Graduate teaching assistants and adjunct professors have abandoned plans for unionization this semester following more than two years of discussion and efforts.
The groups discussed unionizing with United Auto Workers in February to rally for more competitive salaries and benefits, according to past Hatchet articles. Rallying efforts were sporadic for about two years prior to last year’s talks.
Some faculty members said more pressing issues took precedence over unionization this year, including a proposed change in GW’s academic calendar. Officials were considering adding a mandatory summer session for rising juniors and switching to a four-class, four-credit system from the University’s current five-course, three-credit structure. However, unanimous Faculty Senate opposition recently caused the administration to stop its investigation (See “GW nixes plan,” p 1).
Earlier this month, Faculty Senate members said their main concern was the proposed calendar change.
“(Unionization) is not the issue that the GW faculty is concerned about at this time,” said Murli Gupta, a professor of mathematics and member of the Faculty Senate. “Right now we are … fighting the mandatory summer and four-by-four proposals.”
However, Gupta said unionization discussions could start again “at any time.”
Adjunct professor of English Angela Hewett, who led unionization efforts last year, is taking the fall semester off from teaching at GW. She was unavailable for comment.
Donald Lehman, executive vice president for Academic Affairs and an opponent of unionization, said GW’s implementation of a “strategic plan” to a create a stronger University led teaching assistants to stop efforts.
“We want to be competitive to the very best graduate students we can get,” he said. “We are working to increase the stipend for GTAs, and this will continue to be one of our top priorities in the years to come.”
As part of the strategic plan, GW is investing $1.5 million in GTA support by fall 2004, according to By George. An initial $750,000 was invested by February of last year, and the remaining half is being given out from this fall until fall 2004. The funding will allow GW to raise minimum salaries from $5,000 to at least $15,000 per year for the majority of assistants. The University also doubled contribution toward graduate student health plans to $1,000 per assistant last spring and added an orientation session and a one-credit online course on stimulating classroom discussion.
GW had 344 graduate teaching assistants and 1,117 part-time faculty members, excluding medical school faculty in fall 2002, according to Institutional Research. Adjunct faculty members earn about $58,000 per year, while full-time faulty members earn about $103,000 per year. Lehman said GW has no plans to change salary or benefits for adjunct faculty members.
“We have made it very clear in past articles that the well-being of (adjunct professors and graduate teaching assistants) is one of our top priorities and will continue to be one of our top priorities in the years to come,” he said.
Several graduate teaching assistants said that while they are content with their positions at GW, they have not noticed salary changes this year.
“I have not seen any of the GTA money,” said Craig Daigle, an assistant in the history department.
Some graduate teaching assistants said they are unhappy with heath insurance contribution.
“I did receive the $1,000 refund on the health insurance last year, and though it did help, it does not compare to having full health coverage,” said Brian Flota, a graduate teaching assistant in the English department.
However, Flota said he does not want to unionize.
“(The administration and faculty have) generally treated me very well,” he said.
Several adjunct professors said that while they are not currently focused on unionizing, they would like to see efforts continue in the future.
“It would be nice if it were retroactive, since I’ve been teaching here since 1990,” said James Brown, an adjunct professor in the English department.
Interim Director of the University Writing Program and Assistant Professor of English Marshall Alcorn said while he is glad to see that GW is reaching out to adjunct and part-time faculty, more work remains to be done, stating, “I know that TAs and adjuncts are still dreadfully underpaid here and elsewhere in the United States.”
This article appeared in the December 4, 2003 issue of the Hatchet.