Our response to President Spar & Provost Bell’s recent email

We write in response to an email you may have received last Thursday from President Spar and Provost Bell regarding our union, Barnard Contingent Faculty-UAW Local 2110 (BCF-UAW), and our negotiations for a fair first contract.

We’re glad that President Spar and Provost Bell express “full support for the union members, whose service we respect and honor.” We regret that this statement conflicts with what Bell told a room full of Barnard alumnae at a fundraising event on Friday, namely that in her understanding, most contingent faculty don’t care about the union and most contract issues other than wages are close to being settled. Neither is true. She also reiterated her position that she has no interest in seeing Barnard do any better than “the market” demands.

As a group of Barnard students noted in a recent op-ed, Barnard administrations have often failed to “Practice What You Teach,” but we hope the supportive rhetoric in Thursday’s email presages a change in the administration’s positions at the bargaining table. For now, we offer the following comments:

  • SPAR/BELL: “we have retained outside legal counsel through Jackson Lewis, a labor and employment firm with considerable experience in negotiating successful contingent faculty union first contracts at such institutions as Washington University and Northeastern University
         At Northeastern, the Jackson Lewis approach forced the faculty to threaten a strike to reach a contract. As The Chronicle of Higher Education noted, like Barnard’s administration, Northeastern’s “hired Jackson Lewis—a law firm which has a reputation as a union-busting powerhouse. Northeastern will likely spend more money retaining Jackson Lewis than the institution would spend giving its teachers a proper raise.“ Law firm aside, it is Spar and Bell who are the decision-makers in negotiations. It was they who betrayed Barnard’s values by choosing Jackson Lewis—the reactionary edge of labor law firms—and they who must take responsibility for wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars on “a union-busting powerhouse” instead of allocating it to the work of education.
  • SPAR/BELL: “This fall, less than 30 percent of courses are being taught by adjunct faculty, and a quarter of those courses are in the dance department
         1) Our union includes not only adjunct (part-time) but also full-time faculty.  So the 30 percent figure is misleading.  It fails to account for the number of courses full-time contingent faculty teach (usually 5 per year), more courses than tenured faculty do (usually 4 per year); indeed, some of our so-called part-time faculty teach as many courses each year as tenured faculty yet receive no benefits whatsoever.
         2) Regardless of whether we are the absolute majority of faculty, we deserve fair treatment.  Most of us are women, many are alumnae. More equitable compensation, job security, inclusion in college life, and benefits for part-time faculty, some of whom live without health insurance, are not unreasonable requests.
         3) We fail to see the relevance of distinguishing Dance faculty: Dance faculty deserve fair wages and benefits as much as any other faculty.
  • SPAR/BELL: “we can neither compromise on our core academic mission, nor change the very nature of what it means to be an adjunct faculty member
         Fair treatment of the contingent faculty would not compromise the academic mission of the College. In our view—a view shared by hundreds of Barnard students and alumnae—treating adjuncts as integral rather than transient members of the Barnard community would enhance the college’s core mission. We unionized to change “what it means to be an adjunct faculty member,” and our first contract is an opportunity for Barnard to show progressive leadership.
  • SPAR/BELL: “issues such as determining which courses are taught, and by which faculty, must be left to the discretion of faculty department chairs and program directors
         We have never proposed that chairs and directors do not have that discretion. Our current proposal clearly states that management has the right “to determine how and when and by whom instruction is delivered; to determine all matters relating to faculty hiring, reappointment, promotion, and retention.” At the same time, we assert our right to academic freedom in the classroom and propose that reasonable job security for contingent faculty ensures continuity in teaching and advising of Barnard students.
  • SPAR/BELL: “We will continue to partner with the BCF-UAW to produce a contract that fairly rewards the pedagogic commitment of our contingent faculty, while also maintaining ongoing commitments to Barnard’s students, full-time faculty, and staff.”
         We share these commitments fully and think that the collective bargaining process is the best way to achieve these goals.
  • SPAR/BELL: “In early August we presented the union’s bargaining team with a second comprehensive economic proposal that includes a three-year progression of wage increases.”
         As we noted in our September report on the status of negotiations, the administration’s wage offer betrays a complete unwillingness to address the economic exploitation of the contingent faculty. It would in fact lower current course pay for a number of positions and offer no raises for a large number of other positions, guaranteeing only a minimum of $2,000 per 1- and 2-point courses and $6,000 per 3- or 4-point courses, amounts at or below what many already make, well below what adjunct faculty won in their recent contract at Tufts, and nowhere near a living wage for NYC.
  • We will send an update on the last two bargaining sessions soon.