Moving forward: Faculty share stories at the table and more

After some slow days of bargaining, the negotiations this week felt like a real step forward in our process. On the 16th we had productive day, both parties presented substantive data and information for our economic negotiations. We were also able to completely wrap up and agree to our sections about rank and title.

The day began with one of our PSUFA team members who gave a presentation detailing the results from the bargaining surveys that we conducted this year, one specifically about benefits, and the other about the economic status of our adjuncts more broadly. Among the results of the latter survey, over half of the faculty surveyed work at two or more other institutions, a significant amount are on public assistance, and a striking majority would like to teach full-time.

One of the most important parts of the morning was when seven adjunct faculty members testified about their experiences at PSU, specifically speaking about the economic realities of part-time teaching and about how the benefits funds (our healthcare, professional development, and education funds) have supported them over the years. We heard from Amy Duncan, DeEtte Beghtol Waleed, Lisa Marsh, Young Juo Han, Michael Wells, Elisa Satumo Paasche, and Jennifer Young. They were all eloquent and demonstrated a high level of commitment to their work and an insistence that supporting adjunct faculty is incredibly important–that benefits shouldn’t even be thought about as benefits, they should be considered rights.

The next order of the day was a presentation by the Administration team about the budget model that they prepared to make costing out increases to wages and benefits funds easier for both parties. They walked us through the model, explaining their calculations, assumptions, and methodology. Also included in the model was a proposal for a length-of-service increase, which would mean that based on the years a faculty member teaches at the University their per-credit rate would increase by a certain percent. Beyond that proposal (which included in our assessments, included some unsurprisingly conservative figures) the Administration didn’t include any proposals or numbers, and we didn’t begin any actual negotiations around increases. Regardless, it was an incredibly helpful introduction to where the Administration stands with regards to the economic conversation. And before our session devoted entirely to economic topics at the beginning of next month, we will have time to assess the accuracy of their costing model.

In the latter half of the day we were able to clarify sections of the contract about ranks and titles for research appointments. At this point our contract has almost no language about the specific appointments of researchers. We reached some difficulty in insisting on senior ranks for adjunct researchers, since the Administration remained firm that they didn’t see enough of a problem with the basic rank structure for researchers. This is something we decided to devote more research and time to in future years, but we settled on a tentative agreement that clearly specifies the ranks of Adjunct Research Assistant and Adjunct Research Associate and creates a simple way to advance from Assistant to Associate.

As we wrapped up the day we revisited our outstanding issues and made plans to address them. Think of us today as we talk Member Rights, which includes facilities, anti-bullying, disputes, library privileges etc., and review a plan for the new orientation and on-boarding procedures for adjunct faculty.

Are the spaces set aside for adjuncts in your department adequate? Do you have a desk? Do you have a place to meet with students privately? Do you have access to office supplies and copying? If you don’t, consider writing a short statement about it and sending to bargaining team member Anna Gray at anna.christa[at]gmail[dot]com. Stay tuned for more!

Ranks, Titles, and Economics

At our last session in January, we got a bit of a slow start as we moved towards a tentative agreement on changes to the process for advancement in academic rank and title. Trying to create a standard timeline or credit amount for advancement that can apply to all adjuncts is difficult considering there are those who teach 1 class a year and those that teach 4 or 5. After some deliberation, and trying to configure a system that wouldn’t be wholly different from the full-time faculty’s system, we came to agreement that eligibility for advancement would come after faculty have taught for a minimum of 3 years or 24 credits. We postponed the conversation about the ways that researchers would advance to a later session.

At this point advancement in rank and title bears no connection to an increase in pay. That is what we will be talking about next, and while we are excited to get to the real meaty part of the negotiations, it also feels a bit daunting as this is traditionally where things get a bit more adversarial between the parties.

The latter half of the day was devoted to opening up the topic of economics. We had planned to have with us some facilitators from the State Employee Relations Board, and they introduced us to a nifty program to make our interest-based discussions a bit more ordered and manageable. We used their program to outline our economic topics: wages, benefits, and extra-instructional compensation, as well as the 20 main interests that will guide our discussions of these topics. As we began to flesh out these 3 topics, there was some heat around our mention of class size. We know that the number of students relative to pay matters to adjuncts in a different way than it matters to the University and it seems important to insist on discussing the potential of different pay rates for under or over-enrollment our classes.

In our afternoon discussion the PSUFA team members emphasized the significant financial need of many adjuncts, the importance of pay equity with full-time faculty, and the greater stability and recognition that increased salaries and benefits would provide for us. By the end of the day it was clear that we have a lot of work to do to wrap up a great contract, and there are clearly things that the administration wants to leave out of negotiations this time around. Our goal is to push ahead, have the hard conversations, and get some real material recognition for the contributions we make to PSU.