Jesuit schools face new challenges over treatment of academic part-timers
UPDATE: In what may be confirmation of a national trend, according to a Service Employees International Union press release today, the "non-tenure-track faculty," that is adjuncts and full-time instructors without tenure, at Loyola University Chicago have voted to join the SEIU Local 73, becoming the third Chicago group of contingent faculty to unionize with SEIU in the last two months. Ballots for the group of 326 full-time and part-time faculty within the College of Arts and Sciences were counted this morning at the National Labor Relations Board, which recorded 63 percent voting to join the local. More here.
The nation’s 28 Jesuit institutions of higher education are often carefully scrutinized by prospective students according to academic performance, affordability and the vitality of on-campus spiritual life. Should those would-be freshmen consider adding faculty justice assessments to their checklists? A survey released in December by Faculty Forward, a national higher education labor campaign supported by the Service Employees International Union, assessed the nation’s Jesuit colleges and universities and their treatment of adjunct and other faculty, among other issues.
Regarding the sheer number of part-time faculty, the survey results were not especially surprising, giving the increasing reliance of both public and private schools in recent decades on adjuncts and full-time, but not tenure-track instructors. According to the survey, the use of such “contingent” faculty is up sharply at Jesuit schools; many of those instructors are the adjunct professors whose working conditions and living standards Faculty Forward is attempting to publicize. Faculty Forward conducted the survey over the summer 2015.
Over the last ten years, according to Faculty Forward researchers, the percentage of Jesuit faculty “working on a contingent basis” has grown from 47 percent to 57 percent. “This increase of 23 percent far outpaces the rate of 7 percent among all four year non-profit colleges and universities,” according to the report.
Faculty Forward reports “deep misgivings about the future of higher education” among respondents. Faculty Forward’s researchers say, “Jesuit faculty are dedicated to the mission of higher education…but they are concerned about the direction that higher education on their campus and across the country. Of the hundreds of respondents, only 9 percent of faculty surveyed feels that higher education in their state is moving in the right direction.”
The group suggests that “one major reason” for that lack of optimism is the precariousness of the adjunct or contingency professor’s position. Though they may teach the same classes as associate or full professors, adjuncts are part-timers, far removed from tenure-track. They receive no employment benefits. Many say that their per class payments amount to minimum wage or less when real-world work-hours per course are calculated. Adjuncts have no job security—each new term means negotiating new classes and of course income.
Faculty Forward notes: “Once a middle class job, many college and university faculty are now working part-time for very low pay, isolated from colleagues, without job security, benefits or even office space. Full-time faculty are seeing their pay stagnate while administrator salaries increase.”
Pushing Back Against Faculty Forward
The survey results and its methodology have been challenged by Jesuit administrators across the country. Responding to queries from America with a prepared statement, Michael J. Sheeran, S.J., the president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, said: “The recent study conducted by a faculty union … claims to be based on a survey of the 20,000 faculty at Jesuit colleges and universities, but with no evidence that a large unbiased sample was utilized rather than a list of their sympathizers.”
Sheeran said, “It’s important to realize that the term ‘contingent faculty’ … includes many different people. Contingent faculty vary from some part-timers who have not been able to obtain full-time jobs to retirees and fully-employed professionals (e.g., judges, architects, corporate vice presidents) who do not wish full employment and who see their teaching as a way of ‘giving back.’”
He adds, “A growing group of non-tenured faculty are full-timers on multi-year contracts, which offer much more job security than a typical job in business. These people are also often included in the ‘contingent’ faculty category.”
Bob Howe, a spokesperson for Fordham University likewise questioned the survey’s methodology. By sheer numbers, part-timers at Fordham accounted for 54 percent of faculty in 2004 and 51 percent in 2015, he reports. “But that’s misleading,” he says, arguing that “a key flaw in the Faculty Forward analysis is that it presents numbers of employees, not Full Time Equivalents.”
A recent faculty census at Fordham reports that the raw number of non-tenured, part time academics has indeed increased from 681 in 2004 to 861 in 2014, but the number of full-time and tenure-track academics have also gone up. In terms of “full time equivalents,” that is teaching positions calculated by percentage of class time, Howe says that part-time instructors, who are limited to two classes each academic term, actually represent a much smaller percentage of classroom instruction at the university than Faculty Forward reports. Its head-count based survey reports 63 percent; his FTE-based analysis reduces the percentage to 28 percent.
