Close to 50 people rallied in South Portland on Thursday to call on the Maine Community College System to agree to a new contract with adjunct faculty members that pays them a fair wage.
The rally, held at the campus of Southern Maine Community College — one of seven higher education institutions within the system — comes as the adjunct faculty union has been negotiating for a new contract since January, when the previous agreement expired. The adjunct union is a chapter of the Maine Service Employees Association (MSEA), SEIU Local 1989.
“The Maine Community College System relies on us, they need us, and they can’t function without us. And we deserve the respect that comes from that,” Katrina Ray-Saulis, an adjunct professor within the system and the chapter president of the union, said at Thursday’s event.
(Disclosure: Ray-Saulis is a contributor to Beacon).
The battle over how college’s should treat adjuncts — who are typically part-time, non-tenure track professors that work for less money and don’t have the job security year-to-year associated with tenure-track professors — is playing out around the country. Nationwide, colleges and universities have increasingly filled faculty positions with adjuncts as a cost-cutting measure. Fifty years ago, about 80% of teaching positions were tenure-track. But that proportion has flipped on its head, as advocates now estimate that 75% of college teaching positions around the country are filled with adjunct instructors and that adjuncts teach over half of university courses.
The situation at the Maine Community College System (MCCS) is similar. Noel Gallagher, director of communications and public affairs for MCCS, said there are 572 adjuncts teaching in the system during the spring semester and 358 full-time faculty members. Gallagher added that under their respective contracts, full-time faculty are required to teach a minimum of 15 credit hours a semester — and have additional responsibilities at the college — while adjuncts can teach a maximum of 12 credit hours per semester. However, most adjuncts at MCCS (87%) end up teaching less than the 12-credit-hour maximum allowed in their contract, the university system said.
As contract negotiations between adjuncts and MCCS continue, the main sticking point appears to be compensation. Ray-Saulis said under the terms of their last union contract, adjuncts across the system are paid $930 per credit hour. That means if they teach a one credit course, $930 is all they would make for a 15-week class. If the course was worth three credits, they would be paid $2,790 for those 15 weeks, Ray-Saulis said.
Given the amount of work that goes into teaching, she said that’s not a lot of money.
“You have all this time [spent] communicating with students, corresponding with students outside of class time, grading, updating your courses … all that falls under that same $930 a credit hour. And when you break it down, it’s basically minimum wage for a lot of people,” she said.
MCCS students who attended Thursday’s rally agreed. Christine Livia, who studies at Central Maine Community College in Auburn, said attending school there has been an empowering experience. That’s why it’s all the more disappointing that many professors aren’t being paid adequately and don’t have long-term job security, she said.
“Frankly, as a student, I think it’s really unfair that the people who are working really hard to ensure I have an awesome education aren’t making a living wage,” Livia said, noting that one professor told her that he works multiple jobs just to make ends meet.
“To the community college system management: Respect your workers, give them a living wage and long-term job security and allow them to thrive in the same way that they want to see their students thrive,” Livia added.
In the current contract negotiations, Ray-Saulis said some progress has been made with MCCS management around updating the system’s anti-discrimination policy and creating additional professional development opportunities for adjuncts.
However, she said the response to requests for increased pay has been disappointing.
“They’ve moved very little on compensation,” she said of MCCS management.
In a statement, David Daigler, president of MCCS, agreed that the key sticking point in negotiations is wages. Daigler said the institution has offered adjuncts a wage increase of 4.5% in each year of a proposed two-year contract. Given the current rate of $930 a credit hour, that would amount to a raise of a little over $80 to the credit hour rate over the course of that agreement. Daigler said that would add to action taken in the last round of contract negotiations that provided uniform pay rates for adjuncts in different colleges within MCCS and increased wages for adjuncts between 15% and 82%, depending on the particular campus they taught at.
“We highly value the adjunct faculty at our colleges,” Daigler said. “They are a critical part of the excellent instruction at Maine’s community colleges and we deeply appreciate their work.”
Daigler added that “adjunct faculty who wish to teach more classes and be paid the same as full-time faculty can apply for full-time faculty positions.” He said 41% of full-time faculty hired at MCCS since 2018 were previously adjuncts within the institution.
However, Ray-Saulis said given the amount of time and energy adjuncts spend on teaching — along with the student loans many have — she believes they should be paid around $1,800 a credit hour. Still, she acknowledged that it’s unlikely MCCS will agree to that figure this time around and said the union has pitched raising pay to $1,200 a credit hour for adjunct faculty — more than what MCCS has offered thus far.
Adjuncts are also looking for increased respect, and in particular respect for those who are long-time instructors at MCCS, she added. Ray-Saulis said she’s been teaching at the institution for five years but makes the same amount as adjuncts who have been teaching there for over 20 years. The new contract should allow those who have been at the institution longer to receive additional compensation, she argued.
At the end of Thursday’s rally, Timothy McGuire, a field representative for MSEA, urged attendees to sign a letter of “community support” for adjuncts that would be delivered to Daigler and to take additional steps to increase visibility of the union’s campaign.
“Post to social media and spread the message that adjuncts deserve a living wage,” he said.
Overall, Ray-Saulis said Thursday’s rally was an important step in making MCCS management aware that adjuncts “know what we are worth.”
“Adjuncts are smart, we are educated, and we have years of teaching expertise,” she said. “We have hands-on experience that directly benefits our students and that we bring directly into the classroom and we deserve to have that seen.”