Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Are Unions Courting Adjunct Faculty?

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) recently sponsored a study in which 500 part-time and adjunct faculty members employed at two-year or four-year institutions of higher learning participated in a telephonic job satisifaction survey. The AFT released the report under the title, American Academic: National Survey of Part-Time/Adjunct Faculty (2010).

The report opens by recognizing the growing contribution and importance of adjuncts in US higher education:
Most Americans would be surprised to learn that almost three-quarters of the people employed today to teach undergraduate courses in the nation’s colleges and universities are not full-time permanent professors but, rather, are instructors employed on limited term contracts to teach anything from one course to a full course load. These instructors, most of whom work on a part-time/adjunct basis, now teach the majority of undergraduate courses in US public colleges and universities. Altogether, part-time/adjunct faculty members account for 47 percent of all faculty, not including graduate employees. The percentage is even higher in community colleges, with part-time/adjunct faculty representing nearly 70 percent of the instructional workforce in those institutions.
Yet, the majority of adjuncts teach in work environments where fair wages, job security, and benefits are scarce. According to the study:
There is widespread concern among part-time/adjunct faculty about bread-and-butter conditions. About 57 percent of the survey respondents say their salaries are falling short. Just 28 percent indicate that they receive health insurance on the job. Only 39 percent say they have retirement benefits through their employment. Even among those who receive health or retirement benefits, however, there are significant gaps in coverage. Unionized part-time/adjunct faculty members earn significantly more than their nonunion counterparts and are more likely to have some health and pension coverage.

A significant percentage of part-time/adjunct faculty members are concerned about job security. About 41 percent of those surveyed say that their job security is falling short of expectations. There was greater dissatisfaction among faculty working at public four-year institutions. Faculty teaching humanities and social science courses were about evenly split on job security, with 47 percent saying it was falling short, while only 38 percent of part-time/adjunct faculty members from other concentrations say that job security falls short.
While the above findings are startling, what is particularly interesting is that the AFT (a union of teachers) sponsored the research to begin with. Clearly, the AFT is doing its homework in hopes of expanding its membership amongst part-time and adjunct faculty. Couple this with the Obama administration’s urgings that all Americans seek to acquire a minimum of a year of college, and the prospects for expanded unionization on campuses becomes quite real. If the leaders at our nation’s institutions of higher learning continue to ignore the emerging compensation issues for adjuncts, then no one should be surprised when a reinvigorated labor movement appears on campuses in response.

Source: American Academic: National Survey of Part-Time/Adjunct Faculty, (2010), American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, Washington, DC.

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2 comments:

RKSinCharlotte said...

As an adjunct, I have read your posting with interest. Since your "day job" is risk management,I was attempting to read between the lines, but I think asking might be better.
Is the risk of unionization an issue with a positive or negative long-term effect, in your opinion?

Dr William J McKibbin said...

Dear RSKinSharlotte, in my opinion unionization distorts labor value at some point beyond its true worth. However, during the initial stages of unionization, existing labor inequities do get resolved. So, unions are probably a positive force in the short-term, but negative in the long-term. Hope this answers your question, thanks...

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