Using figures reported to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, the Faculty Forward analysis calculates that contingent instruction at Loyola University Chicago increased from 16 percent in 2004 to 68 percent in 2014. That 321 percent increase would be astonishing—were it true in practical terms. But Loyola officials report that according to its analysis, based on total class sections, not a raw head count, part-time faculty represented just 29 percent of the teaching conducted in the 2014-2015 academic year, down from 35 percent in 2011-12. They report that during the time frame Faculty Forward analyzed the number of all instructors went up, as did student enrollment. Contrary to the impression left by Faculty Forward’s numbers, according to Steven Christensen, Loyola’s Director of Communication, the university in recent years has “made a concerted effort to increase the number of full-time faculty and reduce our reliance on part-time faculty.”
He says, “In fact, full-time faculty members teach more than 75 percent of all student credit hours.”
The diverging statistics may be the result of clashing statistical methodologies. What cannot be disputed has been the overall national trend toward more teaching by part-time academics nationally. An analysis from the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University in Washington reports that contingent faculty—defined as as part-time or adjunct faculty members, full-time non-tenure-track faculty members or graduate student assistants—now make up more than 75 percent of the nation’s “instruction workforce.” In 1970, only 18.5 percent of faculty members were part-time employees—a remarkable reversal.
But class-time hours and head counts are not the only numbers of concern in this controversy. Adjuncts have been demanding that Catholic institutions respect the church’s just wage tradition when establishing compensation rates for part-time instructors. But Georgetown’s Kalmanovitz says that adjunct pay has historically been low and remains so. In a study published in July 2015, “Just Employment in Action,” researchers for the Kalmanovitz Initiative report that the median pay nationally for an adjunct for a three-credit-course is $2,700. “Most full-time adjuncts must teach courses at multiple institutions in order to earn enough income to cover basic expenses,” according to “Just Employment.”
Its authors say, “Teaching four courses in both the fall and spring semesters of the academic year (a very heavy teaching load) provides an annual income of $21,600—and this still falls below the national poverty line for a family of four.”
Keep in mind when considering that salary that adjuncts receive no health or other benefits. And despite efforts by some school officials to depict adjuncts as professionals who are willing academic part-timers, Kalmanovitz cites a recent survey that concludes more than 73 percent of adjuncts considered teaching in higher education their primary form of employment, “not as something adjunct to a separate career.”
According to Faculty Forward, 15 percent of its Jesuit survey respondents report earning “so little at some point while working at a Jesuit school that they’ve received public assistance such as Medicaid, food stamps, or earned income tax credit.” In a different SEIU survey, “Crisis at the Boiling Point,” respondents, who included faculty at Jesuits schools, were asked to calculate the number of hours they work and how much they were paid: 16 percent reported being paid below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour; 24 percent said they were paid below $10 an hour; and 43 percent said they earned less than $15 an hour.
But per class compensation at some Jesuit institutions appears to be significantly higher than the $2,700 median cited by the Kalmanovitz Initiative. Fordham’s Bob Howe says that the university is confident that its adjunct pay can stand up to scrutiny. “To calculate a per-hour rate, we use an industry standard of 2 hours of preparation time per hour of class time and a standard 45 contact-hour semester, for a total of 135 hours of work per standard class,” he said. “That works out to slightly less than $30 per hour in Arts and Sciences.”
The Adjuncts’ Dilemma
Alan Trevithick, a professor of anthropology at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York, is not exactly enthusiastic about that $30 an hour calculation, given the high cost of living in the city. Nor is he confident that the hours per class detailed by Howe stand up to practical experience. Beyond that, he adds, “If observing the ‘industry standard’ is all that needs to be done, at a Jesuit University, to satisfy the basics of Catholic Social teaching on the fair and just treatment of labor, I'll eat my hat.”
Trevithick is acutely aware of the plight of the contemporary adjunct. He has been an itinerant academic for years. Trevithick most recently cobbled together a full-time schedule of sorts with assignments at Fordham and two other New York metro-area schools. As a result, he says, too often his “office hours,” time when he tries to be available to his students, are conducted over cell phone calls during drive-time between teaching gigs, a commuter office that has become a familiar workplace to U.S. adjuncts as they drive to their various classrooms. He receives no health benefits from any of the colleges where he teaches, and the total income he derives makes life in one of the nation’s most expensive metropolitan areas a daily challenge.
Contemplating the insecurity of his academic life, Howe’s “industry standard” references rankle.
