At The Table: MICA’s Adjunct Union

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The Part Time Faculty Union at MICA Takes Its Next Step by John Barry

On April 30 of last semester, part time faculty members at Maryland Institute College of Art voted to organize as a union – we are now the MICA Part-time Faculty Union/SEIU Local 500. It was the result of an extended campaign which involved a lot of knocking on doors and showing up at classes and even at homes. There was pushback by the administration. Forums, list serves, and debates followed. Then summer began.

Four months later, the sense of drama has died down. For the most part, faculty members are back on the hamster wheel, juggling careers, projects, families, and budgets. So what about that union?

As a member of the bargaining team, this writer can’t claim to be disinterested observer. For the first time in Baltimore, adjuncts are negotiating an employment contract with their university. Those negotiations could have a major effect on the culture at MICA and other universities in Baltimore, where part time faculty has played an increasingly important part of the business of educating college students. But that’s only going to happen if people are aware of what’s going on.

So here’s an update:

It’s been a busy four months. As soon as the votes were counted at the end of April, the part time faculty union conducted an on-line survey: what are priorities for adjuncts, what sort of changes are they looking for? Using results, contract proposals were drawn up. Part time faculty members began to form action teams to represent MICA adjuncts at the bargaining table and in the college community. Groups have been meeting at regular intervals to plan events, develop communications, and to develop a management team which would communicate concerns to the MICA administration on a daily basis.

The negotiations have begun. A bargaining team, made up of MICA adjuncts and SEIU L500 staff with expertise in bargaining part-time faculty union contracts – will be conducting bargaining sessions with the MICA administration  throughout the fall semester.  In our survey of MICA part time faculty, issues such as job stability, predictable appointments, professional advancement, fair and transparent evaluations, as well as compensation and benefits were raised. There’s no telling how long the bargaining process will take, but similar negotiations in Washington DC – where SEIU represents about 90 percent of adjuncts – tend to take over a year or so.

The tone, so far, is positive. New President Sammy Hoi met with the bargaining team at his own request early this August in a discussion in which he indicated a desire for a constructive and forward moving dialogue.

The movement to organize is spreading. This summer MICA adjuncts headed across country, to advocate for unionization of part time faculty in California at San Francisco Institute of Art and Laguna College near Los Angeles. Since last summer’s vote, adjuncts at Howard University and the University of the District of Columbia voted to unionize, raising the percentage of unionized part time faculty in DC to nearly 90 percent. Adjuncts at other Baltimore colleges have been expressing interest in following suit.

In brief, MICA adjuncts have a union now: a member-run organization of SEIU 500 to advocate for ourselves in contract negotiations and claim our voice as a stake-holder in the MICA community. So now, it’s up to part timers at MICA to make the move as the bargaining moves forward. A strong voice for change on the MICA campus can translate into real change. Silence or disinterest is a vote for the status quo.

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To find out more or get involved, head to the MICA Adjuct Union Website.

Author John Barry is a Baltimore-based writer and teacher.

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