The AAUP Organizes Part-Time Faculty

Article excerpt

An experiment in community responsibility suggests that partand full-time faculty can enrich one another's professional lives.

AMONG THE WORLD'S METROPOLITAN areas, Boston has more institutions of higher learning than anywhere else. For those who follow trends in higher education, it should come as no surprise then that the city also has more contingent faculty than most other places. Home to over ten thousand part-time professors, Boston is at the center of an AAUP experiment in organizing.

The project began in late 1998, when the executive committee of the AAUP's Collective Bargaining Congress, the Association's Committee on Part-Time and Non-TenureTrack Appointments, and the Massachusetts conference of the AAUP endorsed a proposal to address the working conditions of adjunct faculty in the Boston area. Members and staff reasoned that Boston's standing as a premier college town would lend national significance to the Association's efforts.

The project's first initiative was a comprehensive survey of contract faculty. The survey found that these faculty members earned an average of $2,200 a course. Only a few enjoyed health benefits, and almost none had a role in college or university governance.

At the same time that the survey was under way, the AAUP began to build a relationship with the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor (LOCAL), a grassroots group of faculty and others struggling to organize around part-time issues. LOCAL was founded by seasoned activists from the University of Massachusetts, Boston. As members of the university's Faculty Staff Union, an affiliate of the National Education Association, they had waged a victorious campaign for health benefits and decent wages for part-time faculty.

In the months before COCAL's third annual conference, members of COCAL met often with AAUP staff and members. The Association provided important financial support for the conference and joined the group's organizing efforts.

At first glance, the regional scope of the Boston project and its reliance on coalition building may seem to diverge from the Association's typical approach to organizing faculty. But on closer inspection, it becomes clear that the project actually draws on the AAUP's three decades of experience in collective bargaining and on the traditional Association model of academic citizenship. That model sees faculty as guardians of institutions of higher education and duty bound to act in the public good. In Boston the AAUP's aim is both to organize faculty to improve conditions for adjuncts and to educate the public about the importance of preserving quality higher education for future generations.

Group Effort

The third annual COCAL conference was a success for many reasons, but mostly because it helped the AAUP and COCAL fulfill their vision of creating a multicampus organization of activists from colleges throughout Boston. The multicampus approach helps to overcome the challenge of organizing contingent workers, who, as a group, tend to be transient. Many work in isolation and suffer from the absence of community support. In addition, their lack of tenure and due process rights leaves them feeling vulnerable to retribution for taking actions that may not please college or university administrations.

The AAUP and COCAL set out to create a new kind of multicampus community by bringing together in COCAL activists from among the ranks of adjuncts, full-time faculty, graduate students, undergraduates, and community members scattered throughout the city. In doing so, COCAL builds a critical mass of people to focus on specific targets and goals. Just as important, the citywide approach minimizes the risk to faculty participants by allowing them to be activists on neighboring campuses rather than on their own.

Bringing scattered constituencies together is a pivotal part of the Boston experiment. The Supreme Court's 1980 decision in National Labor Relations Board v. …