In an email, he writes, “It’s the ‘industry standard’ to cap the number of courses an adjunct is allowed to teach, as Fordham does, to two courses per semester, which requires the adjunct…to seek one or more other jobs elsewhere. Also, it's the ‘industry standard’ to provide no job security at all and to make it possible to cancel classes at the last moment, with conditional contracts, as Fordham's are, that must be signed every semester. It is also an ‘industry standard,’ and Fordham observes this very well, to provide adjuncts with no benefits whatsoever by way of health or retirement and no research or other professional funds.
“Is that what Fordham, or its students, faculty and alumni should be satisfied with? Proud of? That it meets, very nicely, such an ‘industry standard’?”
Trevithick is careful to point out that the problems detailed in the Faculty Forward survey of Jesuit institutions are hardly limited to those schools and universities. The reliance on adjunct for core teaching throughout the nation has spread the misery widely. He explains Jesuit schools were targeted because they have “a brand so to speak in and around education.”
“We thought it would be an excellent way to bring some visibility [to Faculty Forward],” Trevithick says. “We are not targeting [Jesuit schools] in the sense that they are particularly egregious examples. These problems exist at both public and private institutions.”
Indeed the Kalmanovitz Initiative reports that the current reliance on adjuncts represents the culmination of a long adjustment in the academic “industry.” According to “Just Education in Action,” it has taken several decades “for the current crisis affecting instructors in higher education to fully emerge.”
“Universities and colleges facing increasingly tight budgets have found two primary ways to address their fiscal situation—raise the price of attending college (tuition has gone up 538 percent over the last 30 years) and lower their operating costs. One way universities have sought to reduce operating costs is to hire more part-time adjunct professors and fewer full-time tenured faculty members.”
Contingent faculty now account for roughly 1.3 million of the 1.8 million faculty members and instructors in the United States, according to the study. Adjuncts alone make up approximately 50 percent of that 1.3 million.
Joseph A. McCartin is a professor of history at Georgetown University and director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative. University faculty may not seem to fall naturally within his initiative’s purview. But, McCartin says, owing to their low pay, poor to no-benefits and wobbly career prospects, adjunct academics unhappily do qualify as members of the nation’s working poor.
Commenting on the decades’-long ascent of the adjunct, he says, “What has happened in the academic world is that it has started to replicate within itself some of the unfortunate trends within our culture, within our society and our economy.” What he calls the “development of a one percenter phenomenon.”
He explains, “Some people at the top are doing better in [the academic] ecosystem than those people have ever done, [and] … resources have not been distributed fairly across the ecosystem.” In practice that has meant academic and administrative stars draw outsized salaries, benefits and perks, straining department budgets that could have beenallocated to create more tenure-track, full-benefit teaching opportunities. That business world model, he argues, reflects a repudiation of the values of solidarity that one might expect a Catholic institution to be following. Academic organizing campaigns, McCartin suggests, “are a natural outgrowth of what has been a distorting process that has been underway.
“The people at the bottom are starting to say, ‘Wait a minute; this is not working for us, and if we don’t join together how are we going to see any change in this dynamic?’”
Workers associating together to “change the dynamic” has been a right endorsed by the church since its first document on social teaching, 1891’s “Rerum Novarum.” For Faculty Forward’s publicity purposes, that tradition is what partly made Jesuit schools an irresistible target. “We thought we could have a focused campaign [on Jesuit institutions] particularly because of Catholic social teaching” and because of Jesuit leadership on many contemporary social issues touched on by Catholic social teaching, Trevithick bluntly acknowledges.
It is not much of a stretch to conclude that a Jesuit-targeted labor-rights campaign could anticipate broad endorsement within Catholic circles. Faculty Forward indeed has drawn support from Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice and other Catholic labor groups, even from within the Jesuit institutions themselves or from among their students and alumni. “Many full-time faculty and administrators think this is a lousy and exploitative system … and they agree [with Faculty Forward],” Trevithick says.
The Twitter hashtag “#JesuitEducated” was created as part of a campaign to highlight the affirmative role of Jesuit alumni in responding to social grievances. Now former students and current adjunct faculty at a number of Jesuit schools have hijacked the hashtag to try to bring attention to organizing efforts at Jesuit institutions. And students at Jesuit schools have been advocating in recent months for the widespread adoption of a Jesuit “Just Employment Policy” aimed at ensuring that all employees at Jesuit schools receive a living wage. That policy would replicate one on the books at one Jesuit institution, Georgetown University in Washington, for years. In 2013 an organizing effort at Georgetown proceeded more or less uneventfully because of its JEP. (See how Georgetown's union experience has fared)
It also doesn’t hurt Faculty Forward’s case that a former Jesuit provincial, better known now as Pope Francis, has made justice for working people a hallmark concern. He has even repeatedly expressed his displeasure with the poor treatment of the world’s teachers.
