Top Social Menu


Adjunct Action

By Jennifer Berkshire, Newsletter Editor


Adjunct faculty members at Tufts University recently voted to unionize, becoming part of Adjunct Action, a new adjunct organizing initiative backed by SEIU. The Tufts faculty are part of a growing adjunct uprising around the country and right here in the Boston area. Adjuncts say that unionizing represents their best hope of improving wages, benefits and working conditions.

What’s behind the uptick in organizing? Adjuncts say that the answer can be found in the numbers. According to a recent New York Times story, part-time and non-tenure track faculty now represent upwards of 75 percent of the academic teaching force. And even as tuition costs have soared, spending on instruction has declined. The result: an enormous pool of increasingly restive academic laborers.

According to SEIU, part-time faculty held 50 percent of teaching jobs at colleges, up from 22 percent in 1970. Adjuncts on average earn about $3,000 per three-credit course. About 80 percent of adjuncts do not get health insurance from their college and about 86 percent do not receive retirement benefits. Here in the Boston area, the numbers of non-tenured faculty are even higher. According to SEIU, 66.8 percent of Boston-are instructors are non-tenure track and 42 percent are part-time.

In April, SEIU convened a city-wide kickoff for Adjunct Action, drawing more than 100 adjuncts from area schools. The event also drew supportive students from Tufts, Northeastern and Emerson. Speakers including Maria Maisto, an adjunct professor and a founder of the New Faculty Majority, an organization that works to advance professional equity for contingent faculty, told the crowd that student learning outcomes are inextricably linked to the conditions their professors work under. “Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions,” she said. “If faculty working conditions continue to decline, both they and students suffer,” she said.

Adjunct Action organizing director Todd Ricker, the organizing director for the Adjunct Action, told adjuncts that the decision about whether or not to organize comes down to a simple question:  “Do you want things to change or do you want things to remain the same?” he asked. “Forming a union is easy,” Ricker added, “but it’s not simple,” requiring patience, dedication and a willingness to face institutional resistance.

Adjuncts at Bentley College in Waltham know exactly what Ricker is talking about. They recently came up short in their bid to form a union of adjuncts there, losing an election by two votes —98 in favor, 100 against. The adjuncts are appealing the result of the vote. One adjunct, who asked not to be identified, says that he’s hopeful that he and his contingent colleagues will ultimately prevail.

The appeal is still pending, so the final chapter in the story remains unwritten.  But the success rate of follow-up elections is generally good, and this won’t be the last try.  The Bentley administration’s herculean efforts to ensure defeat yielded only a razor-thin margin facilitated by the government shutdown, hopefully a rare event. Recent conversations with Bentley employees in several categories reveal that many staff and faculty believe that collective bargaining will improve conditions at work. 

Even as Bentley adjuncts await the results of their appeal, adjuncts on other area campuses are planning their own organizing efforts. At a November 1st Adjunct Symposium organized by Adjunct Action, contingent faculty members came together, including via social media, to chart the next stage of this unique city-wide effort. One likely arena: Northeastern University which is home to an estimated 1,400 adjuncts. ▪

To find out more about the Adjunct Action campaign visit