This July, a revised and updated contract for the Mills Adjunct Faculty Union went into effect, after the previous contract expired earlier this summer. Negotiations began in the spring and were then ratified by members of the union.
The revised contract is largely an updated version of the previous one with an additional emphasis on working towards adjuncts’ job stability and voice in the Mills community.
The initial contract, enacted in 2014, focused on fair compensation, increased job security, and providing adjuncts with recognition and respect equal to that of tenured and tenure-track professors. They have since gained presence on the Faculty Advisory Committee (FEC) and established a labor management committee on top of an average 10% pay increase.
According to David Buuck, an adjunct assistant professor of English and member of the bargaining team, Mills has been moving towards stability for adjuncts in recent years.
“Mills is hiring more full-time adjunct salaried positions, where someone might come in and teach full time, do academic advising, and participate in departmental meetings, in lieu of a tenure or tenure track hire,” Buuck said.
He explained that the union is working towards making these positions more long-term and secure, perhaps with the possibility of two or three year contracts instead of the current ones limited to one year.
“It’s career advancement,” Buuck said, “because those kinds of positions, unlike tenured or tenure track, don’t necessarily have any sort of structural pay increases or career increases.”
Buuck suggested that the shift at Mills towards a greater reliance on adjuncts, particularly those with full-time positions, can be seen as a good move on behalf of the College.
“Hiring someone to really be an active part of the department and curriculum development and student advising, as opposed to hiring five adjuncts to teach one class each … [is an investment for the College],” Buuck said.
This shift towards stability is largely beneficial to students, as adjunct professors make up about half of the faculty at Mills.
Eden Hood, a senior majoring in history at Mills, has experienced the benefits of close relationships with faculty members which have enabled her to be successful in her field.
“As a student who has changed direction a lot … my journey to finding stability in what I wanted to study was grounded by these professors who are so invested in their students’ success and happiness here,” Hood said.
Mentorship between professors and students is not just vital to the Mills experience, it is an expectation and necessary part of liberal arts institutions.
According to a study by the Gallop-Purdue Index, a global analytics and advice firm, “Graduates who had such supportive relationships tend to be twice as likely than others to be engaged with their work and to be thriving in other areas of their life.” This statistic was quoted in an article written in January on EducationDive by Natalie Schwartz, who wrote that “Having a strong relationship with either a mentor or faculty member during college can be critical to a student’s career success and long-term wellbeing.”
On professors she has known throughout her time here, Hood remarked, “I don’t think I would have been able to go down the path I have without their input.”
Besides increased job stability, adjuncts hope for recognition of their large role on campus.
“Really, it’s just building a broader culture of awareness and respect among tenured colleagues and staff and students of the role adjuncts play at Mills and elsewhere, and supporting adjunct union efforts at other colleges in the Bay and nationally, as this is becoming a trend,” Buuck said.