By a sweeping majority, adjunct faculty at Hamline University voted Friday to form a union, marking the first such move at a university in Minnesota.
With 72 percent of votes in favor, Hamline's adjunct faculty joins the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and a national movement toward union representation for a segment of the faculty that is almost always part time, temporary and paid a fraction of what staff instructors make.
The St. Paul university joins five other private colleges in the country that have moved to unionize nontenured faculty in the past two months, said William A. Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College in New York City.
"They are reflective of the growing number of new bargaining units that are being certified around the country by NLRB," Herbert said.
At least 10,000 adjunct faculty members have organized in the past year, said Maria Maisto, president of New Faculty Majority. "It's been a trend in the past year, partly because the SEIU decided to make it a national campaign and also because a lot of the work that we have been doing raising the profile of the issue," she said.
SEIU's organization across the country has led to unions at institutions in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Boston.
Hamline's vote comes just weeks after Macalester College adjuncts canceled a union vote and before University of St. Thomas adjuncts conduct a similar vote in July.
Adjunct faculty members make up just over 50 percent of instructors, according to Hamline officials, with 194 adjuncts and 184 full-time staff.
"This day, today, feels like an opportunity for us to take things in a new direction," said David Weiss, an adjunct faculty member at Hamline who teaches religion. He said negotiations with the administration will begin in the fall.
Hamline administration expressed its disappointment with the outcome in a statement, warning against the influence of a third party in university affairs.
"We believe this may create inequities and barriers among our larger community of adjunct professors and could impede our efforts to build collaborative processes and stronger relationships," the university wrote.
Salaries and spending
The union drive comes as colleges are under fire for high tuition and are turning more to adjunct faculty as a way to decrease expenses.
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., was an adjunct at several Twin Cities schools, including Hamline law school in the 1990s. He didn't struggle with the low salary because he was also practicing law at the time, but said he understands the difficult conditions.
Nationally, an adjunct working full time can average $18,000 to $30,000 a year, which compares to a full professor's average salary of $116,400, the American Association of University Professors reported in its 2013 survey. Unionized adjunct faculty's median pay per course is 25 percent higher than that of nonunion adjuncts, according to Adjunct Action, a project of SEIU.
"It's a multifaceted problem," Ellison said. "We need the public to recommit to higher education. We need the university to be more careful in how it spends money."
Bargaining in the fall
Part-time adjuncts had to teach undergraduate courses in spring 2014 to be eligible to vote. Of the adjuncts at Hamline, 83 were eligible to vote and 64 turned in ballots. Two of the ballots were challenged.
This summer, the Hamline union plans to create a bargaining proposal to present to the administration in the fall, Weiss said.
Weiss has the same salary he had nine years ago as an adjunct — unadjusted for cost-of-living increases or tuition hikes, he said. He said he wants a better salary, but he also wants to feel he matters.
"I have been troubled by what I've seen happening on college campuses across the country, which is that, more and more, we have a majority of the teaching being done by underpaid and unempowered faculty," Weiss said.
Maisto said colleges are starting to resemble businesses and need to rethink their spending.
"These increases in expenditures on things that arguably are not directly related to instructional quality are being financed by students and by faculty," she said. "That's a model … we need to have a national conversation about."