by Mark J. Drozdowski

University of Cincinnati president Dr. Nancy Zimpher is the author of several books one of which is titled, A Time for Boldness: A Story of Institutional Change. Ironically, since 2003 Dr. Zimpher has refused to recognize the part-time faculty union formed at her institution. Boldness and institutional change, it would seem, are for her readers.

In 2002, A group of part-time faculty at the University of Cincinnati gathered together under the moniker “Adjunct Faculty Association” (AFA), and began to pursue the right to collectively bargain. shortly thereafter, 60 percent of the school’s 1,000 adjuncts voted to affiliate with the Ohio Federation of Teachers. The part-timers seek equal money for equal work.

According to AFA officials, adjuncts teach more than half of the undergraduate courses, yet those managing a full course load (four courses) last year earned an average of $17,000 per year, while tenured faculty at the school average $60,000 per year, according to Tom Mooney, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers (OFT). Adjunct faculty also want more input on departmental decisions—a seat at the table when discussing policies and processes affecting students, whom they know well—along with better health benefits and office space. In an e-mail message, University of Cincinnati Vice Provost Karen Faaborg admits that, “[w]e are not able to provide office space for all of our term adjuncts” (some 800 faculty).

U of C officials have refused to recognize the AFA’s collective efforts, because they don’t have to. Ohio stands alone as the only state that guarantees bargaining rights to full-time faculty, but not to part-timers or graduate assistants. The state’s laws do, however, give institutions “permissive authority” to recognize unions and adjunct faculty, but University of Cincinnati officials haven’t taken advantage of the loophole.

“This is a moral issue,” says the OFT/AFT’s Tom Mooney. “What is the moral basis for saying that one group of people shouldn’t have the same rights as others?”

In fact, only about 10 percent of the adjuncts are represented by a union, the AAUP. The university divides adjuncts into three classifications. Over 85 percent of adjuncts are hired quarterly (the University of Cincinnati operates on a 10-week quarter system), and teach one or two classes per term or year. A second group, called “annual adjuncts,” comprises faculty hired to teach three courses per quarter. They enjoy year-long contracts and a 50 percent university paid contribution to their health benefits. Those teaching four courses per quarter—about five percent of adjuncts—are represented by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP); they enjoy employer paid health benefits, and all the rights and privileges associated with union membership.

AFA organizers believe all 1,000 part-timers at the institution are entitled to union representation.

Early Rumblings—TREMORS

What’s now known as the AFA began in the mid-1990s, when part-time faculty took a “number of stabs at organizing,” according to Greg Loving, a former University of Cincinnati adjunct (now a visiting professor in the institution’s Humanities & Social Science Division).

“It fizzled after a few years,” Loving explains, “and never really went anywhere. The university didn’t respond in any way, and the effort ran out of steam.”

In September 2002, the AFA gained momentum by affiliating with the OFT/AFT.

“They have provided the energy and expertise to keep this going,” explains Loving, “and they helped us to see the long view. These drives often take years before you accomplish anything. The adjuncts who had been abused wanted something to happen quickly, but it doesn’t work that way.”

The association also garnered support from the AAUP, even though that organization traditionally represents tenured and tenure-track faculty.

“We express solidarity with the efforts of the AFA and the plight and purpose of adjuncts on campus here,” says James Thompson, Executive Director of the university’s AAUP chapter. “It would be a great new day, and great example to other universities who use so much contingent labor, if Cincinnati would take the lead in voluntarily recognizing the AFA. It’s about time they share power with the people who do the work and really run this school.”

Cards and Tables

Dr. Nancy Zimpher is the University’s first female president; she has been in office since arriving from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in October 2003. During her first month on the job, the AFA organized a card-signing drive to mobilize adjuncts seeking representation. Getting adjuncts to sign wasn’t difficult; about 60 percent did. Finding all of them, however, proved nearly impossible. No university office keeps an accurate record of all of the adjuncts teaching in any given quarter, so organizers had to piece together lists from payroll documents. In the end, they found about 1,000 people to contact.

