Eagle Op-Ed: AU adjunct union is necessary

From http://www.theeagleonline.com/opinion/story/guest-column-a-student-perspective-au-adjunct-union-in-necessary/

Written by Mitch Ellmauer, SWA member

You may have heard or seen in last week’s edition of the Eagle that American University’s adjunct professors are voting on whether to join SEIU Local 500.

During the election, it is important that our campus (students as well as faculty) understand the context surrounding the adjuncts’ organizing campaign. However, after reading the “Unionization FAQ” on the Academic Affairs website, it is obvious that AU is not being completely honest about the situation. I would like to take a moment to clear up these misunderstandings that AU’s administration is promoting.

The University claims the issues that the union would address are already being dealt with in the Faculty Senate. This is simply not true.

The Faculty Senate represents faculty in academic matters, but it has little or no power to represent faculty in employment matters, such as negotiating salaries and protecting adjuncts’ job security. Most importantly, the University is not required to engage in collective bargaining with the Faculty Senate.

A union is the best way for the adjunct professors to make AU take their concerns seriously. If they choose to join the union, the University will be legally required to treat the adjuncts as equal partners in good faith contract negotiations. Also, the working conditions set by the contract would be legally binding.

SEIU 500 already represents 2,400 adjunct professors at George Washington University and Montgomery College. Adjunct professors, graduate employees and other academic workers have organized at a number of universities across the country, including NYU and the state university systems of California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Michigan, Oregon and Washington, among others.

If anyone needs union representation, it is AU’s adjunct professors.

Many adjunct professors earn as little as $2,000 a class; the average adjunct earns $19,000 to $25,000 a year.

The number of adjunct professors at AU has increased almost 50 percent since 2002, and adjuncts make up half of AU’s faculty.

As AU hires more adjunct professors, the number of available full-time positions shrinks. This is a trend that is repeated at almost every university in the country. Getting a tenure-track position is often likened to winning the lottery.

A significant and growing number of adjunct professors are teaching full-time, but cannot find full-time teaching positions. To make ends meet, adjunct professors often travel between several universities and have larger course loads than full-time and tenured professors.

AU does not give adjuncts healthcare, pensions or time to conduct research like it does for full-time faculty.

Nor do adjunct professors receive any job security. Many professors do not know whether or not they are teaching until two weeks before classes start. AU is also notorious for cancelling adjuncts’ classes just days before the semester begins.

Some students have expressed concerns that an adjuncts’ union will increase tuition.

However, adjunct professors, who make up half the faculty, account for just 4 percent of the budget allocated to paying faculty salaries.

AU also has some of the highest paid college administrators in the nation. Last year AU had a $40 million budget surplus. Surely AU can afford to pay adjunct professor fair compensation for their contributions to our campus community.