December 9, 2016

Webster adjuncts deciding on SEIU amid national call for adjunct unionization

After gaining more than 500 signatures on a petition of support for unionization, the adjuncts will decide whether or not to join a union.

Webster University adjuncts filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on March 28 and will hold a vote whether or not they would want to join the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The votes will be tallied on May 9.

Terri Reilly, a member of the Webster University Adjunct Organizing Committee, said while there are many concerns adjuncts would like to see addressed, one of the main concerns is for adjuncts to have a voice.

“Really we’re are asking for a seat at the table, because so many decisions are made that we have no say so in or no input. We’re the ones that are at the forefront, at the front lines of teaching, but there’s no two-way dialogue with adjuncts to ask (the administration) any input on the classes and that to me really is a detriment to teaching,” Reilly said.

While unions have been around for decades, adjunct unions are less than a decade old.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, the earliest record of an adjunct union was 2006. George Washington University (GWU) adjuncts formed a union and called to increase their pay. Two years later, adjunct faculty pay was increased 20 percent. Now, GWU pays adjuncts between $3,500 and $4,030, depending on adjuncts degree.

 

Relying on Adjuncts

According to Collegefactual.com, adjuncts make up 87.7 percent make up Webster’s faculty.

Adjunct professors make up 78 percent of both Maryville and Fontbonne University. Saint Louis University (SLU) and Washington University have 57 and 52 respectively.

The high percentage of adjunct faculty is not a Missouri trend. It’s a nationwide trend of both private and public universities and colleges.

According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the hiring of part-time faculty has far outpaced full-time, tenured or tenure-track faculty. From 1970 to 2011, full-time, tenure-track faculty hiring had rose 23 percent. Part-time faculty hiring rose 286 percent during that same time period.

Currently, around 76 percent of all universities and colleges are made up of part-time, adjunct professors. The hiring of adjuncts can be viewed as a way to cut costs for the universities.

“It’s almost like a drug. It’s a budget drug, because you get used to those cost savings, and that’s one of the issues that’s happened in higher-ed that just spiraled out of control,” Reilly said.

According to HigherEdJobs.com, the national average for tenured or tenure-track associate professor at a Liberal Arts university, like Webster, is $66,531. For an Assistant Professor who is tenured or tenure-track, $50,799. The national average for adjunct professors is $2,500 per-course.

Paul Moriarty, a Webster adjunct, didn’t have to teach at other universities, for ten years, like other adjuncts . In an April 8 article, Moriarty told The Journal that to make ends meet, he would teach four courses in the spring and fall semesters, in addition to two summer courses.

“Which is barely enough to get by on. If I don’t wind up getting ten classes, then it’s not enough,” Moriarty said.

Now, Moriarty can only teach three classes per-semester at Webster. Under the Affordable Care Act, universities must provide health benefits to professors teaching more than three courses per-semester. Moriarty said he is on his wife’s health plan she receives as a professor at SLU. He said he also teaches at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville (SIUE) in addition to Webster.

 

Adjuncts impact on students

The Democratic Staff of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce released a report in January 2014 that backed up that claim. In the report, the committee found that students who took more courses taught by adjunct faculty experienced lower graduation rates and lower GPAs. The report also found students who took more adjunct-taught courses did not transfer from two-year to four-year colleges as much as students who did not take as many adjunct-led courses.

Professor Adrianna Kezar of the University of Southern California (USC) said adjuncts are not receiving professional development from the universities. They are not paid for office hours and some don’t have offices at all. Their inability to give students their full attention comes from the lack of resources and running from campus-to-campus to teach other courses.

Reilly said to make sure students are getting the most from their education, she wants to see Webster adopt a new system of checks and balances when it comes to reviewing the work of current adjuncts.

“Another thing that’s involved with the adjuncts is a systematic performance review. Adjuncts for the most part their only review comes in the form of student evaluation. That’s very problematic when there’s no one coming in to observe our teaching,” Reilly said.

 

United front

Like several other adjuncts across the nation, Webster adjuncts filed to vote on forming a union. like several other adjuncts across the nation.

On March 28, the Webster University Adjunct Organizing Committee filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB is an independent federal agency that protects employees’ rights to organize.

In order to file a vote with the NLRB, Webster adjuncts are required to show 30 percent of current adjuncts support having a union election. Webster adjuncts in support of an election signed a union authorization card, individual forms in which a worker states he or she wishes to be represented by the union.

The university has said a union would not be in the best interests of the adjuncts. Webster has a webpage set up to inform Webster adjuncts about the possible outcomes of joining a union. One of the messages, written by Provost Julian Schuster, said joining the SEIU union cost Webster adjuncts over $1,000 in union dues.

Webster adjunct Terri Reilly said if the Webster adjuncts were to join the Adjunct Action Union, union dues would be 2.5 percent of their earnings from teaching. If adjuncts do not teach, they would not have to pay any union dues.

Reporting by Tim Godfrey and Seth Scarborough

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