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Goucher College President José Bowen. (File photo)

Adjunct unions progress at MICA, Goucher

For college-level faculty members in Maryland, 2014 was a historic year. And, to hear some people tell it, 2015 could be equally momentous.

In April, adjunct professors at the Maryland Institute College of Art voted in favor of unionization, making MICA the first four-year institution in the state with a faculty union. MICA joins a small but growing number of colleges nationwide where part-time faculty have unionized in response to what they say is an increasing reliance on lower-paid adjuncts.

After the votes were tallied at MICA, experts predicted other Maryland colleges would soon follow suit, and sure enough, faculty at Goucher College started their own unionization drive several months later. That process is still ongoing, but instructors there say they’re optimistic they’ll have enough votes to form the union.

Adjuncts at other colleges in the region are also organizing — though mostly informally — with help from Service Employees International Union Local 500, which has led the union drives at MICA, Goucher and a handful of institutions in Washington, D.C.

In Maryland, faculty at public colleges and universities are prohibited from unionizing, with one exception: Montgomery College. Adjuncts at Mongtomery, a community college, formed their union in 2010.

Last year, legislation was proposed in the General Assembly to remove the ban on unions at all community colleges, but it didn’t pass.

However, SEIU Local 500 has been working with community colleges in the Baltimore-Washington area to help faculty members articulate their needs and communicate with their administrations, said union organizer Chris Honey.

And, according to adjuncts at MICA, some faculty at McDaniel College — a private institution in Westminster — have also recently shown interest in unionization. McDaniel officials could not confirm that claim.

Honey said he expects to see a surge in organizing activity, particularly in Baltimore, in the coming year. SEIU’s strategy is to achieve “union density,” he said.

“A lot of it starts with an adjunct at one unionized school saying, ‘You know, I also teach at this other school, and we have the same issues,’” he said. “We want to give contingent faculty at every institution in the region the opportunity to join a union if that’s what they want.”

At MICA, the adjuncts’ bargaining committee is still negotiating the first contract with the Baltimore art school’s administration. Union representatives say the parties are close to a deal.

At the last bargaining session, the parties worked toward a solution for one of the adjuncts’ major concerns: the criteria used to evaluate part-time faculty.

“For too long, student evaluations have been the sole official standard for determining a part-time instructor’s professional performance,” reads an update on the bargaining committee’s website, micaadjuncts.org.

The union proposed an evaluation process that uses additional criteria, including classroom observations and peer evaluations. Committee members said the administration has been willing to work on that issue, as well as other terms of the contract, such as classroom size and grievance procedures.

Honey said a deal would likely be reached in the coming months and that a contract could be in place by the fall 2015 semester.

“It’s been 15 years since MICA part-timers had their last raise,” reads a recent update on the MICA adjuncts website. “Progress is being made. If we all work together, 2015 will be our year.”

At Goucher, a small liberal arts college in Towson, the unionization drive is not nearly as far along. The effort kicked off in earnest in October and a vote was held in late November, but the outcome is still uncertain.

If formed, Goucher’s union would be different than MICA’s. At Goucher, Local 500 would also represent faculty members who work full-time but aren’t tenured or tenure-track. But determining who is eligible to vote in the union election under that definition has been a point of contention.

Of the 78 valid votes cast, 10 were challenged: seven by Goucher, three by the union.

The union asserts that two votes were cast by tenured or tenure-track professors, a group excluded from the bargaining unit, and that one vote was cast by an instructor not on the payroll for the most recent pay period.

The Goucher administration contends that seven voters are ineligible because they are temporary instructors with specified end dates and no expectation of further employment.

Without those votes, the election deadlocked: 33 in favor of unionization, 33 opposed.

A hearing before the National Labor Relations Board is scheduled for Jan. 6. The hearing will determine which, if any, of the disputed votes may be counted.

Rollie Hudson, an adjunct in Goucher’s Communication and Media Studies department, said he thinks the votes challenged by the administration were “yes” votes because they were cast by active members of the organizing committee.

Goucher President José Bowen said the college “strives to be a place where people want to work.”

“Whatever happens with the NLRB’s decision, we will continue to deal fairly and humanely with everyone employed at the college,” Bowen said.

Hudson said the union drive “is nothing personal,” and that Bowen, who took office in 2014, “seems to be a great guy.”

“This is about the general structure in academia,” Hudson said. “[Adjuncts] simply have no seat at the table. … We’re still really optimistic that we’ll get a favorable outcome from this hearing. Then it’s up to us.”


About Alissa Gulin

Alissa Gulin covers health care, education and general business at The Daily Record.