Local adjunct professors fight for their piece of the pie

Coming to the table
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  January 25, 2012

Even as Governor Paul LePage and others tout the importance of the community college system in Maine, and UMaine seeks more students from in and out of state, the adjunct professors at Southern Maine Community College and the University of Southern Maine (as well as part-timers throughout both systems) — who comprise large chunks of the teaching staff at both institutions — are without contracts.

The two situations are separate — both groups are represented by different unions, and those unions are not in communication — but the adjuncts' goals are similar: they want better compensation and some sense of job security.

The bargaining phase was fruitless for the UMaine adjuncts, who are represented by the American Federation of Teachers; they have agreed to go into mediation with UMaine management. Meanwhile, negotiations continue between the Maine State Employees Association (the SEIU branch that represents staff, supervisors, and adjunct faculty in the Maine Community College System) and the community-college brass. This will be the first contract for the community-college adjuncts, who only formed their union in 2010.

"We're deep into the negotiation process right now and there are a number of items that are being asked for . . . ranging from traditional wage and benefit items to establishing things like a grievance procedure and trying to attain seniority rights," says Stephanie Von Glinsky, chief negotiator for the MSEA. "The adjuncts, right now, don't have any benefits, they're at-will employees, and they make up the majority of the faculty in the community college system. [They] basically are looking to be treated the way full-time faculty are treated — to gain the respect that full-time faculty have."

There are close to 1000 adjunct professors in the community college system (some are union members, but all are represented at the bargaining table), as compared with approximately 250 full-time faculty members (who are in a separate union).

"There's a huge demand for their services," says Tom Farkas, communications and training coordinator for the MSEA. "This is an emerging workforce in the state of Maine."

"Negotiations prohibit us from commenting on any details," says Karen Hamilton, publications and marketing coordinator for the MCCS. "Experience does show that creating the first contract is always more challenging."

This is not the first go-around for the UMaine adjuncts, who have been part of a different union since the 1980s.

Michael Burke, professor of English at the University of Maine–Farmington, and president of the union, outlines the discrepancy between full- and part-time compensation within the UMaine system. About 20-25 percent of a full-time faculty member's workload "is assumed to be for non-teaching things," he says — department work, scholarship, etc. But if you take off the top 20-25 percent of a full-timer's salary, "and you compare that dollar amount to what a part-timer would make, there's still a major difference in what people are being paid for the same courses," Burke says. "The system has never wanted to deal with that, for obvious financial reasons."

Last fall, UMaine announced a $2 million initiative aimed at reversing a nine-percent decline in enrollment, which has contributed to budgetary problems throughout the system. Tracy Bigney, chief human resources and organizational development officer of the UMaine system, adds that she does not consider part-time faculty to be a low-cost solution to UMaine's woes.

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