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Keeping adjuncts’ job agreements on track

Much reporting on the plight of adjunct faculty members emphasizes what sets them apart from academics on the tenure track: low pay, lack of job security, and lack of fringe benefits. At Eastern Illinois University (EIU) in Charleston, however, tenure-track faculty members have taken a bold and generous step to express solidarity with their off-track colleagues. As reported on 6 August by Inside Higher Ed, tenure-track faculty members at the university voted to postpone a 1.5% increase in their own salaries to preserve the jobs of 29 adjunct faculty members, whose positions the university administration had decided to sacrifice in a budget cut.

University Professionals of Illinois, the union that covers EIU faculty members, had already negotiated the pay raise for the faculty when, in mid-July, the university abruptly cancelled the appointments of the 29 adjunct faculty members, who had already signed letters of intent for the coming academic year, reports Inside Higher Ed. Three of the adjuncts would have taught only half as many courses, and the rest would have lost their jobs entirely. EIU adjuncts generally teach full loads and receive similar pay per course as tenure-track faculty members, but they have no job security.

Three of the adjuncts would have taught only half as many courses, and the rest would have lost their jobs entirely.

–Beryl Lieff Benderly

The unionized “faculty members were more than willing to give up the pay raise if it meant saving the annual contract positions,” the Inside Higher Ed article continues, adding that roughly 80 percent voted in favor of the raise delay. “When I approached the president with this, he looked at me and said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this? You’re going to get strung out,’” says Jonathan Blitz, president of the EIU union chapter, as quoted in the article. “I told him it wouldn’t likely be a problem.”

Because the university rescinded the offers so late, the affected adjuncts could “not spend the summer job hunting, which puts them in an even more difficult position than those instructors who did not receive offers last spring during the last round of cuts,” says Fern Kory, vice president of the EIU union chapter, as quoted in the Journal Gazette & Times-Courier.

The unionized tenured and tenure-track faculty members, by the way, are not the only EIU employees whose salaries are affected by the budget crunch. In a letter to the campus community that was published on 15 July in the Herald-Review newspaper, EIU President David Glassman announced a campus-wide “graduated furlough” for administrative employees and other staff the coming year, with the highest-paid staff members having to take off 14 days with no pay and moderately-paid employees having to take off fewer days; the lowest paid remain unaffected. His own salary “will be cut (rather than furlough) at the equivalent amount of 16 unpaid days,” Glassman wrote. “This will allow me to continue to conduct university business without interruption or absence from campus.” Glassman also offered others the option of having their salaries reduced rather than taking off furlough days. In addition, Glassman is to “give back an equal percentage of the housing allowance I was provided to support a scholarship for EIU students,” he wrote in his letter.

Glassman was appointed EIU’s president in March. “Blitz … noted that this was the new president’s first experience working with a unionized faculty and [the president] was ‘very pleased’ that they were able to negotiate an agreement,” according to the Inside Higher Ed article. The union was reportedly intending to file a grievance against the university because of the rescinded offers.

In announcing the union’s decision in a memo to the campus community, Glassman wrote that “[t]he action by EIU’s outstanding faculty and academic support professionals is a testament to their support of their colleagues and willingness to be part of the solution in the vital budget adjustments taking place on campus.”