Part-time profs rally for higher wages, benefits

Part-time college teachers on campuses across the nation dressed up as ghosts and monsters for the first week of November and handed out peanuts to strangers.

“What do elephants and adjuncts have in common?” said signs that they held. “They both work for peanuts.”

Oct. 31 through Nov. 4 marked Campus Equity Week, an event sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers. This year, the labor group used eye-catching tactics in a campaign to improve salaries and benefits for adjunct teachers.

According to the labor group, 44 percent of college and university faculty are now classified as adjuncts, or part-time teachers. Of these, fewer than 20 percent receive health benefits or contributions to retirement, a fact sheet released by the group said.

Adjuncts acted out their growing resentment toward the schools that employ them by finding outrageous ways of illustrating their discontent, such as dressing as ghosts and monsters.

Dawn Saunders, a field representative with the United Professions of Vermont and an adjunct at the University of Vermont and Castleton State College said that the Vermont campaign used Halloween costumes to let the world know “the dirty little secret of higher education.”

“What’s most concerning is that frequently these people have absolutely no access to professional development,” she said. “These are conditions occurring in our systems of higher education that simply would not be tolerated in our K-12 public schools.”

In Vermont, where adjuncts make up 100 percent of the state’s community college faculty, the labor group sponsored a want ad in the Rutland Herald that advertised adjunct jobs as low paying with little benefits.

“Appointments are part-time, but substantial opportunities exist to teach 90 or 100 percent full-time schedules. At 40 percent or less full-time pay. No health care, subsidized pension or other benefits. If hired, it will be necessary to reapply at least twice a year,” the ad said.

Enrique Corredera, a spokesman for the University of Vermont, said that the university is “committed to working with the part-time union,” and that adjuncts and the university system will find a common ground.

This was the third year that the American Federation of Teachers sponsored the Campus Equity Week campaign.

Jaime Zapata, a spokesman for the group, said that he thought the week was successful in educating the public about the difficulties facing adjuncts in higher education.

“[It was] a very good week and a successful event,” he said. Zapata said. “Campus Equity Week is always interesting because it is around Halloween and people tend to get creative with their demonstrations.”

He said that many of the adjunct faculty who participate are newly graduated and in their twenties, full of fresh ideas for the week.

Demonstrations were personalized at the different campuses.

At Arapahoe Community College in Littleton, Colo., faculty members held a bake sale where cookies and brownies were priced at $300 – the same amount of money they said the state contributes to benefits for each full-time faculty member.

The American Federation of Teachers said they did this to illustrate the fact that adjuncts receive poor benefits.

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