Opinion

Organizing Committee responds to Contingent Appreciation Week

First of all, we want to thank the students who organized and participated in Contingent Faculty Appreciation Week. What an amazing week it has been for us! We can’t thank you enough for all the time, energy and labor you expended to highlight our contributions on campus. We are truly touched by your support and enthusiasm.

As this week of celebration winds down, we would like to take the opportunity to express our motivations and our hopes for the future of this community.

We, contingent faculty, love working at Macalester. The students are highly engaged, motivated and thoughtful. Our tenured and tenure-track colleagues and the departments in which we work are welcoming, friendly and inclusive. All in all, the campus climate at Macalester is first-rate. It is truly a pleasure to teach and contribute to such an environment.

We, contingent faculty, are also a heterogeneous group with diverse needs. Some of us teach part-time and are paid by the course, while others are full-time with salaries and annual contracts. Some of us are new to Macalester, while others have been here for years. But one aspect we all share is that our positions are temporary and offer little in the way of stability or long-term job security. Beyond that, those of us who teach part-time are chronically undercompensated for our efforts. While some adjuncts prefer the flexibility that a part-time appointment offers, many are the primary “breadwinners” of our family. Because adjuncts are paid by the course, many of us scrape together teaching appointments (typically ranging from $3000-5000/class) at multiple institutions to create the semblance of a full-time appointment—minus the benefits that would normally accompany a full-time salaried position. Even those of us with full-time positions are still locked into annual contracts with minimal long-term job security. This is because our employment is not based upon performance, but upon discretionary budgeting and staffing decisions which vary greatly from year to year.

Given Macalester’s exceptional educational environment, we believe that the current situation hurts both ourselves and the college’s larger educational mission. Macalester College is not a large, impersonal university where a professor “clocks in” when class begins and “clocks out” when class ends. This is a highly selective liberal arts college where students expect a high level of engagement and interaction from their professors. We frequently meet with students one-on-one. We read student theses and oversee student research projects. We provide letters of recommendation. These are the kinds of extra-classroom activities which all faculty provide and which are crucial to the college’s operation. Indeed, this is precisely why many students chose to attend this institution: for the high caliber relationships they expect to form with their professors (and which the school prides itself in providing).

Currently, contingent faculty—which comprise almost half of the Macalester faculty—labor under conditions which severely hamper our ability to provide the education which Macalester students rightfully expect. When contingent faculty are paid on a per-class basis, the low pay structure is often justified through the assumption that our duties begin and end in the classroom. Such an arrangement fails to compensate us for the teaching duties mentioned above. More importantly, this arrangement actively discourages us from providing the kind of extra-classroom involvement which is crucial to a student’s education. Similarly, for those of us on annual contracts, the high rate of faculty turnover prohibits us from developing the types of long-term relationships between students, other departments and the wider Twin Cities community that allow us to create the vibrant, innovative and interactive curriculums for which Macalester is well known.

Macalester needs to do better. This week’s events have made it clear that Macalester College needs us contingent faculty. Our students need us. This institution needs us. But we also need Macalester College. We need Macalester’s administration to recognize the severity of our situation and to acknowledge the challenges that come with being a contingent professor within academia today. Specifically, given our degrees, specialized training, experience and expertise in teaching and scholarship, we need the right to bargain for a livable wage. We need the right to participate actively in the decision-making process that governs our lives.

This is not an adversarial stance. Simply put, allowing us a say in these decisions will make us better educators. If given better per-course rates and better access to benefits, we will be able to spend less time worrying about making ends meet and more time challenging students to be the best they can be. If granted better job security, we will be free to make long-term investments in the college and community which will mature into quality relationships between students, faculty and the greater Twin Cities. Furthermore, allowing us a place at the negotiating table provides the administration with an enormous opportunity to better understand the lives and challenges of almost half of its faculty, enabling administrators to make more informed staffing decisions that will benefit the college at large. After all, who knows what we need—for ourselves, our families and our students—better than us?

Macalester College has historically been a leader in issues regarding social, environmental and global justice. Its reputation in these areas is well known. Given this long history, this institution is poised to pave the way in providing equitable conditions for one of its most important resources: passionate and committed teachers who know their students. Doing so would establish Macalester as a role model, regarding the type of equitable collaboration that is possible in higher education when a school’s faculty is given a voice in the decisions that shape their careers and lives.

Again, we love Macalester. Allowing contingent faculty a voice offers us a stake within that institution which we already treasure and happily contribute to every day. It is the right thing to do, not only for us, but also for the entire college.

  • The Organizing Committee of Contingent Faculty
April 25, 2014

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