From Jordan Sellers – Instructor, English.
As an educator and a parent, I get it. You have no free time. Neither do I. So why am I pausing to write this amid lesson planning for tomorrow, returning student emails, and the myriad of other duties that need my attention? Because I care about you and about the state of higher education.
Because I care, I serve as NTFC’s Bargaining Research Chair. Last week, while out visiting new faculty members on campus, a colleague in a different department asked, “Hey aren’t you all paid for your time?” The thought seemed to be that, at the very least, the person who negotiated the contract was paid, right?
It may be comforting to think that the people doing this work are being paid for it, but no. I’m a volunteer for a union of teachers that we all build in our “spare time.”
For free. 100% volunteer.
While grading papers and fielding emails. While conferencing with students and serving on department committees. While building and prepping classes. While pursing professional development.
During all of it, we, the volunteers that staff NTFC, work to make UIUC a better place. This summer, while visions of pools and patios beckoned, we negotiated a contract that guarantees more protections and benefits to our members than ever before.
Our Lead Negotiator wasn’t paid for this work. Our Bargaining Team wasn’t paid for this work. I wasn’t paid for this work. In fact, all of the members taking their time to serve NTFC are doing so entirely pro bono. We volunteer to make UIUC a sustainable workplace for specialized faculty—to insure you can be there when your students need you.
I tell you that to tell you this: We can’t continue to make UIUC better without member contributions—even if that contribution is only financial. Think of it like the PBS pledge drive, if you like: “without members like you.”
To help, you don’t have to serve on a committee or knock on doors (though we would love you to join us). You don’t have to come to meetings or social events (but there’s usually good food). You don’t have to come from a union background and know how to organize and advocate already (I didn’t).
If you want to help make UIUC a thriving, sustainable work place for all Specialized Faculty, all you need to do is sign the card and pay the dues. With member support, the work can continue.
Your Colleague & Volunteer NTFC Bargaining Research Chair,
From Mary Lucille Hays—Senior Lecturer, English.
I can’t really blame folks who wonder if union dues are worth it if they haven’t seen first-hand what the union can do for us. My union dues run about $50 a pay check, or $600 and some change every year. I suppose I could buy a pretty sweet bicycle with that money, but I have some perspective on what the union does for me, having been involved since the advent of the Non-Tenure Track Faculty Coalition (NTFC). In fact, this summer, as I was in my office completing my biannual ritual of cleaning, organizing, and ridding out drawers for the Fall semester, I found my offer letter from 2006.
The first thing I noticed was my salary, which was less than 1/3 of my annual pay today. I was shocked. I remember not being paid much, but was it really so little? Then I realized that my offer letter was just for the Spring semester, not for a whole year. Back in the bad old days, we would find out at the very end of classes, sometimes not until we were figuring final grades, whether we had a job for the following semester.
Most of the time, I did have a job, but one May I got the news that I would not be staffed in the Fall. They then called me a few days before the semester to offer me classes, but that was not until after I spent the entire summer looking for work. And even when they did give me notice, I remember the stress of trying to teach my students while juggling the anxiety of not knowing whether I’d be here next semester. Of course, my students come first, so I did my best to serve them, but teaching felt like it was running parallel to my pressing worries about employment. My attention was divided. Should I grade papers or write another cover letter? Should I do class prep or scour the job listings? And even if I did get to teach the next semester, could I make ends meet? Should I moonlight as a waitress or a bartender? Meeting with students, I’m sure that sometimes they could tell that my mind was elsewhere.
With NTFC, we get, at minimum, year-long contracts. If we work here full-time for five consecutive years, our contract gives us a year’s notice before we can be let go. And now, correcting for an annual, rather than a semester salary, I still make almost twice what I made then. I feel more relaxed, with teaching as my main focus. I’m sure I’m more centered in the classroom and have really come to love my chosen career. To put it in trade union terms–it’s easier to provide good services when you don’t have the stress and worry of sub-par wages and unfair labor practices.
All of this to say that I’m proud to support my union by paying union dues. And as for that new bike? I think I’ll just save up with the higher wages I get now thanks to the NTFC.
Photo Credit: California Teachers Association
From Dr. Lucinda Cole, Visiting Associate Professor/Research Associate Professor/Director of Specialized Faculty – English.
Given current bargaining efforts on professional development funds, the Communications Chair has asked me to share my experience advocating for NTT professional development funds at the University of Illinois.
