By Alyssa Pawluk
Late Wednesday evening at Youngstown State University, students and faculty gathered together as one to listen to Staughton Lynd, a civil rights and anti-war movement activist, lecture on the nationwide struggle of part-time faculty workers to receive fair working conditions through unionization.
The working conditions of part-time faculty have long been a concern for many at YSU.
Lynd was a participant in the southern Civil Rights Movement, an early leader of the 1960s anti-war movement and a member of the first civilian peace delegation of North Vietnam — a decision that ended in him being blacklisted from Yale University, along with five other universities.
Lynd, a workers’ rights activist attorney, is best known for the case Local 1330: United States Steel Workers of America versus U.S. Steel, which challenged the closing of Youngstown steel mills in the 1970s.
Lynd said the purpose of the lecture was to inform students and faculty about the legal obstacles that adjunct faculty face in Ohio and how they can overcome these limitations through worker solidarity.
“I’d like to make clear that I don’t think of myself as here to organize anything … [part-time faculty] don’t have to be part of the same organization, they don’t have to be part of the same bargaining process, but they need to be in solidarity with each other and if that could happen, three quarters of the problems that you all bring to this circle would have a chance of resolution,” Lynd said.
Part-Time Faculty at YSU
Lynd read from YSU’s department of communications manual, which had been revised as of July 2010.
“I’ve been trying to give myself a crash course on working conditions for part-time faculty at Youngstown State University and Kent State-Trumbull branch. I have tried to rely on primary sources. For example, I’ve been told by knowledgeable persons that the rate of pay here at Youngstown State University has not changed for 17, 18, 20, or tonight, 25 years,” Lynd said.
According to page six of the university department of communications manual, part-time faculty will teach no more than six workload hours in one semester. The rate of pay is $800 per workload hour for a person with a master’s degree.
The maximum annual salary for a part-time faculty member at YSU with a PhD is $12,600.
“Of course, money only begins to describe the separate and unequal status of a part-time member of the YSU faculty. The manual states in an introductory note, ‘Welcome, we are happy to have you with us. I hope you feel at home here.’ For you — as for employees at Wal-Mart or Starbucks — insecurity of employment, the absence of a firm future schedule on which you can rely appears to be a grievance as weighty as your miserly rate of pay,” Lynd said. “I have spoken with adjuncts at YSU who say that they may not know what they will be expected to teach a few days, or even a few hours before the semester begins.”
Lynd said that the Ohio Revised Code states, “Employees of a public employer are public employees except for various categories of workers that explicitly exclude them, among them, part-time faculty members of an institution of higher education.”
This code causes many of the problems for adjunct professors.
“Since part-time faculty members at Youngstown State University and Kent State University are not public employees under the law for this purpose, where does this leave us?” Lynd said. “The answer is, it seems to me, that you are in the same situation as where American workers, until the mid 1930s, were. Nothing protects you if you take dramatic direct action, but nothing forbids you either.”
Though there is nothing legally barring part-time faculty from forming their own union, it is a risk and would likely require the assistance of full-time faculty.
“It’s disgraceful what this university permits to happen to part-time employees and all we need to do to cure that disgrace is to agree to do it. The essential principal that one glimpses in the early 1930s is simply solidarity, the need to rely on the spark that leaps from person to person, especially in times of crisis,” Lynd said.
Students and faculty members were attentive to the lecture and participated in open conversation with Lynd. Bill Brophy, a part-time instructor in the telecommunications department, said that he is inspired to see support of adjunct faculty members.
“It’s really encouraging to see full-time faculty at a meeting like this and show solidarity, and to see somebody like Staughton Lynd be here, and other union members who have been through some of these fights that we were taking a look at,” Brophy said. “One of the things that I think is encouraging … we may get our asses fired, but we are not alone. … We are beginning to build, I believe, that solidarity, not only with our fellow employees, but with some people outside of the community. I think that is very encouraging for those of us who are trying to improve our situation here at Youngstown State.”
Thomas Sabatini, a part-time faculty member in the department of history, said adjunct faculty members are afraid to voice their opinions because there is limited protection from the law.
“We’re terrified as a group because we have no power, and our safety net is about a piece of dental floss,” Sabatini said.
Johanna Slivinske, a part-time faculty member in the department of social work, also spoke on the issue of fair representation for adjunct faculty members at the university.
“I know that it is a fear and that it is a risk, but sometimes taking a risk is worth it. I feel better already taking the risk and I think most of us do,” Slivinske said. “I have taught here for about 11 years. I think it’s time for a raise. I think it’s time for an increase. We do a lot of good work. We’re hard workers.”
Lynd concluded his suggestion of solidarity would allow adjunct faculty to overcome these working conditions. He gave his encouragement to the audience.
“It follows that the only realistic way to try to deal with such common problems is to act together,” Lynd said.