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Contract Faculty Union Says Members Are “Free to Negotiate Individually for Better Terms”

by Max Moran

As the newly formed adjunct and contract-faculty union prepares for its fourth bargaining round with Brandeis University this month, officials on both sides say the negotiations thus far have been a positive experience. But the University has frozen wages and benefits for bargaining unit professors until a contract is reached, and the faculty union is publicizing part of their agenda online.

Currently, there are plans for five total negotiation meetings throughout the semester, following up on the three that have already taken place. Adjunct and contract faculty — who as a unit are called “contingent faculty” — organized a bargaining unit and joined the Service Employees International Union Local 509 last December.

In a Google Slides presentation shown at the first round of negotiations in May, Brandeis Faculty Forward — one of the organizing wings of the contingent faculty union — called for greater job security, intellectual property rights over their contributions to curriculum development, respect for their Union and a transparent evaluation system for gaining job security and promotions, among other topics.

Prof. Nina Kammerer (Heller), a union member, told the Justice in a phone interview that the negotiations thus far have been “cordial and open” and that she is optimistic about the course of future negotiations. “I’m speaking personally, but they have been productive, and we’ve been very pleased with the open dialogue,” Kammerer said.

The fourth bargaining session is set for Sept. 28, according to the Faculty Forward website. Two more will take place in October, in addition to one in November and one in December. All of the negotiating sessions are open to any contract faculty member and are all-day affairs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. More will be scheduled if needed.

Interim Senior Vice President for Communications Judy Glasser wrote to the Justice, “The meetings, which began in the spring, have been productive. Now that the academic year has begun we look forward to continued good-faith negotiations.”

According to Prof. Christopher Abrams (FA), a spokesperson for the contingent faculty, some Faculty Forward members have reported that pay raises and benefits changes have been frozen for contingent faculty in their departments as the department heads wait to hear how the contract will affect working conditions. In an email to the Justice, Abrams called these choices a “mischaracterization” of the bargaining process, since bargaining doesn’t preclude individual agreements between professors and their departments.

“If faculty have been told that they cannot have a pay or benefits increase because departments have to wait for the outcome of the bargaining, that is simply not true,” Abrams wrote. Even after the bargaining concludes, contingent faculty will be free to negotiate individually for better terms, he wrote. “Our union is negotiating a floor, NOT a fixed set of conditions, for the terms of faculty employment,” Abrams explained.

However, the University characterizes these freezes as status quo for negotiations. Glasser wrote to the Justice, “Once the SEIU was elected to serve as the exclusive bargaining agent of the University’s part-time contract faculty union, the NLRB rules prohibited the University from changing union members’ wages, hours or working conditions without bargaining with the SEIU. This is known as the ‘status quo’ period and is the reason why the University has not changed the pay of bargaining unit members since the election. Union members’ wages will be negotiated as part of the collective bargaining process.”

brandeis-faculty-forwardIn a newsletter distributed to union members — entitled the “Faculty Justice” — Brandeis Faculty Forward informs readers that “the union will not object or demand bargaining” if the University wants to improve contract terms for any of its members who are up for reappointment this spring, “provided the candidate for reappointment is otherwise held harmless and accepts the improved term(s).” The newsletter states it is “neither fair nor accurate” to blame the union for the University withholding improvements to individuals’ contracts.

In the Google Slides presentation Brandeis Faculty Forward showed at their first round of negotiations, the group outlined hopes for the union to garner respect as a body at Brandeis, including having a role at new employee orientation and creating “an effective grievance and arbitration structure and procedure.” They hope for greater participation in faculty governance and participation in departmental conversations on pedagogy and curricula, according to the presentation.

Adjunct and contract faculty are allowed to participate in the Faculty Senate, including holding office, but repeatedly expressed frustration about intra-departmental relations throughout unionization last semester.

Some contract faculty don’t receive any health care coverage from the University or adequate coverage for their families. According to a Jan. 16 Justice article, the University grants health insurance benefits to professors working half-time or more for at least one semester, but the standards for fulfilling this requirement vary across departments. For example, some departments offer health insurance to professors teaching two courses or more, but other departments require more courses. Faculty Forward calls for “expanded access to health and dental insurance” in their presentation.

