Why I Fight for a Union

From Dr. Arik Greenberg's blog:

I’ve been involved in the campaign to establish a union for the adjunct faculty members at my university, Loyola Marymount, since the beginning of that movement.  Its roots go back several years, if not even further.  As a non-tenure track, visiting professor from 2003 to 2005, I was understandably miffed after discovering that not only was I not chosen for the tenure track position that I had interviewed for there – hoping at the time that my two and a half years of service would count for something – but that despite the presence of two separate and simultaneous student petitions circulating to have my position extended, I was allowed to fade away, and my contract lapse.  During that time, I heard whispers of a particular tenured professor on the faculty senate who had been trying to unionize his tenure line colleagues for years.  It was mentioned that I should talk to him, and see if there was something he could do for me.  I spoke to him and he pleasantly heard my story, my impassioned pleas to have his help in extending my position, hoping that he could use his considerable influence, as if the threat of a union would somehow keep me working.  He sat and listened to my puerile attempt to link the concept of a potential union with my job stability and so forth, but blithely asked me, “what do you want me to do about it?” With that, I was dismissed.  I was annoyed at not only his lack of ability to do anything about it, but also his seeming lack of concern about it.  I would later come to realize that his frustration with the problems associated with forming a union were not unique, and his apparent detachment from my case was nothing personal.  He couldn’t have done anything anyway. 

And so, by the time the Summer of 2005 ended, right after returning from my honeymoon, I had removed all my books and personal belongings from my temporarily held office—but not before my office computer was unceremoniously recycled to make room for new office computers, and all of my personal and professional files that were on it from the previous two years lost!  I grumbled and continued walking, never really looking back. I tried to apply for tenure track jobs during the next few years, but they became fewer and fewer in my field.  From time to time, my sleep was haunted by dreams about LMU, in which the school was often presented as compared to the Empire from Star Wars, as if its buildings were somehow part of the Death Star and housed countless evil minions serving Darth Vader or the Emperor.  During waking hours, I would cringe to drive past the overgrown water fountain that presented the school’s first impressions to the public on Lincoln Blvd., which cost about a million dollars to build, and a whole heck of a lot to maintain every year.  The school that I had loved so much had become the locus of my pain and disappointment. 

But somewhere about three years later, having taught and consulted for a variety of small startup schools around L.A., my former chair at LMU called me out of the blue and asked me if I was available to teach part time.  I refrained from telling him to kiss off, knowing that my lack of continued employment there was not fully his fault; in fact, the decision to ask me back was likely his own.  So I put aside any of my residual annoyance at him or the school as an entity, and I gratefully accepted two classes for the Fall of 2008, now teaching part time.  Accepting these two classes, I was now an adjunct.  I had of course been teaching part-time at other universities since my original position at LMU ended, but it seemed different somehow.  They were startup schools, and one of them even somewhat prematurely gave me the title of Dean of Students as an incentive, prior to their folding due to funding problems and a fight among its board members.  With LMU, I had now taken on the identity of a person who was good enough to teach the students continually, but evidently not good enough to be hired on permanently.  

But I still gleefully accepted my two courses per semester for the next several years (2 classes being the limit for part-time positions; anything higher and they would have to pay full-time wages and benefits).  I was glad to be teaching students of that caliber and to be teaching at a place with a mission that I truly resonated with – even if the administration was questionably able to carry it out. 

Over the years, my parents were growing older.  We were always very close.  We had always intended to live closer to one another, but they lived in New York, my homeland, in the house that I grew up in and had been built by my grandfather in 1972, just for us, the last home he ever built.  We planned that someday, somehow, I would be able to live in the same town as my parents and we would not have to satisfy ourselves with one or two visits a year interspersed between frequent phone calls. 

Read the full story here.