Adjunct faculty organize at Santa Fe College

by Glynn Hayes

The part-time contingent faculty at Santa Fe College recently filed with the Florida Government for the right to hold an election on forming a union that could democratically represent, bargain for, and protect this group of professors. Indeed, part-time faculty in many of the colleges in Florida have filed for and won elections to form unions (the latest is Miami-Dade College).

The administration of Santa Fe is now seeking to block this right to vote for and decide for ourselves if we wish to form a union. The administration has stated that it is best if there are no entities in between the faculty and themselves. They have blocked us by hiring an OUTSIDE law firm to contest our right to vote. 

They have done this without reaching out to adjuncts to have any discussion on their issues, stating instead that they will have this discussion after this union issue is resolved. By blocking the right to even have an election, the administration is in effect saying that the democratic ideal of its majority of faculty having a voice in their governance is not reasonable. 

Administrators are also spreading misleading information to faculty and seeking to use fear of even talking about a union as a method of union busting. Yes, faculty have the right to say no thanks, but they also have the right to say tell me more.

We deserve the right to decide for ourselves what method of governance we choose, be it collectively or individually. While we have enlisted the help of the Service Employees International Union, our faculty union would be made up of part-time faculty at Santa Fe College, as other recently won unions are made up of their colleges’ part-time faculty. 

Part-time faculty members are known as “adjunct” professors. At one time adjuncts were seen as temporary, additional or supplemental, not essential teachers. They were experts hired to share their experience and wisdom from industry or after retirement. 

Today “adjuncts” in higher education are neither non-essential nor temporary and  do not meet the definition of adjunct. It is not unusual for them to have worked over 10 years for the college; over 50 percent of the courses at Santa Fe College are taught by “adjunct” or contingent faculty – WE ARE ESSENTIAL to the function of most colleges, here in Florida and throughout the country. 

Most students and parents of students are not aware that the majority of classes are taught by “adjuncts.” Tuition is not charged on the basis of who is teaching the class. Santa Fe President Dr. Sasser recently stated that once the “door [to a classroom] closes you cannot tell the difference between an ‘adjunct’ and full-time professor.” Yet there are considerable and unfair differences between them. 

“Adjuncts” are paid less than half the salary to teach the same class. They are hired on a semester-to-semester basis with no guarantee of working the next semester, or even if the classes they typically teach will not be taken away from them at the beginning of a semester and given to a full-time instructor. They live in a state of insecurity and fear of making mistakes that could result in an arbitrary decision to not have any classes the following semester. They do not have benefits, sick days or vacation, individual office space, and typically have to contribute to retirement different from social security. 

Even though they are the majority of faculty, many teaching three or more classes, and sometimes the majority of all of a college’s employees, they have no say in shared governance or curriculum decisions. 

Administration dangles the prospect that there will be full-time positions available, yet these are few and far apart. In some cases departments go 10 years without a full-time hire. A recent decision by the administration proposed that “adjuncts” can volunteer to serve on committees as a way to increase their employability. This is simply another way to say you are not worth paying an equitable wage and we can get you to do another job for free. 

Colleges have and continue to take advantage of those of us who love to teach and have established ties to our communities and families. Many no longer have the luxury or the desire of just standing by for years and applying for what few full-time positions become available somewhere in anywhere USA. 

“Adjuncts” are not given respect even though they can be more qualified then the lucky ones that have been able to procure the rare full-time positions. 

Given these inequalities and disparities in pay and benefits, it would be beneficial to higher education and to the colleges themselves to have professors who are not on food stamps, can pay their rent, will not go bankrupt if a health crisis arises, and don’t have to leave immediately after teaching to go to another job(s). 

A college would have professors who can contribute to long-term projects, innovation, and spend the time with students to listen to them and build important relationships and mentorships. 

Other colleges in the country have recognized these benefits and negotiated contracts with adjuncts that increase pay, allow buy-in to benefit packages, offer continuing contracts to those who show they are good teachers, compensation for last minute class cancelation, and other recognition of their essential contribution to the college.

Colleges in Florida are presently working on a document about freedom of expression on campuses. The precarious nature of adjuncts makes a mockery of academic freedom. Many adjunct faculty live in fear that their actions or inactions can result in an arbitrary dismissal. In one case, after working for eight years at St. Petersburg College teaching five to six classes a semester, when a “adjunct” questioned the fairness of department chair’s actions, he was simply was told that there were no classes available the following semester and has not been offered any since then. 

Our experience in talking to well over 400 adjuncts has given us ample evidence that these professors have fear of retaliation and losing the meager job they have. In fact, recent communications from the colleges are misleading and fear-inducing, such as falsely suggesting that faculty do not have the right to suggest that they can even discuss unionizing while on campus or with each other, or sending out vaguely worded warnings that any union activities on campus are prohibited by statute.

We as part-time faculty do not see our requests as a battle between us and the administration. This is an effort to add value to our institution and to our students’ learning experience, to prepare students for success after graduation. As teachers the ultimate goal is to make our communities better by empowering individuals to reach for a better life, one that they choose, not one we force on them. We give our knowledge, wisdom, and time to walk- not in front of- but besides our students in their own paths- paths that maybe quite different from our own . This higher purpose can only be served by giving those of us who teach part-time the same consideration exemplified in the mission statement of Santa Fe College. We are asking for the right of open and rigorous debate for us to decide what is best for our future.

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