Clayton McCleskey: The consequences of the adjunct issue

Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit delivered a sound defeat for the GW administration’s opposition to an adjunct union by upholding the part-time faculty’s right to engage in collective bargaining. While this may seem like victory for the professors, in the long run, this entire debacle is a defeat for the University community at large.

If the administration is serious about its desire to transform GW into one of the nation’s leading research universities, it is time for them to invest in the faculty. If not, and current tactics continue, students will witness a decline in the quality of classroom instruction, as quality professors either leave GW or lose their passion to teach.

When I was a freshman, I rolled my eyes when I heard that professors were attempting to unionize – until I realized just how deep the discontent among the faculty runs. I now realize that these professors are not making irrational demands – they are merely asking for reasonable salaries, the prospect for pay raises, contracts instead of appointment letters and access to the benefits they deserve.

A hard-working and dedicated University president, Stephen Joel Trachtenberg has done an admirable job of transforming this once-sleepy University into a true academic powerhouse. But without quality professors, fancy buildings with wireless connections are meaningless.

Salaries for part-time faculty have remained stagnant since 1999 while tuition has skyrocketed. Professors are inarguably the key to a college education, and they should be a budget priority. Since GW charges one of the highest tuitions in the nation, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect its faculty to be among the best-paid.

We cannot expect high quality faculty to teach at GW when both Georgetown and the University of Maryland offer more competitive salaries. One department chair expressed how difficult it is to hire qualified professors because GW pays so little – the risk of losing our best professors to other universities is a real one.

One of the best professors I have had in college, an adjunct, told me, “It is just offensive. We are paid 25 percent less than professors at the University of Maryland. ” At that school, students pay about $8,000 a year in tuition, while we pay up to $37,000.

“Nobody cares what you feel or think,” continued my professor. “They do not make an attempt to make you important or part of a group. At some point you start to ask, ‘Why am I doing this?'”

We cannot expect professors to stay at GW if conditions do not improve. In addition to the pay, professors complain about the lack of adequate office space, computers and the infrastructure they need to serve students. Instead of addressing these issues, the administration has taken the professors to court in a move that has further demoralized the faculty.

Ideally, the University should have engaged professors in an effort to improve the situation instead of forcing the faculty to turn down the path to unionization, an unnecessary course of action.

“The only way the University would be responsive was through collective bargaining,” said Kip Lornell, an adjunct music professor and leader of the faculty unionization movement. The administration has sent the message that professors are not valued, and by denying professors the tools and resources they need to teach, the administration has ultimately hurt students.

After losing each of its legal battles against unionization, the administration announced yesterday that it would begin negotiations with the union representing the part-time faculty. This decision, while welcome, is merely the first step down a long road toward improved conditions for adjuncts; this isn’t over yet.

The University recently announced its incoming president, Steven Knapp. He will have a golden opportunity to fix this problem, which the current administration may leave behind, and he will most likely have to face unionized professors. If Knapp does not work with the adjuncts, GW will lose qualified professors and risk creating a demoralized and frustrated workforce at the cost of educational quality.

My professor concluded our conversation by saying, “I will not lower my quality of teaching, so if they do not listen, I will leave. I cannot lower my standards.”

I hope they listen.

-The writer, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet

columnist.

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