Temple’s Adjunct Professors Feel the Wrath of Termination Without Representation

By Randy LoBasso
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 6 | Posted Dec. 14, 2010

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For adjunct professors at Temple University, the ongoing attempt to unionize by 2011 just got urgent.

On Nov. 1, First Year Writing professors Mike Cihak, Frank Fucile and 23 others received an email from Rachael Groener, Associate Director of Temple’s First Year Writing Program. “Dear Colleagues,” the email begins, “I’m writing to let everyone know that all spring 2011 adjunct instructor positions have been given out in both the FYW and Undergraduate English programs. If you haven’t heard from me or Rose Wint, it means that we didn’t have a course to offer you at this time ... The ‘gradjunct’ situation has made available classes even more scarce … I wish the situation were different.”

The message came as a shock to many of those who’ve counted on Temple’s employment for years and expected to join the full-time professionals’ union during the Spring semester. In the meantime, contractual employees are still looking for answers as to how, and why, this happened.

“I don’t know if [the layoffs] are happening as a way to keep us from organizing, though that’s a certainly more romantic story,” says Cihak.

“Strictly speaking,” says Fucile, “it’s not in Temple’s budget interests to have grad students teaching … Perhaps the fact that they’re spending money to do it suggests it’s a union-busting tactic, because we know Temple is willing to spend money to do damage to unions, as we saw during the nurses’ strike.”

The “gradjunct situation” began in March—less than two weeks before the Temple nurses’ strike—with an email attachment. “On March 19, a policy change was made,” says Andrew Dixon, 32, English Literature Ph.D. candidate and Temple University Graduate Students’ Association (TUGSA) Staff Organizer. That change required all graduate students working as adjuncts to become, in the eyes of the university, graduate assistants. The policy afforded these new adjuncts-turned-graduate assistants all the benefits for which their union had fought: $15,000 per year if teaching 20 calculated working clock hours per semester, or two courses, and a health care stipend of $312 per month (up from $400 per year before organizing). According to Dixon, there are at least 900 graduate assistants at Temple.

That’s great for graduate assistants, but it leaves the 1,300 to 1,400 adjunct professors—who are currently the only employees on campus who do not have union representation and, therefore, no option of pay-raises, health care or job security for longer than a single semester—at the North Broad postsecondary institution scrambling for protection.

“When I first heard about the union, I thought, ‘OK, that’s cool if you’re into that,’ and at the time I didn’t really think there was a substantial need for it,” says Cihak, who’s been teaching since 2009. “I just didn’t think about it in a serious way. It wasn’t until [the layoffs] happened that I thought about it at all.” 

Ralph Flood, veteran professor of American Studies and Latin American Studies at Temple, created the Adjunct Organizing Committee (AOC) in 2003 with help from Arthur Hochner, president of the Temple Association of University Professionals (TAUP), the full-time professors’ and other professionals’ union. Flood currently works with a number of adjunct professors from several departments, attempting to organize adjunct professors.

But the organization of adjunct professors has proven extremely difficult. Adjuncts aren’t allotted offices and therefore do not spend much time on campus. There was often a scramble in between classes to find adjunct professors as they were either moving to another classroom or leaving campus.

Regina Bannon, professor of American Studies and member of the AOC refers to potential union members as “moving targets.”

Fucile and other organizers would set up tables and hand out pamphlets on campus. In other instances, adjuncts would hold up rally signs outside administrative buildings on both the Philadelphia and Ambler campuses.

“We got some support from the American Federation of Teachers, and we got support from the Temple full-time union,” says Fucile. “But in general, it was all grassroots. We didn’t have outside canvassers from the American Federation of Teachers. That’s why it took so many years just to try and track people down.”

The AOC created a website in September 2007, which is maintained by TAUP. It includes organization updates, adjunct protest dates and times, downloadable authorization cards and leader contacts.

Eli Goldblatt, Director of the First Year Writing Program, believes there’s little that can be done about the cuts to adjunct faculty. Nevertheless: “The problem with the decision that it was made very quickly, it wasn’t made in consultation with anybody and it just popped into our email boxes,” he says. “And it was made at a very high level at the university.”

And though he lauds the university’s decision to give graduate assistants more benefits, he’s not sure if unionization would have necessarily stopped the layoffs.

“That’s the nature of adjunct labor,” he says. “And it’s a bad thing about adjunct labor, and it’s why I work with people to get them other kinds of jobs, because sometimes you have courses and sometimes you don’t … But can I tell you, definitely, that people in central administration weren’t thinking about the adjuncts unionizing when they made decisions? I cannot tell you that because I didn’t hear anything one way or another. The decision about gradjucts was made much further up the line.”

