In the midst of a dynamic evolution in the NYU community — the inauguration of the college’s 16th president Andrew Hamilton — few facets of university life remain untouched. However, one unit has continued its decade-long fight over benefits for its members.
The Adjunct Faculty Union, a group of professors who comprise over 60 percent of the working staff at NYU, has historically rallied for fair wages and benefits. As Hamilton begins his tenure, the group has even more goals to achieve and issues to address.
Washington Square News spoke with Emily Barnett, the president of ACT-UAW Local 7902 — the union that represents adjuncts at NYU and part time faculty members at The New School. She shared her thoughts on the inauguration, student involvement and justice for adjunct faculty members as the union continues to evolve.
Washington Square News: Many NYU students, specifically underclassmen, aren’t familiar with the mission of the Adjunct Faculty Union. Can you explain exactly what the group aims to do?
Emily Barnett: Our principle goal — and we’ve achieved it — is to improve the working conditions for our faculty members. We’re an amalgamated union, and we represent the part time faculty. We believe that teaching conditions are learning conditions; we really do think that it is all related. The quality of student learning is related to the ability of students to have decent working conditions. We began the union in 2002 and were recognized by the university a couple of years later; we gained our first contract at NYU in 2004 and we are now negotiating for our third contract with NYU.
WSN: What do you looking to change or improve under President Hamilton’s leadership?
EB: The second collective bargaining agreement expired on Aug. 31, but during negotiations, the union and the university agreed to keep it through Oct. 21, and we are currently involved in negotiation.
I don’t know if the fact that [Andrew Hamilton] is the new president has changed our proposal specifically because he’s been here since January. I would say also that he is the first president in my recollection to really acknowledge adjuncts. There was a breakfast specifically for adjuncts very shortly after he started his tenure at the university. This is something that would never have happened under the previous president. We were very pleased that he acknowledged us and our importance.
We make up 60 percent of the faculty within the university. We are looking forward to his tenure and we would like to meet with him; we hope that he hears our proposals. We don’t negotiate with him directly, but you know, of course being the President, he has a voice and provides a direction. We have a number of important changes that we need to make.
Aside from specific changes, we negotiate annual wages and we would like a fair wage that allows us to live and work in New York City for people to live in that aren’t wealthy. That’s one of our goals. We are also looking for an expansion of the health benefits for the adjuncts so it is more affordable. Another very important point is that the university has been shaving time off of many courses because we get paid by the teaching contract hour. When they shave off time, that affects our salaries and well-being. Additionally, there have been many, many course cancellations recently.
That happens throughout the university. They’re changing what’s called the certificate program. They’re starting something called the diploma program. We’re asking for compensation. A teacher puts a lot of time and effort into preparing a course. A teacher can’t accept an offer from another university or job because we’ve said, “we’ll be teaching Tuesday and Thursdays from one till four o’clock,” and once that course gets cancelled, we’re asking for a cancellation fee for that course because we think that’s fair.
WSN: The Adjunct Faculty Union’s leaflet states that it would like NYU to “show the same commitment to its adjuncts that the adjuncts have shown to NYU.” What would this ideally look like, in the AFU’s view?
EB: We work hard for the university, we spend a lot of time with our students and preparing for our courses and we want to be compensated in a way that reflects that amount of work and that kind of devotion to our students and the university. One of our proposals is longevity raises. There are many adjuncts who’ve been at the university for 10, 20, even 30 years, so we’re asking for longevity raises for those people because they’ve devoted substantial portions of their lives to the university.
Right now, adjuncts are really struggling to live. You can imagine — I’m sure you’re aware of the cost of living in the metropolitan area — and some of the adjuncts can’t afford the health insurance plan; some of them aren’t eligible for it. Some of the teaching or coaching they do isn’t included in the teaching criteria in order to be eligible for health insurance, so we’d like to expand that.
We’ve contributed to NYU becoming a force of higher [education] over the last 10 years, and adjuncts constitute the majority of teachers at the university. We’d like to get some better job security too. We’re often left to wonder: are we going to teach the next semester, or not?
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 26 print edition. Email Morgan Smith at [email protected]