Describing teaching as “a beautiful profession,” last March the pope said, "It’s a pity teachers are badly paid because it is not just about the time they spend in school, but the time they spend in preparation, the time they spend on each individual student.” An argument many a harried adjunct professor has made in demanding higher compensation.
But adjuncts argue they are not the only victims of the transition to part-time instruction. Trevithick argues that students are being shortchanged, despite the spectacular tuition increases they’ve experienced in recent years. Time-stressed and commuting adjuncts, he says, many with extremely limited office hours, even without offices altogether, cannot possibly offer students the direction and assistance their high fees would seem to guarantee.
Fordham spokesperson Bob Howe does not agree with that assessment. “We have an extremely talented pool of professionals in New York City who are eager to teach as part-time adjuncts,” he says. “These professionals provide a significantly richer educational experience to our students. Programs like Theatre, Business, Law, Social Work and Social Justice all benefit from the available pool.”
A spokesperson for Loyola University said the administration remains “confident that our students are getting an excellent education” and flatly denied that the use of adjuncts could be interpreted as contrary to Jesuit values or the intentions of Catholic social teaching. “We are confident that our adjuncts and non-tenured faculty are treated well and competitively paid,” the spokesperson said.
The AJCU’s Sheeran likewise defended the current hiring practices of Jesuit schools, arguing that individual local approaches are “the best way to resolve the very different faculty needs at each institution.”
“Each of our 28 institutions has different academic programs utilizing different sorts of contingent faculty,” he said. “We have found it wiser that each school tailor its policies to its faculty, its educational programs, and its local circumstances. This reveals different realities. As a result, some schools have agreed to unionization of some contingent faculty and some have not.”
The View From Chicago
One of those local approaches is now being tested in Chicago, where Faculty Forward is promoting a union vote through the National Labor Relations Board for SEIU representation of adjuncts at a number of Chicago schools. In fact on Dec. 9 University of Chicago adjunct faculty voted in a landslide to join SEIU Local 73, becoming the first Chicago-area adjuncts to unionize.
The effort to proceed with a similar vote at North Side Loyola University Chicago, however, has been characterized by a dispute over competing rights that were not at play in Hyde Park.
Loyola has challenged the NLRB’s authority to supervise a union vote on its campus. Its administrators contend, among other issues, that the university, as a religious institution is exempt from the federal board’s oversight. This has been a position adopted by a number of other Catholic schools in recent years. Some have become engaged in drawn-out and at times acrimonious disputes with their own faculty as a result.
Alyson Paige Warren has been teaching English basics and literature at Loyola for eight years. She complains that it has been seven years since adjuncts have seen a pay raise at the school, but insists the fight to her is about far more than money. “We’re fighting to be known and to be heard.
“People don’t even know this is happening at all,” she says. “We’re in this because we love our students and we’re devoted to education, and [the administration knows] they can exploit that; they know we will be willing to burn candles at both ends.”
Warren says that many of her students, who simply presume that their instructors are well compensated, are often stunned to hear of the economic and career trials endured by adjuncts. Noting that some instructors rely food stamps to get by, Warren argues that precarious living directly affects the quality of education Loyola students receive.
She adds, “If you ask the average student, they would be more willing for their tuition to go to educators and their education than a new food court or rock wall,” citing a few recent controversial investments made by the administration.
She argues that Faculty Forward is merely asking the university to stand by the principles it claims to value, “to be true to [its] mission.” According to Warren, when Faculty Forward stepped in to assist in a organizing a union vote at the school, her initial—and grateful—impression was that school officials intended to take a neutral position. “But since we have filed, Loyola has sent out four different emails that were not neutral in tone.”
She finds especially disheartening the school’s suggestion that as a Catholic institution an NLRB-administered vote would represent an infringement on the institution’s religious identity. It’s a position she struggles to understand. “I’m not Catholic,” she says, “and I don’t teach Jesuit spirituality.”
