A Proposal to Organize Non-Tenured Faculty

Against the Current, No. 36, January/February 1992

Tom Johnson

FOR THE PAST quarter century, using the word “competitiveness” as a labor relations bludgeon, corporate managers have demanded—and often won—”flexibility” in their dealings with what is called “the new workforce.” Flexibility has come to mean hiring, manipulating, and firing of labor at will; thereby decreasing the standard of living for working people across the board.

The consequences have been devastating. Job security has become a vague memory; wages and benefits decline—or disappear altogether Families and communities are destroyed. The public tax base is eroded; the labor movement has been staggered.

Background: A Dual Internal Labor Market

One of the many workplace strategies adapted by businesses during this period of economic restructuring has been the creation of what is called a “dual internal labor market.”(1) Employers create a core group of employees with whom they establish a generally mutually satisfying back-scratching relationship. They invest heavily in the core group; they make a strong effort to retain them; they even allow this “in-crowd” certain management prerogatives.

Simultaneously, another group (or groups) of “marginal” employees are established. Little is invested in them in terms of wages, training or benefits, and as much work as possible is extracted from these workers (also called “peripheral” workers).

Usually, the marginal workforce divides into three, overlapping rings.(2) First, marginal workers may work full-time, without the usual job security and benefits. Ironically, they may be strung along, for years or even an entire work life, as “temps.” The second ring consists of regular (permanent) part-timers and “moonlighters” who have to work more than one job to survive.

The final ring consists of temporary workers drawn from outside agencies. This ring may consist of casual hourly workers, the “self-employed”–even contractors and consultants. No matter which ring workers find themselves in, the characteristics of their work situations remain the same: low wages, little control over conditions of employment, few to no benefits, no job security, a fearful future.(3)

Even in the Academy

While many people continue to think of part-timers as teens flipping Big Macs, the dual internal labor market has created a way of doing business that permeates every sector of the economy and slices through every industry and service. Ironically, one of the hardest-hit industries to suffer under the two-tier (or multi-tier) labor system is higher education.

Thirty to forty percent of all college and university faculty are part-time and/or temporary—and the number is growing.(4) Like much of the new workforce, this group of people is dominated by women and minorities; the major difference is that college faculty usually have obtained a bachelor’s degree, while many, if not a majority, possess advanced degrees.

The Reality

What is it like working as a non-tenured faculty member? First, here are some economic realities:

1) Part-timers are paid fifty to seventy-five percent less than their full-time colleagues for doing the same work Raises are infrequent and awarded arbitrarily.

2) Part-timers receive few, if any, benefits.

3) “Extras” such as student and professional conferences, research, grading papers, guest lecturers, desk copies of books, substitutes, etc., are seldom reimbursed by employers and often become direct out-of-pocket expenses or “free time” lost to the teacher.

4) Normal expenses such as meals, transportation and childcare are even more burdensome for part-timers than the lowest-paid full-time faculty. For example, does it make sense to pay $6 to park for a couple of hours downtown to teach a class that meets forty-five minutes three times a week—for which you’re being paid about $50-$75/week?

5) There is absolutely no guarantee of renewal, so job hunting becomes a constant preoccupation. Also, by accepting a part-time position, you hinder the possibility of a full-time job inside or outside the profession.

Second are some of the common conditions of work: Non-tenured faculty lack the simplest of amenities that any rational person would expect to find in a college or university.

1) Office and desk space is shared or non-existent. Meeting or conference space is where you can find it, if at all. Few institutions provide lockers and/or filing cabinets, forcing the teachers to carry all of their personal belongings and class materials with them—everywhere. Clerical assistance is extremely limited.

2) By necessity, the instructors must give out their personal phone numbers to their students, a demeaning and occasionally dangerous practice.

3) More than occasionally, classes are assigned the week (or even the day) that they are scheduled to begin.

4) Often an instructor is hired too late to properly prepare a syllabus or order books; yets/he is held accountable for the course content.

