Adjunct faculty hold “teach in” for better treatment

Students and faculty at George Mason University participated a “teach in” called Adjunct Dignity Day in solidarity with national Adjunct Walkout Day.  The event occurred on campuses across the United States on Feb. 25.

The teach-in was organized by the Mason Coalition of Academic Labor and featured a panel of three speakers who discussed issues faced by contingent faculty. The speakers included contingent faculty member Marisa Allison, junior and co-founder of GMU Student Power Samantha Parsons and Director of Research & Strategic Planning at SEIU Local 500 Anne McLeer.

Allison co-authored the study “Indispensable but Invisible,” which has raised awareness of conditions faced by contingent faculty at Mason.

“I think educating folks really is the first step of empowerment and this really is just the kind of first point at which we’re moving from and trying to get more movers involved in MCAL,” Allison said.

Provost David Wu recently announced the formation of an adjunct faculty task force. Though she was appreciative of Wu’s statement that Mason wants to be a leader in contingent faculty rights, Allison said she believes MCAL will still have a role in advocacy for contingent faculty.

“I think it’s important to have these sort of outside groups that are just made up of this collective of academic laborers and we’re going to try to get as many MCAL members as possible onto this advisory committee and we hope that [they] will accept at least one since this organizing has already been happening, that there will be a place for us at the table,” Allison said.

Although many students remain unaware of the issues faced by contingent faculty, they have a large stake in the well being of their professors, according to Parsons.

“Students are being burdened with large sums of student debt because tuition is increasing every year but that tuition money is not going to support the people that are teaching us,” Parsons said. “And so I think it’s important to make those connections and work together to better our own situation while also encouraging the betterment of their situation as well.”

Though contingent faculty make up a large part of the population at Mason, attitudes towards contingent faculty have changed over time. According to former adjunct faculty member and current professor in the School of Physics, Astronomy and Computational Sciences Harold Geller, part time faculty used to be treated differently by departments and full time faculty.

“The changes have been somewhat attitudinal as far as the view of the tenured faculty. My view is that when I first came here, I was treated very much as a member of the department, as a faculty member. I sat in on all of the meetings, voted at the meetings, worked with department members to help the department move forward,” Geller said. “There’s been more of a polarization of faculty even within the department these days, the view of tenured faculty to adjuncts and full time contingent faculty.”

Photo Credit: Johannah Tubalado