What prompts this letter is what I now understand as the vigor with which NTTs are excluded from research and scholarship opportunities in this university. As many of you in the Humanities know, IPRH (Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities) uses university and donated funds to promote “interdisciplinary study in the humanities, arts, and social sciences.” Yet—with one exception– its fellowships are open only to graduate students and tenure-track or tenured faculty. The exception is a single fellowship in the Digital Humanities.
Taking seriously the stated goals of IPRH, I tried to apply for a fellowship, or, more precisely, to inquire about the possibility of application. Antoinette Burton, Director of IPRH, responded that I was eligible only for the digital humanities competition. Given that my last book won a highly-competitive national award, that I have another book under contract with a respected academic press, and that I’m regularly invited to be a plenary speaker at national and international conferences, I really could not imagine by what logic I could be excluded from the simple process of application.
Since then, I have asked several tenured faculty about opening up fellowship eligibility, and have been met with a contradictory series of explanations as to why this solution is impossible. The first objection is always this: “Research isn’t in the job description of NTTs.” That position makes no sense to me. “Research” is in my job description: two out of my three designated titles (Visiting Associate Professor and Research Associate professor) require a research profile. When I point this out, other excuses follow, some more honest than others: “The budget is driven by the college”; “I don’t understand how the budget works”; “The college doesn’t want to invest in NTTs”; “IPRH doesn’t have enough money”; “There would be too much competition, were NTTs allowed to apply.” I offered to work with IPRH-associated faculty to develop fellowships designated for specialized faculty. No interest.
This unpleasant experience with IPRH and IPRH-associated faculty made me recognize, yet again, how important it is to seek collective remedies for what many of us experience daily: a demoralizing and deprofessionalizing workplace governed by outmoded assumptions about the scholarly lives of specialized faculty.
It’s heartbreaking to see how people of good conscience—both administrators and TT faculty—are resource guarding, policing the borders of rank in ways that make no sense, except as protectionist policy. I hate to admit that, as a former administrator and tenured faculty member, I probably did the same thing. I wish I hadn’t. There are better ways. Columbia University and University of Pennsylvania, I discovered, offer a number of fellowships designed for specialized faculty. Other universities have effectively internalized what it means to have people in Teaching and Research Professional ranks.
In any case, I have learned a lesson: the notion that specialized faculty and tenure-track faculty are two different species may help justify the status quo, but it actively undermines effective teaching, collegial relations, and the stated purposes of the IPRH. I have not been successful in passing this knowledge on to administrators here, but remain hopeful we can work together in imagining myriad creative solutions to our—NTTs—being cast out of the university’s scholarly life.
Image Credit: Getty Images
From Dorothee Schneider, Teaching Associate Professor– History.
After teaching American history for more than three decades, a lot of what I teach in the classroom refers to events I actually experienced: Watergate, Ronald Reagan’s “It’s Morning in America,” and Bill Clinton’s “I Feel Your Pain.” I watched the towers of the World Trade Center fall with my students while teaching about immigration. But, like students at that moment, I felt that I was a witness, an onlooker of events over which I had no control. I could live through history, I could understand history, but it never occurred to me that I could make history.
In the early months of 2014, a small group of colleagues and I began to work with union organizers from the American Federation of Teachers to find out if our campus was ready for a union of lecturers, instructors, and other faculty not on the tenure track. Our salaries were nearly frozen or even cut. Employment security did not exist. Most of us had no opportunity for advancement. As it turned out, hundreds of colleagues were ready to sign up for the cause. But we also encountered much anxiety: What if the supervisor found out? Could you be fired? Deported? What if the promised pay increase did not materialize? It was hard work to move our colleagues beyond fear and insecurity.
On May 15, 2014 we filed for union recognition with the Illinois State Labor Education Board. After a year-long lawsuit by the University administration contesting the legitimacy of our union (the case went all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court), we won recognition. Nearly two years and two strikes later, we ratified our first contract in May of 2016. The rest is, well, history.
This time I wasn’t a witness. I actually helped to make it happen.
My colleagues and I made this history ourselves.
Our historic win did not eliminate all the work-related problems among our ranks, but we made a serious dent and continue to push for a better future for ourselves in contract negotiations and organizing.
If we don’t just want to be bystanders, we have to continue making history. It is hard work. But so very much worth it.
Happy May Day!