5) Part-timers are held accountable for enforcing often vague or non-existent institutional and departmental “standards” without any tools to do so. It is not unheard of for a non-tenured faculty member to be summarily disciplined, given a poor evaluation or even removed after complaints from individual students, administrators or “colleagues” who do not get along with the instructor due process simply does not exist.

Non-tenured faculty are expected to act “professionally;” however, treatment by administrators, full-time colleagues, and even students, too often vacillates between paternalism and outright contempt.(5) Yet absolutely no evidence exists to demonstrate that—as a group—non -tenured faculty are any less qualified or competent than tenure-track colleagues.

Clearly, low wages and lack of benefits, dismal working conditions and second-class status all stem from the same root: as a group, non-tenured faculty lack the power to take control of their labor and their working lives. Just as clearly, while pockets of part-timers have been organized, more than ninety percent in the United States remain non-union.

Hard Facts

Unions are responding to this group of marginal workers with some success. According to a Baruch College labor study, more than 10,000 non-tenured faculty in eleven states had been organized by 1987. The main organizing bodies were NEA, AFT, AAUP and independent unions.(6) In some cases, the part-time units affiliate with full-time unions; others are independent.

In 1987, the NEA devoted an issue of Thought and Action(7) to the plight of part-timers. One article(8) found:

• The growth in non-tenured faculty is outstripping the growth of full-timers.

• Part-timers are concentrated in the humanities (but are found in many disciplines).

• Part-timing is rapidly expanding at “enrollment-driven institutions,” as more and more institutions respond to market conditions with traditional marketing campaigns.

• The increased reliance on the market response approach “is having a negative effect on the quality of education” and may not even be cost-effective.

• The dissatisfaction rate is especially high among women part-timers (many of whom seem to be permanently tracked in non-tenured positions).

In the same publications Christine Maitland(9) reports on California’s public colleges and universities. The California systems employed nearly 65,000 faculty by 1987. About fifty percent were not on the tenure track. More than ten percent of all U.S. college students lived in California; more than ten percent of faculty taught there. Higher education collective bargaining laws in California are as highly developed—if not more—than anywhere in the United States.

Maitland’s exhaustive study found: 1) Even with unionization, part-timers lag far behind full-timers in pay, benefits, and academic rights and responsibilities; 2) There are real differences and even conflicts of interests between the two groups; 3) Part-timers, however, should remain affiliated with full-time unions and demand “fair representation’ within the unit as mandated by California labor law.

She concludes that despite divergent views and interests, part-timers must be given full and fair representation because: “Large numbers of low paid, marginal employees pose a threat not only to academic freedom, tenure, and salaries but to the profession itself.”

“Our Time Has Come”

Beth Wynne Fisken, founding president of the 700-member Part-Time Chapter of the Rutgers University Council (AAUP), notes that the apparent conflicts of interest between tenured and non-tenured faculty are usually exacerbated by management to weaken faculty solidarity.(10) However, she says, the divide-and-conquer tactics can—and must—be overcome.

Fisken says that AAUP demonstrated the possibilities when they assisted a successful organizing drive at Rutgers. The aid included paid staff and financial relief. The help allowed the part-timers to develop a sophisticated communications and education campaign using: a regular newsletter, the public media, and frequent person-to-person contact The media blitz targeted all faculty, students and potential community supporters.

Also important, Fisken says, was her testimony before the state legislature on behalf of improved funding for higher education—which is clearly beneficial to all groups. Fisken concludes that “enlightened self-interest” and solidarity are, in fact, more powerful than short-term self-interests like turf protection.

Patricia McEneaney, president of the Faculty Federation of the Community College of Philadelphia (AFT Local 2026) tells of a part-timer’s union that organized while standing side-by-side with the full-time and classified units in a single local. She heads a 600-member unit that includes non-tenured faculty and professional employees. Showing a militancy that included two strikes, extensive community campaigning, and aggressive legal action before the Pennsylvania labor board, FFCCP has successfully negotiated two five-year contracts and is entering new negotiations.

