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Vox Pop: Striking New School Adjuncts and Students Address Labor Battle That Has Convulsed Their Campus

Part-time faculty’s demands for a raise to address inflation are being ignored, even though management salaries increased by 45% between 2014 and 2019.

Katie Pruden Dec 2, 2022

Part-time and adjunct faculty at The New School have been on strike since Nov. 16, two days after their contract expired and they overwhelmingly voted to strike. The walkout came after months of bargaining between the university administration and the union, ACT-UAW Local 7902 (Adjuncts Coming Together-United Auto Workers), which also represents part-time and adjunct faculty at nearby New York University.

The 1,909 part-time and adjunct professors at The New School make up 87% of the teaching faculty, yet only 10% of the university’s budget is spent on them. They have not received a raise since 2018, although management salaries increased by 45% between 2014 and 2019, according to data analyzed by New School economics professor Sanjay Reddy. They also sought a better health-care plan, compensation for out-of-class work, more job security, and protection from harassment. 

On Dec. 1, Local 7902 announced that its members had voted 1,821-88 to reject the administration’s “last, best, and final” contract offer. The proposed five-year deal would have limited raises to 1.8% per year, and allowed the university to increase health-care costs and cut faculty from the plan. “An astonishing 95% No to the New School bosses’ poison-pill contract,” adjunct history professor David Huyssens posted on Twitter.

Strikers and supporters have been picketing outside the university weekdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Here’s what was on people’s minds at the picket line Nov. 29, the day voting on the rejected contract began. Their statements have been lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Gretel D., third-year student in interdisciplinary science and communication design.

The university built an entire structure off exploiting part-time faculty. Now, they are scrambling to justify it, because the people figured out it’s not fair. They are having a really hard time going back on it, because they just thought it was going to be okay. They basically made an “Uber University,” or a “gig-economy university,” which is unbelievably stupid, but I guess that’s just what capitalism had brought us to. Not to mention the injustices on the students—you don’t get a good learning experience if you are taught by people who are at their wits’ end and not being supported by the institution that they are working for. 

I’m surprised how many people are consistently showing up to the picket line. It’s been two weeks now, and I’ve been here like half of the days because I left in the middle to go back home. But, it’s been really beautiful. I love just drumming on stuff and playing music all day. The music has been really incredible, people bring their instruments. It just feels like people, overall, are supporting each other a lot more than I ever felt in school. I’ve been learning a lot more about how to be in community with people at the strike than I learned in school. It feels the strike is doing all the things that a learning institution is supposed to do but is not able to do. 

Rachel Aydt, part-time assistant professor of writing at Eugene Lang College; 20 years teaching at The New School.

I’ve been out here around every other day and I’ve been really inspired by the other unions that are coming out for us — the unions at schools like Columbia, CUNY, NYU. There’s the basic stuff that I love, that I see every day out here, like the rat umbrella. There’s a couple of students, I don’t know where they get their energy but they dance and jump up and down for hours and hours singing the strike songs. They give me life. 

I voted at 6:03 [this morning] like it was Christmas. We got our ballots at 6 o’clock and I ran to vote. I voted no because there’s a lot we are voting no on. Personally, the contact-hours system is really bad. I have written every single syllabus for every single class I’ve taught for the past 20 years, and I have never been paid a curriculum-developing fee. And office hours, and…. I just feel a bit kicked around in general because for 10 years I’ve had a first-year seminar, which means I have advisees, which means I share an office with someone. I’ve gotten moved from office to office to office every year. I feel like I can never get comfortable, and that starts to feel like a metaphor for my existence here. Packing up and unpacking. Being told there is a new full-time faculty member, and I need to empty the office. There’s no real, personal consideration. It would be nice to not have to move all my shit everywhere every five months. 

The Indypendent: How do you think you will get a fairly negotiated contract?

Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know because they’ve been so bullyish about it. I mean, I just wish they would come back to the table. I’m tired of the gaslighting. Did you happen to know that gaslighting is Webster’s word of the year? I read that two days ago and started laughing. I was like, “Wow, that should be my sign for tomorrow.” 

Elizabeth Castaldo, part-time faculty at Parsons School of Design for print-making and book arts.

