This is the best of times to have a little discussion with all adjunct instructors about working conditions at Roosevelt University. RAFO has recently completed negotiating a new contract with the university and our instructors have ratified the new deal. But there are a few perennial concerns that I would like to bring before you as the Grievance Chair of our union.
They are as follows:
- Know your union and participate in its functions, e.g., attending membership meetings and running for office in RU Senate and College Council.
- Understand the benefits of our contract.
- Reach out to RAFO for protection from unfair labor practices.
The last point is the main purpose of this communication. The university is experiencing change and we adjunct will probably experience disruptions in our usual teaching routines. I’ll tell you a story.
Once upon a time, an adjunct instructor with twenty-plus years of experience came under fire from her department chair because of a complaint from a student in her class of six. She had never been called on the carpet before and her student evaluations were rather remarkable, particularly over the course of so many years. Nevertheless, with little discussion of the validity of this complaint, other than the harsh e-mails announcing disciplinary actions, which were copied to Human Resources, signaling the seriousness of the matter, the instructor was told that her class would be observed. Soon thereafter, the head of Human Resources informed RAFO of the situation.
Although assigned two courses in the Fall, devastated and chastened, the instructor proudly resigned instead of facing the three-stage observation process. RAFO reached out to her as soon as it learned of the situation, but the resignation effectively circumvented any actions that could have been taken.
If one knows the terms of the RAFO contract, it should be readily understood that twenty-plus consecutive years of teaching at RU puts an instructor at the top of the compensation ladder. It guarantees that, if courses are available in his/her area of expertise, that instructor must be assigned courses over instructors with lesser experience. Further, for all union members, it provides safeguards against arbitrary actions from administrators/department directors without due process (which is very complex but well-spelled out in the contract). Moreover, the contract allows for union representation at any session where punishment can be doled out, and that includes classroom observations.
There’s a moral to the story: Remember, you pay dues for a number of things. Many of those things are quite obvious, e.g., to run this Website, to hold membership meeting, and to meet to discuss union business. That money doesn’t go into some deep hole and members, especially full members, never see any benefits. For me, the most important use of your dues is to enforce the contract negotiated with the university. We must represent your interests, but that can’t be done if you run away when something happens. Certainly you may feel insulted—you may have been insulted—but it’s your loss not the university’s if you run away from adversity. The well-written letter of resignation provides the opportunity to leave with a bit of one’s honor intact, but that’s about all it will accomplish. Your union can do much more, if you reach out to it before taking a precipitous action.
Incidentally, I’m working on developing a new grievance team and am looking for two more members. If you want to become involved with this work, believe in social justice for adjunct instructors, and can empathize with others, do consider contacting me.
Bonnie J. Smothers