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One year after unionizing, BU adjuncts continue contract negotiation

As part of BU Terrier Days, BU adjunct professors gave tours Wednesday of part-time faculty classrooms to raise awareness about how teaching environments affect the campus environment. PHOTO BY JOHNNY LIU/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
As part of BU Terrier Days, BU adjunct professors gave tours Wednesday of part-time faculty classrooms to raise awareness about how teaching environments affect the campus environment. PHOTO BY JOHNNY LIU/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

One year after Boston University adjunct professors voted to unionize, the professors, who are part of the Service Employees International Union Local 509, continue with efforts to reach an agreement with BU regarding the creation of a fair contract.

Prior to becoming the BU Faculty Union, BU adjunct professors voted Feb. 4, 2015 to join SEIU Local 509’s Faculty Forward, a project that unionizes non-tenure-stream faculties in higher education institutions. Faculty Forward’s goal is to improve working conditions for more than 750 adjunct professors, The Daily Free Press reported Feb. 5, 2015.

BU adjunct professors filed charges against BU to the National Labor Relations Board Nov. 4, 2015 with the claim that the BU administration had failed to provide necessary information to continue negotiating a fair contract, The Daily Free reported Nov. 19, 2015.

SEIU Local 509 recently withdrew the unfair labor practice charges against the university, BU Director of Labor Relations Judi Burgess said.

Burgess is a member of the bargaining team appointed by the BU Office of the Provost to represent university administration during negotiations with SEIU Local 509 and the BU Faculty Union. The negotiating team declined to comment, as the university is still actively bargaining an initial contract with the union, Burgess said.

SEIU Local 509 spokesperson Jason Stephany said the union withdrew its charges in an act of good faith, and the university has been more cooperative with the negotiations in return.

“We all want to negotiate, not litigate,” Stephany said.

Stephany said the bargaining sessions have become increasingly productive, and he suspects the university and the adjuncts will reach an agreement in the near future.

Jay Atkinson, an adjunct professor, said he has taught writing in the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Communication for the past eight years. He said he believes the negotiation is finally starting to reach a conclusion.

“I am confident that BU will focus on what’s best for the students,” Atkinson said. “That means reaching an agreement where all the university’s accomplished, hardworking professors will be treated fairly and equitably.”

Job security is important to most adjuncts because they maintain relationships with many of their students even after the semester ends, just like full-time professors would do, Atkinson added.

“[The students] don’t see any difference between me and a full-time professor, and they want to talk about very personal matters,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson added that he laments the fact that he does not have a safe space, such as an office, to use when students approach him with serious issues.  

“I’ve had students tell me about sexual assault, I’ve had students tell me about severe depression, I’ve had students tell me about threats from former lovers,” Atkinson said, “and I have to go outside in the street to talk to them because there’s no private space for adjuncts.”

Adjunct professors frequently help students during the summer by writing letters of recommendation for their graduate schools or potential employers, Atkinson explained. With no job security, adjunct professors do so without knowing if the university will employ them in the next semester, Atkinson said.

“The students are awesome at BU, and that’s one of the reasons why I stay here,” Atkinson said. “BU feels like home to me, and I know there’s a lot of other adjuncts that feel the same way.”

Several students said signing a contract with SEUI Local 509 would benefit not only adjunct professors, but the student body as well.

Maxwell Faber, a freshman in the College of General Studies, said adjunct professors should be treated as equals to full-time professors because they interact with students just as much.

“It is a great idea [for the university] to sign the contract,” Faber said. “[The contract] gives these professors an office and makes them more involved with the university.”

Jesse Batson, a junior in the College of Engineering, said he was surprised to learn that adjunct professors do not have offices.

“Associate professors should be able to add upon their teaching experience at BU,” Batson said. “If they can have an office and host office hours, then it would definitely benefit students.”

Frances Ogilvie, a freshman in CGS, said the student body would be the ultimate beneficiary of the contract because it will foster high quality teaching.

“A professor who is more eager to teach and to have office hours will be super helpful [to students],” Ogilvie said. “Whereas if [adjunct] professors are not treated equally, it is unlikely for them to teach as hard because there is no reward.”

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