I’m voting no because I feel like the offer from the school is ultimately going to be harmful to part-time faculty. It’s really regressive, it’s actually going to bring us back, behind what our contract from before had. 

We haven’t had a raise since 2018 and the new contract would end in 2027 — a nine-year stretch and only a 7% raise. And there has been 18% inflation just since 2018. Then there is the whole thing with health care. I’m personally not on the health-care plan, but I feel like [the proposed contract] is super-harmful for people who are on the plan because their premiums are going to go up, and a lot of people are going to get pushed onto this catastrophic plan. I would vote No just to support my colleagues in that. In the future, I may need to be on the health-care plan, too. I feel like it’s just an awful deal. 

Job security is another big thing. I know several people who were let go right before they reached annualization [enough seniority for a guarantee they’ll be hired for the next year]. I’m a strike captain, and I have a few people in my crew who are concerned about longer-term faculty being let go because they are supposedly “no longer qualified” to teach their class. 

The Indypendent: How do you think you will get a fairly negotiated contract?

The school has to be willing to come back to the table and negotiate. They’ve gotten to a point where they seem to be fed up and are just done. We have asked them to come back to the table a few times, and they have refused to come back, they are insisting on trying to implement this offer. So, we are being forced into a vote, and hopefully folks will vote No, and we will be back to bargaining. 

Daisy Green, Eugene Lang student, worker at the campus Performing Arts Library.

The Indypendent: Have you been going to work at school?

Daisy: I haven’t been going, but I should start again, because that is how I make money. But, I’ve just been emailing my boss and being like, “I won’t be there, I’ll be on the picket line.” 

Do you still get paid?

No, but I know a lot of people are still getting paid during work-study. My boss sent an email out the night before the strike and he said, “I don’t think there is going to be a strike.” So, yeah. He’s not paying us. It just depends who your boss is, I guess. 

What do you think are some of the injustices that have been imposed on faculty and students?

I think that the school feels very individualistic. They preach community, but it’s not something that feels tangible, and it feels like they just expect the teachers and students to figure out how to make it on their own. That’s not how the world works; we need to rely on each other. 

I came to the picket line the first three days and then I went home for Thanksgiving, but I was still joining organizing meetings because I wanted to still feel involved, and now I’m back. It’s been so beautiful, the music, the art, the creativity, the community. It’s made me actually really appreciate the people that make up this school. Not the institution, but who makes up this school. 

Annie Lee Larson; adjunct professor at Parsons since 2016, bargaining-unit chair for part-time faculty.

This is not just about part-time faculty, it is also about students and your learning conditions at this school. For years, part-time faculty have been undercompensated. We have not been recognized for the immense amount of work we do outside of the classroom, and that is something that we have demanded a change on. 

Frankly, we are doing uncompensated labor in order to keep the university afloat. Also, there have been serious issues with job security for part-time faculty. You may have heard that the university has a practice of hiring new faculty and keeping them on staff until they’ve taught there for five years, and right before they are about to get job security with a guaranteed number of courses per year, the university fires them. 

That is really disruptive for students too, because we want to be able to cultivate relationships with the students over the course of your education here. The university is making it really difficult for students to be able to build those relationships and to allow faculty to grow within their positions and become better professors. How is that good for students?

We are exercising our right to collective action by withholding our labor from the university with the hope that it brings them back to the bargaining table to reach a fair agreement. Right now, the university is taking a very hardline approach. We think that it is a union-busting approach, forcefully trying to implement a contract that they decided on, that the part-time faculty did not consent to. They are trying to force it on us without having a mutual agreement through the bargaining process. That is anti-democratic, anti-worker, and it goes against the values of The New School. We don’t want to be out here. We would rather be in the classroom with our students in the final weeks of the semester, and it’s up to the university to make that happen. 

We’ve been out here since Nov. 16. It’s incredible. Every day there are students leading that are part of a conversation, holding our school accountable. Full-time faculty, staff, and other labor unions both at The New School and outside of The New School — Chris Smalls was here yesterday. We’ve had just incredible support, and I think the community is taking notice. They understand that The New School is not living up to its social-justice values and progressive legacy

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