Nationwide, most college and university faculty are "contingent" or "adjunct" faculty. Some bring special skills or perspectives to the university. Some are inexpensive. And some would like more compensation and more appreciation. Recently, one of our fellow unions has been organizing adjuncts, and that union is here at USF.
Organizing the Adjuncts at USF
Once upon a time, back before the state governments started cutting higher education funding, the majority of university faculty held permanent positions. In 1980, 32 % of the faculty were part-time (excluding graduate students), and the AAUP reported that in 1993, 38 % were part-time (excluding students). Now, a majority are part-time.
Adjuncts are often invisible. Since an adjunct is typically assigned some courses to teach, an adjunct will interact with students regularly and perhaps with a supervisor now and then. But without a regular office near faculty offices, and without attending committee and faculty meetings, an adjunct may not be very noticeable to permanent faculty.
The bottom line is that adjuncts are cheap. In Florida, the default is for a full-time university faculty member to teach four courses a semester, which is eight courses a year (excluding summer). A faculty member with an annual salary of $ 80,000 a year will cost $ 10,000 a class; if a faculty member has a lighter course load (for service or research or other special duties), the accounting is still $ 10,000 per assigned 3-hour course. Having an adjunct teach that course for $ 3,000 saves $ 7,000.
(This is off-topic, but what do universities do with that money? A review of two reports suggest that the money goes into maintenance, administration, and student services - especially recruiting and admissions, counseling, student organizations, and athletics.)
Adjuncts often do not have the resources permanent faculty have. They often get low pay, limited or no benefits, little prospect for promotion, and little connection to the department that employs them. According to a recent study, in addition to low pay, other laments included, "Lack of office space, irregular assignments, limited opportunities to select class times or to expand their role, and lack of adequate communications and support from colleagues..., " which contributed to many adjuncts feeling "disrespected or unappreciated." (For more background, see the AAUP Background Facts on Contingent Faculty and Contingent Faculty Positions pages.)
Some universities (like Pennsylvania State University) are taking steps, but at other places, adjuncts are taking the lead to improve their situation - often with union help. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) launched a Faculty Forward effort to organize adjuncts in colleges and universities across the country. One of their recent successes was Hillsborough Community College, whose adjuncts recently voted 339-189 to be represented by SEIU in bargaining and enforcing a contract.
USF may be next. SEIU organizers collected signatures to petition the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission for an election so USF adjuncts can choose whether or not to be represented by SEIU. SEIU is a member of the AFL-CIO, as is one of UFF's national affiliates, the American Federation of Teachers. Last Spring, the UFF Senate voted to cooperate with SEIU's drive, and adjuncts and the SEIU campaign is on the agenda for the Chapter Meeting tomorrow: all USF employees interested in the campaign are invited to attend.
In times like these, it helps to have unions supporting a common mission - whether it is our job conditions or the mission of the university of which we are all a part. And as Benjamin Franklin observed at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, we must all hang together, or assuredly we will all hang separately.