An article about the plight -- and burgeoning fight -- of part-time college faculty in The Nation. The comments seem to get hung up, as these things do, on how many women are asked to dance on the head of a pin and loses the focus: that part-timers are generally underpaid (academia is heavy-duty don't ask, don't tell when it comes to who makes how much), overworked, and underappreciated.
At Tufts, where I teach, our salary is considerably better than the average cited here and we're offered a benefits package, but we haven't gotten a cost-of-living increase or merit raise in 4 years and have been informed that those of us who have been there for any length of time -- the majority, I think -- will never see one again. (My contract specifies that I'm getting the same amount -- down to the last 48 cents.) Market rates, we're told. No one actually says "salary cap," nor have they said explicitly, like it or lump it -- but that's what they mean. As far as I know, no other group of employees at the university is in this position. (And, incidentally, it sure looks like the majority of us are female and older. Or maybe we're just the ones who show up at meetings?) Even those of us who have taught there for years and, by all accounts, are skilled, committed, hard-working and valuable teachers, are on year-to-year contracts, so we could be let go with no repercussions or recourse. (The only reverberations might come from students and alums, two groups who are hard to organize for any sustained action.)
I'm happy at Tufts; I like my students a lot, like teaching them, appreciate the facilities I and they have access to & the people who staff them. When I used to work in arts administration (including a stint with the govt at the National Endowment for the Arts), we called that sort of thing "psychic benefits," noting that while those are nice, you can't eat them.
So it seems like a no-brainer that a union would give us some leverage, some bargaining power, with an ever more numerous administration (how many deans have had their pay frozen, I wonder?) and would help us protect our jobs, work situation and status. We have no way to push back now and the administration, like all administrations, likes it that way. They could have bought us off on the cheap and instead they chose to piss us off.
The larger issue -- the end-run around tenure, which results in an academic workforce that is increasingly fractured and harried -- is a political one, but my beef is more specific. I don't like being pushed around and I resent being treated unfairly. I'd prefer not to be in an adversarial position with people I used to think of as colleagues and friends. I just want what I deserve. Tufts talks big about being a community, but to us they talk about being a marketplace -- and it isn't a marketplace of ideas they have in mind..