Adjunct Breakthrough (II)

New School part timers win contract with not only raises, but family leaves, differential titles and a commitment to representation on curricular committees.
December 2, 2009

Four years ago, part-time faculty members at the New School negotiated a contract with then-rare measures of job security for those off the tenure track. On Tuesday, the same union -- an affiliate of the United Auto Workers -- announced another contract deal.

And despite negotiating in a terrible economic period, the union won a number of rights that are today largely unheard of for adjuncts: family leaves for those who don't work enough hours to qualify for federally assured leaves, differential titles reflecting levels of experience, and a written-in-the-contract pledge for part-time representation on committees that discuss curricular matters.

And while many unions are facing demands that they accept pay cuts, the adjunct union won raises -- each semester for the next five years, starting at 1.25 percent for this fall, and 1.5 percent for the spring, and increasing until they hit 2 percent per semester in each of the last two years of the contract.

The New School contract reflects growing activity by higher education unions to organize part-time faculty members and to use a union base to push for improvements in job security and compensation. The American Federation of Teacher local at Syracuse University last year negotiated a first contract there for adjuncts. At Suffolk University on Tuesday, the American Association of University Professors announced that enough adjuncts had officially joined the union that it could invoke "fair share" provisions that allow it to charge all those in the bargaining unit a share of union expenses. And in Massachusetts last week, the National Education Association affiliate sued the state on behalf of adjuncts at community colleges, who don't receive health insurance.

What may be most striking about the New School contract is that its adjuncts already have (from their first contract) many of the things that others have more recently started to obtain (in job security) or in many cases are still seeking (health insurance, which many adjuncts, in particular those without unions or state laws to back them up, lack). So the New School was able to move on to issues that would be on many adjunct wish lists, dealing with specific benefits issues and their role in the university.

Joel Schlemowitz, president of the union, who teaches film making at the New School, said that a basic principle in negotiating was that adjuncts are "the backbone of the university" and should be treated accordingly. (The part-time faculty at the New School numbers about 1,700, compared to about 300 full-timers.)

The provision on family leaves was key to many union members and was raised by one who is in fact pregnant. She noted that although union members won the right to unpaid leaves in the last contract, there were no provisions for leaving in the middle of a semester. Most adjuncts at the New School don't teach enough hours to be covered by the federal family leave requirements. Further, Schlemowitz noted, many of them don't make enough money to feel able to take leaves longer than a month or so.

"To many adjuncts, a leave of a semester is too big a hit in pay," he said.

Now, they will have the same rights as full timers to receive leaves following the birth or adoption of a child or to care for a sick family member -- and to take leaves of the duration they need, not just semester chunks.

The specific needs of adjuncts and their vulnerability to course changes are also reflected in the contract: they will not lose health insurance if their courses are called off for such reasons as lack of enrollment.

The titles that will now be used will be part-time lecturer upon hire, part-time assistant professor after 11 semesters of teaching (a point at which under earlier contracts, the adjuncts also gain more rights to multi-year contracts), and (upon application) promotion to part-time associate professor. Schlemowitz said that while the pay adjuncts receive will continue to be based on their duties and years (not the title), it was important for part timers to be recognized for their long-term roles, and not just for teaching a single course at a time.

"This reflects the work and dedication of having earned one's place at the university," he said.

Similarly, he said, it was important for the adjunct role in the curriculum to be recognized. A joint adjunct-administrator committee will now find a way to get adjuncts on curricular committees, and adjunct leaders are assured an annual meeting with the provost to discuss curricular issues. (New School officials did not respond to inquiries about the contract.)

A key to the success for adjuncts, Schlemowitz said, was starting with the last contract. "We started from a strong place so we could build on that, " he said, "and we could make respect a major component."


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