Non-tenure track faculty discuss plans to unionize
Several non-tenure track faculty members met for the first time last month to begin discussing plans to unionize. The faculty involved said that they hope to gain enough support to bring the issue to a vote at a time still to be determined, as the conversation is in its initial stages.
The informal meeting on Jan. 14 was held to discuss the prospect of unionizing under the Service Employees International Union. SEIU has also been assisting part-time faulty in unionizing at other Boston-area colleges and universities, such as Tufts University, Northeastern University and Lesley College. Just last Wednesday, Boston University adjuncts voted to unionize, according to a Feb. 4 Boston Globe article.
The category of non-tenure track faculty includes instructors, lecturers and adjunct professors. Unlike tenured faculty, non-tenure track faculty do not have job security. However, tenured professors and non-tenure track professors alike have expressed support for unionization, including tenured Prof. Gordon Fellman (SOC).
Fellman said that Brandeis and universities in general are “coming down harder on tenure” and reducing the available number of tenure-track positions.
According to statistics that Provost Lisa Lynch provided to the Justice, 85 percent of Brandeis faculty, or 359 employees, were considered full-time during the 2013 to 2014 academic year. The statistics included only tenured faculty, tenure-track faculty and faculty on multi-year contracts as full-time faculty.
Fellman attributed a surge in number of non-tenure track faculty, and what he perceived as University interference with free speech for both tenured and non-tenured faculty to a “corporate mentality.” An SEIU pamphlet titled “The High Cost of Adjunct Living: Boston” states that the increase at universities across the country has occurred steadily over the past decade.
“The whole idea of adjunct faculty, which means you pay people as little as you can, is a corporate value,” Fellman said.
According to a March 18, 2014 Justice article, $6,000 is the minimum that adjuncts are paid per course, but disparities can exist between adjuncts' pay based upon areas of expertise and experience.
In the same article, former Senior Vice President for Communications Ellen de Graffenreid wrote in an email to the Justice that an adjunct is "someone whose primary employment is not at Brandeis.” Although the original purpose for adjuncts was to provide professionals in various fields an opportunity to teach, SEIU notes in its pamphlet that such positions are now being used for career faculty.
Emily Canning, a doctoral candidate in Anthropology, is one of these adjuncts. Canning attended parts of the informal meeting to begin unionizing a few weeks ago. Although she supports the unionization, she said that her schedule does not allow her to take on a leadership role.
Doctoral candidates generally receive five years of University funding and one year of external funding, Canning said in an interview with the Justice. However, because she spent time abroad taking on a fellowship in Kyrgyzstan, which was funded by a Fulbright grant, she is no longer eligible for additional funding and her University funding has expired. She now teaches a full course load to fund her education. She has, however, been unable to make ends meet.
“I don’t, for instance, have health insurance provided to me by the University, and that’s ... close to $3,000 already, and the adjunct salary is $20,000 or less teaching four courses a year,” she said.
In the article from March 18, 2014, Assistant Vice President for Human Resources Michelle Scichilone wrote in an email to the Justice that the any faculty member who is “classified as half-time or more regardless of title” are eligible to participate in the University’s health and dental insurance “and pay the same premium as our full-time faculty members.” Half-time faculty teach two courses or less per semester. Although Canning said that she does receive University health benefits, these benefits are not free—she still must pay the same fee as full-time faculty despite her significantly lower salary.
All half-time faculty are also eligible to participate in the University's flexible medical and dependent care reimbursement accounts, the group life insurance plan, 403(b) retirement plan, the Employee Assistance Plan and discounted auto and homeowners insurance, among other benefits, according to Scichilone.
Executive Director for Integrated Media Bill Schaller did not respond to requests for comment by press time, nor did University President Frederick Lawrence.