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.

Negotiating Rank and Titles for Adjunct Faculty and Researchers

This coming week we will be back at the table to wrap-up our discussions about academic rank and title. We have been pushing for a simplified process by which part-time faculty and researchers could hold professorial titles if they have a terminal degree in their field and advance in their academic rank from Instructor to Senior Instructor, Research Assistant to Senior Research Assistant and so on, if they do not.

Titles may be a minor issue for some, but for others stagnating in rank (as well as pay) feels like a symptom of a more systemic lack of recognition and marginalization of adjunct faculty and researchers at our University. This discussion is complicated by the potentially confusing ways that promotion and tenure guidelines and rank for the full-time faculty intersect with our adjunct titles and ranks. That said, after much clarification we feel optimistic about wrapping up the issue very soon.

Beyond this week, we are looking forward to opening articles of our contract related to economics, working on a system of longevity increases for part-time faculty, options for retirement and healthcare, as well as increases to our benefits funds. After that we plan to discuss orientation, on-boarding practices, and other amenities that could offer more support for new and returning faculty.

At this crucial moment in negotiations, we need your input and support. Come out and give us your feedback and hear from your bargaining team. Save-the-Date February 2nd 4-6pm! More details to follow.

PSUFA Bargaining in the New Year

As this winter term begins, our contract negotiations continue with the PSU administration. We are looking forward to discussing promotion and academic rank this month as well as move on to tackle compensation and benefits—two issues of high priority for all of us part-timers.

Our team worked hard this fall, negotiating towards a tentative agreement on another important issue: job security. By the beginning of winter break, we arrived at a tentative agreement with the administration that will hopefully temper the profound sense of precarity many of our members have lived with for years. Here are some highlights:

  • After teaching an initial 8 credits or for 2 years (whichever occurs first), adjunct faculty will receive all future appointments on a 1-(academic)-year basis, with teaching assignments based on the average annual course load previously taught.
  • Once faculty members have taught a total of 20 credits or for 3 years (whichever occurs first), they will be offered an evaluation by their department. Upon successful completion of the evaluation, faculty will receive all future appointments on a 2-year basis. These appointments will include an assignment of two courses or the average annual course load previously taught, whichever is greater.
  • Criteria and procedure for evaluations of adjunct faculty have been heavily revised, simplified and standardized for clarity and to give faculty members a maximum amount of choice and protection. Classroom observations as a part of evaluations are elective.
  • If faculty members choose to not have an evaluation, there will be no repercussions. They will continue to be employed on a 1-year basis and offered another chance at an evaluation and 2-year appointments in the future.
  • In the event of last-minute appointments or cancelled classes adjunct faculty will be given compensation. This will hopefully give the departments some incentive to appoint early.
  • Part-time instructional faculty will be included in and can be compensated for the committee work they do at the departmental or university level.
  • Part-time faculty will be given notice of the University’s intent to reappoint or not as soon as possible, or at least one term prior to the end of their current appointment.

We were heartened that the administration took our interests in job stability, transparency, recognition, and respect into account throughout the process. In relation to the assignment rights process in our previous contract, we’re making massive gains.

In addition to outlining the new job security schema and changes to the appointment and re-appointment process, we spent many hours this fall re-writing large portions of the contract, transforming confusing and adversarial legal-ese into more plain and respectful language. We hope that the new contract can model for the University community a renewed way of addressing its adjunct faculty—not as disposable bottom-teir faculty members, but as the valuable educators and professionals that we are.






October Bargaining Update: Appointment and Re-appointment

In our last three sessions, we’ve continued our conversations about job security, addressing potential changes to the initial appointment and re-appointment processes that the university uses to hire and retain part-time faculty. We’ve had a great deal of open discussion about these issues and the administration’s team is taking seriously a set of options for addressing the issue of job security.

Some of the things we’ve brought to the table with regards to initial appointments are:

  • Earlier notification of potential teaching schedules
  • Compensation for late appointments
  • Compensation for last minute class cancellation

We’ve discussed with a fair amount of openness the ways that these things would be options that could meet our common interests in Efficiency, Flexibility, Stability, Respect, and Ability to plan.

We also opened up discussion about the re-appointment process, identifying ways that part-time faculty could have access to longer contracts, accrue seniority, and achieve a sense of stability in their teaching work. Our bargaining team proposed options that improve upon and perhaps will replace our current assignment rights process, such as:

  • A 3-level stepped system where part-time faculty move from initial term-based appointments, to 1-year appointments, then to 2-year appointments, then to rolling 2-year appointments.
  • The establishment of a leave of absence policy, so that a part-time faculty’s service to the university is tracked and he/she is not penalized for a term or two away from the university.
  • Assignments rights so that part-time faculty are allowed to teach courses they’ve designed.

