Adjunct faculty deserve better treatment

Richard Shu

The mistreatment of adjunct professors has always remained a relatively quiet, understated dimension to the many shortcomings of the NYU administration. But Feb. 25, National Adjunct Walkout Day, marked the beginning of a concerted effort to bring this mistreatment to light. While NYU adjuncts did not walk out, nationwide adjuncts receive significantly less pay and have less job security than their tenure-track or contracted colleagues, are often denied access to university resources and are ineligible for participation in the University Senate. And when adjuncts at NYU make up more than a third of the total faculty, the silence in which they have suffered is unforgivable.

This mistreatment is not unique to NYU. Adjuncts make up 76.4 percent of all university and college teaching staff in the United States. Across almost all universities, adjuncts report working for poverty wages and inadequate benefits under the constant threat of being replaced. As adjunct faculty’s precarious economic positions come to light, activists are increasingly calling for unionization as a viable solution.

NYU is an exceptional case because its adjunct faculty are already unionized. ACT-UAW Local 7902 represents adjunct faculty from both NYU and the New School, where over 85 percent of the total teaching staff is adjunct. In a phone interview with WSN, Emily Barnett, president of ACT-UAW Local 7902, said though adjunct faculty still have a long way to go, unionization has helped improve adjunct working
conditions immensely.

Before the union’s formation, she explained, NYU adjuncts did not have health benefits, insurance or even mailboxes and phone lines with which to contact students. In the union’s first year, 2002, adjunct faculty saw increased pay and the institution of health benefits for adjunct faculty. But these results came after bitter negotiations with the NYU administration who, like other university administrations throughout the country, have  unfounded qualms about the financial viability of treating its
adjuncts humanely.

Even now, NYU and New School adjuncts face struggles with their respective administrations. Negotiations continue to seek improved wages and greater job security. But burgeoning adjunct unions throughout the nation have a model to look toward in ACT-UAW Local 7902, a success story of steady improvement. National Adjunct Walkout Day was a first salvo for adjunct collective bargaining across the nation. It is now only a matter of time and effort before university administrations must acquiese. Graduate students at NYU, will decide if they strike  on March 9,  and have also recognized the importance of walkouts in negotiating with
the administration.

Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, March 4 print edition. Email Richard Shu at [email protected] 

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