Macalester adjunct faculty fight for fairness

With ballots to be sent out on June 3, the debate on whether or not contingent faculty at Macalester College should unionize is getting heated.

SooJin Pate, an American Studies professor, contingent faculty member, and a leader of the organizing committee for unionization at Macalester has an interesting perspective on the recent efforts.

While Hamline University and Macalester College contingent faculty members’ efforts to unionize may seem sudden, Pate explained how they represent a growing nationwide movement.

“The reason why I got involved was during winter break, I caught up on all of the unionizing efforts that were taking place across the nation with Adjunct Action,” she said.

Pate listed off examples from Washington D.C. (Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, and American University) and beyond (Tufts University, Lesley University, and Mills College) where contingent faculty have unionized.

“Just today [May 15], Northeastern University voted in a union,” she said.

On May 14, Macalester president, Brian Rosenberg, spoke at a town hall meeting that Pate attended with fellow organizing committee members. For about 40 minutes he outlined why contingent faculty should vote no to unionize, Pate said.

“The most powerful man on campus is telling us – he has the power to hire and fire – telling contingent faculty, ‘You should vote no,’” said Pate.

Pate explained how in the past few weeks, Macalester administrators have become increasingly outspoken against the idea of contingent faculty potentially having the right to collectively bargain with the Service Employees International Union Local 284.

On May 2, the administration sent a memo to tenured and tenure-track professors stating, “We remain confident that as your [sic] learn all the facts, you will also realize that a No vote in this election is in your best interest.”

The push to unionize

Pate noted a general trend in the way money is spent at Macalester – fewer dollars going to professors and more going to the administration – as a reason for contingent faculty members to unionize.

“Case in point: his salary. The president makes three quarters of a million dollars. He is one of the highest paid college presidents in the nation,” she said.

Compare that to the $5,000 many Macalester contingent faculty make per class. While the president’s salary has risen 160 percent in the past ten years, contingent faculty are making the same amount they did ten years ago – roughly 30 percent less valuable because of inflation, Pate added.

Another trend Pate noted was the increase of contingent faculty as a percentage of all faculty. Instead of hiring tenured and tenure-track professors, Macalester has relied on contingent faculty – now representing 44 percent of faculty – to teach more of its classes.

This trend seems to be growing even stronger. “Eighty-seven percent of the new hires were contingent faculty,” Pate said.

Unfortunately for Pate, one of the new hires will be replacing her. She was notified earlier this year that she will not be rehired for the next academic year. Pate added that this was not a retaliation against her because of her involvement in unionization efforts.

Despite the fact that Pate will not be rehired by the St. Paul liberal arts college, she has received praise from her students. In fact, students recently awarded Pate educator of the year recognition.

This year as a sabbatical replacement professor, Pate has been working as a full-time professor and is getting paid a living wage. However, in her two previous years at Macalester, she taught one class the first year and three the next at the $5,000 rate – all while raising a family.

Even though Pate is fighting for rights she wanted almost three years ago, she will not be able to reap the benefits. She also will not be able to vote in the election as it is restricted to contingent faculty who are teaching this semester and will be rehired for the following semester. Still, she continues to lead organization efforts – reaching out to fellow faculty members and educating the Macalester community about the issue.

The election

Ballots will be sent out to Macalester contingent faculty members on June 3. They must be received by June 17 and will be counted the following day.

Contingent faculty members need a majority of the votes received to be “yes” votes to form a union. The adjunct vote at Hamline University in St. Paul will also take place in June. Victories on these two campuses would lead Twin Cities contingent faculty in joining a movement that has successfully organized many colleges on the east and west coasts.

SooJin Pate received her Ph.D. in American Studies at the University of Minnesota in 2010.

Earlier Workday Minnesota article on Twin Cities contingent faculty campaigns: Faculty at two Twin Cities colleges organizing into unions

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