McEneaney hopefully predicts: “It is quite clear that right now we constitute a sizeable workforce, perhaps 250,000 strong. We are mostly underpaid and mostly lacking in basic workplace protections afforded to our full-time colleagues. flirt time faculty are a classic case study of exploited labor seeking justice through unionizing. Our time has come.”(11)

If we borrow from these successful experiences and adapt useful parts of previous analyses, it may possible to develop a concrete, winnable, organizing approach to organize non-tenured faculty in the higher education industry in the Chicago area.

A New/Old Concept Equity

Higher education is an industry. If you strip away the rhetoric of the Academy, it becomes apparent that the merciless laws of marketplace economics dominate and define every institutional activity—from the library to the gymnasium. The illogic of short-term thinking and blind cost-cutting permeate the industry.

The single most important indicator is the fact that pro rata apportionment of compensation, benefits and responsibilities is neither a matter of fact nor of practice.(12)) Pro rata simply means: equal compensation and responsibility for equal work, a natural condition of fairness and equity.

For decades, administrators (and too many naive or cynical faculty) have argued that the two-tier employment structure in higher education satisfies a need for “academic flexibility.” If that position were true, pro rata would have been an established fact long ago. The lack of pro rata undeniably proves that the two-tier employment structure in collees and universities results from an conscious (though irrational) institutional economic response to market conditions, rather than an educational response to academic needs.

This single fact calls for a different kind of organizing strategy. Instead of attempting to organize solely by institution—reacting to real and imagined local grievances—a union (or unions) could develop a regional organizing approach based on the principle of pro rata. But why is pro rata so damned important?

First, it is the right and just thing to demand: it is the embodiment of justice and equity. People doing the same work deserve the same, pay, benefits, rights and responsibilities. Two-tiering has been proven to be demoralizing and destructive in every industry into which it has been introduced.

Second, pro rata appeals to the self-interests of tenure-track faculty, unionized or not It would force an immediate increase in the economic floor and eliminate the economic incentive to convert full-time jobs to part-time. Third, pro rata will appeal to the more rational members of management It would stabilize an industry that has become increasingly chaotic, and create a climate in which industry-wide standards could be set and maintained. Though possibly costly in the short-run, it would be cost-efficient and improve quality in the longterm.

Fourth, pro rata creates objective in place of arbitrary conditions of part-time work, thus eliminating the many perceived differences among part-timers themselves. Its intrinsic fairness makes them potentially more organizable. Besides, anything less contributes to reinforcing the competitive environment that is the original source of the problem. At the same time, pro rata still allows for true academic flexibility. Not every institution pays the same or operates the same (though such conditions may be desirable). However, proportional rates and conditions within an institution are achievable, and the principle can be mandated throughout an industry.

But how can it be done? Let’s look at Chicago.

A Brief Profile

Information on non-tenured faculty in the Chicago area is sketchy. No state, regional or local body collects data on part-timers in four-year institutions. Ironically, the State Board of Higher Education uses an (incomplete) AAUP(13) survey as its database for tenured faculty. However, capitalizing on available information gleaned from disparate sources—and employing nearly a decade’s worth of experience as a educator, unionist and journalist—I think that it is possible to draw a relatively clear profile of the Chicago story. Between 7500 and 10,000 educators teach full-time at colleges and universities in the Chicago area.

The vast minority are concentrated in Chicago and Cook County, although some large institutions are located in the collar counties. The largest city institutions are: University of Illinois Chicago (1090), Chicago City Colleges (957), University of Chicago (820), Loyola University (558), DePaul University (424), Northeastern University (335), Chicago State University (266), HT (262) and Roosevelt University (145).

In Cook County Northwestern University employs 871 full-time faculty, Xavier (108), Moraine Valley Community College (180), Morton (85), Oakton (133), Harper (170), and Triton College (214). In the outlying areas, the College of DuPage employs (217), South Suburban (111, Harper (170), Prairie State (84), and Lake County (145).(14)

In the community colleges, there are 1050 part-timers in Chicago, and more than 1900 in the rest of the area.(15) Using the national ratio of about 35 percent part-time to full-timers, you could extrapolate a target population of 2500 to 3500 part-time teachers overall.(16)

This relatively well-educated (though not highly aware) population of at least 2.500-3,500 unorganized intellectual workers in Chicago area institutions of higher education are extremely dedicated to their profession—and are being exploited by the brutal marketplace conditions that dominate their working lives. The conditions demand action.

