Adjunct faculty walk out in national day of action

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TEACHING A LESSON: Adjunct faculty at Seattle University joined adjunct instructors across the nation Feb. 25 on the first-ever National Adjunct Walkout Day. – Inside Higher Ed photo
TEACHING A LESSON: Adjunct faculty at Seattle University joined adjunct instructors across the nation Feb. 25 on the first-ever National Adjunct Walkout Day.
– Inside Higher Ed photo

Adjunct professors walked out of their classrooms on campuses across the country Feb. 25 to draw attention to what many say are poverty-level wages, with no chance to advance to a tenured track position.

Louisa Edgerly, an adjunct instructor at Seattle University, joined fellow adjuncts and students in the National Adjunct Walkout.

“We’re striking today and walking out, really, to raise awareness nationally of the situation that adjunct faculty face across the country,” Edgerly said. “And really to highlight our desire for higher-quality education and more support for faculty across the board.”

LOW PAY, FEW BENEFITS

Nonprofit universities are increasingly using low-paid adjuncts or part-timers to teach their courses, Edgerly said.

“As a matter of fact, over the last 30 years, the proportion of faculty on the tenure track versus faculty not on the tenure track has shifted from about 75 percent who used to be on the tenure track to, today, about three-quarters of the faculty in higher education are nontenure-track, either adjunct or contingent – some are part-time, some are full-time. But across the board, we are paid less than our tenure-track colleagues.”

Adjunct faculty have few, and sometimes no benefits, often no office space and little time to meet with students. Many end up having to work multiple jobs at different campuses just to make ends meet.

MULTIPLE JOBS

Edgerly finished her degree in 2010 in the middle of the economic collapse and currently adjuncts at the University of Washington and Seattle University, while working temporary, part-time staff jobs to make ends meet.

“At any one point, I’ve had as many as five different jobs, working between them, traveling from campus to campus, and managing the needs of my students,” Edgerly said.

Seattle University pays between $4,000 and $5,000 per quarterly class, with no benefits for teaching a single class.

Most schools in the Seattle area cap the number of single classes an adjunct can teach, and the number of quarterly contracts they can have, so they don’t become eligible for benefits.

GETTING ORGANIZED

Adjunct professors at Washington University voted in January to join adjunct faculty at schools across the country in Adjunct Action (adjunctaction.org), a project of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), following in the footsteps of adjuncts at nearly 20 universities who have joined Adjunct Action in the past two years.

Of 404 eligible faculty, 138 voted for collective bargaining, while 111 voted against.

Their decision marked the first victory for adjunct faculty members in St. Louis striving to improve the working conditions for themselves and an increasing number of part-time and contingent faculty members in higher education.

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