Will Loyola adjuncts pull off a different upset?

April 4, 2018

Joseph Sinclair reports on plans of adjunct professors to strike on April 4 for decent pay and working conditions--and the support the adjuncts are getting on campus.

AS COLLEGE basketball fans across the nation were charmed by the Cinderella run of the underdog Ramblers from Loyola University Chicago (LUC) and their heartwarming cheerleader Sister Jean, another, darker, drama has unfolded on campus this semester: the university's mistreatment of faculty, staff and students, including students of color.

One month after students proclaimed #NotMyLoyola in protest against the brutalization of two students of color who were questioning campus police's treatment of Black fans trying to enter a Ramblers basketball game, non-tenure track (NTT) faculty have set an April 4 strike date after two years of dead-end negotiations.

Under the banner #TimesUpLoyola, these professors are being supported by students from #NotMyLoyola movement, as well as graduate workers who voted last year to unionize, but have been illegally barred from negotiations by the administration.

There was speculation that the two sides--administrators and the NTT faculty, represented since 2016 by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73--might come to an agreement during negotiations into the night before the strike date. But the walkout was still on as this article was being readied for publication.

Adjunct faculty members rally for dignity on the job at Loyola University Chicago
Adjunct faculty members rally for dignity on the job at Loyola University Chicago (SEIU Local 73 | Facebook)

FOR TWO years, non-tenured faculty at Loyola have been struggling to achieve a reasonable work load, job security, benefits and a livable wage.

Adjuncts haven't seen a raise in a decade, even as tuition has climbed 53 percent. During that time, the salary of Provost Margarette Callahan has increased to over $500,000, and LUC has found over $500 million to spend on new buildings--while continuing to house three to four students in dorm rooms built for two.

Most recently, through a combination of private donations and misused tuition funds, the administration approved an unneeded $18.5 million to build new a practice facility for the sole use of the basketball teams--and the school is talking about "ripping up" the contract of the men's coach to give him a raise from his current "paltry" yearly salary of $420,000.

As 10-year adjunct Instructor in English Alyson Paige Warren stated, "They're trying to make the 'economic scarcity' logical fallacy, in which they say, 'This is your piece of pie, and you all have to fight for it.' But the whole pie is in play, so we should all be able to get a fair piece once you think of it equitably."

Like many other universities, there has been a troubling shift in priorities at Loyola from being a center of learning, first and foremost, to being a more openly profit-driven capitalist institution.

Before this shift, the ratio of tenured to non-tenured instructors was three to one, which meant that most faculty could focus on their students and research, while retaining the institutional memory that comes with long-term job security.

In recent decades, this ratio has inverted, leaving three-fourths of instructors living week to week, with no job security and poverty wages, even as tuition continues to climb.

Non-tenured faculty face issues such as classes (and thus income) being cut just hours before the semester begins; course loads being reduced to enable the university to not provide health insurance; and professors with as much as 18 years experience not being granted full-time status.

AS A result, most Loyola instructors teach at multiple universities, often with side jobs. Many are receiving food and housing assistance, and there are reports of homeless instructors living in their cars.

Brian Mornar, a part-time adjunct instructor in the English department, knows all too well the reality of being a part of academia's gig economy.

To make ends meet, he has been teaching three courses at Columbia College for 10 years and three more at Loyola for 3 years, while also teaching at Northwestern during the summer. To supplement his income as a professor at three different universities, he also sought work as a bike messenger and carpenter.

"It's higher education's dirty little secret," Mornar says. "Families and students don't know about this. I had a conversation with students in my class, and they were surprised and disturbed to hear their professors don't have insurance, and that they can't afford to live in the city in which they work."

If the image of a professor in popular imagination used to be a comfortable fellow with a pipe and sport jacket with elbow patches, Mornar makes it clear that the modern reality is far more precarious: "If I were to fall at my bike messaging job--which I've done before--and need stitches, I'd have to call my friend who is training to be a vet to stitch me up."

Andrew Welch, who moonlights as a rock-climbing instructor, described how when he received a PhD from Loyola, his pay actually halved and benefits were cut when he transitioned from student to employee.

