For years, universities were dominated by tenured professors who were revered by colleagues and students alike. But now, colleges are seeking out part-time faculty to hedge against the greater number of students and the rising costs in higher education.
Like many schools, Temple University has a faculty consisting largely of adjuncts.
The adjuncts have been trying to unionize there since the early 2000s, but only recently have they made progress. This semester, the adjuncts will hold an election; if successful, they will be able to join a collective bargaining unit.
The Adjunct Organizing Committee, or AOC, was established to seek out and coordinate the part-time instructors. Founding member Ralph Flood, who teaches Latin American studies, says adjuncts would benefit from collective bargaining.
“Adjuncts are relatively poorly paid. They have no job security or things of that sort,” said Flood. “And I thought, we thought, that they needed a voice at the negotiating table with the rest of the faculty.”
The administration’s arguments
The group argues that some work two or more jobs, accept low pay and never feel secure at the university. Though administrators have made strides to improve conditions, members of the committee are not entirely satisfied.
The university’s administration does not object to an adjunct union, said Temple’s Provost Richard Englert. But he said grouping contingent faculty can be difficult because employment varies by department and semester.
“Quite frankly, in the vast majority of research universities around the country, adjunct faculty members are not unionized. And one of the reasons is because of the diversity of adjunct faculty members,” Englert said. “It’s really a mistake to try and develop a one-size-fits-all approach to adjunct faculty members. And unionization, by its very nature, is a centralized process.
“I think adjunct faculty members are better served by dealing directly with the department chairs that hire them,” he said.
Temple adjuncts are not alone in their attempts. In recent years, a growing number of adjuncts throughout the country have been successful at organizing.
Schools’ practices vary
In Pennsylvania, there are no unions for part-time faculty at any of the state-related schools, which include Temple, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Pittsburgh.
But that is not the case for state-owned schools. At universities such as West Chester or East Stroudsburg, adjuncts are part of the full-time faculty union, if they teach at least two courses. Also, the number of adjuncts cannot exceed 25 percent of the faculty. The same is true for community colleges in Philadelphia and Bucks County.
According to a March report by the Keystone Research Center, Temple relies on adjuncts more than any other state school. On a course-by-course basis, adjuncts earn just 25 percent of what a tenure track professor would make for teaching that same class.
However, Temple is the only state-related university to offer pension benefits to adjuncts.
Students could benefit
With adjuncts organizing, some fear a rise in tuition. But adjunct professor Regina Bannan believes that unionization will ultimately benefit students.
“Having a firm pool of adjuncts who are committed to Temple means that the students will have a well-prepared teacher, a teacher who’s committed to Temple, a teacher that feels that Temple is committed to them, so that we want to do a good job,” she said.
By the end of the semester, these professors hope to have come to an agreement with the university. But with state budget cuts and an already troubled landscape for public unions, there is no telling what the outcome will be.