The Office of the Provost at Temple did not respond to calls for comment.

In light of the layoffs and unpredictable future, Bannon and Flood are still in high hopes to hold their election to unionize next semester—and believe it’s imperative they do so—but nothing’s been set in stone. “I’m especially concerned about young adjuncts, working two or three jobs at universities and trying to piece together a living of what they thought would have been a professional career, now having to eke out a living by shuttling back and forth. We’re like gypsies,” says Flood.

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COMMENTS

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1. Cyrus said... on Dec 15, 2010 at 10:53AM

“Although I don't necessarily believe that another union at Temple is in the best interests of the students paying increasingly high tuitions, it seems sad and absurd, that the minute Temple's teachers try to protect themselves, they lose their jobs. I taught at Temple for ten years when I was young enough (male enough and non-smoking enough) to buy an affordable policy on my own, but those days are gone for all of us and right now, there is a big question mark as to whether national health coverage will be implemented in 2014 and provide fair policies for Temple's majority of teachers as well as the hundreds of thousands of other adjuncts across the country who go without. At some point the more successful (published, PhDed, etc.) academics of America must see it as a moral issue, no? Or realize that they're next? It is the adjuncts who serve the majority of students and give tenure-track faculty time to research and write (in a sense, protecting them). Fight for Your Long Day!”

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2. cricket said... on Dec 15, 2010 at 11:14AM

“being an adjunct is tough. every semester, no matter how long you've been teaching at a school, there's never a guarantee that you'll get work the following semester. it is a tough life, and one i lived for a few years. at most schools, a 3 credit course pays about $2,700. given that the pay is paltry and there's no job security, being in a union is one small step in the life of an adjunct. now, i've never taught at temple, but i have been an adjunct at numerous other colleges/universities in the greater philadelphia area and most (if not all) include adjuncts in their faculty union. that an insitution as large as temple would deny their part-time faculty union representation is absurd, and the fact that they are willing to pay their grad assistants so much more than adjuncts makes this whole thing even more ridiculous. i'd love to know what temple administration says to justify this, but of course, they didn't reply to calls. suprise, surprise.”

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3. cricket said... on Dec 15, 2010 at 11:22AM

“also, cyrus makes an excellent point in terms of adjuncts teaching the lion's share of courses (especially in first-year english programs) thus allowing tenured profs to work on their research. people like goldblatt have certainly reaped the benefits of such an arrangement. it's ashame to not have a stronger response from the FT/tenured faculty at temple. where's the solidarity? chances are many FTers were adjuncts once upon a time. it's curious they are silent now that their part-time brothers and sisters are in need of some support.”

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4. The Homeless Adjunct said... on Dec 15, 2010 at 04:08PM

“Having taught at Temple for over 15 years as a member of the contingent faculty, I've seen conditions worsen year after year, not only for those of us trapped in this adjunct servitude, but for the students. Any fight won on behalf of the adjunct faculty is a fight won for the students as well. More and more research proves that the absence of full-time, fairly compensated, professionally supported faculty is the key to what's happened to high-quality education for undergraduates. Without proper faculty support, students are going into debt in order to pay high salaries for the university president, the football coaching staff and the bloated administrative staff. And, not only is Temple's move towards more and more graduate assistants teaching our undergrads; there is now a greater use of "peer teachers" - undergrads themselves, without any teaching experience...without a degree at all...staffing the classes of our students.
It's why I established 'Junct Rebellion -- Google it!”

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5. Vanessa said... on Dec 16, 2010 at 01:44PM

“This seems like an emerging trend, not just at Temple. The patent unfairness is striking, a betrayal of those making the university work but among the most vulnerable in the university community. In addition to all the negatives the Homeless Adjunct points out, what an example to set for students: don't bother about fairness or doing the right thing, do what you can get away with, be an irresponsible employer, be a bully.... not to mention lying and crying crocodile tears whenever expedient. I hope the deans and administrators in question find their mailboxes overflowing with messages calling for them to do the right thing”

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6. Anonymous said... on Dec 16, 2010 at 01:48PM

“Well, you guys have the attention of Dean Theresa Soufas, who sent the following email to CLA and SED Faculty and Staff, essentially telling them to keep their mouths shut and let the PR people handle it:

To: CLA and SED Faculty and Staff
From: Teresa S. Soufas, Dean
Following an article that appeared in the Philadelphia Weekly in which opinions were expressed concerning the conversion of numerous adjunct appointments to Teaching Assistants for our graduate students who had exhausted university support, you may be contacted for comments. If so, please refer anyone asking for information to Kim Fisher (1X7429), Eryn Jelesiewics (1X8879), or Hillel Hoffmann (1X9699) in the Public Relations Office.
Thank you,
Teresa”

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