This week saw the beginning of a historic election here at Mills as adjunct professors* vote on whether or not to unionize with SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Local 1021.
Mills College relies on a large group of highly qualified contingent faculty, who comprise over 60% of the college’s total faculty and teach approximately half of all courses. We receive widely disparate ranges of pay, job titles, contracts, employment requirements and expectations, usually with no transparent process for raises or advancement or job security, despite the fact that some of us have been teaching at Mills for over a decade. We can expect to be unemployed every summer, meaning that every spring, many of us are scrambling to find decent summer jobs. Despite excellent qualifications and experience, we have no job security, are paid less than what tenured and tenure-track faculty earn (sometimes even when teaching the same courses!), have reduced access to professional activities and career support and are disenfranchised from full participation in faculty governance (imagine, a majority of faculty unable to fully participate in faculty governance!). Needless to say, it is hard to plan one’s life and career year to year without a clear expectation — much less guarantee — of continued employment, fair pay, or benefits. Though teaching is our passion, most of us cannot depend on it to make a living. One adjunct, for example, earns more working in a coffeehouse than teaching at Mills!
The two-tiered system — a direct product of the corporatization of the university system in the US — that treats adjunct faculty as second-class employees is something that educators, activists and students are no longer willing to accept. Adjuncts across the nation are uniting to systematically raise standards of employment and to uphold the central importance of teaching and teachers in our institutions.
Like our colleagues on many other campuses across the country, we are organizing at Mills to unionize and work in solidarity with tenured and tenure-track faculty, staff and students in a collaborative effort to bring the college’s day-to-day operations in line with its commitment to social justice and equality.
Students pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to Mills College; do they not deserve a well-paid and well-supported faculty? Should they not expect that their professors won’t have to rush off campus to other jobs just to make ends meet, or skip professional and academic conferences because Mills won’t pay their fees or be unable to support students as advisors or mentors since most adjunct faculty are not paid to do so?
Forming a union will give adjuncts at Mills the ability to advocate for students, education and ourselves. We will all benefit from a supported and empowered faculty at all levels, and Mills will be able to maintain its standards of academic excellence as well as live up to its social justice mission.
Visiting Assistant Professor of English
*Adjunct faculty, also known as contingent or “at-will” faculty, are professors, lecturers and instructors who do not hold a permanent or salaried position.
Read The Campanil‘s official news article about the ongoing union election.
This post appeared in The Campanil‘s special Commencement issue which came out on Tuesday, May 6. For more graduation-related posts, check out The Campanil‘s designated 2014 Commencement webpage here or click on the “Commencement” link in the upper right hand corner of the header.