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Adjunct Professors Unionize At Three Private Colleges In Minnesota

Published Tuesday, April 9, 2019
by Mila Koumpilova/The Minneapolis Star Tribune
Adjunct Professors Unionize At Three Private Colleges In Minnesota

(MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA) - Adjunct Professors on some local Minnesota campuses have won pay raises, professional development dollars and other gains on the heels of a recent push to Unionize them, but they say the bid to boost their working conditions has only just begun.

Part-Time Faculty have formed Unions on three local campuses - part of rapid national growth that has almost doubled Bargaining Units at private non-profit institutions since 2012.

Supporters say the effort springs from frustration with modest pay and job insecurity for a group of faculty whose ranks have swelled, but some administrators are pushing back, invoking the very financial pressures that have led colleges to lean on Adjuncts more heavily and insisting they pay fairly for what was designed to be part-time work.

At Hamline University, home of Minnesota's first Adjunct Union on a private campus, faculty and administrators have been caught up in contentious talks over a second contract since July.

"Our first contract was a huge improvement over what had been, but it fell far short of what we'd hoped for," said David Weiss, the Hamline Union Steward.

Pay and working conditions have also improved on a string of local campuses where Unionization efforts ultimately failed.

And in the Minnesota State system, the University Faculty Union said it has made Part-Time Professors a major focus at the bargaining table.

This spotlight on Adjuncts comes as non-tenure jobs now account for two-thirds of teaching positions nationally, up from only a third in the 1970s.

Hamline Alumna Melanie Galloway returned to teach on the St. Paul campus last year after earning her Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Minnesota.  She found out that to break into her dream job as a University Professor, she would need to weather an uncertain stretch as an Adjunct.  This semester, she is teaching a physics course with two labs - the equivalent of 2.5 courses - earning about $11,600.  She says she relies on savings from a substitute teaching job at a local high school last Fall.  "I had absolutely no idea it is this bad," said Galloway, a Member of Hamline's Adjunct Bargaining Team. "It's disheartening because I love academia."

Faculty and administrators hailed the first Adjunct Contract in 2015.  It granted most part-time faculty their first base pay raise in a decade, during which the per-course rate had remained at $4,000.  It also included new pay bumps for terminal degrees and longevity at Hamline, professional development dollars and a tuition discount.

The second time around, talks have been so contentious that at one point, the two sides retreated to separate rooms, with a Federal Mediator shuttling back and forth.

The Union's current request would raise base pay to $5,350 over the three years of the contract, which leaders say would restore buying power lost during 10 years without a raise.

Adjuncts, who are teaching almost a fifth of classes this year, have pushed back against a proposal to cut off university e-mail after they wrap up their courses - what administrators tout as a network security measure - but professors describe as a setback for efforts to become more fully integrated into the campus community.

Union Leaders have decried an upcoming policy of posting most courses taught by Adjuncts each semester.

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