by Daphne Ford
Dominican University of California’s adjunct professors have joined more than 22,000 others in a nationwide push towards greater pay, benefits and job security.
On Dec. 19, 2014, adjunct faculty voted with a majority in favor of unionizing, making Dominican one of five Bay Area colleges to do so in the past year. Saint Mary’s College in Moraga recently voted in favor of unionizing as well. San Francisco Art Institute, Mills College and California College of the Arts in Oakland have successfully unionized in the past eight months.
There are approximately 300 adjunct professors at Dominican.
Chris Johnson, an adjunct professor of Dominican’s english department since 2009 stated, “If I teach a three credit course, I make $4,305 to teach that course for four months. That, compared to what the full-time faculty makes… they teach three classes per semester. If we teach one class we make basically $4,300. They, at the lowest rate--a full time faculty member makes $55,000 a year.”
Unlike full-time faculty, adjunct professors receive no retirement benefits and little to no health benefits. Many compensate by commuting to other schools in the Bay Brea to teach additional courses.
Job security is also a major concern. Johnson further explained, “We have no grievance procedure. If we’re fired, we can be let go ‘just because.’ Sometimes we don’t even know we’ve been fired because we will get a class for the semester and then it will be taken away from us right before the semester starts…you sit around because you just cleared your schedule for four months to keep the class and it's gone now, but they don’t tell you you’re fired.”
Adjunct faculty will unionize under Service Employees International Union, an organization “dedicated to improving the lives of workers and their families and creating a more just and humane society,” according to their mission statement. While SEIU will provide marketing, legal and negotiation assistance, the union itself will consist of Dominican’s adjunct faculty. All statements and democratic choices will be made directly by them.
This past Wednesday, Feb. 18, Johnson, along with adjunct professors Robin McCloskey, Lise Stampfli Torme, Terry Kremin and full-time professor Sr. Aaron Winkelman were elected to form a bargaining team to lead contract negotiations with SEIU when the time comes. Dominican’s administrative staff is currently finalizing a group of selected University representatives to lead their part in the negotiation.
Though significant progress has been made in the past few months, the adjunct faculty’s concerns and the University’s awareness of these concerns have been present for some time. Nicola Pitchford, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty at Dominican stated, "We had made a lot of collaborative progress in the past couple of years, even before the movement toward unionization began. An Adjunct Compensation & Benefits Committee was established and it recommended a number of policy changes, as well as exploring the question of what our philosophy of adjunct compensation should be.” Regarding the salaries of the adjunct faculty, Pitchford noted,”After several previous years of frozen salaries, adjunct faculty pay rates were increased in each of the past three years and--partly as a result of that committee's work with support from the Faculty Forum and from President Marcy--most adjunct faculty received the largest pay increase this year that they had seen in many years.”
Many members of the adjunct faculty feel that despite significant pay increase in the past year, their earnings are not reflective of their time and effort at Dominican when compared to the salary of full-time employees.
Negotiation could take anywhere from six months to several years. Dominican is reportedly training program and department chairs who oversee adjunct professors, in an effort to ensure that all staff members are fully aware of the political and structural changes within Dominican’s faculty. Members of the administrative staff and adjunct faculty both have stressed the importance of communication and cooperation between the University and the union at this time.
“The process won’t be easy, simple, or painless… these are economically very challenging times for higher education in this country, and we will need to be attentive to the most wise and responsible use of our resources,” said Pitchford, “There is also a fair bit of pain and misunderstanding to address, including a very real feeling on the part of many of our adjunct faculty of being undervalued and of a lack of access to decision-making. But we all benefit so much from working together here; we have a caring community, a fundamental respect for one another’s viewpoints, and a deep shared commitment to our students. That gives us a very solid shared ground on which to build.”
Johnson stated, “The key words here are ‘social justice.’ We are looking for social justice and Dominican--one of its driving forces has always been social justice.”