“The more signatures we get, the more moral authority we have to represent [adjuncts],” said Howard Konicov in a 2003 interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer. Konicov, then an adjunct professor of math, was a key force in the AFA’s nascent stages (attempts to reach Konicov proved unsuccessful).

While organizers declared the card drive a success, university officials remained dubious.

“It’s not hard to get people to sign cards,” says Dr. Karen Faaborg, a vice provost responsible for faculty administrative services at the institution. “There isn’t a big movement on campus for this.”

Still, Dr. Faaborg maintains that the university supports unions and that President Zimpher is “committed to an inclusive environment for adjuncts.” (The president’s office did not respond to requests for comment.)

In a September 2004 letter to OFT president Tom Mooney, Dr. Zimpher writes that “Those who teach part-time are, indeed, a valuable resource to the University and they bring scarce expertise, practical real-world experience, love of teaching, student-centered views, and useful links to the Greater Cincinnati community.” She also claims to be “committed to the concept of a unified and collaborative teaching faculty” and that she wants to maintain an “inclusive professional environment” for adjunct faculty. However, she admits that the university “still does not intend to recognize the adjunct faculty for bargaining purposes pursuant to Ohio law.”

Mooney replied to Dr. Zimpher in October 2004: “The ‘inclusive professional environment for (UC’s) adjunct faculty’ you want to provide,” he writes, “cannot possibly be established if anyone other than the adjuncts themselves selects their representatives. This paternalistic approach is certainly not going to make adjuncts feel included or respected.”

In November 2004, President Zimpher invited adjuncts to meet with her and other university officials to discuss issues. Roughly 100 adjuncts attended, of whom about 30 were connected to the AFA. They were divided into small groups, and administrators moderated the conversations. Faculty were assured that their recommendations would be considered in due course.

Some who participated in the discussion session remain skeptical.

“It was very well canned,” says Roland Heyne, an adjunct professor of sociology and addiction studies, who has taught at the University of Cincinnati for eight years. “Zimpher broke everyone into pre-arranged groups led by her selected people. We got a letter of thanks for attending, but they have been vague about next steps.”

Dr. Karen Faaborg says the university is studying the feasibility of implementing many of the adjuncts’ suggestions, and that the results of the study will be made public soon.

“We are making progress toward these goals,” she explains. “The President is committed to giving adjuncts more stability. We’re moving people into longer-term contracts and getting some into the AAUP bargaining unit. It’s to our benefit to create a more stable workforce, to create more job security for adjuncts. But it’s a question of when we can afford it.”

Dr. Faaborg also noted that the university pays the highest adjunct wages in the metropolitan area, a claim that some adjuncts teaching at several area colleges dispute. She did, though, share a matrix showing that the university pays higher rates than surrounding institutions. Such figures may confuse faculty, because University of Cincinnati calculates pay differentials based on quarter hours, while most of the competition operates on the semester system. Further, the institution pays varying wages among its schools and across its three campuses, so apples-to-apples comparisons can be tricky.

“Increasing compensation is an ongoing issue,” Dr. Faaborg says, adding that the university recently increased the pay minimum from $500 to $600 per quarter hour for adjuncts teaching in the college of arts and sciences. (This translates to a per courses pay of around $1,800-$2,000.)

At the same time, university expansion and contraction continues apace. Throughout its history, the University of Cincinnati has served commuters. Even today, it houses less than 10 percent of its 34,000 students on campus. But that’s changing, thanks to investments in new dormitories and related amenities catering to a residential population. All the while, funds for adjuncts are scarce.

“Where your heart is, your money goes,” says former Univ. of Cincinnati adjunct Greg Loving. “If you consider it valuable, you tend to find room in the budget for it.”

One way to find money is to retrench. About three years ago, officials at the University of Cincinnati closed the institution’s evening college for nontraditional students, and relocated some programs to other units. Officials also eliminated the “university college,” which enrolled students in need of remedial education. Both programs employed adjuncts, all of whom were displaced in the process.

“They threw some of us out into the wind,” says sociology adjunct Roland Heyne.

