Georgetown’s original collective bargaining agreement with the Service Employees International Union Local 500 is set to expire June 30. Since the contract was first ratified in October 2014, adjunct professors — who are more professionally and economically vulnerable than full-time tenured faculty — have seen improvements in compensation and new protections from termination.
The current contract between the adjunct union and Georgetown, while imperfect, serves as a laudable model for other universities. As the contract expires, the university should ensure its part-time faculty retains the rights to collectively bargain with a new contract, effectively ensuring its members receive the dignity their profession deserves.
In a school that abounds with policymakers, thought leaders and practicing experts in virtually every field, part-time faculty is an indispensable part of a Georgetown education. At the time the contract was ratified, adjuncts accounted for 43 percent of Georgetown’s faculty on the main campus and taught more than 1,200 courses per academic year. Despite their importance, adjunct professors on and off campus are not afforded the same job security and opportunities as are their full-time counterparts.
Nationwide, universities have addressed mounting operational costs by hiring more part-time adjunct professors and fewer full-time professors since the 1970s. These positions typically do not include retirement packages or health insurance, nor do they offer many opportunities for career advancement to full-time employment.
Despite boasting high levels of education, adjuncts earn a paltry national average of $27,843 per year according to Glassdoor, a leading job recruitment site. Full-time professors earn a national average of $114,134. By comparison, the average cost of living for a family of three in Washington, D.C., is $67,867, according to a 2016 report released by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Through the stipulations of Georgetown’s contract with the SEIU Local 500, adjuncts saw a hike in their minimum salary from $4,300 per standard three or four-credit course in spring 2015 to $4,700, which greatly bolstered the compensation of Georgetown’s lowest-paid adjuncts. However, although the contract has raised Georgetown’s wages above the national average, most are still not paid a living wage, nor provided with essential health care benefits in case of a medical emergency.
Beyond financial compensation, adjuncts must confront additional hurdles their full-time counterparts do not face. Without permanent office space, adjuncts face limited options for meeting students for office hours and must cycle through the borrowed rooms of their peers.
Even more jarring, adjuncts are not afforded the same research opportunities as are full-time faculty, work that increasingly serves as a metric to gauge job performance as a professor. Unlike tenured professors who normally receive a research budget, adjuncts must conduct their research with minimal university support. The agreement with the university created a $35,000 fund to compensate adjuncts for up to $600 for professional development related to teaching, but this stops short of providing professors with the resources necessary for research projects.
In addition, adjunct staff are constrained by their need to teach multiple classes to support themselves, further limiting their ability to conduct research to move up the academic ladder.
As the university renegotiates the contract, it should continue to provide its adjuncts with the ability to collectively bargain for fair compensation and dignity. But both the university and the union should prioritize bolstering conditions for its adjuncts beyond salaries, assuring they have the opportunities for space and resources to flourish like full-time faculty.
The past three years of unionization have permitted Georgetown adjuncts to fight for their rights. For a university beholden to Jesuit values, which dictate that everybody is imbued with an innate humanity and right to dignity, Georgetown must sustain negotiations and cooperation to ensure its faculty makes strides toward greater equality.