Regarding the Hamline Adjunct Faculty Union

Friday afternoon our Hamline Adjunct Faculty Union launched a food drive to dramatize the $800 of of lost buying power as a result of the pay for most adjunct positions at Hamline having gone unchanged for more than a decade. This comes after fourteen months of bargaining toward a first union contract and finding our progress mired by very little movement on the University’s part around the economic concerns in the contract. The food drive is one part of our campaign to raise awareness and bring pressure to bear on the University to reach a contract that reflects Hamline’s proud commitment to social justice. Simultaneous with our food drive kick-off (indeed while about 25 of us were gathered for this event in Anderson Center), Hamline’s new president, Fayneese Miller sent out an all-campus email addressing the union and the bargaining process—reaching every student, staff, and faculty person at the University. This is my response as steward of our union to the President’s message.

I do not see myself writing in rebuttal so much as in clarification. I am concerned that, because she is quite new to the University and to the history of our union effort, her letter does not fully capture either the issues that led to our forming a union or the vision that motivates the union as we bargain. It would be very unfortunate if the University perception of the union was shaped more by one all-campus email than by voices of those at the center of the union, such as mine.

I have provided a link to President’s Miller message. That’s probably enough context, but if you want a larger picture, this blog post from January 2015 carries my remarks to the administration barging team at that time. And these were my opening and closing remarks at our Food Drive launch.

A Response to President Miller’s All-Campus Message about the Adjunct Faculty Union

(PDF version here)

November 9, 2015IMG_0809
David Weiss, Adjunct Faculty in Religion
Steward for Hamline Adjunct Faculty Union, SEIU Local 284

I appreciate President Miller’s recent message regarding the Hamline Adjunct Faculty Union. Indeed, as she says, “we make the road by walking.” As part of that road-making venture—and as steward for the Adjunct Faculty Union—I want to respond to her message.

The Adjunct Faculty Union is not seeking to be divisive. We are not interested in playing one valued part of this community off against the other. We are asking for voices to stand with us. We are actively and aggressively bargaining in the direction of justice from our end. And we are convinced that the stronger our contract is, the stronger Hamline’s mission, vision, and values become.

We are extremely grateful for any and every voice in the Hamline community that joins us, because on the day that the President, the Board of Trustees, the faculty, the staff, and/or the students say with unmistakable clarity, we expect our adjunct faculty to be included in Hamline’s vision of social justice, and we expect the bargaining process to imagine a way that accomplishes this—it will.

I cannot address everything in the President’s message; there are some statements she makes that I don’t have access to the data that would allow me to respond. But there are several points I can address:

  1. The President begins, “As many of you are aware, SEIU, a labor union (“Union”) organized certain members of our undergraduate adjunct faculty last year.”

It is true that SEIU assisted in our organizing efforts; in fact, we could not file for a union election without SEIU filing the petition on our behalf. But it would be wrong to characterize our union as some sort of entity from outside Hamline. Our union is comprised entirely of adjunct faculty here at Hamline. Nearly 80% of those eligible to vote on the union did, and a resounding 80% of those who voted, voted “yes.” The adjunct faculty on our bargaining team set our bargaining agenda, approve every offer we extend to the administration bargaining team, and assess every counter-offer we receive from them. SEIU offers excellent counsel and a strong negotiator to our team. But adjunct faculty, all with strong ties to Hamline, lead our union.

  1. The Presidents writes, “it has come to our attention that the Union is engaging in activities meant to pull our students, full-time faculty, and staff into their efforts to put pressure on the University for an agreement on their terms. I understand, in particular, that the Union is seeking to apply pressure on the University to provide a level of compensation to our adjunct faculty that, frankly, may not be in the best interest of the University or the University community as a whole.”

Yes, we are seeking to bring the pressure of others to bear on the University, but we have always asked people to request that the University settle a contract with us that is “fair,” that “truly reflects Hamline’s mission and values.” We are not demanding an agreement “on our terms.” We are negotiating for an agreement that asks Hamline to live up to its terms. We have been absolutely clear about this from the very beginning. And while we cannot bargain a contract for the entire Hamline community, our aspiration is for an entire community for whom social justice, civic responsibility, and a genuinely collaborative spirit rings true. Of course, that’s a lofty ideal and rarely met, but it is the ideal that guides our union, and we welcome others to join us in its pursuit in every area of university life.

