Students and faculty are attempting to establish a union for adjunct faculty at Robert Morris University.
“You feel like you’re in a red tape bureaucracy, like there’s nothing you can do. You feel powerless and that’s part of why we’re doing this,” said Robert Trosky, a part-time faculty member at RMU.
Adjunct faculties across the region are faced with little job security, no benefits, and low salary. However, these issues are just scratching the surface of the problems adjuncts are facing.
1. LOW SALARY
“We are not paid as well as other adjuncts around the country. We are arguably below the national average,” said Trosky. “We are actually the third from the lowest in the region.”
Several adjunct faculty members report a salary of $16,000 per year as opposed to the full time faculty members who make around 74,000 dollars per year.
Although 50 percent of adjuncts received a pay increase of $75 this year, it has had little impact. There’s a constant strain on adjuncts who rely on their position as a professor as their main source of income.
2. JOB SECURITY
“I would love to have more money,” said Trosky. “But that’s not the primary reason for a lot of us. For the majority of us, it’s job security.”
Adjuncts at RMU have little to no job security, even those who have been here for many years. According to Trosky, many adjuncts who have been at RMU for many years are suddenly disappearing and no one seems to care.
There is also the problem with summer. Many adjuncts have no idea if they are coming back at all in the fall and this causes them to scramble to get their work ready when they find out two weeks before the semester starts.
“Summers are (bad) for adjuncts,” James Talerico, a 12-year RMU employee said. “We have no idea what classes we are going to take or even if they will invite us back.”
3. STUCK IN THE ADJUNCT RUT
Another major issue is that the best road to full-time employment is to begin in a part-time position. Many adjuncts don’t expect to make a living out of it, but end up staying there anyways.
“It is the only path to full-time,” said Trosky. “They do it because they have to.”
When full-time positions become available many adjuncts are not considered. Many applications for full-time positions specify that applicants must have benefits already. This automatically eliminates numerous adjuncts according to Trosky.
4. LITTLE SUPPORT
A vast majority of the faculty at RMU is made up of adjuncts and many feel that they don’t get the support their work is worth. Due to this, many adjuncts feel demoralized and that they are unable to perform to the best of their ability.
“We have no time for the students outside of classes because we don’t have offices. Even if we did have an office, we wouldn’t get paid to sit in it,” said Trosky.
Adjunct faculty as a whole feels undervalued and unappreciated. Barbara Mulligan, who has an MBA in East Asian studies, has only one class this semester, Public Speaking and Persuasion, and feels she was lucky to get that class at all.
Talerico, feels as though he is expendable despite his long standing at the university. He mentioned that despite his time at RMU he has not obtained a raise within 10 years and has struggled to keep coming back to RMU.
“I feel as though no one really wants to keep me around. I have no feedback on my work to tell me if I am liked or they want to keep me. It’s demoralizing.” Talerico said.
RMU Sentry Media reached out to university President Gregory Dell’Omo, but could not comment on the potential adjunct union.
However, Dell’Omo has sent out a letter to all adjunct faculties in regards to them forming a union. In this letter it outlines what forming a union will mean and what the university could do for them.
The letter states: “While some may find the idea of union representation appealing, it is worth noting that a union cannot guarantee any additional benefits.”
Trosky replied to this with a survey that was published in 2012 by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce found that unionized adjuncts earned 25 percent more per course than those who were not unionized.
With this in mind, it does not seem likely that RMU will not be able to provide some form of better payment to adjunct faculty.
This letter has led the adjunct faculty to work harder to show RMU that they are serious and merely want to be treated better than what they are. They are not doing this to be malicious, but merely to feel like a valued faculty members of RMU.
“I just want to be valued. Who wants to be a part of something, where they don’t feel valued or appreciated?” Talerico said.