In any given semester, adjunct professors make up a little over half of the teaching base on campus, the USF website says. Adjunct professors, also known as part-time faculty, teach a majority of lower level and core courses. This means that almost every student who passes the green and gold “USF Part Time Faculty Deserves a Fair Contract!” signs springing up around campus has most likely had at least one adjunct professor.
So, what is the story behind these signs?
USF’s union for adjunct professors, the Part-Time Faculty Association (PTFA), filed a charge of Unfair Labor Practice against the University with the National Labor Relations Board in February. The charge included allegations of a breach of contract, including failure to provide information about promotion opportunities and accusations of threats and reprisals by University leadership towards union leadership.
These charges have roots in another unfair labor practice charge the union filed in fall 2016, said John Higgins, professor and president of the PTFA. The 2016 charge concerned how departments were assigning courses.
The union and the University eventually settled when the university agreed to enter collective bargaining negotiations in winter of 2017. This is where the union and the University make decisions regarding pay for the next few years, healthcare benefits and other employment details. The contract length varies by schools’ unions, but they range from one to six years.
Negotiations started in June 2018 and are ongoing.
The negotiation meetings include the PTFA’s Executive Board, representatives or deans of each school and department within USF, a labor consultant, Jeff Hamrick, who oversees the school’s budget and analytics, and Director of Employee and Labor Relations David Philpott.
Philpott administers collective bargaining agreements and serves as the University’s representative for all matters related to unions.
“The University and the PT Union are working on a number of challenging issues, and we are hopeful the parties can reach a fair agreement for both sides very soon,” Philpott said in an email. “The parties have made tentative agreements on some issues, and we continue to work together to find common ground on areas where we differ.”
Philpott did not elaborate on any recent updates.
Higgins said these meetings are challenging and tense because the deans sitting in attendance are the people that re-hire the adjunct faculty.
One of the PTFA’s current allegations is the University’s failure to notify the part-time faculty that PHP (preferred hiring pool) applications were open. PHP establishes adjunct professors seniority and offers some stability and a slight raise, PFTA treasurer and professor Bob Bathrick explained. PHP is granted by department deans. The university also plans to freeze the PHP system for three years, which would limit the number of professors with PHP.
The PTFA is also asking for a salary increase that’s the same percentage as the full-time faculty, Higgins said. This year, the salary increase that part-time faculty would receive is a smaller proportion of their salary, which is already less than that of a full-time faculty member, Higgins said.
Smaller salaries mean part-time faculty can afford to spend less time on campus with students, PTFA vice president and professor Sue Bae said. She did say, in comparison to other universities, USF pays their adjunct professors well and offers good benefits.
The existing PTFA contract bars the union from striking, meaning they have no leverage beyond extending the negotiating process. Higgins said he has not seen it get this bad before, and so by February, the PTFA was ready to file charges.
The PTFA also alleges that they have been treated unfairly during negotiations. When asked about these claims of unfair treatment, Philpott said, “I am not aware of any instances, and to my knowledge, [PTFA members] have not provided any examples to the administration.”
Additionally, the University and PTFA have struggled to agree upon a next date for discussions after their most recent meeting on March 26.
“It seems to us, [Jesuit values] are thrown out,” Bae said. “But because our jobs are not permanent, how strongly can we fight for rights of members without losing our jobs?” Bae said.
Philpott noted that USF is not alone in struggling with negotiations with their faculty.
“Many part-time faculty at universities across the U.S. are experiencing challenges,” Philpott said. “I cannot comment on what other universities are doing in comparison to USF, but I can tell you that our institutional values and mission inform all we do, including negotiations at the bargaining table.”
If the National Labor Relations Board determines there is substance to the union’s claim, they will give the University the opportunity to settle or take the issue to an administrative law judge.