Adjunct professors at Mills College in Oakland filed a petition Monday, March 24, with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for a union election in hopes of joining SEIU Local 1021. With titles like “Visiting Assistant Professor” and “Visiting Lecturer,” these adjunct professors—roughly half the faculty—are considered temporary and part-time by the college, although some have taught classes there for many years and depend on those classes as their primary source of income. Their principal reasons for forming a union include lack of job security, lack of voice in the governance of the school, and inadequate pay and benefits—all of which are to the detriment of the students paying upwards of $40,000 a year in tuition.
Because of the constant insecurity and the need to make ends meet, many, if not most, adjunct professors work at more than one institution. The demands on their time of teaching at multiple institutions to eke out a living and the fact of not being paid for office hours, student advising or other work outside of the classroom mean that many cannot devote as much time or energy to helping students succeed as they would like to. These professors love teaching and are committed to their students and their disciplines, but worry that students are getting shortchanged by a school that invests so little in at least half of its academic faculty.