Seattle U teachers, students join National Adjunct Walkout Day

by Brian Roewe

NCR environment correspondent

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Hundreds of professors and students at Seattle University left classrooms Wednesday as part of a national push for fair wages and better working conditions for adjunct professors.

The first National Adjunct Walkout Day saw demonstrations on campuses across the country, from noon-time walkouts and teach-ins, to rallies and talks on the issues. Some focused on the low pay, limited office space and resources they often receive, while others honed in on the volatility of the positions -- where professors can be hired or fired with little advance notice -- that can staff more than half a university’s faculty.

In addition to those issues, the protesting teachers and students at Seattle University, a Jesuit-founded school where 55 percent of its faculty is contingent (how the school refers to adjuncts), re-asserted their right to unionize.

In April, the National Labor Relations Board ruled the Seattle professors had a right to form a union, its fourth such decision in regards to Catholic schools. According to the Seattle Times, the university has appealed the vote to the National Labor Relations Board, claiming its religious affiliation gives it exemption from the board’s jurisdiction. The ballots remain locked up while the matter is ongoing.

Related: Labor board: Adjunct professors at Catholic university can form union

The protestors’ complaints also extended to what they described as skyrocketing tuition -- stating student costs have risen 82 percent in the past decade -- and a shift of resources away from the classroom. They also cited a growing corporate influence on how tuition dollars are spent.

“We’re striking today and walking out, really, to raise awareness nationally of the situation that adjunct faculty face across the country, and really to highlight our desire for higher-quality education and more support for faculty across the board,” Louisa Edgerly, an adjunct instructor at Seattle University, told Democracy Now.

The university administration have countered the criticisms, telling the Seattle Times that pay for full-time contingent faculty has risen from $24,600 in 2012, to $42,000 today, and expect it to jump to $46,000 by 2016. It added it is working to offer them more office space, and that it now begins to offer jobs in April for the fall semester.

A 2012 report from the Coalition on the Academic Workforce said that more than three-fourths of the 1.8 million higher-ed faculty members and instructors in the U.S. were contingent faculty:  adjuncts, part-time professors, graduate student teaching assistants or non-tenure track teachers.

The report said the median pay for a three-credit course in fall 2010 was $2,700, and that about 23 percent of part-time faculty had access to health benefits through their school.

The issue of fair pay has come up at other Catholic universities, as well. In July, Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh, raised the minimum wage for its lowest-paid workers to $15 an hour. The increase did not affect adjuncts, who are also working to unionize.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

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