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Adjunct professors begin to unionize in higher numbers

As the adjunct faculty members at schools such as Boston University increases, a trend has emerged of adjunct professors unionizing in rebellion against the unequal treatment many believe they receive in comparison to full-time faculty, according to a recent New York Times article.

While tenured professors are guaranteed a job and its benefits for life, adjunct professors are hired on a per-year or per-semester basis and paid a fixed amount for each class they teach, said James Baldwin, a lecturer at BU and adjunct professor at Bentley University.

“As a lecturer … I have the same kind of benefits that a tenure-track professor has, with the exception of being on a per-year basis,” Baldwin said. “Any given year, I could be let go. I have no idea, any given year, if I have a job at the university again the following year or not … At Bentley, where more than half the faculty are pure adjuncts, there’s no benefits, there’s no nothing. It’s basically a fixed amount of money for each given class and that’s it.”

Lack of job security and career benefits is one of the most pressing issues adjunct professors —  particularly those who live off of their adjunct salaries — face today, said Malini Cadambi Daniel, a spokesperson for a campaign called Adjunct Action that focuses on increasing benefits available to adjunct professors.

“We hear over and over how hard it is for adjunct professors to have any sort of real livelihood or real stability,” Daniel said. “They are just reapplying for their jobs at the end of each semester. There’s a hideousness about this pattern, where you can’t plan on the future, and the future isn’t five or 10 years down the road … It’s in the next 18 weeks where they have to wonder ‘do I have a job, do I have an income?’”

The growing issue of job stability has moved adjunct professors to consider unionization, including professors at Bentley University in Waltham.

“Bentley just went through a big push for unionization,” Baldwin said. “… The faculty all voted on whether or not to unionize Bentley and the vote was negative… What the really big issues were was benefits, the lack of job security and the relatively poor pay. There was really lively debate among the faculty, lots and lots of emails were very heated, very angry and very emotional.”

Although it is unrealistic to live off an adjunct professor’s salary and coverage, adjunct professors can find value in the act of teaching something they are passionate about, said School of Theology adjunct professor Chapin Garner.

“It’s not going to be particularly lucrative, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be something that you’re really passionate about and enjoy doing,” Garner said. “I understand that it’s got to be really difficult for people who want to teach and that’s the only option available to them, but that’s kind of the deal.”

Garner said that although he does not live off of his adjunct salary, monetary compensation is not his motivation for working as an adjunct.

“I view it as a gift to be able to do it and be able to participate,” Garner said. “I don’t do it at all for the money. I do it because I believe in what I’m teaching and I believe in the school I’m working for. I do get compensated, but the truth is, I’d probably do it for free.”

Despite the trend of disgruntlement among adjunct professors at various universities, BU spokesman Colin Riley said BU values and appreciates their adjunct professors, who are often esteemed professionals in their fields for their unique expertise.

Riley said he has not heard of any negative feedback from the adjunct professors at BU.

“We’ve had reporters who work for The Boston Globe or major publications who teach in the College of Communication,” Riley said. “They’re sharing their expertise, and we’re happy to have them. When your instructor wrote a story that you read in the paper in the morning and they’re there that afternoon teaching in your class, you understand better. These are working professionals.”

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