A regular complaint of many adjuncts is that they perform their jobs well year after year, only to lose them when positions are converted to the tenure track. When that happens, they report, colleges order national searches and typically reject the person who has been working hard on their behalf for years.
Last week, however, the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, the faculty union for the university system, released an arbitrator's decision ordering the University of Hawaii-West Oahu to rehire a longtime adjunct into a tenure-track position. University union leaders say the contract provision on which the arbitrator ruled (and the union's advocacy on behalf of the adjunct) show that there are concrete ways unions and colleges can provide more job security to long-term, successful non-tenure-track faculty members. A statement from the union called the arbitrator's ruling "historic," and said many other adjuncts could benefit over time.
The ruling came in the case of Monique Mironesco, who was first hired to teach political science at the University of Hawaii-West Oahu in 2002. She was hired as a lecturer on a temporary contract. Over the years between then and 2014, she kept receiving renewable, temporary contracts, and was promoted in these contracts to instructor, assistant professor and associate professor. But each promotion was under "limited term" contracts that meant she had no job security after contracts expired. She was not renewed last year when the university -- in part because of pressure by Mironesco -- created a tenure-track position and announced it would conduct a national search.
The reason Mironesco was able to prevail has to do with a provision in the faculty contract. That provision states that adjuncts should be converted to tenure-track faculty if the university creates a tenure-track position in a field "where evidence of continued need has been demonstrated by consistent funding of the [adjunct] position for seven consecutive years that includes at least 75 percent state general funding."
Further, the union presented evidence not only that Mironesco was an adjunct through the entire time, but that she was assigned leadership roles in the department typically assigned to tenure-track or tenured faculty members. She developed an academic program in sustainable community food systems and she created the political science department's online program. She also received strong student evaluations.
The arbitrator ruled that under these circumstances, the contract dictated that "open recruitment was not needed," and for this reason, Mironesco was entitled to a position on the tenure track. (She starts in this new role this week.)
The university argued that this provision could lead to the appointment of incompetent people or discourage the university from maintaining adjunct positions past six years to avoid situations where it must comply with the contract. But the arbitrator ruled that there are other provisions open to the university to prevent these problems and that, regardless, the contract entitled Mironesco to the open tenure-track slot in political science.
Administrators also claimed in the arbitration ruling that they viewed the contract provision as referring only to the position, not the person holding the position. But the arbitrator said that was not the case.
J.N. Musto, the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly's executive director, said in a release that the ruling “shows meritocracy, doing good work, still prevails. It has restored the faith of faculty who have felt completely helpless against the whims of administrators. Those who try to make up their own rules cannot always get away with it.”
The university's news office did not respond to a request for comment from Inside Higher Ed, and told local reporters that it would not comment on the specifics of the case.
The union was critical of the administration. But the union news release noted that, during the arbitration hearing, three people who formerly held senior administration positions at the West Oahu campus testified on Mironesco's behalf, and the union praised them for doing so. "Mironesco’s successful career would have come to an abrupt end had she not filed a grievance," the release said. "Seeing the grave injustice, others readily stepped forward for her support, including UHWO administrators, who typically are on the other side of the table opposing faculty rights."