AU adjunct faculty may form a union to ensure job security, receive better pay and obtain faculty benefits such as office space.
There is no average salary for AU adjunct professors, who are paid based on variables such as number of years teaching and the subject of the class, according to Danielle Tellish, Human Resources faculty coordinator. Tellish said she could not release any information regarding adjunct faculty’s salaries.
School of Communication adjunct professor Bob Lehrman said in an April 10, 2010, PunditWire post that he is paid about $4,000-5,000 for teaching a three-credit speech writing class.
The average salary of an AU full-time professor last year was $152,035. Associate and assistant professors average salary were $100,648 and $70,626 the previous academic year.
AU had 153 fulltime professors, 158 associate professors and 236 assistant professors last year, according to the AU Academic Data Reference Book. The University does not list the numbers of adjunct professors in the book.
Adjunct professors make up almost half of the AU faculty and need their presence and contributions to be recognized, said Erik Cooke, an adjunct professor in the College of Arts and Sciences.
“We’re wonks too, and we’re wonks who work overtime,” Cooke said.
The adjuncts are considering joining the Service Employees International Union Local 500, a union in the Maryland and D.C. area that bargains for better working conditions for groups such as Maryland childcare providers and part-time professors at George Washington University.
Some adjuncts struggle to make ends meet
There are two kinds of adjunct professor, according to Lehrman. The first group views their adjunct positions as another source of income and hobby since they hold full-time jobs. The second group depends on their teaching salaries for a living.
For Lehrman, teaching is not main source of income. He also writes speeches for progressive nonprofit organizations and he formerly served as Al Gore’s speechwriter.
“It’s a pleasure to teach,” Lehrman said in an interview with The Eagle. “I would pay AU to let me teach these kids.”
Erik Cooke, an adjunct professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, is a grant writer by day and professor by night.
He finishes his day job at 5 p.m. and then commutes to AU to finish his work, conduct office hours and teach his night class. Cooke is does not see his wife and their newborn baby until after 10 p.m. daily.
“I have a more stable income than my fellow adjuncts,” Cooke said. “I know some grad[uate student adjuncts] who are cobbling together a living.”
Cooke said a SEIU Local 500 representative approached him at the beginning of the semester to sign a card to join the union, and he expressed interest in becoming involved in the union.
“SEIU is helping spearhead this so we can all come together and get on the same page,” Cooke said.
The adjunct faculty members have not decided when they will formally come together and form a union, but the process is evolving quickly, Cooke said.
“There’s a sense of urgency,” he said. “For a lot of people, it’s hard to make ends meet.”
Not all adjunct faculty are given access to benefits such as land phones and office space, providing issues for instructors to hold office hours and for students to make up projects and tests.
“Some of them are running around from university to university and trying to meet with students at any available place like McDonald’s,” Lehrman said.
In his blog post, titled “The Adjunct Advantage,” Lehrman promoted the idea of collective bargaining for adjunct professors across the nation.
“Everyone needs someone to look out for them,” he said, referring to unions.
Certain AU administrators and department chairs contacted Lehrman about his blog post after its publication to express their agreement.
“I was nervous to write it because I don’t want to offend people who are teachers and friends,” he said. “But I didn’t hear a hint of recrimination from anyone.”
Adjuncts worry about job security
College of Arts and Sciences adjunct professor Mark Plane compared his position as an adjunct professor to his time spent as a pharmaceutical guinea pig during a SEIU Local 500 conference on Nov. 19.
“I got paid better as a guinea pig,” he said.
Plane said one of the biggest worries as an adjunct is job security.
“It’s not a question of tenure, but of having a fulltime job year to year and not every three months asking myself ‘will I have a job?’” he said.
Many speakers on the panel, including Plane, said adjunct professors were treated as “second class citizens” since they are part-time and do not participate in committees and research as fulltime faculty do.
“I think anyone should be entitled to a stable decent pay and a few decent benefits,” Plane said.
Adjunct faculty at the George Washington University formed a union in 2008 for similar reasons.
“We spent two years fighting GW in the courts to form a union,” SEIU Local 500 coordinator Anne McLeer said at the Nov. 19 conference.
The union will now be negotiating their third contract with GWU in June.
AU doesn’t support adjunct union
President Neil Kerwin said at a Nov. 17 Board of Trustees forum that he did not have a position on adjunct professors forming a union.
“I believe in the right for individuals to organize, but until we hear something official, I have no comment,” he said.
Dean of Academic Affairs Phyllis Peres said in an email interview with The Eagle that, while the University is aware that SEIU Local 500 members have approached AU adjunct faculty members to join a union, the University does not support this union.
“While, as an academic community, we respect the rights of employees to explore these types of representational matters, we don’t believe that our adjuncts need a union representing them in their dealings with AU,” Peres said. “Our goal has been to ensure that our adjuncts have competitive compensation for their service.”
AU has increased the “salary pool for adjunct faculty” and will reevaluate their salaries with the remainder of the faculty, Peres said.
Although adjunct professors are still in the “talking phase” of forming a union, there is a need for their voices to be heard, Plane said.
“We are the silent majority of higher education,” he said.