Rutgers Adjunct Faculty Unites As #OneBigFacultyUnion

By hank Kalet

Rutgers adjunct faculty is proving its strength.

Roughly 2,400 Rutgers adjunct faculty are just a few signatures away from approving a merger with the full-time faculty unions, which will strengthen our hand as we sit down with administration and attempt to hammer out a contract that provides us with job security, pay parity, and access to health insurance.

The adjunct faculty, known as part-time lecturers at Rutgers, are an integral part of the academic mission of the university. We teach about one-third of all classes, but we have been for too long viewed by the administration as having second-class status. Our salaries account for less than 1% of the university budget; we are re-hired every semester, and often do not know if we will be teaching until right before the start of the semester; and vast majority of us are paid less than $6,000 a course, far less than other faculty on campus. For the two-thirds of us who make a living this way, it means we cannot survive on the handful of classes we are offered by any individual school, so we live nomadic instructional lives, moving from school to school, taking whatever classes come our way.

This is why we embarked on the merger campaign to create “one big faculty union.”

A merger means no more “divide-and-conquer” tactics from the university. As one big faculty union, we protect each of our component parts, making it impossible for the administration to peel off what they perceive as weak links and then force compromise on the rest. As one big faculty union, we are stronger, because we are bigger. Because all of us are at the table together. Because there is power in numbers.

This is especially important as we move into negotiations. The university’s contract with its three faculty unions expires June 30. Because we are fighting to end the contingent terms of our employment, we anticipate the administration will take a hard line. This is why we must show our power as a single faculty. 

Merging with the unions representing the full-time—tenure and non-tenure—faculty, grad students and faculty at the medical school, will allow us to work together to improve teaching conditions for all and to make the educational experience better for students. Students do not distinguish between full- and part-time faculty. They expect the same from everyone who teaches their classes. Most adjunct faculty have post-graduate degrees or long work histories in the fields in which we teach. Hundreds of us have been teaching at Rutgers for more than a decade. And yet the university treats all of us as gig workers, in ways not dissimilar to how Uber treats its drivers. 

Now is the time for change. Labor is stronger than it’s been in decades, with Amazon and Starbucks doing what was viewed until recently as impossible by unionizing their workplaces. Part-time faculty across the country – at schools as diverse as the California State system, both the City and State University systems in New York – are winning recognition and important contract gains, by sitting the table with their full-time colleagues. In doing so they are striking a blow against the corporate model of higher education, which relies on part-time, contingent faculty to give administrators as much flexibility as possible to keep teaching costs low. 

This is not good for us, nor is it good for students — and the university knows it. President Jonathan Holloway said he wants to address the problem of “adjunctification” at Rutgers. He told us this during a town hall with the part-time faculty. But he did not define the problem nor did he offer a solution. We can define it for him: “Adjunctification” means the exploitation of an employee who performs many of the same functions conducted by a higher-paid and more secure colleague. It means relying on part-time, graduate-student, non-tenure track instructors to cover more and more of the teaching at Rutgers.

We also have a solution: Treat part-time, graduate-student, and non-tenure-track faculty the same. Make sure all of us have longer-term contracts, equal pay for equal work, and access to affordable health care. And that is what we are demanding. We demand it and we deserve it. And by unifying into one big faculty union, we will be fighting with all our power to get it.

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