By Julian Routh | Editor-in-Chief
Part-time faculty in the Duquesne English department were told last week they would not be teaching any classes this spring, reigniting a contentious discussion about the university’s refusal to recognize the adjunct union.
Duquesne told English adjuncts that after assigning spring courses to full-time faculty and graduate teaching fellows, there were no classes remaining for adjuncts to teach.
But the adjunct union – formed in 2012 under the United Steelworkers – filed a formal complaint with the National Labor Relations Board Oct. 30, alleging that the layoffs were directly related to the faculty’s union activity, according to USW organizer Robin Sowards.
The English department happened to be where this [adjunct union] began,” Sowards said, “so it’s certainly suspicious that there’s large scale layoffs in English and not in other departments, as far as we know. But we don’t have much information since the administration refuses to recognize us or communicate with us.”
Fare said the layoffs have “absolutely nothing to do with the union.”
“The idea that anyone is being retaliated against because of union involvement is completely untrue,” Fare said.
In an email to faculty obtained by The Duke, first-year writing director Jerry Stinnett, who assigns professors to the department’s university core classes, rejected speculation that Duquesne directed him to “not re-hire the adjunct faculty.”
“I want to put that rumor to rest by stating explicitly that I did not receive any such directive, nor am I trying to not re-hire the part-time faculty on my own initiative,” Stinnett wrote.
The recent layoffs impacted 10 of 11 first-year writing instructors in the department, English adjunct Clint Benjamin said.
Duquesne spokeswoman Bridget Fare said she could not confirm that number because there is still a possibility of more classes being added for the spring. She also said the English department will most likely need more adjuncts next fall.
Stinnett wrote that the lack of course availability in the spring is because of projected enrollment numbers and an increase in graduate fellows, who teach their own courses each spring.
The ongoing battle between the adjunct union and Duquesne has garnered national attention in recent years but is currently at a standstill.
After the NLRB ordered the university to recognize the union in June, Duquesne appealed the decision by saying it is religiously exempt from NLRB jurisdiction as a church-operated school.
English department chair Greg Barnhisel, in an email to faculty obtained by The Duke, wrote that it is “disappointing on a personal level” that many of the part-time faculty will not be teaching in the spring.
“I know it’s a hardship for [adjuncts], professionally and financially, and we are grateful for the work they have done and hope that they will teach for us again,” Barnhisel wrote.
He also stated that the most important factor in the decline of the number of classes taught by adjuncts has been the creation of nine full-time salaried positions in the department in recent years.
Fare said the university is aiming to create full-time positions where possible, and that “adjuncts are often hired to fill those positions.”
Adjuncts are currently paid $4,000 per course, which is $500 higher than what they were paid last spring.
Benjamin, a member of the Steelworkers union, said this would be the first semester in his eight years at Duquesne without teaching any courses.
“It’s clear to me that we’re not particularly valued as adjuncts,” Benjamin said. “This problem could have been averted if [Duquesne] had recognized our union in the first place.”