Student group in support of adjunct faculty unionization

Originally published in The Globe January 29, 2014

After the Student Solidarity Organization stood before the United Student Government (USG) in support of the unionization of adjunct professors, members of the governing body voted to endorse the cause, but then decided to table it for further discussion.

The organization’s statement of support addressed the adjuncts’ lack of job security, lack of benefits and low wages as grounds to support adjunct professors unionization. It also said that improving adjuncts’ working conditions would improve the graduation rate and the quality of students’ education.

According to the organization’s statement of support, these changes would “free up adjunct schedules allowing more time for them to focus on a reasonable number of students and provide the quality education they strive to give.” It also said, “graduation rates would rise as students would be granted much needed one-on-one time to work with their professors.”

The Student Solidarity Organization’s goals are to provide support for professors, reach out to students and make them understand that their educations are at stake, according to the head of the organization Samantha Lee.

Lee, a senior global cultural studies major, represented the organization during the meeting while Luke Niebler, an adjunct professor at the University, spoke about problems faced by adjuncts.

“I share one office and one computer and four desks with 50 other adjuncts,” said Niebler on Monday, explaining the difficultly of giving students a quality education with the small amount of resources provided by the University.

Niebler also cited the death of the late Duquesne University adjunct professor Margaret Mary Vojtko on Sept. 1 as one of the events sparking recent discussion over adjunct unionization in Pittsburgh. Vojtko’s death at age 83, destitute and nearly homeless, was seen as a consequence of relying on a low-paid, part-time faculty position. The University had not renewed her contract after 25 years of teaching. She earned about $10,000 a year with no health insurance, according to the National Public Radio (NPR).

The Legislative Body first voted on supporting the petition, but USG advisor and Dean of Students Keith Paylo advised members to further discuss the issue, saying the petition was “heavy duty” and members passed the motion to table the discussion quickly.

“USG support means something,” said Paylo. “If your name is on this, you are advertising your endorsement.”

Paylo said USG support would be noticed by the University administration.

After Paylo’s remarks, USG member Riley Benson motioned to table the petition for reconsideration.

Paylo said he is not for or against USG’s endorsement, but wanted members to discuss the issue further.

USG President Dillon Kunkle agreed that Paylo was acting in his role as USG advisor. He said the senate was unprepared for voting on an important decision.

“This is a real life, real world issue,” said Kunkle. “[Paylo’s] job is to say, ‘Hey think about this’ or ‘It warrants more discussion.’”

Although Kunkle agrees with much of what the Student Solidarity Organization stands for personally and politically, he supports USG’s decision to hold off on giving it support.

“Thankfully this was tabled,” Kunkle said. “I very much believe in a lot of this, but I’m not just going to slap our name on this. It warrants more discussion.”

Because adjuncts tend to teach classes at multiple universities, the issue extends beyond Point Park.

“This is not just a Point Park issue,” Kunkle said. “It’s a Pittsburgh issue. If we unionize in one, we unionize in all.”

In spite of USG tabling its endorsement of the Student Solidarity Organization, Kunkle said he is happy to see that students are participating in the cause.

“The waters are primed for change,” Kunkle said. “It’s wonderful that we have students trying to do this.”

Lee said she was shocked the change occurred after the organization’s representatives left, but understands USG’s decision to hold off on giving its endorsement.

“I can certainly understand that they have questions and want to fully understand it before they give their support,” Lee said.

The Student Solidarity Organization is invited to next week’s USG meeting, where the issue will be discussed further.

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