PSU adjuncts need a level deal

March 22, 2018

Colin Patrick reports on a solidarity action in support of Portland State University adjuncts union, which is negotiating a contract.

ON MARCH 16, 50 members and supporters of the Portland State University Faculty Association (PSUFA)--the adjunct faculty union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers--rallied on PSU's campus to kick off contract negotiations with the administration.

The rally was followed by a march to the office of President Rahmat Shoureshi, where protesters presented Shoureshi with a giant carpenter's level, built by an art and design adjunct instructor, to symbolize pay and benefit equity for non-tenure-track faculty.

Those who turned out in solidarity with the PSUFA included members of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the Graduate Employees Union, the Associated Students of Portland University, Service Employees International Union and the Portland branch of the International Socialist Organization.

Wearing a hardhat with an "A is for adjuncts" decal, Ariana, the PSUFA bargaining co-chair, explained to the crowd why the PSUFA is organizing:

Adjuncts are essential to how this school functions, and yet we're paid as if we don't really matter. The university depends on us to deliver one-third of its courses and yet we can't make anywhere near a living wage working here.

When we surveyed our adjunct members, about one quarter of the people who responded live in households that make $25,000 or less a year. And we all know it is impossible to survive in Portland on $25,000 a year.

Adjunct faculty currently get paid significantly less per credit to teach the same classes as full-time faculty. In fact, by our calculations, with wages and benefits, adjuncts are paid less than a quarter of what full-timers make to teach the same classes. There is really no logic to justify this, only a history of underpayment...Pay parity is only fair--the same work should be compensated with same amount of pay to adjuncts and full-time faculty.

We're here today to say: Let's make sure that PSU pays all its workers fairly. We are asking PSU to level up. Pay us equitably, pay us fairly for what we give to this institution.

Members of the adjunct faculty union at Portland State University demand justice
Members of the adjunct faculty union at Portland State University demand justice (Colin Patrick | SW)

Jose, a member of AAUP, spoke at the rally as well, stating that Shoureshi, who became president last year, "talked a good talk when interviewing for the job, and now it's time to see if he walks the walk in support of his adjunct faculty."

WHILE WAITING for the president to arrive at the office, PSUFA members spoke with students about how they can support efforts for pay parity for non-tenure-track faculty. The president's staff was surprised by the number of people who showed up, and protesters had to be vetted by security before the president would meet with us.

Shoureshi met with protesters and accepted the level, saying in part:

I know how important you are in terms of the education that you provide. Interestingly enough, we had a budget meeting this morning with one of the deans, and we were talking about the role that you play and the quality of education that PSU provides because of you...I want you to know for sure that you are important, and we want to make sure that you are comfortable and happy because if you're happy you will make our students happy.

It remains to be seen, of course, whether Shoureshi's words will translate into better pay or working conditions for PSU's non-tenure-track faculty in upcoming negotiations.

But the March 16 action--an unprecedented one for an otherwise fairly quiet union--was a step in the right direction, and seeing so many representatives of the broader campus community show up in solidarity on a Friday afternoon during finals week was heartening.

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