tuition and tax dollars are going. The quality of their education and thus the future of our country depend on providing a living wage, job security and benefits to those actually teaching in our classrooms.
Peter D.G. Brown is a Distinguished Service Professor of German Emeritus at the State University of New York at New Paltz. In addition to being a founding member of the board of directors of New Faculty Majority: The National Coalition for Adjunct and Contingent Equity (NFM), he is president of the New Paltz chapter of United University Professions.