All photos by the author.
Part-time faculty at The New School launched a strike on the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 16 to demand higher wages, job security, and expanded healthcare eligibility. With adjunct professors representing nearly 90% of all faculty, the picketers brought nearly all academic activity to an abrupt halt just as finals were set to begin.
After nearly five months of negotiating disagreements between the administration and part-time faculty, members of ACT-UAW Local 7902 remained substantial. Last week, 97% of local union members voted to authorize a strike.
Shortly before 9 a.m. on Wednesday, organizers corralled hundreds of students, faculty, and supporters into a picket line that wrapped around the corner of E 13th St. and Fifth Ave.
“We want acknowledgment of the unpaid labor that is happening that keeps everything at this school going,” said Lee-Sean Huang, a part-time teacher of two graduate courses at the Parsons School of Design and an elected member of the union’s 18-person bargaining committee.
In the weeks leading up to the strike, negotiations took place virtually and lasted up to 12 hours a day.
According to the union, part-time faculty have not had a pay raise in four years, in spite of recent inflation and economic downturn. As of Tuesday night, The New School’s administration the school’s proposed contract did not guarantee job protection for employees with less than ten semesters of experience and offered a fraction of the wage increases demanded by the union. For a 45 contact-hour studio course, ACT-UAW Local 7902 demanded $8,438, with an additional $2,110 for non-teaching labor, including grading and lesson planning. The university countered with $4,367 for teaching hours alone.
As an alumni of The New School’s Documentary Studies Program and a current part-time professor of Integrated Media, Maliyamungu Muhande has a unique perspective on the issues at hand.
“As a graduate student I had bad experiences with professors,” Muhande said. “Now I know that it’s not that [the professors] were bad, they just weren’t getting paid for their wages and they didn’t have the time to give me the attention that I needed.”
As a teacher, Muhande now believes that payment for work conducted outside of the classroom would immediately improve the educational environment for students. Like many other part-time faculty, Muhande has two additional full-time jobs. She works at a documentary film company and an advertising agency to supplement her teaching income.
“I have done 30-minute, one-on-one sessions with 18 students, back to back, on a Sunday because that’s the only way I can get them the attention they deserve,” she said. “That’s free labor that I did and that lots of people are doing, because we actually care. But it’s not sustainable.”
November has been a busy month for UAW, which has chapters around the country. On Monday, tens of thousands of faculty at the University of California, represented by UAW Local 2865, launched the largest academic strike in higher education in U.S. history.
Locally, New York University’s administration narrowly avoided a shutdown after agreeing to pay increases for adjunct faculty, who are also members of ACT-UAW Local 7902, on Nov. 1. These concessions widened the already substantial difference between part-time professors at The New School and those at other universities.
However, much of the outrage expressed throughout Wednesday’s protest was in response to disparities between those working at The New School.
According to an analysis performed by Sanjay Reddy, a full-time professor in the economics department at The New School, the average full-time faculty salary rose by 19% between 2014 and 2019. In the same time period, the average salary for part-time faculty fell by 11%, even as the number of part-time faculty increased by 15%.
On Tuesday evening, the school’s labor relations department released a statement in anticipation of the strike, citing ongoing budgeting concerns and dismay at the impending shutdown.
“Although we continued to make progress on contract terms, reached a number of tentative agreements, and the university brought an improved compensation proposal to the table, we are disappointed that ACT-UAW Local 7902 decided to declare a strike tonight.”
In an email sent to parents, the school also advised students to continue going to class, though their ability to do so remains unclear: The union representing full-time faculty signed a letter in support of the adjunct strike, encouraging its members to strike in solidarity.
Dianca Potts, a part-time creative writing professor, tried to balance her commitment to her students with her determination to see the outcome she had been advocating for as a member of the bargaining committee.
“There’s always something that has to be disrupted to make room for something new,” said Potts. “It’s never easy but I think that our students understand.”