Lobbying in a "Right-to-Work" State
By Andrew William Smith
Tennessee is what is known as a "right-to-work" state, where laws privilege the rights of employers to terminate employees at will and prohibit workers in several sectors from exercising their rights to organize a collective bargaining unit. This fact greatly aggravates the plight of part-time faculty in the Tennessee Board of Regents system, who have not seen a pay increase in more than ten years. The system, which is distinct from the University of Tennessee system, includes six universities and thirteen community colleges in the state.
Without the benefit of collective bargaining, our adjuncts have organized a small but steadfast advocacy movement under the auspices of the Committee on Part-Time and Non-Tenure-Track Appointments in our state conference of the AAUP. Our recent efforts have focused on creating a proposal to raise the maximum (there is no minimum) pay rates per credit hour that govern how part-time faculty are compensated on a semester-by-semester basis. Currently, the most an instructor can earn for a three-hour course is $2,100, but some instructors earn as little as $310 per credit hour. At the universities, adjuncts are supposed to teach no more than three courses each semester, which means that the maximum annual income for an adjunct is $12,600with no benefits, no job security, no representation in faculty governance, and often, no summer employment. At least one community college, however, publishes an adjunct handbook that explains how adjunct faculty may teach as many as nine classes each year at a maximum wage of $1,470 a course.
So far, our proposal has gained an audience with the faculty senates on some of our campuses, with some administrators on other campuses, with the vice-chancellors in the regents system, and with the various councils and subcouncils that make up the governing structure of the system. The faculty subcouncil (comprising representatives from various campuses) approved the proposal unanimously; the one with the most clout, the presidents' council, has yet to act on it.
While we have been cautiously hopeful throughout this process that those with the power to implement change will do the right thing, we have yet to reap any tangible benefits from our best-intentioned efforts to work within the system. Unfortunately, the increased dependence on contingent faculty creates a permanent underclass, and this situation betrays the mission of our institutions. Because we do not expect to see the conversion of all part-time and nontenured teaching positions to full-time or tenure-track ones, our current efforts focus on creating a somewhat more just situation out of an unfair one. But as the cost of living soars in an unstable economy, it is unlikely that a part-timer's pay will by any means constitute a fair wage even with the important and overdue increase we hope to see as a result of our efforts.
This past spring, as the chance to see a raise in adjunct pay for the coming academic year faded, our Democratic governor announced that millions of dollars in cuts would be needed in higher education to balance the state budget. Despite the bad news, our daunting work remains!
Update: In late October, the academic subcouncil, the faculty subcouncil, and
the student subcouncil all passed the proposal (the faculty for the
second time) to raise the maximum pay rates per credit hour forpresidents' council tabled the proposal, citing the general problem with
part-time faculty. This was the first time that the body of provosts had
passed the proposal, thus raising the hopes of many of us who have been
working on this for a long time. However, in early November, the
a tight budgets that public universities are facing everywhere.
Andrew William Smith is an instructor in English and communications at Tennessee Technological University and president of the university's AAUP chapter. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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