Faculty Unions: Hope For A New Generation of Academics

Forming unions to protect the rights of professors is important not only for teachers today, but for educators tomorrow. (Owen Corrigan/The Fordham Ram)

By Regina Foley

I have been preparing for a career in academia from the moment I applied to Fordham. Through institutions of higher learning, like Fordham, some of the greatest contributions to human knowledge take place. But increasingly, colleges and universities throughout the country are offering more contingent positions and fewer tenure-track positions. Unfortunately, colleges are starting to treat their faculty less like academics and more like blunt tools. Adjuncts are only seen as useful for teaching the classes that bring in revenue, and not much else. This trend does not bode well for anyone looking to enter academia.

Many millennials, including myself, are fearful of the current job market. Seeing the working conditions of my professors at Fordham feels like an ominous sign for my own future in academia. I plan to complete my BA in anthropology here at Fordham, and then pursue a Master’s degree and PhD. However, the Fordham professors with the very same degrees that I intend to pursue are not secure in their jobs and do not make a livable wage.

If you go to Fordham, you have had a professor who is part of the contingent faculty. Contingent faculty, including adjunct professors, are those who hold non-tenured teaching positions at colleges. They make up approximately half of Fordham faculty, teach three quarters of the classes, have little to no job security and are paid close to the poverty line. Most work multiple jobs at different universities. They have no benefits. And they are unionizing.

Fordham Faculty United, made up of contingent faculty, has just filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board to form a union with the Service Employees International Union Local 200 United. While this step marks the official beginning of this union drive, it has been years in the making. This past Friday, the administration responded by stating that faculty cannot unionize under the National Labor Relations Act because Fordham is a religiously-affiliated university. They have also hired union-busting lawyers to oppose any sort of faculty union.

As a Catholic student at Fordham with a secondary theology major, it baffles me that Fordham would use its religious status to oppose unionization. Fordham opposing a union because it is Catholic is a contradiction. It makes no sense, and one would expect the opposite to be true. Catholic social teaching has always supported labor rights, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops teaches that the right to the organization and joining of unions must be protected. Furthermore, many other Fordham employees operate under a union contract. Just last year, Teamsters Local 810 successfully defended the contracts of our Sodexo workers, as Fordham made the switch to Aramark. To say that some of Fordham’s employees can unionize but others cannot is hypocritical and wrong. Fordham should uphold the dignity of all of its workers, especially those who define its existence as an academic institution.

Seeing adjunct and contingent faculty unionize gives me hope for my future, as well as the future of higher education. By granting contingent faculty the ability to collectively bargain, Fordham will join a growing number of schools across the country that have recognized adjuncts and their labor rights. Protecting their working conditions embodies the Jesuit motto of cura personalis and expresses care for not just our faculty, but for the students whose classroom experiences are affected by those conditions and for the students that Fordham will send into careers in higher education.

Regina Foley, FCRH ’18, is an anthropology and theology major from Niskayuna, NY.

April 5, 2017

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