GUSA and GSC host conference on the hardships of adjunct professors

GUSA and GSC hosted a conference Wednesday night on the issues adjunct professors at Georgetown and across the country face. In May 2013, Georgetown’s adjuncts had voted to form a union under the SEIU Local 500, which is organizing adjuncts working in D.C., including those at George Washington University and in American University.

A total of 15 people, including two Voice staffers, attended the event, which was held in the 350-seat ICC Auditorium. Copies of an article from the Catholic Courier on Georgetown as a “fair labor model” and an Feb. 2013 op-ed from the Voice were distributed to attendees prior to the event.

According to Anne McNeer, a SEIU Local 500 director and head negotiator for Georgetown’s adjunct union, the number of tenure-track faculty has declined drastically since 1970, and part-time faculty now make up 51 percent of instructors in today’s higher education institutions.

“Although part-time faculty have the same qualifications, experience, dedication as full-timers, they earn as little as one-third of what other faculty do to teach a class,” she said in her keynote. The average adjunct earns $2,700 per course; teaching eight courses by academic year would earn him or her $21,600. “[That] is below the annual salary of a janitor,” she said. “The good news is that many of the janitors of our campuses are unionized and have benefits which the adjuncts would very much like to have.”Georgetown pays adjuncts $5,000 per course. 

In addition to low wages, the panel said that adjuncts face, among other problems, workplace discrimination, and ostracism by tenured academics, lack of office space and classroom support, lack of support for research, and arbitrary evaluations that can lead to non-renewal of contracts. Poor working conditions contribute to a poor quality of instruction in the classroom.

Several Georgetown adjuncts spoke on their employment experiences. Theology professor Kerry Danner-McDonald expressed concern about having no health insurance coverage from her employment. She recalls a time when she was about to undergo treatment with a health problem: “In the back of my mind was: Will I be invited back to Georgetown if I have take a year off for cancer? [That] is a horrible question to be asking … the reality of working in this condition is that’s what happens because a social net isn’t provided.”

Theology professor Ori Soltes, who the Voice interviewed for a Oct. 2013 feature on adjunct faculty, said that he could not be available to his students without an office that he could work in. “I lecture all over the world. I get respected all over the world. Just when I come here I don’t feel it from my colleagues, from the faculty, from this administration,” he said.

Pablo Eisenberg, senior fellow at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, spoke about heavy spending on administration and athletics rather than academics. “Recently, I went to see a Georgetown football team. They were playing my alma mater. Neither team was worth a damn. I was struck by the fact that Georgetown’s football team had eleven coaches,” he said. “Can you imagine how much in salary both universities pay to these ineffectual coaches for mediocre teams? Money that could have gone [to] more extensive teaching.”

Photo: Georgetown Voice/Kenneth Lee

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