Bill would end disparity between staff teaching college courses

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Adjuncts, graduate employees would have a say about working conditions

(Columbus - March 5, 2013) Rep. Fred Strahorn (D-Dayton) and Sen. Nina Turner (D-Cleveland) Thursday will introduce a bill to end employment discrimination for graduate assistants and adjuncts at Ohio's public colleges and universities. The bill would remove an exemption from state law that prohibits these part-time employees from collective bargaining.

“Like all Ohioans, adjunct faculty and graduate assistants deserve a fair shake in the workplace. These individuals make less per course—while often teaching more of them—than their full-time peers do," Turner said. "They are a pivotal part of the fabric of higher education and need a seat at the table to ensure that they’re being treated fairly.”

Strahorn agreed. “My bill is about fairness. The people who are doing an increased share of the teaching deserve to have a say in their working conditions," he said. “It simply says people who have been excluded from collective bargaining should no longer be excluded from that right if they so choose.”

Colleges and universities are relying ever more heavily on part-time faculty while failing to support them adequately. More and more adjunct and contingent faculty teach the same courses as full professors, with no benefits, no office space and less pay. 

"Adjunct faculty and graduate students now comprise the majority of instructors at Ohio's public institutions of higher education," said Ohio Conference AAUP President John McNay. "Their working conditions are the students' learning conditions, and we need to ensure that they have the opportunity to speak with a unified voice." 

The Ohio Federation of Teachers and the Ohio Conference AAUP are partnering to support the Strahorn-Turner bill.

"This disparity in working conditions and benefits for people who do the same type of work is unfair," said OFT President Melissa Cropper. “Since 2002, OFT has worked with Rep. Strahorn on this bill to allow adjuncts and graduate employees at Ohio's public colleges and universities the right to collectively bargain fair working conditions, fair pay and the right to form a union if they so choose."

According to data from the U.S. Department of Education, 1.3 million of the 1.8 million faculty providing instruction in two- and four-year institutions are part-time or adjunct faculty, teaching off the tenure track.

Yet, according to the Coalition on the American Workforce, higher education employers pay part-time faculty poorly, fail to provide them the kind of academic and work supports that most professionals rely on to do their jobs, and don't attach rewards or incentives to the credentials of their academic employees. They also continue to offer part-time employees work deemed "temporary," despite the fact that their reliance on part-time faculty seems to be a permanent trend. 

The report found that:

  • Part-time faculty respondents saw little, if any, wage premium based on their credentials. 
  • Professional support was minimal for part-time faculty members' work outside the classroom and for their inclusion in academic decision-making. 
  • The median pay per course, standardized to a three-credit course, was $2,700 in fall 2010, and ranged from a low of $2,235 at two-year colleges to a high of $3,400 at four-year doctoral or research universities. 

Cropper said a union raises the collective voices of workers and helps them fight for fair treatment in their workplace. Workers deserve a voice in their working conditions, safety and compensation.

Ohio law currently unfairly excludes part-time college and university adjuncts and graduate employees from the right to collectively bargain over wages and working conditions. The Strahorn-Turner bill would remove that exemption and allow workers who want to form a union to do so.

Adjunct and graduate employee working conditions directly impact the learning conditions of American college students. OFT and AAUP support this bill as a call for better teaching and learning conditions that result in higher student outcomes.