For this election, the MSCF Elections Committee sent out a questionnaire with five questions. I’m pleased to share my responses to these questions throughout this week!
Question # 2. We have increasing numbers of temporary and adjunct faculty. What needs be done to address this?
The rise of contingent labor in academia is a problem 50 years in the making. It is the result of a confluence of very complex factors, including the shift from funding via public support to student tuition, management models for higher education that focus on cost reduction and flexibility instead of quality, and the rise of a mentality that sees education as a product to be sold to consumers.
In short, it will take a strong labor union to address this situation. I believe MSCF is in a unique position to take a leadership role in this area on a national level.
Our most immediate move is to adopt the struggles temporary and adjunct faculty face as our own struggles. We are in a good position to do this, as we already have some of the most beneficial contract language for contingent faculty in the nation. We cannot use this as an excuse to stop where we are at, though. As we build the union I discussed in the first question, we must do so with deliberate attention to opening all the avenues of participation and involvement to our contingent faculty. We must address the gaps of understanding between unlimited faculty and part-time/adjunct faculty. We must work to see the outlines of a common project of all faculty to preserve our profession and the quality of education.
As we build cohesion within our own ranks, we must work to build an understanding in the public arena that the working conditions of faculty are the learning conditions of our students. High quality learning cannot happen when some faculty are treated as disposable, yanked around with their teaching assignments at the last minute, and not given the ability to focus on teaching because they are so busy trying to ensure they can make ends meet after the semester ends. As we build this case in the public and through our legislative work, we have to listen to and understand what our part-time/adjunct faculty think would best improve their working conditions and make those part of our contract negotiations.
Over the long term, though, we must endeavor to transform the system that values temporary and adjunct faculty because of their contingency and not because of the good work they do with students. This is the heaviest lift, but our most transformative success will happen in this area. In my mind, this means working to end the volatility in enrollment caused by an allocation framework that pits one institution against another, reversing the disinvestments in public education, and eventually discrediting the mindset that educators are merely interchangeable parts in a transactional model of learning.
Thankfully, we are not alone in this struggle, as there are many groups who are fighting for similar things. Our ability to collaborate and partner with organizations such as SEIU’s Faculty Forward, the New Faculty Majority, and other unions of contingent faculty will help amplify our efforts in Minnesota to cause lasting, meaningful change.