The time is right for a part-time faculty union

To the editor:

As the Texas State Employees Union prepares to launch a major organizing drive among part-time faculty who teach within the UH System, I want to correct the impression of part-time workers' conditions and job satisfaction conveyed by the story The Daily Cougar ran on its front page Wednesday ("Study shows non-tenured professors are happy too," Sept. 2).

From that story, a reader would never understand why these workers are voting to unionize on so many campuses around the country.

Last year, more than 1,000 adjuncts at the University of Alaska unionized. So did nearly 2,000 in New Jersey's state colleges. Around the country, 225 institutions have unions that represent part-time as well as full-time faculty, but some 18,000 part-timers have formed separate unions, often because tenured faculty are insensitive to (and benefit from) their exploitation.

So how can we reconcile these demonstrations of workers' dissatisfaction with the finding of the U.S. Department of Education's poll, cited in the Cougar article, that 52 percent of all part-time faculty have chosen to teach part-time rather than be tenure-track faculty?

Part-time faculty (usually called either lecturers or adjuncts) are a highly diverse group. Many do not depend on teaching for their livelihood. They may be fully employed in the for-profit sector and want to teach a course in their profession, like accounting or law, for the pleasure of it. They may be highly educated faculty spouses who enjoy being involved in the University while they also pursue other duties or interests.

But there are a large number of adjuncts whose teaching is not a second string to their bow. These are the people who every semester have to put together two courses at UH, say, two at UH-Downtown, and a fifth at Houston Community College just to make ends meet. These are the people on whose backs the lower division instructional load at so many U.S. universities is being carried. And these are the people who are treated like dirt.

In the 1970s, U.S. higher education led U.S. employers in creating a pool of poorly paid, unbenefited piece workers whose contracts are short-term and who are rarely welcomed as colleagues by departmental faculty. Threatened by sharp enrollment drops as the baby boomers moved past college age, universities were rightly cautious about tenuring more faculty than the size of their student bodies warranted. Then they discovered how easy it was to go on the cheap in undergraduate instruction and free up their regular faculty for the high-prestige work of graduate teaching and research.

So as enrollments began to climb again in the 1980s (UH reached its historic peak of 33,500 students in 1991), the number of tenure-track faculty lagged far behind. After all, why put a $70,000-per-year professor in a sophomore literature class when you can hire an adjunct for $2,200 a course (that's the current rate at the UH English Department; at UH-Downtown it's $1,800)? Give the $70,000-a-year person a one- or two-course semester load and let him or her help your department increase its ranking in the U.S. News & World Report prestige sweepstakes.

The real beauty of this system (and shame of it) is that universities made no effort to reduce their Ph.D. production even as they were making sure that there would be far fewer tenure-track positions available than the number of graduates seeking them. Why should they?

Institutions had no incentive to reduce other than professional integrity, and professional integrity could not withstand the countervailing financial incentives to increase graduate enrollment. Graduate students are gold mines. Like adjuncts, they constitute a body of cheap instructional labor. Further, in the case of public universities, the state funding formulas award enormously more dollars per doctoral student credit hour than per undergraduate student credit hour. Thus, universities make big money training the very labor pool that they then save big money exploiting after graduation.

The only way workers have successfully resisted exploitation is by organizing. As U.S. union membership gradually dropped from 35 percent of the work force in the late 1950s to some 16 percent now, the income and wealth gaps between the rich and every body else widened dramatically.

In workplaces, the salaries of those in control skyrocketed, while the real wages of most workers fell and they lost their health benefits or had to pay more for them. Top management scared workers in to silence by lay-offs and constantly floating rumors of further "downsizing."

We university professors, who tend to regard ourselves as morally superior to private sector executives, have acquiesced increasing that same pattern of worker haves and have-nots. It would be gratifying if the tenured faculty at UH championed part-time faculty on this campus, working to assure that they get at least $3,300 per course and get credited for 50-percent time if they teach at least two courses so as to qualify for health insurance.

But if I were a part-timer trying to make ends meet by my teaching, I sure wouldn't count on that. I would organize to champion my own cause.

Herbert B. Rothschild Jr.

visiting professor in

The Honors College

member, Texas State Employees Union/Communication Workers of America Local 6186

Everyone knows the Mediterranean

is in Russia

To the editor:

I highly commend Amanda Mahmoudi for portraying such an accurate account concerning the geographical skills of many fellow American students ("Don't know much about geography," Opinion, Sept. 3). As is the case with a majority of international students, we often tend to deal with situations requiring a Herculean effort to maintain a straight face. I am talking about the times when we are subjected to dumbstruck faces upon stating our country of origin.

My most recent encounter of such a situation was so hilarious that I felt the urge to share it with readers. I was chatting with an American grad student, whose name I shall withhold for the sake of sparing him from embarrassment. The very first time we met, we kicked off really well since we both seemed to be on the same wavelength.

Eventually, the topic came to the point where he asked me where I was from. I am a native of Cyprus, and upon stating so, he stopped for a second and asked me where in the United Kingdom Cyprus was located.

Now, for the benefit of readers, I would like to mention that I speak with a British accent, so I could understand his confusion to some point. Scanning my brain, looking for a way to provide him with a more effective point of location, I expressed that it wasn't in the U.K., but rather is an island in the Mediterranean, thinking that even the most clueless person has at least heard of the Mediterranean once in his life.

What do you think happened? He thought for several moments and finally asked me, "Where's the Mediterranean?" Bless his soul. I am not writing these comments to offend him or anyone else in any way, but there is a point that I would like to get across.

International students and foreigners are looked upon in such a way that it seems we are required to praise the country and its people at least three times a day in the form of "I hail you, the mighty U.S." just for having the opportunity to study, or merely be present, in this "land of opportunity," as Ms. Mahmoudi put it.

But in reality, shouldn't you be more concerned about finally realizing that the perimeters of the world do not end where the boundaries of the U.S. are located?

Fatih Mehtap

graduate, hospitality

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