Faculty at two Twin Cities colleges organizing into unions

Students at Macalester College showed their support for contingent faculty who have launched a union organizing drive.

With students and community members showing their support, contingent faculty at Macalester College and Hamline University announced they are seeking to unionize.

At a student-sponsored news conference Thursday in St. Paul, Macalester contingent faculty said they had filed for a union election through the National Labor Relations Board that morning. Then a Hamline faculty member announced he and his colleagues would be filing for an election Friday.

Both groups appealed to their respective college administrations to remain neutral and not interfere with the workers’ right to decide.

“Adjunct, contingent faculty do great work every day,” said Carol Nieters, executive director of Service Employees International Union Local 284, which would represent the workers. “They encourage young minds to grow.”

SEIU is organizing adjunct and contingent faculty across the country through its “Adjunct Action” campaign.

Increasingly, universities and colleges are depending on contingent faculty who have no job security, earn less than tenure-track professors and often have no health coverage or other benefits. Half of Macalester’s faculty – 119 people – is contingent, speakers at the news conference said.

“We work very closely with our students to support their learning, often going beyond our official job descriptions,” said Brendan Miller, who teaches physics and astronomy at Macalester.

Typical pay is $3,000 - $5,000 a course and contingent faculty often must cobble together several classes – sometimes at multiple institutions – to make a living. This makes it more difficult to find the time to advise students, Miller said.

The path to improving working conditions is “contingent faculty joining together,” he said.

A crowd of more than 100 turned out for the news conference, held at the end of “Contingent Faculty Appreciation Week,” organized by students.

“I had no idea there was a difference between the professors I had here, because in the classroom there is no difference,” said Kathy Paral, a sophomore majoring in psychology.

“Contingent faculty do as much work and are just as passionate as any other” faculty, she said.

“Macalester could not be the place that it is without them,” said sophomore Julia Gay.

Three adjunct faculty from Hamline announced their intention to file for a union election Friday. Noted Juliet Patterson: “Higher education is going through enormous change and we really feel we deserve a voice.”

At the event, Congressman Keith Ellison voiced his support for the students and faculty fighting to improve higher education, and shared a public letter he wrote in support of the faculty. He urged the Macalester administration to “take the ‘higher ground’ by committing to a position of neutrality and non-interference.”

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  • Hamline University's student run newspaper, The Oracle, has endorsed adjuncts at Macalester and Hamline: http://www.hamlineoracle.com/718/opinion/adjuncts-are-professors-too/ - by The Oracle on Tue, 04/29/2014 - 3:25pm

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Barb Kucera

I edit the Workday Minnesota news site, www.workdayminnesota.org