Show me what democracy looks like, Loyola!
By: Lara Driscoll
April 6, 2018
After two years of negotiations, Loyola Chicago NTT faculty (Non-Tenure Track including adjuncts and full time non-tenure track lecturers) are still fighting for a true voice on campus. Although the administration has come closer to paying part-time faculty a living wage, the administration's counter proposals were actually quite minimal until we posed a strike threat.
However, regardless of any agreements we came close to, the last minute “poison pill” language that the administration threw into their bargaining proposals seemed designed to undermine the entire contract. This behavior demonstrates that they still do not want to accept the fact that three hundred and fifty non-tenure track faculty formed a legal and powerful union with support from tenured faculty, students, community members and clergy.
As a jazz musician and adjunct faculty juggling teaching at multiple colleges, I have grown accustomed to consistently working overtime and literally running between campuses then to performances and rehearsals across town. My schedule is often improvised; it’s chaotic, unpredictable and full of contingency. Despite many part time jobs, none of my employers provide benefits like health care, family leave, personal days etc. Stress and sleep deprivation have become my norm, and work-life-creativity balance is a continual challenge. However, this is not about me; I am definitely not the only one dealing with this crazy lifestyle...
On the other hand, I am grateful for the unique experiences and opportunities music has offered me. Besides performing regularly, I love sharing this amazing art form with my students so they too can experience the incredible joy of musical synergy. This is precisely why I wholeheartedly disagree with our society’s current trend toward the corporatization of higher education. Instead, I value affordable access to quality and transparently funded higher education. Why should we accept a gig-style economy in higher education? What advantages does this provide for students or for the soul of higher education? Students should not pay over forty thousand dollars a year for an unreliable learning environment.
My frustration with this suspicious higher ed behavior pattern has grown immensely through Loyola's NTT union formation and our two year long drawn out negotiations process. Loyola needs to do a better job of acting upon its social justice mission. We have faculty who have been teaching at Loyola for twenty five plus years that still remain contingent and underpaid; why? That’s not right. We must stand together and united because we deserve respect. Student learning conditions are determined through faculty working conditions. The university only works because we do; when faculty teach, grade and prepare to their best ability, students can learn and perform to their best ability.
All workers deserve access to fair wages, job security, benefits and most importantly, a say in their workplace conditions. I stand in solidarity with our graduate student teaching assistants (who have formed a union that the university refuses to recognize). I also support our students who are attempting to voice their concerns about systemic racism on campus.
The NTT strike and rally were also held in solidarity with the Poor People’s Campaign on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. It is my hope that our collective action inspires and encourages students to stand up for what they believe in and to speak out in the face of injustice whether that be social or economic injustice.
A few years ago, an invitation to represent adjunct faculty at a Fight For $15 rally helped increase my awareness of and participation in a current national conversation about higher-ed working conditions. The unity between the Fight For 15 and Faculty Forward campaigns inspired my steadfast commitment to solidarity with all low-wage workers; I will never forget the moment I experienced firsthand the truly powerful phrase, "Show me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like!" This exposure even resulted in an original composition I titled “Show Me.” I learned that sometimes it takes an inspiring personal invitation and a challenging conversation (or several) to empower people to initiate change in the name of justice.
This strike affects students directly and not only because they may miss out on class time during the strike. The conditions under which faculty work create the learning conditions students experience. Wouldn’t it be nice to know that your professors are respected, appreciated and supported by Loyola? Wouldn’t it be helpful to know your professors have a path to job security and that they will be available for you when you need extra help or a letter of recommendation?
Faculty who have more job security and are paid fairly are able to devote more time and energy to their students. They are able to stay on campus longer for office hours, instead of running to the next job. They are able to engage more in the campus community. It is better for students when the university dedicates more resources to the classroom.
Besides the previously stated demands for respect for the Loyola community, I also encourage students to reflect upon a University's primary function and to therefore demand transparent budget information. Loyola students pay outrageously expensive tuition. Despite ten years of tuition hikes, there have been zero adjunct faculty raises. How are these tuition dollars related to cost of instruction?
I learned about the importance of fighting against tuition hikes and for budget accountability from Quebecois students while pursuing grad school in Montreal. There, tuition hikes cause intense and frequent road closures and lots of noise (literally banging pots and pans on balconies every evening for weeks on end) because students know that they must fight to maintain affordability and access to higher education.
I wish someone had exposed me to these issues much earlier. I suppose I was too busy studying and practicing to notice while I was an undergraduate student at UIUC. Will you learn from my naivete?
Last week Loyola made a claim that they remained committed to "maintaining affordable tuition" for our students. Do you plan to hold Loyola accountable to that statement? Is over forty grand per year affordable and accessible?
We must be clear; our NTT fight is no longer about compensation. It's about respect. On Monday, after thirteen hours of bargaining (I travelled to Loyola three times in one day from other teaching commitments!), we were so ready to reach an agreement on our first union contract that would have granted us improved compensation, more job stability and a voice at the table. After two years of hard work and painstakingly slow progress, we really thought that we had finally reached a tentative resolution and we were ready to celebrate.
However, after we, the union membership, had agreed on many compromises in order to reach a fair agreement, the university administration still refused to even enter the bargaining room to present their late night article proposals that contain language that undermines all of the bargaining in good faith done up till that point.
We chose to strike because we realize that the integrity of our agreement (and therefore the quality of student education) was at stake. By fighting for job stability and against union busting contract language, we are standing up FOR our students.