Adjunct Contract Settlement Nearing

After more than a year and a half of working without a contract, adjunct professors are close to reaching a settlement with the state. Ramapo's full-time faculty settled on July 2, 2012, just over a year from the time their labor contract expired in July 2011, but negotiations continued over adjuncts' contracts until Jan. 25, 2013. The tentative settlement between the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the state has to be ratified by union members, and will be decided by a rolling mail-in vote. Ballots will be mailed to all adjuncts March 28 and must be returned by April 18. The votes will be counted by April 19.

Both adjunct professors and full-time faculty are represented by the AFT, but have separate contracts with the state. Full-time faculty are required to teach three courses a semester, while adjuncts can only teach one or two, and while assistant professors can be considered for tenure and promotion to associate professor after several years, adjunct professors are not on a tenure track.

If ratified, this contract will cover the period between July 1, 2011 and January 2015. Over that period, there will be an 8.33 percent increase in salary for adjuncts. Over the course of the five-year contract this will amount to an approximately $100 increase per credit. The state initially proposed a zero percent increase.

Martha Ecker, Ramapo professor of sociology and president of the local AFT chapter, stated that faculty did not expect or receive excellent economic terms.

"Most people who teach in public colleges and universities are doing that job not because they want a high level of remuneration," she said, "but because they are committed to higher education in the public sector."

The AFT came to a settlement on behalf of adjuncts at all New Jersey state colleges. At the beginning of negotiations in 2011 the state broached that each school bargain separately, but for the time being collective bargaining is still in place.

"We were able to maintain our right to bargain collectively, which is in jeopardy in a number of different states and has been limited considerably in others and so the fact that we maintained that right I think is absolutely critically important," Ecker said.   

Other settlements of the tentative contract include a provision that Ramapo must issue teaching contracts to adjunct professors two weeks before the beginning of the semester, rather than in the weeks following the start of the semester as they sometimes have in the past, and adjuncts must also receive a contract before they have to advise Ramapo of other employment. Adjuncts must also be given first consideration to return to teach the courses they are currently teaching the following semester.

Ecker felt that students should be invested in funding for higher education.

"I think that students do need to get involved in maintaining the necessity of public education, particularly public higher education, and making sure that they understand why it's the case that public subsidies for higher education are particularly important," she said. "More generally, just the provision of public services as a common good for individuals."

Ecker felt that the most significant impact of the protracted negotiations was the loss of some faculty.  

"We had some junior faculty who took positions at other institutions and it's very unfortunate. They left this institution, some of them left the state entirely," she said. "You don't want to lose new junior faculty who you've searched for and all of whom were considered by reputation to be very good teachers."

Ecker mentioned that low salaries are discouraging to professors with educational debts.

"This is a very expensive part of the country to live in, and salaries have not kept pace," she said. "Some of them left for more lucrative prospects in other places."