In addition to the financial burden, Welch emphasized the alienation that comes with insecurity and lack of recognition. Ironically, he says, these bad working conditions can actually lead some professors to avoid confronting the depths of their exploitation.

"It's difficult getting faculty to think of themselves as laborers," he explained, "in part because the working conditions have gotten so bad that it's hard to justify to yourself. You got this PhD and you're thinking, 'I should really try to find a different job, but what am I going to do with this degree?' So the way you convince yourself to do it is thinking of it as a vocation and not a job, and thinking of yourself as a well-paid volunteer."

Instructors are fighting for more stable conditions not only for themselves, but for the benefit of their students. All the professors interviewed for this article told stories of not being able to help at-risk students because they were hopping from job to job. Many adjuncts don't even have an office in which to meet.

Professors who would much prefer more in-depth learning opportunities are resorting to multiple-choice tests simply because they don't have time to grade while working over 12 hours a day for six or seven days a week.

IN RESPONSE to over two years of requests for better working conditions, the administration has continually refused to negotiate in good faith.

NTT faculty voted to unionize with SEIU Local 73 back in January 2016, only to have Loyola, a Jesuit college, claim to have a religious exemption from recognizing unions. When that fell flat in front of the local National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the administration appealed to a higher board, where they lost again.

Even when they were forced to come to the negotiating table, the LUC bosses wouldn't budge.

According to Lecturer Matthew Williams, a member of the bargaining team:

They even stonewalled us on the anti-discrimination clause--the part that says "don't discriminate based on race, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation, age." We took the language out of their faculty handbook, and they stonewalled us, because they didn't want to make it effective. They wanted us not to be able to file grievances on it.

We finally announced publicly we'd made plans to go on strike, and that we had support of the undergrads, the grads, the faculty, and this would be a big deal. Lo and behold, that Monday, we actually get half-decent offers. It still didn't address a lot of our concerns, but it was a big improvement.

Graduate workers, who say they will strike in solidarity with NTTs and adjuncts, face other frustrating hurdles. Despite an NLRB ruling that grad workers are legally able to unionize, the university refuses to acknowledge them as a union.

This Jesuit university knows what it is doing is both illegal and in conflict with not only its social justice mission, but the decrees of the pope. But the administration is cynically ignoring the union in the hopes that the union will sue and Trump appointees to the NLRB will make a decision against all graduate worker unions.

Indeed, graduate workers are even struggling to be identified as workers. The university claims that their pay is simply a stipend and their work is merely educational experience. For an average pay of just $18,500 a year--far below livable wages in Chicago--students do research, grade papers and even teach classes. Even the award letters students receive letting them they've been accepted into graduate programs describe these duties as work.

Graduate worker Alec Stubbs described the hardships students face, including taking out loans to pay for food and health insurance, as they make poverty wages providing necessary services for the university. Any attempts at negotiations for things such as dental care, he says, are met with the promise to "look into it," and followed up with silence.

WHAT'S CHANGED after years of stalled negotiations is the growing recognition of the interconnectedness and common struggle among all people on campus. This unprecedented unity has proven to be a powerful tool to force the hand of the administration into action.

According to sophomore Arcadia Schmidt, "Our causes are intersectional. At the end of the day, it's the administration not respecting its students or faculty. Loyola is here specifically for its students, and because of its faculty. They wouldn't exist without us, which is why we've united together to stand up against them."

As graduate worker Alec Stubbs puts it:

What we are doing isn't pointing at Loyola and saying we don't like this place. We're saying we love this place and care about this place. We care about each other, and so it's about how do we build each other up and make our lives better off?

In this moment, grad students are supporting non-tenured faculty in the potential strike...We want them to reach a contract. We're also saying, "We're here too, don't forget about us, and recognize us. Once you reach a contract with NTTs, we're next, so be ready to work with us as well.

Students and faculty collectively recognize one thing: to get anywhere, they need to flex their muscles and embarrass an administration drunk on power--which sees dollar signs from the success of their basketball team, but is unwilling to share the fruits of the athletes' labor.

"That's what the strike is--it's a one-day strike, a show of force," says Matthew Williams, "It's a warning to say, "We can do this. Do you want it to go longer? Do you want us to do it during exam week? If not, you better settle soon.'"

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