This week, APSCUF members from 14 PASSHE universities scheduled a strike directed at the state of Pennsylvania which will take place on October 19 should no compromise be made. Per Fox43 News, APSCUF cited grievances with the state’s contract proposal to favor temporary over permanent faculty, use inexperienced graduate students to teach courses, cut funding for professional development and research, and cut salaries for the lowest-paid faculty members by 20%.
One grievance that members of APSCUF noted was the proposal to increase the amount of temporary or adjunct professors instead of full-time, tenured faculty. This trend is important, and it is at the center of the institutional mistreatment of adjunct professors which extends decades. Last year, The Atlantic published a piece titled “There is No Excuse for How Universities Treat Adjuncts,” arguing that although students pay a large amount of money to attend college, not enough of that money goes toward faculty salary. This article is supported by alarming data. 31% of part-time faculty live close to or below the federal poverty line. In perspective, ⅔ of professors are non-tenured, and half of them only work part-time. Limiting the amount of teaching hours, furthermore, means that universities avoid covering the insurance costs required to employ full-time faculty. What were formerly considered long-term teaching positions have essential been reverted to gigs. From security to insurance to salary, the quality of life for many professors has decreased.
Although adjunct or contractor work is useful for unskilled labor positions such as driving services and manual labor, college professors are culturally, economically and socially indispensable as teachers and professional developers. Per “No Excuse,” contingent workers are less satisfied with their jobs and receive less money and benefits than their full-time counterparts. Applied to the context of higher education, these disadvantages can play a direct role in the classroom: adjuncts may not have offices to hold office hours for needy students; if a professor must work another job to subsist financially, he or she has less time to grade student work and create lesson plans; if an adjunct is generally unhappy in the classroom because he or she is not being fairly compensated for his or her quality of work, rapport with students decreases and education suffers; if a professor does not have a long-term commitment to a university, there is little opportunity to build a network within the community. If the quality of a professor’s work is not adequately compensated, his or her quality of work will subsequently decrease — decreasing the overall quality of higher education.
Unfortunately, for many protests to be effective, bystanders need to be affected. For students, this means that striking professors could cancel class or be replaced. Understandably, these consequences would make students unhappy in the short-term. However, short-term discomfort on the behalf of college students could yield long-term security for future students and faculty if it means that more faculty members will be justly compensated. The aforementioned problems — quality of living, rapport, economic security, time — will begin moving in the correct direction with more reasonable contracts. Widespread discomfort presses the state to act for fear of anger directed toward them. Marginal efforts to negotiate contract proposals are not sufficient with the current trend of faculty mistreatment; bystanders must be affected for these problems to be considered pressing.
Universities and the state are liable for this potential strike because previous institutional decisions have forced a significant portion of their workforce to enter abject lifestyles. The money exists to pay all faculty a viable salary, but irresponsible budgeting has allowed a trend that favors short-term work to become a systemic problem which treats professors like expendable contractors. For the well-being of long-term higher education, faculty should feel unafraid to strike at the detriment of their universities, because their needs will be ignored otherwise.