  1. The President writes, “some Union communications apparently suggest 50% of classes are taught by adjunct faculty.”

If we have said that, we misspoke, but I’m not aware of any union communication that makes this claim, and I believe I’ve seen every piece of literature we’ve produced. But this can be a tricky statistic. It seems to be true (this is one place I don’t have access to full data) that about 50% of the actual bodies that teach undergraduates at Hamline belong to adjuncts. The Star Tribune reported this in its March 31, 2014 news story on adjunct faculty. We don’t teach anywhere close to half the classes, but we do comprise, more or less, half the bodies. It’s certainly possible that someone somewhere, either while listening or while speaking, confused bodies for classes, but we have never intentionally done so.

  1. The President states, “Hamline already compensates its adjunct faculty at a competitive rate that is about in the middle of the range for adjunct faculty among schools (like Hamline) that are within the Associated Colleges of the Twin Cities.”

This is, at best, a misleading claim; by most measures it is plainly inaccurate. Since we organized our union in Spring 2014 we have record of 188 adjuncts who have taught one or more courses for Hamline over the past two years. Of those, 135 adjuncts (72%) make $4000/course, which is ROCK BOTTOM for the ACTC schools. True, our average adjunct pay (approximately $4300/course—a figure gained by averaging in the 28% who make more than $4000/course) is “middle range,” but even this stretches the “middle.” St. Kate’s and Augsburg range from $4000-$4200/course, while St. Thomas is above $5000/course and Macalester is above $5500/course. Even our average is low middle at best and, more accurately, just barely at the top of the bottom. But for nearly three-quarters of our unit, their pay per course is the lowest pay for any of the ACTC schools.

  1. The President asserts, “the compensation proposals we’ve now put forward to the Union at the bargaining table contemplate a double-digit percentage increase in the base compensation rate for our undergraduate adjuncts.”

She’s right, but this overplays the digits while ignoring the losses. Hamline’s initial offer was for a zero increase in base pay, a proposal they presented to us and called “competitively fair.” They have not come quickly or easily to their current offer of a 10% increase in base pay. But even this apparently generous offer fails to address the fact that after going eleven years without any raise of any sort, our $4000 base salary has lost 21% of its value. So the current best offer from the University does not even replace half of the lost buying power for those in the Hamline community whose pay is already at or near the lowest, whose employment carries no health, retirement or other benefit, and whose work comes with no real predictability. This is especially true for those who teach in the College of Liberal Arts (CLA).

While the President is correct that some faculty in the Schools of Business and Education have received raises to above $4000/course, almost every adjunct professor in CLA—and especially in the Humanities is at $4000/course. And these persons are the ones most likely not to have a fulltime job outside academia. These persons are often the ones who, driven by passion for scholarship, teaching, or art, cobble together teaching positions across multiple campuses or weave together a variety of other jobs—so that they can teach in places like Hamline. And they have been the ones that Hamline has most consistently neglected.

  1. The President writes, “We must balance the Union’s interest in, and persistent demands for, further increases to our proposals for adjunct compensation with the interests and needs of our full-time faculty, the University staff, and, of course, our students.”

This is, of course, true, but it implies a far greater falsehood by pitting each legitimate and valued group of persons against each other in a seemingly closed system. The shrinking share of the overall budget devoted to instruction cannot be ignored. Likewise, the debts incurred by Anderson Center, the St. Louis Park campus, and the Summit mansion are all choices that have consequences for actual human beings. Yes, a university budget is extraordinarily complex, but it is misleading to suggest that there is only one pie and that a bigger slice for one group requires “wage theft” from another. There are other pies. And while that doesn’t automatically make for an easy solution, it does allow for a far wider range of creative problem-solving than the one the President frames—which can only ever precipitate conflict among the hard-working members of the Hamline community. We can do better. The recent statement from the Minnesota AAUP Executive Committee on Principles of One Faculty offers a thoughtful call to conversation and advocacy in this regard.

Far from the President’s suggestion that the union’s “interests … and persistent demands” will come at the expense of others in our community, there is a long historical track record demonstrating that unions strengthen the socio-economic fabric of communities for everyone.

From the very first meeting between our organizing committee and then Provost Eric Jensen and several deans, including now Interim Provost John Matachek, on May 13, 2014 (well before we our union vote and before I was steward), I stated my conviction that we were committed to a union process that produced a healthy partnership with Hamline, one that forged a new path into a bright future. I was unequivocal that day in those convictions, and I have not wavered in them since. My peers on the bargaining team, my colleagues at SEIU, and even the members of the administration team will have to acknowledge (and some in each group would do so with mild annoyance at times) that I have been relentlessly hopeful. Relentlessly.

And I still am.

President Miller is right, bargaining is a challenging process—and first contracts are often most challenging of all. But the biggest challenge we face in bargaining at present is not a matter of dollars, nor is it a matter of good faith. It is the question of whether Hamline has the audacity to bargain in the direction of social justice.

Thank you,
David Weiss


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