Dominican's adjunct professors vote on whether to unionize

From Marin Independent Journal:

Dominican University's adjunct professors will decide next month whether to unionize, a step that supporters say is needed to protect themselves against their precarious employment status.

The Service Employees International Union is aiding in the unionizing effort, which is part of a national movement by adjunct professors — also known as contingent professors — who instruct part-time and without assurances of steady work.

Adjunct professors who favor unionizing say it would help give protections that have largely been lost, due to universities trending toward more adjunct positions in place of full-time, tenured positions.

Unionizing will "provide sufficient power in negotiation, so that as a group of people, there can be reasonable power on the part of the adjuncts to increase their pay," said Julianne Maurseth, an adjunct professor in Dominican's business school. "The situation doesn't support us to better support our students and their needs."

Maurseth said she cobbles together an income by teaching classes at Sonoma State University and St. Mary's, though it is not enough to pay her bills.

"These are folks who are highly educated, and many of them have qualifications to be tenured professors, but there just aren't tenured positions anymore, because colleges have changed the model," said SEIU spokeswoman Jennifer Smith-Camejo.

Dominican, a private university of 1,600 undergraduates in San Rafael, has around 300 adjunct professors and 100 full-time professors. The part-timers are scheduled to begin voting Dec. 5, with their ballots due by Dec. 19. The vote will be counted Dec. 29.

University officials declined to say publicly whether they have a stance on the matter. But in a letter to faculty, Dominican President Mary Marcy encouraged participation in the vote.

"Because a simply majority of those voting will bind the entire campus and our contingent community, it is crucial that all eligible contingent faculty vote, and that they have the means to make an informed decision," Marcy said in the letter.

The university is scheduling listening sessions, "brown bag" meetings and informational updates, and has set up a drop box for faculty to submit questions anonymously.

Lise Stampfli, a former Dominican adjunct professor of media who started the unionizing effort at the university, said that an adjunct professor who teaches the equivalent of full-time — three courses — makes $18,000 to $21,000, without benefits. Entry level, full-time professors make $55,000 to $59,000, while the top of the pay scale for full-time, tenure track professors can make more than $110,000.

Michael Morrissey, an adjunct professor who teaches philosophy at Dominican and St. Mary's, said he is making about $4,300 for the course he is teaching at Dominican this fall, while St. Mary's pays him $7,400 per course.

Morrissey said the university has made some positive offerings to adjuncts in the past year, giving some of them a 9 percent raise, or about $400 per course, and beginning to pay them to attend faculty meetings. But adjunct professors would be better served by a union, he said.

"It's not like the administration is totally deaf to the voice of the adjuncts," Morrissey said. "They have been making some strides in this past year, but I don't think it is nearly what would happen as with collective bargaining with the union."

Smith-Camejo said the SEIU is focusing on unionizing private, nonprofit colleges. Adjunct professors at St. Mary's College in Moraga are also moving toward a vote to unionize, at the same time as their Dominican counterparts. Elsewhere in the Bay Area, adjunct professors at Mills College and the California College of the Arts, both in Oakland, and the San Francisco Art Institute successfully unionized earlier this year.

Read the story online here.