by Brendan McQuade
On Jan. 14, DePaul University faculty received a letter addressing a campaign by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to unionize DePaul’s contingent faculty. While the tone of the email was softened by references to DePaul’s “culture” and “values,” the message is no doubt intended to dissuade, if not intimidate, faculty. Students and administrators may not realize it, but morale at DePaul is incredibly low. The administration has chosen to follow a business-based, least-cost model instead of maintaining a commitment to exemplary teaching and learning. As a result, faculty feel threatened and whole departments are locked in relentless competition with each other to fill seats.
When SEIU organizers arrived on campus this time last year, they quickly found interested and angry professors. I dedicated some of my time to this worthy case. When SEIU organizers broached the idea of signing union authorization cards in late March, however, we pumped the brakes. Longtime adjuncts told me they were afraid of reprisals. They knew that years treading water as contingent workers at DePaul left them with no place to go but down. The union then shifted its focus to other Chicago-area campuses. For my part, I only have the courage to write this letter because I’ll be leaving DePaul at the end of this academic year for a tenure-track position elsewhere.
The email Holtschneider sent directs faculty to the university’s Adjunct Info Hub webpage that smears SEIU as an undemocratic organization interested only in members’ dues. It alleges that unionization would not necessarily deliver any benefits and could even increase tuition. There’s some truth to these anti-union fact sheets. SEIU and all unions have problems — but so does DePaul. Instead of attacking SEIU, I call on you, Fr. Holtschneider, to “set thine house in order” and immediately address the legitimate grievances that have brought union organizers to DePaul: excessive reliance on contingent labor, administrative bloat and undemocratic governance.
For more than a decade, colleges and universities have turned to non-tenured instructors to manage costs. In 1960, 78 percent of college professors were tenured or tenure-track. Today, 76 percent of professors work as adjuncts, either on a course-to-course basis or as non-tenured term professors on year-to-year contracts. At DePaul, 60 percent of faculty are contingent. These positions bring little security. I arrived at DePaul as a term professor in the fall of 2014. I teach nine classes — three more than tenure-track professors — and receive about $10,000 less than an entry-level tenure-track professor. Term professors that teach six classes a year receive about $30,000, half the salary of an entry-level tenure-track professor.
People in this position must work long hours, usually about 60 hours per week, or compromise their level of teaching. Most professors I know view teaching and research as their vocation, their calling. Going through the motions is not an option, so we exploit ourselves for the benefit of the students. Although many contingent professors at DePaul are full time, we receive little research support. To contribute the pressing questions to which we’ve dedicated our lives, we must make time at the expense of our families, friends and health. Not only do contingent professors do the majority of teaching at DePaul for insufficient compensation, they also bear the brunt of budget shortfalls.
In my own department, last year’s across-the-board budget cuts to the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences meant 30-percent reductions in courses taught by contingent professors. One contingent professor with an ailing wife saw his course allocations reduced by one-third and another contingent professor, a recent winner of the contingent faculty teaching award, left DePaul rather than continue to teach for insufficient pay. Apparently, this type of conduct is consistent with “Vincentian social justice.”
At the same time contingent labor has increased, institutions have added new, non-faculty professionals whose salary and benefits packages tend to be higher than those of part-time instructors (but less than full professors). Across the nation, administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009, 10 times the rate of growth of tenured faculty positions. While many of these new positions appear to necessary student services such as counselling and advising, there is also an incredible amount of administrative bloat. From 2006 to 2014, full-time professional staff grew from 834 to 1,155, a nearly 40 percent increase. During this period, DePaul increased its full time faculty by only eight percent.
As universities have grown in size and complexity, they’ve increasingly adopted an undemocratic corporate model. Even tenure track professors do not feel secure or included at DePaul.
In 2010, DePaul denied tenure to six faculty of color, a national scandal that highlighted the university’s shameful rates of tenure renewal for minority faculty. At the time, The New York Times reported that only eight percent of white faculty (17 of 201) failed to get tenure while over a third of black (8 of 22) and Latino faculty (6 of 17) were denied tenure.
Beyond these problems with tenure review, your administration has repeatedly made decisions against the wishes of faculty and students. Your administration approved building a new basketball stadium, disregarding the concerns that it was unwise to pour tens if not hundreds of millions into an unsuccessful basketball program that operates a considerable financial loss.
This academic year, you have stood behind Dean Gerald Koocher despite calls from students and professors to dismiss him for work on an American Psychological Association task force that rubber-stamped existing government policies now widely acknowledged as torture. With these debacles in mind, I hope you can understand why some DePaul faculty do not trust your administration and welcome the arrival of SEIU.
Most importantly, your stance toward unions contradicts DePaul’s supposed social justice focus. Transparent paternalism and inducing fear in contingent workers who wish to stand up for their rights is hypocritical to education based on either social justice or critical thought. It betrays the “culture” and “values” that bring students to DePaul. Students come to class wanting to discuss justice. You are positioning DePaul as a bad example. Students can see this too, and their respect for their university suffers.
In your letter to faculty, you claimed your “preference is to maintain a direct working relationship with adjunct faculty — without interference from a third party that has no connection or commitment to DePaul and its students and that may not understand our culture and our values.” In this spirit, I invite you to make a public reply to this open letter. Specifically, I call on you to address legitimate grievances that have brought union organizers to DePaul by instituting the following policy changes:
1. Clarify the meaning of “Vincentian Social Justice” and its relation to labor practices
2. Provide tenure-track positions to all full-time faculty and all interested adjuncts
3. Institute a cap that limits adjuncts to no more than 20 percent of instructors
4. Hire as adjuncts only professionals seeking to share their expertise as part-time teachers and PhD students looking for teaching experience
5. Provide robust living wages for all full-time faculty and staff. DePaul’s existing living wage policy is insufficient. A living wage is not simply above the poverty line
6. Cap the salary of any DePaul employee at $150,000
7. Make a detailed budget publicly accessible on the university’s website in a format that can be understood by all members of the DePaul community
8. Implement participatory budgeting to create democratic process where students, faculty and staff collectively set the priorities of the university
Thank you for your time and consideration.
This originally appeared the the DePaulia and is used here with permission.