Washington Monthly - September/October 2015 - 79

Some adjuncts are refusing to accept the status quo. Across the country, many of them have turned to the Service Employees International Union, the United Autoworkers, the American Federation of Teachers, and other unions to improve their lot. Mary-Faith Cerasoli attends rallies in her "Homeless Prof " vest. In D.C., the SEIU, led by adjuncts including Mitch Tropin, has successfully pushed for contracts at American University, Howard, Georgetown, George Washington, Montgomery College, and, just recently, at Trinity, meaning that the majority of adjuncts in the D.C. area are now represented by the union. Fighting under the banner of the "Fight for $15," like fast-food workers, they argue that they should be paid $15,000 per course-which would equal $90,000 annually for a professor with three courses per semester. (Given that the American Association of University Professors estimates the average earnings for assistant professors at $62,500 to $76,900 and for associate professors at $75,220 to $91,200, this figure is truly aspirational at this point.) While some schools like Georgetown have accepted unions without too much fuss, others have adopted the tactics long used by anti-labor businesses: falsely accusing labor officials of earning exorbitant salaries, hiring law firms that specialize in union busting, and firing those involved in the campaign. But many adjuncts are committed to the fight. Tiffany Kraft, who teaches at four different institutions in the Portland, Oregon, area says, "What do we have to lose? We've been scared into complicity for so long, but I didn't go through fourteen years of higher education to be treated like shit." Traditional higher-learning institutions face another threat besides unions and online competition, in the form of lawsuits. The Delphi Project's Adrianna Kezar calls on university boards to exercise oversight. Writing in Trusteeship magazine for the Association of Governing Boards, she recommends that colleges and universities examine their use of adjuncts, because over-reliance on contingent teachers may place "their institutions at greater risk of becoming involved in a class-action lawsuit related to their employment practices." With courses that need to be taught every semester led by an interchangeable set of adjuncts, the schools seem to be doing just what trucking companies, housecleaning services, and now appdriven businesses like Uber and Lyft have been accused of doing: misclassifying workers as contractors. Especially when a teacher is asked to carry out similar responsibilities as full-time permanent staff but for less than half the salary, there may be grounds to believe that universities and colleges are evading their legal obligations as employers. And with the overrepresentation of women in these jobs, it seems possible that many of these universities could be violating not only labor laws but civil rights laws as well. Alyssa Colton, for example, the subject of an NBC News story earlier this year, was hired initially as a full-time teacher with benefits at the College of St. Rose in Albany, New York. The college did not renew her contract four years later, but after a semester had gone by, it rehired her as a part-time instructor without health insurance or pension contributions. "I essentially took a pay cut," Colton told NBC, "doing the same work for less money and less respect." Because her husband's business had failed a couple years before, Colton's move from full-time employee to adjunct meant that the family had to go on food stamps and Medicaid, and they now qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit. Kezar fears that there is no going back to my father's era, when most positions were tenured or tenure track. Instead, she favors simply adopting longer contracts with benefits, which would bridge the gap between the tenured faculty and the rest of the instructors. At Georgetown, the so-called "half-fulls" are paid a rate proportional to the full-timers and have some measure of job security. If you have any doubt that colleges can treat frontline educators well and still deliver quality instruction at a reasonable price, consider Western Governors University. As this magazine detailed in its September/October 2011 issue, Western Governors is a nonprofit online institution that has discovered a way to provide accredited college degrees at a fraction of the cost of their competitors. What's remarkable is that they've done this using a workforce that provides students with academic coaching and mentoring from home offices and kitchen tables across the country and yet enjoys full-time hours and good benefits. Clearly, it's possible to deliver a quality product at a relatively low cost while still paying your educators fairly. One way or another, something has to give. Judges and regulators are taking a harder look at companies that misclassify their workers as contractors, and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton is promising to crack down hard on the practice. Unions are moving in to organize adjuncts, with some success. And pressure continues to build on the higher education sector to allow the federal government to collect data on student outcomes. That's the single best way to provide policymakers as well as colleges and universities with the data they need to determine which kinds of instructors (tenured or adjunct, parttime or full-time) serve which group of students best, and what kinds of support (training, office hours, wages) they need to do their jobs. In the end, it may all come down to results. By creating an inferior product that is too expensive and doesn't satisfy students, parents, employers, or academics, traditional institutions are either going to change how they're doing things voluntarily and proactively or they'll be forced into it by innovative competitors, and legislators, regulators, and the courts. Caroline Fredrickson is president of the American Constitution Society and author of Under the Bus: How Working Women Are Being Run Over. Washington Monthly 79

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