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Culture > News

How Politics Affect You: Unions, Again

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Columbia Barnard chapter.

Last week, I talked about why unions are important. This week, I’m writing about why unions are essential for adjunct faculty in higher education. Adjunct faculty are part-time instructors who often work with low pay, no job security, merely adequate resources, and no health benefits. At Barnard, the situation is a little better because of unionization, but the fight is being brought into the public eye once again.

Increasingly, universities have become reliant on these low-paid, part-time instructors. Universities becoming more reliant on adjunct workers is an example of the “gig economy,” which is “a labor market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs.” The dependence on poorly paid and unsupported part-time faculty hurts students. When teachers have little reason to care (because of the poor way they are treated), student’s retention and achievement goes down. Not only that, but this reliance also hurts the entire body of college and university teachers at an institution.

Related: The Truth About the Gig Economy

As a result of universities counting on part-time instructors, the availability of tenure-track positions does down. Additionally, cost-saving initiatives like this also lead to worse working conditions for tenure-track faculty (growing teaching loads, lack of administration support, low funds for research, etc). Ultimately, anyone affected by the quality of higher education should care about this issue; that means students who are applying, current students, parents and other family members, tenure-track faculty, future professors and, of course, adjunct faculty all have a stake.

It is hypocritical for colleges and universities to oppose unionization when their goal should be to empower, to educate, to promote creative thinking and to encourage problem solving. It is certainly difficult to do this in today’s economy, but we can not let a growth of “corporate culture” happen on our campus.

At Barnard College, adjunct faculty are known to be somewhat indifferent to the student population, but this is simply because they are not given the benefits that they should be. While it is easy for others to judge, when you are not being paid to care, then why care at all? Unionization efforts are important at Barnard and Columbia because they stop the over-reliance and exploitation of these workers and will lead to better employment conditions overall. Plus, if part-time professors are being paid better, they will likely strive to perform better at their job.

It is time for the student population to jump behind the unions and get involved with their efforts because their goals are conducive with our success.