When the adjunct faculty decided to join a union, some students considered it an important event. But upon asking around campus, I found that there were quite a few other students who didn’t even know it had happened, nor why it was important.
First, to address the most basic question: What does it mean to join a union?
Unionizing means that adjuncts are paying a labor union a fraction of their salary for representation. Within a union, there are elected union officials, whose job requires them to pay attention to the politics of the university and how such things affect the adjunct faculty. The Lesley adjuncts voted 359-67 to join Adjunct Action, a labor union involved with universities all over the country.
Now, why did the adjuncts unionize?
An adjunct faculty member is only paid specifically for the course(s) that they have been hired to teach, and consequently they very often receive no benefits, including health care, and no promise of a full-time job. Because adjuncts can be paid much less than faculty members who have signed contracts with the university, they represent a huge population of the faculty not only at Lesley, but at many universities.
How does this affect the faculty and students?
I asked a few adjunct professors about their thoughts on unionizing, and their responses were often focused on us, the students. Professor Jillian Demair, who taught a course at Lesley last semester, stated:
“I think that for some time, adjuncts have been in the position of wanting to provide their students with the best education possible, while struggling with limited resources to do so. Some limitations include lack of office space to meet with students outside of class, uncertainty about one’s future position at the university, and low pay, which translates to less time for students due to the necessity of taking on additional jobs … Since adjuncts have such a significant amount of contact with students, their having a stronger voice in the Lesley community will result in positive outcomes for students as well.”
Another adjunct faculty member, who asked to remain anonymous, explained that “many note the benefit to a university’s academic program to providing students with more financially-secure, less overworked, more available professors. We teach because we love to teach; we hope that unionizing will provide us with the means to deliver even more of what we have to offer to our students.”
Many full-time faculty members approved of the adjuncts’ decision to join a union, and showed their support through a group letter. As for the administration, President Moore expressed support for the adjuncts in an open letter to the Lesley community:
“Throughout the process, the administration encouraged adjunct faculty to exercise their right to vote. We are pleased that they did and, because Lesley University always has been and continues to be an engaged community committed to this university, we are not surprised by the participation. We respect both the process and the outcome of the vote, and we’ll continue to be engaged in the next phase.”
Of course, the adjuncts, and many of their students, are hoping that this “next phase” will involve increased benefits and higher pay.