Adjunct professors reach settlement agreement with the university

September 18, 2014

Ambika Ahuja

Six of Georgetown’s part-time faculty reached a settlement last Thursday on the terms of a three-year contract with the University. The faculty was part of a bargaining committee that voted to form a union affiliated with the Service Employees International Union last year reached a settlement last Thursday on the terms of a three-year contract with the University. The committee, which began negotiations 14 months ago, placed a great deal of emphasis on differences in salaries between adjuncts and tenured faculty, but paid less attention to the economic needs of adjuncts.

“We knew that the university is facing financial restrictions right now, and is having a budget crisis,” said Kerry Danner-McDonald, adjunct professor at Georgetown and a member of the bargaining committee. “[At the most basic level] we wanted to raise the floor for who is paid the least. We feel good about the impact we made, but there are many adjuncts that aren’t going to see an immediate raise in terms of their pay.”

The settlement contract does, however, provide for a number of minor improvements to adjuncts’ working rights, according to Anne McCleer, director of research and strategic planning at SEIU Local 500 for Maryland and Washington, D.C. The contract includes formalization of practices like good faith consideration—more job security for adjuncts that have been teaching for a certain number of years—and a professional development fund that will provide limited compensation for attending conferences that they can access once per year.

“[The contract] is about changing the culture around part time faculty, giving them a voice and a sense of inclusion, getting in black and white that adjuncts get the same rights as full time faculty,” said McCleer. “[For instance], the contract creates a labor management collaboration committee that fosters a good relationship and ongoing dialogue between the part time faculty and the University.”

The contract, which still needs to be ratified by the unionized adjuncts, is contingent upon a joint statement from the bargaining committee and either President Jack DeGioia or Provost Robert Grove’s office, according to Danner-McDonald.

“We made some improvements [to the working conditions of adjuncts], but we did not make a lot of long term improvements,” she said. “The signing agreement is an important statement that [the University] is going to continue to work to make those improvements in the future.”

Rachel Pugh, director of media relations for Georgetown, wrote in an email to the Voice that the University has made a tentative agreement on the settlement with the Union, but that it recognizes the role of adjuncts in the University’s academia.

“We believe that the terms of our agreement reflect the valued role our adjunct faculty members play in the ongoing success of the University,” she wrote. “The agreement must still be ratified by vote of the full membership of the bargaining unit. Assuming it is ratified, we will begin the implementation process.”

Ori Soltes, one of the adjunct professors at Georgetown also involved in the bargaining process, agrees that the University’s willingness to engage in “productive and friendly” negotiation marks a good starting point in making further progress for adjuncts.

“Georgetown is the preeminent Catholic institution in the country,” said Soltes. “It is the first to have some sort of union contract [for adjuncts], so it sets a model for a lot of universities in the country. The fact that we were able to negotiate an improvement, in terms of salary and job security, sets a precedent and a starting point.”

Soltes admits, however, that while the contract made some positive changes, there is still a lot to be done in terms of respecting adjuncts and providing them with a greater salary increase, an office for part time faculty, sabbaticals, and benefits such as healthcare and retirement funds—all of which are only granted to tenured professors.

“There’s no question that adjuncts are better paid here, but for the most part they are still not paid a living wage, with no health benefits.” he said. “If an adjunct has a medical emergency, for example, he is out of luck.”

McCleer, given these considerations, recognizes the need for further negotiations in the future.

“I don’t think this first contract necessarily gets to everything.” she said. “The situation that adjuncts are in has taken 40 years to evolve—you don’t turn back 40 years in one contract, but you begin to reverse that trend.”


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