Currently both teams are in the process of evaluating these options and their implications. Two crucial issues that have come up in our options for a new re-appointment process are evaluations of part-time faculty and promotion. In our session in early October, we established a sub-committee to work of creating a basic set of criteria for evaluations that are supportive to both faculty and the university departments they work in. We will discuss promotion and rank during a later session.

This week we had another short bargaining session where we continued to suggest and evaluate options, looking more in depth at our current contract language and creating options for enriching the nature of an adjunct appointment. We’d like to see the University acknowledge and encourage the value of part-time faculty’s input and participation in extra-instructional activities.

We will continue moving towards some tentative agreements on appointments and re-appointments next week, and at another full day session later in November, so stay tuned!


Double session: Framing issues, budget reports, and job security

We had two bargaining sessions last week, and we covered a lot of ground in terms of identifying issues for discussion, learning about the budget forecast, and opening negotiations around our first major issue: job security. On our first day back at the table we officially signed off on the negotiation guidelines that we’d collectively made during previous sessions, and then we spent the rest of the day reframing the issues we wanted to bring to bargaining as a series of questions and interests. We began to discuss difficult questions like: In what ways can we balance flexibility and stability in hiring and retention of part-time faculty? Beyond job security, we framed questions around issues like recognition, compensation and benefits, arbitration and dispute resolution, facilities, orientation and support, etc. With each of these issues in mind, we also listed the articles of our current contract that we feel need to be changed.

During our second session we heard from Kevin Reynolds, the VP of Finance and Administration, who gave a budget presentation and talked about the past and future monetary landscape of the university. We also took on one of the questions we’d made during the previous session and started the process of negotiation around job security. We started addressing what those words meant to PSUFA Union members, and took 40 minutes to share our descriptions of adjunct life.  We asked for the PSU Admin to listen to our stories and they did. We hope to continue to do this throughout our bargaining sessions, and we may call on you, as well, to volunteer!  Sharing our stories proved to be helpful because it illustrated in a personal way why “job security” matters.  We hope that this will provide the foundation we need to strengthen our contract in the areas of appointments, reappointments, and assignment rights.

During the afternoon of the session, we looked more specifically at the two interests of “flexibility” and “stability” as they relate to job security. These two ideas can work together or be in conflict.   Right now and increasingly in decades past, the flexibility afforded to university departments to hire at the last minute and on a contingent basis is achieved at the cost of adjuncts’ stability. And, conversely, the stability the university has is achieved because adjuncts remain (because many of them have to) extremely flexible and responsive to the whims of the university.  Our job now is to work together to come to an understanding and agreement which balances the needs of adjunct instructors with the needs of the administration. And the good news is that, at least so far, the administration is listening to our needs.

Sharing your stories of what it means to be an adjunct in order to raise awareness is important work that you can do.  What else can you do to support your bargaining team?  Wear your PSUFA tshirt, especially on the days we are bargaining. (We will be posting the schedule to the blog.)  Get the conversation going.  The shirts say “Adjuncts United” on the back.  Maybe someone will stop you to ask what an adjunct is.  If you don’t have a t-shirt, come down to the union office in the basement of Smith and grab one.  Finally, talk to folks in your department.  If you don’t feel like you can do it alone, contact us.  We have a core group of members who are available to come speak to your department and answer questions.

Bargaining sessions will continue through the fall, so stay tuned for more on our next four sessions: September 10th, September 30th, October 7th, and October 16th.

Moving Forward: Guidelines for Negotiation Complete

By the end of our last session, we had used the IBB process to finish drafting negotiation guidelines and had set a schedule for our next four sessions. In our guidelines, we did something remarkable, which was the creation of a mission statement that we all, the members of both the PSUFA Bargaining Team and the PSU Administration Team, agreed to abide by. The mission statement is:  We, the PSUFA and PSU Admin team, agree to create a process that offers hope, mutual interests served and solution-based approaches while affirming that we are all seen, heard and valued.

On September 2nd, we will return to the table and begin to deepen the negotiation process as we open up articles in our contract and identify our interests. We will also officially approve our negotiation guidelines. Our bargaining team needs to hear your voices going forward, so please consider joining our Contract Action Team (contact and stay tuned for other ways to support negotiations as we move into the fall term.