Contracts Up Close

From Inside Higher Ed:

NEW YORK -- You plan on and off all summer for a course you’ve been hired to teach in the fall, setting a syllabus, creating assignments and rereading texts. The work is all unpaid, of course, but the payoff will come when classes start off smoothly and that first check hits your account a few weeks later. Except that it doesn’t, because your course got canceled at the last minute due to low enrollment, or because you -- a part-time faculty member -- got bumped so that a full-time faculty member (likely on the tenure track) could round out his or her course load.

Like relatively low pay and little institutional support, 11th-hour course cancellations are at the top of many adjunct instructors’ employment reform agendas. But how can adjuncts combat what many administrators say is a necessary mechanism for adapting to fluctuations in enrollment? Preliminary data presented here Monday at the annual conference of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at the City University of New York suggest that collective bargaining agreements can be an effective -- if underutilized and still underdeveloped -- means of addressing the issue of course cancellations. That's particularly true when adjuncts are organized in units separate from full-time and tenure-line faculty at four-year institutions, and combined units at community colleges, according to the data.

Gary Rhoades, a professor and director of the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Arizona, said he analyzed the national, multi-union contract database maintained by the National Education Association, called the Higher Education Contract Analysis System. The database contains union contracts negotiated by the American Federation of Teachers, the NEA and the American Association of University Professors, as well as independent locals.

The database does not contain recently negotiated contracts by the Service Employees International Union, however; to compensate for that, Rhoades did a separate analysis of recent contracts negotiated by SEIU: with American University, Georgetown University, George Washington University and Montgomery County Community College in the Washington region, along with Tufts University.

Rhoades said he was interested in looking at course cancellation contract measures because such provisions “encapsulate several of issues surrounding the working conditions of adjunct faculty” and are a “good case test of the pay and due process rights -- and limited nature thereof -- of adjunct faculty, the relationship between these faculty and full-time faculty and the issue of educational quality and the larger public interest.”

He also said it was illuminating to compare provisions in part-time-only contracts to combined full-time and part-time faculty contracts, as such comparisons can reveal different priorities and make for internal debate within the local. Elsewhere in his paper, Rhoades said that 147,000 part-time faculty members were in collective bargaining units in 2012, a dramatic rise from just about a decade earlier.

Read the full story here.