Betting on 249

Help for the AFA faithful may be on the way in the form of legislation. A bill before the Ohio House of Representatives—House Bill 249, introduced by Dayton Democrat Fred Strahorn—would “permit specified students and part-time faculty of higher education institutions to engage in collective bargaining with their public employers under the Public Employees Collective Bargaining Law.” If passed, the bill would effectively remove part-time faculty from the list of exclusions in the definition of “public employee” for collective bargaining purposes. The OFT is pushing the legislation on behalf of the adjunct faculty at Cincinnati and graduate-student employees at Ohio State.

In his 2004 testimony before the House Commerce and Labor Committee, the OFT’s Tom Mooney estimated that more than 25,000 adjunct faculty and graduate employees teach in Ohio’s public colleges and universities. He also testified that adjuncts typically earned $1,500 to $2,000 per course, or roughly one-third of what full-time faculty members earned.

“Part-timers and graduate employees are the only sizable group of public employees denied the right to negotiate over terms and conditions of employment,” says Mooney. “Unfortunately, our public colleges and universities have taken full advantage.” If HB249 passes, the University of Cincinnati may be forced to recognize an adjunct faculty union.

But the odds are long. Republicans dominate Ohio’s House and Senate and Cincinnati’s City Council. Ohio legislators have a history of antipathy toward union concerns. Should the bill make it out of committee, it would need to gain 50 percent of the House’s support before making it to a Senate committee. Another 50 percent vote by the Senate would then bring the legislation to life. With 60 percent of the House and two-thirds of the Senate Republican, that’s a tall order.

“We face a series of high hurdles because conservatives control the legislature,” says Darold Johnson, Director of Legislation and Political Action for the AFT-OFT. “They won’t be favorable toward labor rights. It’s an uphill battle right now.”

Nonetheless, Johnson and union colleagues hope that the pressures of public opinion will sway lawmakers. They’re asking graduate assistants and part-timers from across the state to write letters of support, and are bringing their campaign to other elected officials, hoping to educate them about the economic conditions of adjuncts.

“The question is how much persuasion will it take,” Tom Mooney says, “because we’re not going away.”

Regaining Momentum

For AFA members, getting the internal house in order might be the first step. Some at the university feel the AFA movement has lost momentum, that its efforts are waning in the face of growing apathy.

“At this point, they really need re-energizing,” says Greg Loving, now somewhat removed from the situation. “Some are [discouraged] because the university is stonewalling them.”

Roland Heyne concurs. He characterized the movement as a “train sitting at station, just puffing away, waiting to be watered and refueled.”

University of Cincinnati Vice Provost Dr. Karen Faaborg was more blunt. “I haven’t heard from the AFA in a long time. I’m not sure if they even exist anymore.”

“That’s wishful thinking on her part,” retorts Douglas Merritt, an adjunct professor of communications and the new Chair of the AFA organizing committee. Merritt admitted that his group became sidetracked due to last fall’s national elections, the holiday season and changes in the movement’s leadership. “All that sucked energy away from us,” he says, “and that’s why Faaborg said she hadn’t heard from us. But these issues are still alive, and people are still committed.”

Meanwhile, adjuncts wait. They wait for the report resulting from the November 2004 roundtable discussions. They wait to see if new leadership can re-energize the movement and galvanize public opinion.

They wait to learn the fate of HB249. They wait for additional raises, while the university continues pouring millions into new construction. They fear retrenchment and reorganization that might thin their ranks even more. They wait, they would say, for justice.

“Anything is possible,” says Cincinnati’s AAUP chapter president James Thompson, “as long as adjuncts can stay strong and convince not only the university but the public at large that they are responsible for the good work that gets done here. Most people still don’t understand that their children are being taught by adjuncts. If the AFA continues to remind people of that, they can win.”

Truth be told, many do put faith in Dr. Zimpher’s ability to affect change, despite her misgivings about unionization.

“She’s only in her second year,” Douglas Merritt says, “so we’ll see what she can do. People are willing to give her a chance.”

Perhaps the time for boldness and institutional change will come, after all. In the meantime, 1,000 part-time faculty at the University of Cincinnati will just have to wait.

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