Graduate Professional Studies faculty, who teach online master’s degree programs through the Rabb School for Continuing Studies, are called “the most vulnerable contingent faculty at Brandeis” in the Google Slides. “Rabb instructors are expected to cede the right to teach courses they develop after the initial offering,” the slide presentation says.

GPS Executive Director Anne Marando denied in an email to the Justice that Rabb instructors are expected to cede the right to teach courses after the initial offering. Rabb instructors continue teaching courses they developed until departing, or until they are unable to teach the course due to health or personal reasons. If there is high demand for a course, the University may offer multiple sections of it with different professors. Marando wrote that faculty contributions to courses “remain the intellectual property of the faculty member. Faculty may use their contributions in ways not affiliated with the University, including but not limited to using the contribution to teach a course elsewhere and publishing an article or book based on the contribution. This has always been the policy regarding intellectual property rights of the faculty’s contributions.”

Prof. Amy Todd (Rabb) wrote to the Justice that in agreements she’s seen, the professor retains the right to publish materials like class notes and assignments but must also give the University “non-exclusive” rights to use the course content or create “derivative works” for the next five years. She says that through unionization, professors may now be able to work with the University to reach mutually agreed-upon language in these contracts. “What is really at stake here is giving the faculty who are actually creating and teaching these classes a voice in the contract,” Todd wrote. She added that there isn’t any one standard in higher education for what rights are given to whom in these contracts and that the negotiators may look at other models throughout the negotiation. She called the process thus far “rewarding for both sides.”

Greater job security is a broader issue on which the Brandeis Faculty Forward movement hopes to take action. Adjunct and contract faculty are not entitled to tenure.

For most adjuncts and contract faculty, student evaluations are the only evaluatory documents they receive, according to Faculty Forward. These documents can emphasize a professor’s personality over their teaching style and “often downgrade rigorous instructors for being rigorous,” according to the slide presentation. About 37 percent of adjunct and contract faculty have received formal evaluations, according to a Faculty Forward survey cited in the slide presentation.

Associate Provost for Academic Affairs Dr. Kim Godsoe affirmed in an email to the Justice that “[p]revious research from other institutions have shown that societal biases do show up in course evaluations. Much of this research focuses on the role of gender in course evaluations. At Brandeis, we have not examined the data to see if the same patterns of bias are occurring in our course evaluations.”

“The difficulty of a class may or may not impact course ratings. Several faculty members who have received teaching awards regularly teach classes that are considered very challenging,” Godsoe wrote.

Also significant last year was professorial compensation. The slide presentation alleges that contract faculty face low pay that is declining in real dollars and that some professors don’t receive raises for years on end. Citing statistics attributed to “Brandeis University, 2015-2016,” the slide indicates that part-time Arts and Sciences adjuncts teaching six courses receive an average of $60,200 annually, which is 60 percent of what full-time lecturers receive. Both lecturers and adjuncts are contingent faculty, who are represented by the University. Another slide indicates that compensation in real dollars for Rabb GPS faculty has declined by 30 percent over the last ten academic years, even as tuition for a three-credit course in the program rose by 43 percent.

Many contract faculty hold multiple teaching jobs at universities and colleges across the greater Boston area. In their presentation, Faculty Forward calls on the University to “define equity” and offer “equal value of teaching for all faculty.” This includes a guarantee of annual increases for all faculty and creating clear pay structures for non-teaching work.

Other major issues include space for office hours, as well as greater support for scholarship, grants and professional academic opportunities.

In a separate email, Abrams also affirmed that he’s optimistic about the course of future negotiations. Abrams is a member of the Contract Action Team, an open-to-all committee that has participated in the actual negotiations.

He said that participating in the earlier negotiations made him feel “greatly empowered, and that our concerns have been legitimized. It feels like we’re finally taken seriously as we sit down with the Brandeis Administration!”

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