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On Campus

Vote to Determine If Adjunct Faculty Will Unionize

In late 2011, Service Employees International Union, Local 500, filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to be the certified representative for American University’s adjunct faculty. A simple majority of those who vote will determine the outcome of the election, so AU encourages all 1,700* eligible adjuncts to cast their ballots.

The election to determine if adjunct faculty will unionize, is being conducted by secret ballot by the NLRB. Ballots were distributed on January 19 and voting will conclude at 10 a.m., February 16.

How Do AU Data on Its Adjunct Faculty Compare to Other Private Institutions?

A review of data shows statistics on how many adjuncts teach and what they teach at AU are in line with most U.S. four-year private institutions: Presently, 41 percent of AU’s 1,363 faculty members are adjuncts who teach part time and 23 percent are “term” faculty members—full-time teachers working under either one-year or multiyear contracts.

A comparative analysis of 2009 Education Department data by the American Association of University Professors, show part-time adjuncts account for 45 percent of faculty and full-time, non-tenure track faculty account for 21 percent.

In the fall 2011 semester, AU adjuncts taught 31 percent of introductory and general education undergraduate courses (100-299 level courses); 28 percent of upper level undergraduate courses (300-499 level); and 36 percent of graduate level courses (600 and above). Overall in fall 2011, adjuncts taught approximately 32 percent of all AU course sections and full-time faculty taught approximately 68 percent. 

Washington a Unique Incubator for Part-Time Teaching

AU’s Washington, D.C., location, said AU provost Scott Bass, offers the university a wealth of scholar-practitioners—many of whom are leaders in their fields with ties to premier organizations. A June 12, 2011, Chronicle of Higher Education story supported that notion, noting that AU adjunct faculty “are much more likely than those at other colleges to have well-paying, full-time jobs off campus.

“All of our adjunct faculty—the working professionals, the retired faculty who want to keep a hand in teaching, and the academics for whom part-time teaching provides a livelihood—contribute invaluably to the AU mission in many ways,” said Bass. “Adding to the diversity of the institution, they bring their academic and professional expertise into the classroom and can speak eloquently to the contemporary issues facing a specific subject, profession, or field. They also enable the university to be nimble in its response to the educational interests of our students.”

Shared Governance vs. Collective Bargaining

To help retain and nurture faculty talent, the Faculty Senate, under Bass’s guidance, began overhauling the faculty manual in 2008. A revised document, approved by the Board of Trustees last year, “pulls the policies governing term faculty members together in one place and confers upon such faculty members rights and privileges they never had before,” wrote the Chronicle.

The faculty manual establishes two tracks for term faculty and allows them to challenge contract nonrenewal. It also reserves one of the Faculty Senate’s 24 seats for a term faculty member and designates term faculty seats on senate committees.

The senate was set to tackle salary issues and reappointment for adjunct faculty this year, calling for nominations for faculty to serve on an ad hoc committee on adjunct policies, said Chair James Girard. That work is on hold until after the unionization vote.

“The senate is prepared to take up issues of importance to adjuncts, and will do so if they decide against union representation,” wrote Girard in the January 24 issue of the Eagle.  “However, if the majority of adjuncts vote for unionization, it represents a decision to leave the deliberative process of shared governance, which the senate will respect, but we will no longer take up the issues related to adjunct faculty. Instead, the process of negotiating salary and working conditions will become a matter of collective bargaining between union and university leaders.”

Resources for AU Adjunct Faculty

Although the senate’s work is on hold, the university has made several key investments to address adjunct faculty’s needs, such as:

  • $1.26 million in resources over the last three budget cycles has been added to increase adjunct faculty compensation rates to be competitive with AU’s regional peers.
  • An additional $750,000 for increasing adjunct faculty compensation has been included in the proposed FY 2013 budget.
  • Free on-campus parking is afforded to adjunct faculty; whereas, part-time staff pay $750 annually for on-campus parking permits.
  • The opportunity to receive course development grants of $2,500—in addition to the teaching salary—to develop and teach an online course during the summer. Since the program’s inception seven years ago, several dozen adjuncts have received this grant.
  • Free faculty training for online teaching and technology tools.
  • Opportunity to participate in the university’s tax-deferred retirement program.

*To be eligible to vote, AU adjunct faculty, including those with concurrent term appointments, must: have a three-year appointment as of December 2, 2011; or have taught at least a one-credit bearing class or lesson during the fall 2011 semester; or have taught a one-credit bearing class or lesson in at least two semesters since January 1, 2010. About 1,700 adjuncts are eligible to vote, although only about 500 adjuncts teach at AU in any given semester.

To learn more about the election, visit the unionization website.