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Zein El-Amine has three bags in the trunk of his Toyota Prius.

One is for his teaching work at American University; another, El-Amine brings with him to lecture at Georgetown University. A third bag is reserved for Thursday evenings at George Washington University.

The Lebanese-born engineer turned writer and assistant instructor has a busy schedule. On a recent Monday, El-Amine, 59, started his day preparing for classes in his Georgetown office, drove to lecture at AU, and ended the day in Georgetown.

El-Amine’s workload is not uncommon. Many auxiliaries in the district hold courses at various universities so that they can earn a living.

“It’s the life of a deputy, isn’t it,” El-Amine said as he drove to teach an Arab film course he designed for Georgetown. From all of these roles, he earns around $16,400 this semester.

That reality has recently inspired protests at Howard University and UA, where deputies have pushed for higher salaries, better benefits and more pathways to permanent employment. It also shed light on an often-overlooked truth about higher education: At the district’s eight major universities, more than four in 10 instructors teach part-time, according to fall 2020 federal data, the most recent available.

Howard University faculty call off strike after reaching tentative labor agreement

About 50% of GWU’s more than 1,200 instructors are auxiliaries. At UA, 46% of instructors are auxiliaries and 44% of those at Georgetown teach part-time.

The numbers demonstrate universities’ growing reliance on temporary work, now driving a surge in organizing efforts, 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, CUNY.

“One of the things that happens when casual professors unionize is that university administrations, for the first time, are made aware of the working conditions of casual professors,” Herbert said. “Much of higher education relies on cheap, precarious college labor.”

More than three-quarters of professors at public and private universities were either tenured or in the process of becoming tenured in 1969, according to a study by the Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California. Now they are in the minority.

“Over the past half century there has been a turning point,” Herbert said. “Now the vast majority are non-tenured, who are typically paid at a much lower salary level than tenured professors.”

According to data from the American Association of University Professors, more than 70% of college and university professors are contingent staff – which includes part-time adjuncts, full-time professors not on track to tenure and graduates. Auxiliaries make up about 40% of the faculty.

Some professors fear that the complementarity of universities will limit research production, because adjunct and non-tenured professors do not have the same research and publication obligations as their tenured and tenured peers.

Others worry about exploitation. What makes CAs attractive to universities — short contracts, flexible hours, cheaper rates, and not having to provide medical benefits — can be a disadvantage for the instructor.

Adjuncts and non-tenured professors were among the first to have their positions cut as cash-strapped universities had to adjust to the economic pressures of the pandemic. These workers tend not to have the same job protection guarantees as their tenured and tenured peers, which can lead to self-censorship on hot-button issues in the classroom, said associate professor Rebecca Kolins Givan. of labor and employment studies. relationships at Rutgers University.

“If you’re hired piecemeal, course by course, you’ll never feel safe,” Givan said. She added that “it’s not that the addition is bad. It’s that we need a human solution that truly meets the needs of students and advances the mission of universities, and that means a path from ‘auxiliary’ status to permanent employment.

Universities often rely on adjuncts for their flexibility. They fill last minute vacancies. They can offer new courses without a large staff or “long-term financial need” for a tenure-track hire, Givan said.

And, in a talent-rich city like the District, deputies can be a marketing tool. The opportunity to learn from former White House officials, political strategists, lawyers, and journalists draws many students to the nation’s capital. Many of these professionals have full-time jobs outside of teaching. They get health insurance and other benefits elsewhere and are not solely dependent on teachers’ salaries.

“It keeps you nice and disposable”: the plight of adjunct teachers

Most assistants, however, don’t fit this “romanticized” view of the field, said Derek Tozak, an assistant who teaches freshman writing classes at UA. Many depend on second and third jobs to make ends meet. Tozak is Bethesda’s high school tutor.

“You can earn a lot more by inviting students to AU than by teaching at AU,” he said.

Labor protests spread across the district

The precariousness of assistants has helped propel the labor movement, especially in private universities, according to researchers from the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Liberal Professions. The number of faculty union chapters in private non-profit institutions increased by 81% between 2012 and 2020, and the number of faculty represented increased by 61%.

The researchers noted that there has been a “major shift” in faculty representation due to factors such as growing demand among contingent faculty for better working conditions and a “friendlier” legal environment at the Board. national labor relations under the Obama administration.

Campus protests are also on the rise. The teachers’ unions dukeNew York and Howard universities have staged protests in recent months against contract talks.

America’s next labor battleground could be on campus

At Howard, salary concerns, along with policies that require instructors and non-tenured lecturers to apply for their jobs every year and leave their teaching positions after seven years, have been at the heart of a process of several years of negotiation between the university and the employees. .

The labor battle came to a head when 200 deputies and 150 non-tenured – represented by the local Service Employees International Union – threatened a three-day work stoppage if they failed to reach an agreement with the ‘university. The parties finally reached a last-minute agreement which was ratified earlier this month.

Now unionized adjunct professors and graduate students at UA are renegotiating their contracts, and a fledgling staff union is pushing for its first contract. The distinct groups of professors, graduate students, and academic staff—also represented by the SEIU—are pushing for better salaries.

The groups received widespread support across campus. The students organized themselves alongside their teachers. More than 80 tenured professors wrote a letter in March urging AU administrators to reach a working agreement with its unions.

“Low pay and feelings of helplessness have led to high turnover and staff shortages,” the faculty wrote. “In short, we cannot carry out our research missions without strong and empowered staff.”

Unionized employees also staged several protests on campus. They recently took their efforts off campus to protest in the rain outside the Kennedy Center as UA President Sylvia M. Burwell held a fundraising event inside. Instructors stuck price tags on their shirts that displayed their salary.

On El-Amine’s shirt, the number $3,785 was written in bold red letters. That number, he said, does not represent the work required for his job — hours of lesson planning for his Arabic history and literature class, writing letters of recommendation and coordinating extracurricular events. .

El-Amine said he was much happier with his salary at GW, $5,200 for a Masters-level course, and at Georgetown, which pays around $7,500. Georgetown also offers El-Amine supports rarely reserved for assistants — including his own office and, when he taught a six-credit Arabic language course, a graduate assistant.

In the wake of the tenure debate, non-tenured Howard U. professors decry working conditions

Matthew Bennett, a spokesman for UA, said the university regularly compares its compensation programs with those of its peer schools. “Of other local universities where adjunct faculty are represented by SEIU, only Georgetown University offers higher minimum fees,” Bennett said in an email. “AU and GWU have nearly identical rates, and both are higher than other local universities.”

Bennett added that the same factors that professors say require increases – among their concerns are the rising cost of living, inflation, and financial challenges triggered by the pandemic – have also increased the costs of running the university. He said the union’s proposed wage increases are “several times” greater than what was agreed to in previous contracts and “well beyond what the university budget could accommodate.”

But, Bennett said, the school’s upcoming budget includes “significant additional resources for faculty and staff compensation and benefits.”

Bennett added that the union and the university have agreed to bring in an outside mediator to move the campus closer to a resolution. “We remain committed to negotiating in good faith with both units and hope that we can renew existing collective agreements soon,” he said.

Yet the pace of negotiations continues to frustrate members.

“Even though they are progressive in their writing and supposedly in their academic approach, they really have no idea how we live and how we survive or how exploited we are,” El-Amine said. “AU, whether they care or not, stands to lose deputies like me who, by any measure, excel in educating students there.”