As the York University strike stretched on earlier this winter, educators and education watchers began to express newfound and not-so-new concerns about the reliance on contingent faculty in Canadian universities. This article in The Times Higher Education Supplement discusses the casualized academic workforce in American universities and reviews the growing backlash against the working conditions faced by adjunct and part-time faculty:
Adjuncts in higher education, estimated to number some 600,000 across the US, are paid the equivalent of 64 per cent less per hour than their full-time colleagues, receive no health insurance or other benefits, may lose their appointments with little notice if enrolments shift or budgets fall, and are typically not entitled to jobless compensation because they are considered temporary. To earn a living, many teach large numbers of courses at different schools simultaneously.
Until now, adjunct faculty have been slow to organise to fight for better working conditions. Much of the problem is logistical; some teach at night or, because they have no offices, are not on campus other than during their class times. Dependent on being reappointed every semester, they fear being blackballed by administrators. They have also received almost no support from the principal traditional faculty unions in the US.
But this is beginning to change. Independent organising efforts by adjuncts have taken root in Boston and Chicago, with early successes at winning higher pay and other concessions. Non-academic unions including those representing automobile workers and government employees, seeing an opportunity to increase their memberships, have started organising adjuncts.