After listening to testimony from Lesley University adjunct and core faculty members, the City Council went on record Monday urging Lesley to uphold progressive values in contract negotiations with the adjunct faculty and supporting the creation of a core faculty union.
Last year, adjunct professors stood before the City Council asking for support for the adjunct union drive at Lesley. Councilors unanimously supported all adjunct faculty members in Cambridge, but professors asked once again for the council’s support during tough contract negotiations.
According to Sarah Slavick, who has been a professor at Lesley for 15 years, adjunct faculty has been bargaining for a contract with the university since last summer, but the administration made an economic proposal on Friday that, she said, would continue to pay “poverty wages” for adjunct faculty.
“Their proposal would mean that an adjunct with a degree in her field, teaching five classes, nearly a full-time job, would still be earning under $20,000 a year in the year 2018,” Slavick said at a March 2 City Council meeting. “Obviously, this is unacceptable.”
According to a report by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), roughly 67 percent of faculty members in the Boston area were comprised of adjuncts in 2011. The median pay for a master’s level course at a private non-profit institution was around $3,750 per class and doctoral level courses at private non-profit institutions averaged around $5,225 per class. That means a course load of four classes per semester, which is considered a large load, would yield on average $30,000, according to the SEIU.
Lesley ’s director of communications, John Sullivan, said adjunct faculty chose to unionize in 2014 and Lesley University is currently engaged in “good-faith negotiations with them, which will result in their first collective bargaining agreement.” He said the university would not discuss matters of collective bargaining in public.
“All members of the Lesley University community are committed to its educational mission and the core values of inquiry, community, diversity and citizenship,” Sullivan told the Chronicle on Tuesday. “Lesley University respects and values all its faculty.”
However, Slavick said that 48 percent of the faculty at Lesley have little to no say in the curriculum, little job security and earn “miserably” low pay.
“Everything you heard tonight was right on the money,” said Councilor Dennis Carlone, who is an adjunct professor at Lesley. “As an adjunct, I don’t depend on my teaching salaries to support my life. … As an adjunct, I have no idea when I’m teaching next, which is rather strange.”
At a Feb. 23 meeting, Jason Pramas, assistant professor of communications at Lesley, asked councilors for their support in the creation of a core faculty union that will join the adjunct union in seeking better pay, benefits, working conditions and job security.
According to Pramas, core faculty at Lesley are all either half-time or full-time contract faculty, and adjunct faculty, whom he said make up more than 70 percent of Lesley’s faculty, could earn more money working for Starbucks than teaching four courses a year at Lesley.
“For background, this academic year, I was brought on as core faculty for nine months on a .57 faculty line for $32,000 plus benefits, an office, and, of course, a title that gives me traditional faculty rank,” Pramas said.
“Unfortunately, getting promoted to core faculty at Lesley is not a one-way ticket to secure employment, which is why next year it is virtually certain that I will be an adjunct again, since they called me an emergency hire this year.”
Next year, he said, he will teach some of the same courses for no more than $3,500 a course with no guarantee of teaching the four course units he taught this year.
“Should I get four courses, and work nearly full-time teaching, I will make no more than $14,000 for the next academic year,” Pramas said. “With no benefits, a single common office shared by hundreds of other adjuncts, and no faculty rank, unless the adjunct union succeeds in pushing the Lesley administration to sign a fair contract and increase that pay to something more in line with a market rate per course, plus some prorated benefits and job security.”
Sullivan said core faculty receive competitive wages and benefits and are engaged in shared governance at Lesley University.