MU Community Responds to Rutgers Strike

After an almost week-long strike, the first in its history, Rutgers University faculty resumed work effective Monday, April 17 upon coming to a “framework” agreement for new contracts with several faculty unions. The strike was the final straw as it followed nearly a year of bargaining, as reported by The New York Times.

Members of the Monmouth community weighed in on the pervasiveness of the issues protested, calling into question the wages, job security, and health benefits of part-time faculty (i.e., adjuncts). While these problems may differ from institution to institution, one theme is consistent across higher education: a disproportionate reliance on part-time faculty as a means to cut costs. Monmouth is not exempt from this generalization.

“Monmouth relies heavily on both full-time non-tenure track faculty and part-time faculty. In fact, a majority of our faculty at Monmouth are either part-time or full-time non-tenure track,” began Johanna Foster, Ph.D., Associate Professor for the Department of Political Science and Sociology and President of the Faculty Association of Monmouth University (FAMCO). “Part-time faculty and faculty in ranks without tenure eligibility are paid less, in general, than faculty in full-time tenure-track ranks, even though they are doing the same work in the classrooms, and, in some cases, are teaching heavier loads.”

According to the American Association of University Professors, Monmouth University part-time faculty are paid an average of $3,200 per class. In comparison to other private, New Jersey universities, such as Rider University, part-time faculty are making, on average, $1,400 less at Monmouth.

Moreover, Monmouth adjuncts are limited to teaching two classes a semester. Based on the average wage per class taught, the maximum a part-time faculty member could gross during the academic year is a little under $13,000.

Nichole Smith, Monmouth alumna and former adjunct professor at Monmouth, has firsthand experience navigating the pay disparities between full-time and part-time faculty members. She explained, “There is a severe precarity with adjuncts at Monmouth, who are only paid $3,000 per class, with the maximum option of two classes, resulting in just $12,000 for the academic year… Way below a living wage in Monmouth County, let alone in New Jersey. Plus, there is no consideration for labor and prep time. We are doing, or expected to do, the same level of prep work required of any other full-time lecturer.”

“By comparison, part-time faculty at NYU earn $15,000 per course. Monmouth also used to provide healthcare for our part-time faculty members, but discontinued those benefits a little over 15 years ago, I believe,” added Foster. “Some might argue that the gaps in compensation are reasonable because full-time faculty are not paid just for the classes they teach. Full-time tenure-track faculty are also expected to do research and to serve on university committees, and to mentor students, in ways that part-time faculty are not, on paper, expected to do. But that would still not explain why the gaps in compensation between part-timers and full-timers are so extreme.”

“I would put Monmouth in the first to second quartile, or bottom half, of New Jersey schools with regard to pay,” said Jennifer McGovern, Ph.D., Associate Professor for the Department of Political Science and Sociology. “If adjuncts were paid more, it would create more stability and give us the ability to retain adjuncts from one semester to the next. As it stands now, many adjuncts are constantly looking for other work, and they will leave Monmouth if they find a better paying adjunct-gig elsewhere.”

Based on this high turnover rate, it makes acclimating these new members increasingly difficult, which ultimately affect students’ learning.

McGovern continued, “Students may be more experienced with Monmouth than their professors… I think if there were higher pay and more benefits, we may be able to keep adjuncts for longer.”

The faculty union at Monmouth has several labor management committees (LMC) that evaluate the fairness of faculty working conditions and pay.

Corey Dzenko, Ph.D., Associate Professor for the Department of Art and Design, is a member of the LMC about the “Use of Non-Tenure-Track Full-Time Faculty.”

She elaborated, “LMCs at Monmouth help to address ongoing concerns that impact working conditions for faculty as well as the overall campus climate and our abilities to offer the best academic experiences we can for students. These conversations may be ones that go beyond or lead up to a faculty contract negotiation cycle, which takes place every three years. Our particular LMC tracks the ratio of tenure-track and tenured faculty when compared to full time non-tenure track faculty. This rate is currently declining with more and more reliance on non-tenure track full time faculty and part time adjunct faculty.”

Foster concurred, “All of this is a national trend, sadly, and a relatively recent one in the history of higher education. Twenty years ago, only about 20% of faculty were part-time and the other 80% of the faculty were tenured or in a full-time position on a track toward tenure. Today, that ratio has totally flipped. Now, only about 20% of faculty in colleges and universities nationwide are tenured or on a full-time tenure-track line, and about 80% are non-tenure track or part-time workers. That is a profoundly disturbing shift in the academic workplace in just a couple of decades, and one that I think most students and their families don’t really know about, understandably.”

The solidarity shown on behalf of part-time faculty during the strike at Rutgers is a move in the right direction for all Americans, according to Brian Greenberg, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of History for the Department of History and Anthropology. The three unions involved in the strike represented an estimated 9,000 part- and full-time faculty members.

“Strikes are part of a larger politics of the nation – it is critical tool then and now as it has the potential to be very effective in achieving the results desired,” emphasized Greenberg.

Smith felt similarly, “I think the Rutgers strike is important and empowering… While Rutgers is very different than Monmouth— a small private university as opposed to a large public/state university with multiple campuses— when those who are most exploited by a university realize their power, they can effectively shut down their college and leave people scrambling.”

“Rutgers reminds us of the reality that people do have enormous power to right the wrongs when we act together and act publicly. I am inspired by, and grateful for, all the faculty, staff and students who came together last week,” concluded Foster.