A Plan For Action

1. Research: Obviously, much more preliminary research needs to be done. The information would come from public sources and the part-timers themselves. It could include (but not be limited to) the following areas:

A. Accurate area-wide and institutional data on faculty including: 1) salary rates; 2) benefits; 3) hiring, grievance and evaluation procedures;

B. “Corporate campaign” analyses of each institution, including: board membership, governance procedures, funding sources, economic and political strengths and weaknesses; a demographic profile of the student body; information about existing full-time unions; information about non-faculty unions;

C. “Journalistic” profiles of what it is actually like to work as a non-tenured faculty member. Gathering such information would be useful in publicity campaigns and educating the participants themselves about these too-often “invisible” workers, exposing many common myths associated with part-timing;

D. Name lists of part-timers. These would probably have to be acquired from friendly part-timers, from petitions and from numerous informal means;

E. Information on previous organizing campaigns and people who led them; information on successful campaigns in other areas;

F. Legal research. For example, the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act does not recognize the right of part-timers in community colleges with less than a six hour load to organize. This presents a number of (surmountable) legal and organizational difficulties.

Of course, every organizing drive continually creates unexpected demands for new information. One of the many positive factors in organizing educators is that many in the workforce are familiar with basic research techniques and could become involved in the drive on that basis.

2. Inter/Intra Union Relations: One extremely sensitive and difficult matter in organizing marginal workers in a partially-unionized industry is the question of jurisdiction. At least three major unions (NEA, AFT, AAUP) have organized full-time and part-time faculty units around the country. Some unions have organized independently. In Chicago, AFSCME Local 3506 organized part-time “training specialists,” at the City Colleges. These educators generally teach Adult Basic Education, prepare students for high school equivalence degrees, or teach English as a Second Language. Other major unions have organized “classified” employees.

In a few cases, joint organizing drives have been conducted. In other situations, there have been extremely bitter jurisdictional disputes during organizing campaigns or affiliation drives. The naked result is that, at most, ten percent of the workforce has been unionized nationally.

3. A New Approach: Clearly, a new approach is called for. One possibility is that all interested parties—including existing faculty unions and associations and the appropriate central labor body—contribute funds and other resources to a campaign to organize all of the non-tenured faculty in the region. The fund could be overseen by trustees from the contributors. Should the campaign succeed, the new union could choose to affiliate with any or all of the fund unions, distribute its chapters or units among the hinders, or remain autonomous and repay the hinders as it was able.

An industry-wide union of non-tenured faculty would provide a solid foundation for the entire industry. It may even provide a model to organize marginal, part-time workers in other industries. How?

4. Back to the Future: One possible approach is to establish a “hiring hall”(17) for part-time, temporary and non-tenured faculty. If there is any single over-riding condition that permeates the working lives of non-tenured faculty in higher education, it is a need for a professional place “owned” by the members. A hiring hall could combine aspects of craft union identity and militant industrial organizing.

Established by a board selected from the potential membership and the funders, it would begin as a service center. Immediately, it could:

A. Advertise the possibility of the AFL-CIO’s “associate member” program;

B. Establish a number of computerized databases that could: 1) provide a job matching service; 2) collect vitae; 3) offer teachers’ evaluations of departments and institutions;

C. Provide a population for group benefits like health insurance, child care services, legal advice, a credit union;

D. Act as a center for professional development by providing up-to-date information and proposing minimal standards and employment criteria;

E. Act as a sorely needed informal meeting place.

F. Publish a regular newsletter that would offer a focal point for information and debate.

But ultimately, the purpose of such a place would be to organize non-tenured faculty into a democratic organization that would actively and militantly represent the interests of its members and of all working people. Such a drive would employ all the tools of contemporary organizing including comprehensive “corporate” campaigning; a broad range of communication techniques that reaches the potential members, allies like other faculty and students, and the general public; traditional tactics such as strikes, boycotts and sit-ins; the extensive use of member-organizers; all available legal approaches; and any other organizing technique that the membership could devise and democratically approve.

