With a tentative five-year contract reached with the ACT-UAW Local 7902, the New School resumed in-person classes but now students have a few grievances.
The union representing part-time faculty ended their monthlong strike — the longest one among adjunct faculty in the U.S. — over the weekend. Union leadership is expected to recommend the new agreement, which protects health care benefits and ensures that part-time faculty are paid for additional work that is done outside of the classroom.
There are about 2,600 New School employees represented by the union and 1,789 of them are part-time faculty that are teaching fall semester classes. Parsons has 932 part-time faculty members, but school officials do not break out faculty numbers per school. Minimum hourly rates for adjunct faculty range from $71.31 to $127.85, depending on the course that is taught.
A New School representative was not available Monday to discuss the situation, a school spokesperson said.
Speaking on behalf of the union, Tiffany Webber, a part-time assistant teaching professor of 18 years, said: “This is absolutely the strongest contract that we have had in my years there. There are so many more protections on so many levels for those of us teaching. It’s inherently built in more dignity and respect for the role.”
The university’s acknowledgement of administrative preparation time — work done outside of the classroom versus just in-classroom time — was a major plus, Webber said. Keeping comparable health care, giving lowest-paid part-time faculty the highest raises, offering greater job security, paid family leave and “a great tuition benefit” are some of the other upsides, she added.
Allowing that some things fell short, including in relation to compensation being lower than average adjunct rates, she said structural changes have been made to “set us up great for collective bargaining in the future.” Webber also believes there needs to be greater recourse against harassment and discrimination beyond the school’s Title IX office.
With the proposed contract under review, a vote is expected to take place in the next few days and would go into effect at the start of the next semester. A tentative agreement has been signed between the university and the union’s president.
Monday was the first day that adjunct professors returned to their classrooms in a month. Needless to say, “They have their own demands now because their education has been interrupted. Of course, there are so many students with so many takes on what has happened. All of them would most likely agree that it was so difficult having this disruption,” Webber said.
Many of the affected students started their New School educations shortly before the pandemic lockdown took hold. Some are graduating this month. While many of her students were “so shocked” to find out the terms that adjunct professors were working under, they understood why the strike was a last resort. “I don’t think any of us thought that it would be making history as the longest adjunct strike in the U.S.,” she said.
With this week being the last week of the semester, some are offering make-up days and all programs are trying to figure out how to best support the students in wrapping up the semester “so they’re not anxious about their grades,” Webber said. That is especially true for soon-to-be graduates and those concerned about their visa status or financial aid, she said.
One student-led organization, Student Faculty Solidarity, is demanding that all students are given As due to the disruption of the past month. Final grades need to be submitted by early January. Representatives from SFS had joined the picket line daily and they occupied the university center periodically. Media requests to the SFS were not acknowledged Monday.
Taylor Syfan, an undergrad studying creative writing and journalism, was “super excited” to be in touch with professors once the strike ended. One professor indicated that the class members would receive an “A,” because every student had performed as best they could under the circumstances, Syfan said. The other class was informed that they would have “very forgiving grading so we would probably all get ‘As,’ which is good. The student solidarity group is looking for everybody to get an ‘A’ like [it was] in the beginning of the pandemic. I don’t really have an opinion on that specifically. “
Syfan believes that this semester’s grading should either be based entirely on the work done before the strike started, or nothing else. Feeling “1,000 percent” shortchanged due to the time lost not being in class nor in contact with professors, the 30-year-old, who is enrolled in the bachelor’s program for adults and transfer students, noted that she is much older than most undergrads and is paying his tuition out of pocket. “This is a choice I’ve made to do a career pivot — not to say that it means more to me than it does to anybody else. But it means a lot to me to be able to go to school right now,” Syfan said. “I also feel shortchanged that I’m probably not going to get any tuition back.”
As for doling out “As,” Syfan said her work prior to the strike “absolutely” warranted an “A,” but she declined to specify which of her classes that would apply to.