September 28, 2016

Adjuncts, students present petition to Webster administration

A group of students, full-time faculty and adjunct professors marched to the Office of the Provost’s to voice their opinion: Webster adjuncts need a union.

On Feb. 25, the Webster Adjunct Faculty Organizing Committee, along with students, formally presented a petition with over 500 signatures calling for Webster adjuncts’ right to unionize. The committee intended on presenting the petition to Webster Provost and Vice President Julian Schuster but delivered it to Vice Provost Nancy Hellerud instead when Webster University Chief Financial Officer Greg Gunderson informed the committee Schuster was out of the country.

Hellerud said the university does not have a position on the adjuncts’ call for a right to unionize. But she did offer any and all faculty the chance to set up a meeting with her to talk about the issue. She said she would deliver the petition to Schuster.

Different titles, same work

Before the delivery of the petition, a small rally was held near the University Center Quad. Webster School of Communications Adjunct Professor Terri Reilly said the rally was held to raise awareness about treatment and working conditions of adjuncts, as well as to teach others that part-time faculty work more than part-time hours.

“The terms ‘full-time’ and ‘part-time’ get thrown around a lot, and we are looking to banish those terms because they imply that full time faculty work full time and adjuncts, part time faculty, work part time. Well, I can tell you, any of my fellow adjunct colleagues, we don’t work part-time. We work full time and then some,” Reilly said.

Reilly said both full-time and adjunct faculty bring the same amount of expertise, skills and passion to the classroom, but there are fundamental differences. She said the rally would call attention to those differences.

“This day is about awareness, and we want the students to be aware of the difference between an adjunct professor and a professor — there’s no difference. We work as hard, we give as much and we want a seat at the table,” Reilly said before the rally.

Eric Strobl, an adjunct professor from Washington University (WashU), attended the rally and petition presentation to show support for the Webster adjuncts and help raise awareness. WashU adjunct faculty voted to unionize and have entered the collective bargaining stage of their journey to form a union. Strobl said awareness is key in gaining support for the adjunct union.

“I think adjunct awareness is really the most important issue because there is only one group who is actually aware of our standing, and that is the administrative higher-ups. Students have no idea what (adjuncts) go through, parents have no idea what (adjuncts) go through,” Strobl said.

Strobl expressed his disappointment about being labeled part-time faculty.

“It’s insulting that I finish a letter of recommendation which is my third this semester, at midnight last night and I am called a part-timer. No other job in the world would do that,” Strobl said.

Pay differential

Strobl said he teaches 72 students a year and makes less than half of what a single student at WashU pays in tuition. But his students and their parents are unaware, he said. 

“They assume we are all compensated well and we are compensated as professors. We’re not. Their parents think so, too. Their parents think they are investing in their kid’s education and they’re not,” Strobl said. “Awareness is key, we are trying to change this now.”

During the rally, Reilly presented the pay difference between an assistant professor and an adjunct professor. If both possessed PhDs and taught the same amount of classes at Webster, an adjunct would be paid $20,000 while an assistant professor would be paid $56,000. 

“This, for us, is a social justice issue. (The average adjunct pay) is not a living wage,” Reilly said. “But there are other pressing issues.”

Issues of concern

Before the rally, Reilly said that although pay is important to adjunct faculty, it is not the most important issue, especially during Webster’s financial climate. The past three years, the university has seen consecutive budget shortfalls of at least $7 million per year.

“This is not about pay currently for Webster adjuncts. (Webster adjuncts) meet regularly, every other week and we have decided that as the Webster adjuncts organizing committee, that under the current circumstances…, our top the agenda is not a pay increase. For us, that shuts off the conversation,” Reilly said.

Reilly mentioned that Webster’s current assessment of adjunct faculty is solely based on student evaluations filled out by each student at the end of the semester. She said no other bearing exists that could determine the quality of an adjunct’s job as a teacher.

Another problem Reilly and the adjuncts are concerned about is job security, an area that has already affected Reilly. Shortly the School of Communications announced a curriculum change, Reilly was informed she would no longer be teaching Introduction to Mass Communication.

“I do think it’s kind of suspect. I am a very vocal adjunct advocate and an activist. I have been teaching in that department for many, many years. I represent that department on the faculty assembly. I represent the school on the international studies committee. I have also worked on an international component on (Introduction to Mass Communications). I really think its kind of suspect that I haven’t been invited back,” Reilly said.

Reilly said the adjuncts do understand that sometimes classes are dropped due to under-enrollment. When class are dropped, Reilly said there is still the issue of not being compensated for work done beforehand.

“We are not compensated for any of the time that we put in,” Reilly said.

Resources spread thin

Maggie Nagle, a senior sociology major at Webster, said at the rally that adjuncts are an important part of Webster and academia as a whole. She said students should take responsibility and help adjuncts reach a union.

“Honestly, I believe that adjunct are the backbone of this institution and I think allowing them to unionize and to call for equal pay and better treatment on this campus benefits the students, benefits the adjuncts and benefits (full-time) faculty. I think as a student body, we have a responsibility to be dedicated to this issue and to call for Webster to better treat our adjunct faculty,” Nagle said.

Under the Affordable Care Act, teachers teaching over three courses a semester is considered full-time faculty and the university must provide health insurance. The cap has forced adjuncts to teach at multiple universities to make ends meet. Reilly said the quality of education suffers because the adjuncts’ are spread thin. Reilly said she is very fortunate to be a career adjunct at Webster University, but other adjuncts may not be so lucky. Some adjuncts might have jobs other than teaching or might be career adjuncts at different universities and have to drive from job-to-job-job every day.

Reilly said the issue that is problematic for her is in the quality of the education.

“We are as dedicated (as full-time faculty), but when we have to run to another job, it becomes very problematic,” Reilly said.

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