Outside university walls others ponder the circular irony of Catholic administrators citing Catholic identity in efforts to forestall labor campaigns endorsed by Catholic social teaching. Many conclude such appeals are disingenuous. Joe Fahey, a professor of religious studies at Manhattan College and chair of Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice, in a statement commenting on the Faculty Forward survey, said, “The legal debate over religious freedom should not be employed to override the moral right of workers to organize at Jesuit universities.”
But administrators at Loyola and other Catholic institutions insist that their resistance to NLRB jurisdiction is prompted by legitimate concerns over government overreach, religious liberty and optimal relationships with faculty.
Religious Rights vs Workers’ Rights?
Administrators explained the school’s position in a website post: “We believe that as a Jesuit, Catholic university, we have the right to define our own mission and govern our institution in accordance with our values and beliefs, free from government entanglement. Religious institutions are exempt from the National Labor Relations Act. The National Labor Relations Board has developed a narrow test to determine what is ‘religious,’ and that test does not recognize the breadth and depth of Loyola's religious identity. … While we agree that employee unionization is both valuable and just, the issue at stake here is about the freedom of religious institutions from government interference with regard to their religious mission, especially with respect to employees who play a critical role in carrying out that mission.”
Georgetown’s Joe McCartin is not persuaded by such appeals to Catholic identity. “This is a relatively new phenomenon,” he says, “where church-related institutions are claiming that employees who are not involved in doctrinal things should not be able to enjoy the protection of the nation’s labor laws.”
McCartin adds, “In those cases where universities are disputing or reserving the right to dispute the applicability of the nation's labor law to the situations of workers in their institutions who are not involved in the transmission of religious doctrine, I think it is at the very least incumbent upon them to provide some alternative plan or mechanism whereby the workers can secure rights that the church has championed for 125 years, such as the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively.
“If the rights of the workers in question are not protected by U.S. labor law,” he adds, “then by what law are those rights protected? Or are they simply unprotected?”
On December 28, the NLRB, rejecting the university’s objections, ruled that it indeed has jurisdiction at Loyola because the petitioning faculty members were not performing “a specific role in creating or maintaining the University’s religious educational environment.” The board directed that an election by secret mail ballot should proceed, and ballots to Loyola faculty were mailed out in mid-January.
“Regarding the jurisdiction challenge we raised at the hearing, we will continue to study our options and consider whether to appeal the portion of the NLRB’s decision regarding our religious identity through the NLRB’s own appeal process,” Loyola spokesperson Steve Christensen said via e-mail. “Given the national NLRB’s rulings on prior appeals of this nature, we are resolute in our religious identity, but not optimistic about a different NLRB outcome.” The school, however, at this time is cooperating with the balloting process. “Loyola respects the rights of our faculty to decide whether being represented by SEIU Local 73 is in their best interest,” Christensen says, “and it will be the faculty who will choose to organize or not.”
The university has set up a Web site to track the NLRB process and communicate with staff and students. School officials have been urging faculty to reject the SEIU representation. Among other issues administrators say that the union, which has represented health care and service industry workers like janitors, nurses and security guards, is not properly experienced to represent academics.
Christensen says, “As we have stated to our faculty, our preference is to maintain a direct working relationship with them—without interference from the SEIU, an organization that may not understand our university; our mission as Chicago’s Jesuit, Catholic university; or our values—in the belief that it gives our university, our faculty, and our students the best opportunity to build on the improvements that we have made and continue to make. It is difficult to imagine how the SEIU will be able to assist our deans, chairpersons, and faculty as they deliver the transformative education in the Jesuit tradition we promise our students.”
And in a message to faculty, Loyola’s Interim President John Pelissero writes, “Catholic social teaching clearly recognizes the significant contribution that unions have and can make to the rights of workers and the promotion of social justice, and supports the rights of individuals to form a union, but it does not suggest that this is a requirement or that it is the best or only means to reach our goals of greater involvement of faculty and improvements in shared governance and working conditions.
“In other words, unions can be, but are not always, the best and most effective means to improving the workplace and delivering a transformative education.” It is Pelissero’s belief that “the optimal way” forward to a better workplace at Loyola is through an improved relationship between administration and faculty. “Negotiating or navigating those relationships for a portion of our faculty through an outside third party,” he argues, “will only complicate and hinder these efforts.”
The NLRB ballot count will be conducted on Jan. 27 and the results may be announced immediately. The outcome of that vote, and Loyola’s reaction to it, will no doubt be closely followed by administrators and faculty at Jesuit and other Catholic institutions around the country.