In today’s Academic Minute, William Powell of the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry explains how genetic modification can save trees from blight. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
Adjuncts at Whittier College and the University of La Verne, both in Southern California, have filed for a union election with the Service Employees International Union as part of its Adjunct Action project. The national campaign aims to organize adjuncts across metro areas and regionally. “There has been a real need to address the inequities that adjunct faculty face for a long time,” said Fatima Suarez, an adjunct professor of anthropology and sociology at La Verne, said in a news release announcing the union bids, filed with National Labor Relations Board. “We are excited for the opportunity to form a union and win a real voice and a better future for ourselves and our students.” Adjunct Action has seen traction in the Washington, D.C. metro area, where adjuncts at institutions including American and George Washington Universities have voted recently to unionize. In Boston, Tufts University adjuncts voted to unionize this fall, while a Bentley University effort was voted down.
La Verne and Whittier are expected to announce by the end of the week whether they will challenge the bids, according to SEIU. The colleges did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Anderson University, a private Christian institution in Indiana, has announced that it will eliminate its French, philosophy and theater majors as part of a plan to deal with financial shortfalls, The Herald Bulletin reported. A total of 16 faculty and staff positions will be eliminated as a result of those and other changes.
A new study -- summarizing 26 previous studies on the scores of female and male students in physics -- has failed to find a consistent explanation for women appearing to start and finish courses, on average, with lower comprehension levels than their male counterparts. Viewing the studies in isolation, there is evidence that some factors -- such as different preparation of levels of men and women before college -- may contribute to the gap. But no one factor studied can explain the overall gap, "suggesting that the gender gap is most likely due to the combination of many small factors rather than any one factor that can easily be modified," says a summary of the study, which will appear in Physical Review Special Topics. The summary of the paper also notes that "several high-profile studies that have claimed to account for or reduce the gender gap have failed to be replicated in subsequent studies, suggesting that isolated claims of explanations of the gender gap should be interpreted with caution."
Service Employees International Union released a report Friday detailing the financial struggles of adjunct faculty at institutions across Boston, as part of its ongoing effort to unionize adjuncts in that city. The campaign is part of a national SEIU effort, called Adjunct Action, to organize adjunct faculty at individual institutions and regionally.
According to the report, called "High Cost of Adjunct Living: Boston," 67 percent of faculty members -- some 15,000 people -- in the Boston area were employed as adjuncts in 2011. Based on median pay per course in New England -- from $3,750 at private, master's-level institutions to $5,225, at private, doctoral-level institutions -- SEIU finds that an adjunct would have to teach 17 to 24 courses annually to enjoy median-priced housing and utilities in Boston, where the cost of living is 32 percent higher than the national average. Teaching 12 courses per year at those rates -- an unusually large course load -- an adjunct may earn $45,000, the report finds. Comparatively, full-time faculty earned from $113,000 to $154,000, on average, in 2011, depending on institution type.
The report is based on data from the U.S. Department of Education Digest of Education Statistics, among other sources, as well as SEIU interviews with adjuncts across Boston. Some tell of living off inexpensive food such as fried potatoes and onions for an entire semester and using credit cards to pay for basic costs, such as Internet and groceries. Many tell of feeling buried by student debt. According to SEIU calculations, an adjunct would have to teach one or two courses per semester to pay back average doctoral student loans alone. SEIU notes that adjuncts who are unionized enjoy on average 25 percent better pay nationally, as well as other benefits, such as increased job security, and, in some cases, access to health insurance.
Many aspiring faculty members complain that search committees ask for lots of information they will never use (or even look at), with vague explanations of what to send. Rebecca Schuman, an adjunct at the University of Missouri at St. Louis and a blogger who writes frequently about job issues in academe, has proposed an unusual way to take a stand about such requests. On her blog, she has announced a contest in which she will pay $100 each to the first two people who send a photo of their butt to a search committee (mixed in with the other materials -- to raise the question of whether anyone would find it). Schuman is requiring that contestants provide her with proof, and that they apply for a job in their discipline for which they have the basic requirements. She also has offered to up the payout to $200 for applications to Ivy League search committees.
Via email, Schuman said that several people have indicated that they will send tush-shots to search committees, but so far no one has provided proof.