Hungering for Academic Equality: St. Louis U Faculty & Students to Stage Hunger Strike in Support of Adjuncts

by Koron Addo

Students, faculty and staff at St. Louis University are expected to stage a hunger strike during business hours Thursday, skipping meals and holding mass prayers between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to raise awareness of the issues adjunct faculty face.

The event is called Fast for Faculty, and organizers say about 50 people have committed to take part in the demonstration.

“It’s important that we all stick together on this,” Sheri Anderson-Gutierrez, a visiting assistant professor of Spanish said of the school’s faculty, including roughly 500 adjuncts.

She said the goal is for demonstrators to play on the university’s Jesuit tradition and compel administrators to raise their pay and offer them greater job security.

Adjuncts are part-time instructors who teach classes when full-time faculty are already overloaded with heavy course loads. They also fill in when teaching departments are short-staffed.

As low-wage earners contingent faculty have become steadily more popular among college administrators who can hire someone with an advanced degree to teach students on the cheap.

Of the estimated 4,000 adjuncts working in the St. Louis area, industry watchers say it’s common for adjuncts to make about $20,000 a year or less, even among those teaching full course loads, about 25 percent of the what full-time faculty are paid to do the same job. Mary-Faith Cerasoli, a “homeless professor” who lived in her car, last year went on a hunger strike to draw attention to faculty poverty. (She went off strike after six days, when an aide to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called to help her work things out.)

Thursday’s demonstration at SLU is just the latest wave in a national trend. Adjuncts have embraced a more vocal role at campuses around the country, forming unions and pushing for reforms.

In St. Louis, the Service Employees International Union has been the main driver behind a number of campaigns that have taken hold on college campuses.

In January, adjuncts at Washington University voted to form a union. A similar campaign at Webster University failed in May, while a number of smaller, and more muted campaigns are in the early stages at different campuses throughout the region.

There is another issue at play at SLU. The Ignation Solidarity Network, a social justice advocacy group, reports that other Jesuit schools around the U.S. have considered what are known as Jesuit Just Employment policies.

Georgetown University has such a policy. It was put in place in 2005 after students protested when they found that janitors hired directly by the university were paid much better than those hired through a subcontractor.

“What we want here at St. Louis University, is number one, a livable wage and, number two, that the administration stay neutral on unionization,” Anderson-Gutierrez said. “We don’t want to see any retaliation”

While SLU did not offer an official position on Thursday’s planned demonstration, or whether the university is open to enacting a Jesuit Just Employment Policy, it appears that they are listening.

Mike Lewis, associate provost for faculty development, said he’s been meeting with adjuncts since last spring.

And while the university doesn’t yet have an official stance, concessions have been made, he said. In addition to higher pay, adjuncts have asked for a number of things ranging from cheaper parking to better recognition of their contributions to the university.

In response, SLU has held a number of forums to listen to adjuncts. This school year, the university has so far followed up on some of the concerns raised by adjuncts by offering them reduced parking rates and incorporating them into orientation events.

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