The final purpose of a hiring hall and a union is to achieve the basic right of any worker: to benefit from the fruits of her/his labor and to have a say in determining of his/her working conditions—empowerment.


  1. Garth Magnum, Donald Mayall and Kristin Nelson in: The Temporary Help Industry: A Response to the Dual Internal Labor Market,” Industrial and labor Relations Review, vol. 38, no.4 July, 1985),599-611.
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  2. Anne H. Nelson, “Implications of the Growth of the Temporary Help Workforce,” April 10, 1986; unpublished.
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  3. For explanations of the marginal workforce, see: “Part-Time Employment: Living on Half Rations,” by Sar A. Levitan and Elizabeth Conway, Center for Social Policy Studies, Washington, D.C., Feb. 3,1988; “Working at the Margins: Part-Time and Temporary Workers in the United States,” by Virginia du Rivage, 9to5, the National Association of Working Women, Cleveland, Ohio, September 1986; “Part-Time Workers: Who Are They?” by Thomas J. Nardone, Monthly Labor Review, June, 1987; “Part-Time Work New Labor Trend,” by William Serrin, New York Times, 7-9-86; et al.
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  4. Lightman et al. and others (see below).
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  5. Michael Walker, “Part-Timers: The Second Class Sub-Faculty of Higher Education,” Midwest Modern Language Association ‘President’s Forum,’ Columbus, Ohio, 1987; Helen W. Power, “Part-Timers and Women,” (same event); and Marian Chatfield-Taylor, “Organized But Underrepresented: The Plight of Part-Time Faculty in a Collective Bargaining Unit,” Modem Language Association ‘Special Session’ on Organizing Part-Time Faculty as a Collective Bargaining Unit,” MLA Convention, Washington, D.C., December1989; have presented just a few of the many highly articulate and pain-filled expressions on the nature of non-tenured teaching by the people who do it.
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  6. National Education Association (NEA), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), American Association of University Professors (AAUP).
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  7. Thought and Action (vol. 3, no. 1), National Education Association (NEA), Washington, D.C.; Spring 1987.
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  8. “The Literature of Part-time Faculty,” by Marjorie Lightman et al., Thought and Action, op. cit.
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  9. “Bargaining for Temporary Faculty,” by Christine Maitland, Thought and Action, op. cit.
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  10. Beth Wynne Fisken, “Three-Fold Unity in Organizing and Bargaining: The Mutuality of Student, Part-time, and Full-Time Faculty Interests,” MLA Special Panel, op. cit.
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  11. Patricia McEneany, “Community College of Philadelphia: Achieving the Contract,” Ibid.
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  12. “Statement on Part-Time Faculty Employment,” by Jane Flanders and Mayer Rossabi, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Task Force on Part-Time Faculty, AFT, Washington, D.C., May 1987 (item no. 640);” To Promote Academic Justice and Excellence: Part-Time, Temporary & Nontenure Track Faculty Appointments,” NFA pamphlet, 1987, (strong bibliography).
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  13. The Annual Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, 1988-89 (Special Issue),” Academe, (March/April 1989) American Association of University of University Professors (AAUP), Washington, D.C.
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  14. Ibid., and “Data and Characteristics of the Illinois Public Community College system,” Illinois Community College Board, Springfield, IL.
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  15. Ibid.
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  16. These numbers should certainly be checked out, though. Probably, the University of Illinois (Chicago) has a relatively low number of part-time instructors, while Columbia College employs about 100 full-timers and at least 500 part-time faculty. Also, an unknown number of faculty (“freeway fliers”) work at more than one institution; many colleges and universities have established satellite campuses; and the number of part-time faculty can vary by term. One of the many myths of the academic community is that it is more rational and clearly structured than the rest of the work world.
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  17. The author originally presented the hiring hail idea to the MMLA Conference (November 1987) and updated it at the MLA Convention (December 1989). Copies of those presentations are available from: Tom Johnson, 3916 N. Seeley, Chicago, IL 60618; (312) 528-5871.
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January-February 1992, ATC 36