Part-Time Profs Try to Strike a New Bargain ; Union Organizing Is on the Rise among the 49 Percent of College Faculty Who Don't Have Full-Time Status

Article excerpt

Some call them "road scholars" or "freeway flyers" for their shuttling between teaching gigs - a class in Chaucer at one university, then on to basic writing at a college across town.

More-polite labels for the fast-growing ranks of part-time college professors are "adjunct faculty" or "contingent faculty."

Whatever the moniker, many in these ranks do not have an office or even a phone number at colleges where they teach. What most do have in common is that, despite their lofty educations - master's degrees or PhDs - they have little more job security than janitors, and often earn about as much.

Colleges' reliance on these professors is a phenomenon most administrators would rather not talk about, says Richard Moser, a union organizer at the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) in Washington. But part-timers are demanding more attention: They're organizing on a growing number of campuses, and they're taking to the streets. For the first time in more than a century, faculty lecturers at the University of California decided to strike earlier this year.

Nearly half of campus faculty are now part time, according to a report released last week by the American Council on Education (ACE). According to the analysis of federal data for all types of higher-education institutions, the number of part-time faculty has grown 79 percent over the past two decades, to more than 400,000 out of 1 million faculty. Add to those ranks the faculty who are full time but not on a tenure track and you have nearly two-thirds of all faculty, the report says.

Not surprisingly, the majority of part-time professors (64 percent) work at public, two-year schools. And many people prefer working part-time, the report says. But critics of this shift to nontraditional faculty say that many people are stuck with jobs that offer low pay and few benefits, and that the quality of teaching and academic freedom are being undermined.

"Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions," says Gary Zabel, a part-time professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. And part-timers, who typically have no vote in how a university is run and may be clinging to a job, are unlikely to challenge school policies, he says.

Invisible no longer

The move toward hiring part-time faculty began in the 1980s when there was a mass of retirements. Between 1994 and 1998, about two- thirds of those hired were part time, a much higher level than previously.

Despite their large numbers, part-timers' woes have been relatively invisible. Indeed, one book about adjuncts' trials is titled "Ghosts in the Classroom." But a movement to unionize has been building steadily since 1998. That's when part-timers formed unions at Roosevelt University and Columbia College in Chicago, the first to do so after a 1980 Supreme Court ruling halted unionization by full-time tenured faculty and cast a chill over other efforts.

In Boston, a college town with an estimated 10,000 adjunct faculty, there are union glimmers, too. Last year, part-time faculty at Emerson College voted to unionize - the first such move in New England since the high court's decision.

This summer, New York University adjuncts voted to join the United Auto Workers union. And part-timers are organizing unions on at least a half dozen campuses - including Illinois State University in Normal, and others where the movement is still secret, Mr. Moser says.

Among the groups coordinating efforts nationally are the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor, the American Federation of Teachers, and the AAUP.

The nine-campus University of California (UC) system has seen three faculty strikes so far this year. Last month, part-time faculty, known as lecturers, hit the picket line on five UC campuses, demanding better pay, benefits, and, most of all, job security. …