Hamline puts posturing before progress in contract talks, adjuncts say

Imagine paying $40,000 per year to attend a university, asking a faculty member for a letter of recommendation, and finding out the letter will come not from a “.edu” address associated with the school, but from an AOL account the professor maintains to write restaurant reviews and buy vintage concert posters online.

It’s just one example, adjunct faculty members say, of the retrograde positions Hamline University and its high-priced lawyers have staked out in negotiations that, despite 14 meetings since last June, have made no progress toward a new union contract.

“All we are trying to do is make reasonable improvements to the contract that help us be better teachers,” said Richard Wiebe, an adjunct instructor of creative writing and digital arts. “We haven’t even gotten to the point of (discussing) economics yet, and every ask we’ve made has been denied by administration on the other end of the table.

“These are things that don’t cost the university anything, so we’re kind of at a loss.”

The frustration boiled over in a press release issued last week by Minnesota Academics United, the SEIU-backed union that represents faculty members at Hamline, Augsburg and other local campuses.

The release blasted Hamline’s approach to bargaining a new contract, accusing school administrators of trying to weaken adjunct faculty members’ union and marginalize their status on campus.

They also blasted university leaders for bringing attorneys from the law firm Dorsey and Whitney into negotiations. The legal fees “almost certainly” have cost Hamline more “than the total cost of the first year of the union’s proposals,” the release said.

David Weiss, a co-steward of the faculty members’ bargaining unit, said union members had hoped talks would be collaborative and positive.

“We were sorely mistaken,” Weiss said. “Far from working with us in a collaborative spirit, Hamline is choosing to become a ‘gated’ academic community, trying to weaken our contract and union – as well as our relationships with students and fulltime faculty colleagues.”

Hamline relies on adjunct faculty to fill roughly half its teaching positions. Adjunct instructors’ workloads fluctuate at the school’s discretion, with few guarantees beyond the end of a given semester.

The intermittent nature of adjunct employment would become even more pronounced under contract language proposed by the university, union members said. One proposal would eliminate standing arrangements that protect adjunct instructors from having to reapply for teaching jobs each semester. Another would block their access to university email accounts, library services and online records in between teaching assignments.

The changes, faculty members warn, would impede their own scholarship and cut them off from students, who often look to instructors for academic assistance or networking support after a semester ends.

The school also rejected the union’s proposal that adjunct faculty members be allowed to carry over earned sick and safe time from one academic year to the next, Wiebe said. Some instructors have been teaching at Hamline for 17 years without accruing a single day of sick leave.

“It’s something we thought it would be reasonable to ask for,” Wiebe said. “We’re trying to work with an unconventional model, being on the academic calendar, but nevertheless ensure some continuity and security for ourselves and our families.”

Hamline’s previous contract with adjunct faculty members, finalized in Feburary 2016 after a first-of-its-kind organizing drive in Minnesota, expired in September. Anthropology instructor Marcia Regan, who has been teaching at Hamline since 2004, said progress on a new agreement won’t come until administrators put posturing aside.

“We know, as dedicated professionals who teach because we believe in the Hamline students, that our long-term connection to Hamline makes us better teachers and deepens our ties to the Hamline community,” Regan said. “The administration refuses to recognize that value, and this has really undercut our best efforts to reach an agreement.”

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