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500 American University Part-Timers Consider Joining SEIU

by Chris Lewis

Starting today, adjunct faculty at American University will begin voting on whether or not to join the Service Employees International Union.

Supporters say collective bargaining can help improve pay and job security for adjuncts, the academic world’s version of migrant labor. Non-tenure-track faculty are generally paid much less than their tenured counterparts ($3,000-$4,000 per course at American, according to union advocates; the average salary at the school is $70,626 for an assistant professor and $150,025 for a full professor).

“We’re over 40 percent of the faculty at AU, but we essentially get four percent of the salary budget,” says Erik Cooke, an adjunct instructor in the university’s philosophy department and supporter of unionization. “We’re highly-trained, committed faculty members, just like full-time professors,” he says.

At AU, some 500 adjuncts handle roughly 30 percent of the courseload, according to Camille Lepre, an AU spokeswoman. The school is hardly alone in relying on cheap scholarly labor. In his book How the University Works, Marc Bousquet writes that non-tenure-trackers now represent 75 percent of all teaching positions in American higher education, up from 25 percent in 1970.

“I know adjuncts who cobble their life together with part-time jobs outside

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