The focus of the recent job loss of 45 adjuncts demonstrates their need for unionization.
What’s sad is not only were the 45 adjuncts informed of this in December at the last minute, but that they received the information in addition to hearing about a policy change granting graduate students class assignments under the title of “graduate teaching assistant.” Under this, graduate students are given tuition remission and have health insurance – benefits not afforded to adjunct faculty.
Although the treatment of adjuncts is a frequently discussed topic, the latest incident – in which 45 adjunct professors were not assigned classes – proves more needs to be done for adjunct unionization to protect them from being let go like this. The focus must remain on how the adjuncts can achieve this, rather than trying to make this an adjuncts-versus-graduate-students issue.
This dichotomy of adjuncts and graduate students must be avoided, because graduate students are not the problem; in this situation, graduate students are given the opportunity to work on their dissertations with extra burdens, such as tuition and health care, taken off their shoulders.
It sounds helpful to graduate students, but this offer overlooks the needs and the dedication of the adjunct faculty.
“We’re the last hired, [and the] first fired,” Frank Fucile, an English adjunct professor, told The Temple News last semester. “This is a continuation of that relationship.”
The same policy affecting the First-Year Writing Program adjuncts, also affects the political science department, where a number of adjunct faculty members weren’t assigned classes.
Other departments have experienced changes as a result of this policy.
“One of the big misperceptions is people try to do a one-size-fits-all,” said Richard Englert, the senior vice president and provost for academic affairs. “That’s not true. Different departments [and] different programs have different needs. A simplistic definition is a mistake that takes away from the vitality of our adjunct faculty members.”
It is true different departments and different programs have needs, but so do adjunct faculty members who, according to Temple’s Adjunct Organizing Committee during Adjunct Awareness Week last year, make up 50 percent of the university’s faculty.
The problem isn’t specific to Temple.
A March 2010 survey sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers found 47 percent of all faculty and 70 percent of community college faculty teach the majority of undergraduate courses at American public colleges and universities.
Understandably so, offering tenure to every professor is out of the question. Tenure is an arduous process, and that option is likely to never become reality.
Englert said adjuncts “allow us to respond to changing student needs.”
“Adjuncts help bring talented experience we don’t provide normally and are supplemental to full-time faculty,” he added.
This is true, especially in regards to the adjunct faculty teaching in the First-Year Writing Program. Intro to Academic Discourse and Analytical Reading and Writing, are paramount for students who were not exempt based on placement test scores.
For students, these writing courses lay down the foundations for critical reading and writing skills, and the outcome on whether or not a student walks away from the courses feeling confident in these skills is partially dependent on the professor.
Allowing AOC and other part-time faculty to unionize would allow the 1,300 to 1,400 adjunct professors at the university to have a shot at getting some kind of benefits and recognition for the work they do, even if the administration might cringe at the thought of another union.
A solution to this problem that meets even some of the needs of all the involved parties needs to happen soon.
This issue isn’t one about finding ways to restructure the system for adjuncts, administration and graduate students. It’s about realizing the impact decisions like these will have on undergraduate students.
Josh Fernandez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.