Part-time adjunct instructors at the Laguna College of Art and Design agreed to join the Service Employees International Union’s Local 721 in a 35-32 vote announced this week.
A group of adjunct instructors, those hired on a contractual basis rather than being given tenure and a permanent position, initiated the union-organizing effort because they were dissatisfied with working conditions that differed from the college’s full-time faculty.
Altogether, 95 ballots were sent out on June 19 to eligible voters, according to Caroline Carlson, LCAD’s human relations manager.
Ballots were counted by representatives of the National Labor Relations Board and the election’s outcome announced Tuesday by LCAD president Jonathan Burke in an e-mail to staff.
Burke acknowledged that unionization among non-tenured instructors has become a national trend.
The number of tenured, full-time instructors has dropped to 16 percent in 2011 from 28 percent as colleges have replaced retiring professors with adjunct staff, says an April report by the America Association of University Professors.
Similar small private institutions such as the Lesley University College of Art and Design in Cambridge, Mass., where part-timers teach 65 percent of the courses, this year also joined SEIU, a union that specializes in representing public service, service and education workers, among others.
At LCAD, Burke predicted that the presence of an instructor’s bargaining unit will not add to the success of the school nor have a major effect on teachers’ finances.
“Unionization cannot create a harmonious atmosphere on campus, only more bureaucracy. I believe in having a direct relationship with part-time faculty, and we have been working at improving work conditions on campus,” he said, noting that he had risen through the ranks from part-time instructor.
“I voted for the union because I felt Laguna college needs one,” said Marshall Vandruff, of Laguna Niguel, an 18-year LCAD instructor who currently teaches a single class in animal anatomy. “Teachers feel underpaid, powerless to change working conditions. I hope that a union can ameliorate that,” he said.
“When administrations assert power over teachers, that affects them. They should have recourse. Right now, they have none,” he said.
“As for money, there is no other place where I teach that pays me less. At LCAD teaching has been a past time, artistically and socially enjoyable but never viable financially,” he said.
The college does not release pay information, but Burke said LCAD’s pay scale corresponds with those of smaller private colleges. “The school is private, non-profit and tuition driven and the reality is that few institutions can afford a large number of full-time faculty. We admire our part-time faculty and what they bring to the college and bring them the best salaries we can.”
Since its founding in 1961, the college has expanded to include undergraduate degrees in five subjects as well as graduate degrees in two areas and enrolled 450 students. A website about the organizing effort says the school spends 70 percent of its operating budget on “instruction and academic support.” The site states that “there is a direct correlation between the size of the college and what it can afford to pay. LCAD has chosen to exceed these boundaries and pay part-time faculty above what comparative statistics say is prudent.”
The college’s board chair Patricia O’Brian did not respond to an e-mail query about the vote.
Even so, a study by the U.S. House of Representatives released in January reveals that the majority of adjunct faculty live below the poverty line, says the article “Adjunct Revolt” in April’s Atlantic magazine.
Serena Potter, of Fullerton, for instance, earned a master’s degree at LCAD three years ago and now teaches foundation art courses and mentors graduate students in fine art.
“I have great respect and love for the school but I wanted a union since there is a disconnect between part time faculty and the administration,” she said. “I teach at three other schools where the pay is better and it would be nice in the long run if we got a pay increase and the opportunity to see financial statements and where the money goes.” She went on to say that part-timers spread themselves too thin. “Working this way takes a toll on our health, to say nothing of transportation costs, tires and gas.” Moreover, it takes time away from students,” she said.
Part-time photography instructor Eric Stoner has a different take. “When a SEIU representative asked me about my grievances, I said I didn’t have any. I only teach one class and don’t seek full-time or adjunct status. Teaching is only part of my living,” said Stoner, who maintains a studio in Santa Ana.
Although he supports a union in principle, he pointed out its downside. “Unions are double-edged. Sometimes they can keep people longer in their positions than they should be and besides, I have good rapport with the administration and no use for divisiveness.”
The NLRB must certify the election results before the local, based in Los Angeles, enters contract negotiations on behalf of its new members.
“LCAD will of course honor its legal obligations under the National Labor Relations Act…,” wrote Burke.