Over the last decade, faculty at University of Southern California have become increasingly concerned at the direction the administration is taking the institution: addition or cancellation of teaching appointments at the last minute, lack of transparency in dealings with faculty and students, reduction of tenured faculty and consolidation or elimination of departmental chairs, directors or heads are just a few of the conditions that USC faculty have been unable to effectively resist without representation. We have no real job security, and in many cases, no clear program for advancement, despite the fact that some of us have been teaching at USC for years or even decades.
USC depends on a large group of highly trained, committed, non-tenure track faculty like us. While our official job titles vary by school and department – Lecturer, Assistant, Associate or Full Professor (Teaching), Adjunct, Visiting Faculty, Professor (Teaching) – we are, all of us, contingent faculty. Therefore, our employment status remains tenuous, which results in our academic freedom being compromised.
For those of us teaching as full-time faculty with year or multi-year contracts, our contracts state that we are not eligible to be considered for tenure, and that non-tenure-track appointments are subject to early termination, while those of us who have semester-to-semester contracts can regularly expect to be unemployed every summer. Regardless of the number of years we’ve been employed by USC, we can never depend on the job security our tenured colleagues enjoy.
And it’s not just job security. As contingent faculty, we’re paid a fraction of what tenured and tenure-track faculty earn – even when teaching the same courses, have reduced access to professional activities, and are disenfranchised from full participation in faculty governance. It is hard to plan one’s life without a clear expectation, much less guarantee, of continued employment. As at-will employees, we lack the pay, benefits and privileges, access to campus resources, and professional growth opportunities our tenure-track colleagues have. Now, USC faculty are standing up for dignity and a voice in our working conditions.
As USC Rossier’s own Delphi Project report “Non-Tenure-Track Faculty in Our Department: A Guide for Departments and Academic Programs to Better Understand Faculty Working Conditions and Necessity of Change” states:
Changes in the composition of the American professoriate toward a mostly contingent workforce are raising important questions about poor working conditions for non-tenure-track faculty and connections between these conditions and student learning outcomes. Numerous studies have found the negative working conditions of these faculty to negatively impact student retention, transfer from two- to four-year institutions, and graduation or completion rates. Growing reliance on non-tenure-track faculty who receive little support and whose working conditions place limits on what they can do to support students is impacting student learning and success. The core of our educational missions is at risk if we do not make changes.
We have been impressed by the gains made by contingent faculty at other private universities through unionization, including American University, Georgetown University, Tufts University, and George Washington University. Forming a union has allowed them to achieve considerable pay increases, improved job security, better processes for teaching assignment, fair and transparent evaluations, access to benefits, routes to advancement, and a platform for their voices to be heard.
The USC Mission is “the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit.” But we the faculty have not seen this pledge borne out. On the contrary, we have witnessed a steady erosion of USC’s commitment to its students and to the Southern California community. We believe that unionization allows us to be visible models of our own mission statement for our students.
In addition to organizing at USC, contingent faculty at other California-based colleges – including California College of the Arts, Mills College, and Otis College – have all successfully organized. Faculty across California are coming together with the goal that the contingent academic labor force will cease to be a passive and vulnerable majority workforce for the institutions we serve.
This semester you may be approached by a colleague or by a union organizer. We encourage you to join us in our movement to gain a voice for contingent faculty here at USC and across the nation.
Your Colleagues on the USC Organizing Committee
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Join us as we continue to build our union on campus. Take the first step: fill our the confidential form below to show your support for forming a strong faculty union at USC.