Labeled an “invisible unit” by one member, the University of Maine System’s part-time faculty union, known as PATFA, has recently seen its nearly seven-month-long contract negotiation process with the system office falter and stall, meaning the two parties will enter mediation.
Full-time and part-time faculty at system campuses have been working without a contract since June 30, 2011, so they are working under the terms of their previous deal. Neither full-time nor part-time faculty have received a cost-of-living increase since 2008.
Such a reality, certain part-time faculty members say, has proved extremely frustrating.
“Our main frustration is that the [University of Maine System] won’t recognize the fundamental inequality of faculty being paid vastly different amounts to teach the same courses,” said Michael Burke, who serves as president of PAFTA, in addition to his role as an English lecturer, a term reserved for part-time faculty, at the University of Maine at Farmington.
According to Terry Crouch, a University of Maine English lecturer and the Orono PATFA representative, the part-time faculty union has tried fruitlessly to negotiate an agreeable pay raise, at the same time as lobbying for a better benefits package and greater job security.
“Our goal is to achieve any kind of raise we can get,” Crouch said. “The biggest problem is the fact that we’re extremely underpaid for the work we do.
“Essentially, we negotiate every contract, but we’re an invisible unit,” he added. “The campus newspaper seldom reports on us.”
The prevalence of adjunct faculty is not confined to Maine. In recent years it has become increasingly difficult for faculty nationwide to attain full-time, tenure-track positions, as universities and colleges across the country have looked to cut costs through reducing or restricting their labor forces.
In fact, a large percentage of undergraduate courses at public colleges and universities in the United States are taught by part-time faculty.
According to the American Federation of Teachers, a national teachers’ union affiliated with the AFL-CIO, adjuncts currently account for 47 percent of all faculty in the United States. The percentage is even higher at community colleges, where part-time faculty members account for nearly 70 percent of the institutional workforce.
“Tenured and tenure-track faculty are now a minority of higher-education faculty nationwide,” Ronald Ehrenberg, a professor of industrial and labor relations and economics at Cornell University, recently wrote on a forum at the Chronicle of Higher Education’s website. “Salaries for [part-time] positions are much lower than those of tenured and tenure-track faculty.”
Within the University of Maine System, part-time faculty members are hired as one of three categories of lecturers: lecturers I, II, or III.
Currently, a common salary rate for a lecturer II, assuming he or she teaches two classes per semester, or 12 credits per year, would be equivalent to $12,348, according to University of Maine System spokeswoman Peggy Markson.
The problem, some adjuncts at UMaine say, arises when you compare such a pay rate to full-time faculty members, who earn a yearly average salary of $76,030 for teaching six or seven courses each year at UMaine, according to statistics provided by the University of Maine System.
What’s more, Crouch said, adjunct faculty permeate the ranks of the University of Maine System’s workforce.
In October 2010, 764 part-time temporary faculty members were teaching throughout the system in addition to 40 part-time regular faculty members. At the same time, there were 1,350 full-time faculty members teaching system-wide, according to the University of Maine System’s 2010 employee headcount.
However, Markson estimated that 1,267 part-time faculty members teach throughout the fall, spring and summer semesters.
“Our proposals have to do with erasing the pay inequity between full- and part-time faculty, improving the benefit package for part-time faculty, particularly for those who have worked for the [University of Maine System] for many years, and improving the security that those same long-serving employees should rightly expect to have,” Burke said.
But Tracy Bigney, chief human resources officer and organization development officer for the University of Maine System, who is negotiating with the part-time faculty union, said even though she understands PATFA’s concerns, pay rates and benefits packages are offered according to the scope of adjunct faculty’s roles at their respective universities.
“They are really different jobs. There is a base determination between part-time faculty, who are hired to teach specific courses, and full-time faculty, who have very different responsibilities,” Bigney said. “When you compare the rate of pay, it’s not apples to apples. Part-time faculty don’t have the same responsibilities as full-time faculty.”
Bigney said that full-time faculty members are paid in accordance with the additional roles they take on at the institutions where they work, such as advising and special projects.
She compared part-time faculty to fulfilling a niche role within the system’s educational demands. She said they often teach certain classes requiring specific areas of expertise and help meet demands of changing class schedules each semester.
But Crouch countered Bigney by stating that the University of Maine System has adopted a “Walmart model,” wherein part-time faculty are comparable to employees for hire. In this way, “they can fire them or do whatever they want.”
‘The sky is not the limit’
Crouch’s assertion comes on the heels of certain stipulations in PATFA’s contract, which stipulate employment on a per-semester or per-year basis. Such language, he says, creates an air of insecurity that keeps part-time faculty guessing how long they will be employed.
Yet Bigney said she strongly objects to such a concept and noted that part-time faculty members are awarded such contracts only because the system requires flexibility in its employees.
She said part-time faculty members are hired under the same premise across the country, and she also noted that adjuncts may also have jobs outside the system, which means they often cater to other professional demands.
Without going into specifics on PATFA’s proposals, Crouch said it is likely that the part-time union will try in mediation for a pay raise similar to what the full-time union negotiates.
The full-time union has proposed a 4 percent cost-of-living increase.
Thus far, according to the full-time union’s chair of negotiations, James McClymer, the University of Maine System has offered only a 0.5 percent increase.
Neither Crouch nor Burke knows what mediation will bring for the part-time faculty members, but Crouch says the part-time union’s bargaining in negotiations is greatly diminished by the fact its members cannot strike under Maine law.
He said he expects it to be more of the same — one sided and in line with only the University of Maine System’s proposals. If mediation fails, then the parties will enter fact-finding, and if necessary, arbitration with a third-party.
“This is not a done deal. Many articles of the contract will be discussed,” Bigney said. “It’s not just a pay-raise that will be discussed. When we negotiate we have parameters — the sky is not the limit.
“We have to do what fits with what the universities have budgeted,” she said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said an average full-time faculty member would earn $76,030 while teaching “six or seven courses” per semester. It is unlikely, but possible, for someone to teach that many classes per semester, but they would then be paid for “overload” time. The salary quoted was for a professor teaching three or four classes while fulfilling other job responsibilities.