Adjunct faculty members at Howard University have threatened to launch an unfair labor practice strike next Wednesday over what they say are lack of competitive wages and the struggle to get enough courses to teach to qualify for health insurance at the institution.
Around 500 faculty and students rallied on campus Wednesday in support of non-tenured professors, who teach some 2,000 classes at the university annually. The Howard Teaching Faculty Union, which is represented by Local SIEU 500, has issued a number of demands it wants the university to meet, though it said it has been stalemated in negotiations for the past three years.
“University leadership has made clear that a better working environment and a better learning environment is unimportant to them,” Cyrus Hampton, a master instructor in the College of Arts & Sciences said during the demonstration. “They have gone silent. We have been left with little choice. These have been individual fights for far too long. And we have not seen the movement any of us need. So now we all need to come together and get the movement that we require.”
Union leaders and adjunct faculty had been hoping for a resolution through a meeting on Friday, but it appears that won’t take place. In his speech on campus, Hampton indicated that there would be a walkout Wednesday, Thursday and Friday next week, hoping for support from full-time faculty too that they say also are not being fairly compensated. “[We are] calling on our tenured and tenure-track colleagues to stand with us and honor our picket lines during the strike,” he said. “We’re calling on our students, alums and the community to support us in our efforts. We seek to stand with you in solidarity.”
This protest is the second major one to occur at Howard during the academic year, following student-led demands for better housing conditions in October. A sit-in lasted more than a month before the two sides reached an agreement. On this issue, the university said it has made attempts to find common ground and will continue to try to find solutions that work for both parties.
“Throughout our negotiations with the union representing adjunct and temporary faculty (SEIU), we have remained diligent in our engagements with Union representation and consistent in our efforts to reach an agreement,” Howard officials said in a statement. “Our commitment to a peaceful bargaining process has not changed and we will continue advancing good faith efforts to reach an agreement with the Union and address the needs of adjunct and non-tenure-track faculty and the University.”
However, the union said in a fact sheet obtained by University Business that Howard faculty are “among the lowest-paid compared to four-year institutions in D.C. and “paid less than non-tenure-track faculty to teach a course while students pay the same tuition, get the same credits and the expectation of excellent teaching is the same.”
In addition, because they are on one-year appointments that are capped at seven years, the union said they can be “arbitrarily fired at the end of seven-year of teaching, no matter how effective their teaching.” The union also said many of its lecturers – both full- and part-time – are working second, third and fourth jobs because of the high cost of living in the area and deserve increases.
In response, the university said it has taken several steps to better compensate its employees, including boosts in pay for non-union faculty. It said it has proposed wage increases for union faculty, too.
“In January 2022, over 600 Howard faculty received raises to meet the median salary of faculty at our peer institutions,” officials said. “While this did not impact union faculty because of the union’s exclusive right to negotiate compensation for its members, eligible non-union faculty did receive salary increases, as well as eligible full-time non-tenured faculty.”
Howard also said it shifted $80 million from its endowment to help fund its retirement plan for faculty, and gave free health coverage to staff earning less $35,000 per year while noting that it did not have to force “group layoffs and furloughs” during the pandemic. It also noted its continued work to provide employees with professional development training.
“As with all institutions of higher learning, at Howard, we navigate a complex set of priorities each year in order to fulfill our mission of serving students,” university officials said. “Our faculty have a longstanding dedication to developing the next generation of leaders and we value their work. We have continued to make progress in ensuring our esteemed faculty have adequate support and resources while maintaining the highest quality of education possible for our students.”
But union members say that isn’t enough, citing that the pay for the location and a lack of raises over the past five years ranks it last among Historically Black Colleges and Universities. They say in the fact sheet that “We love Howard. Our demands are about making Howard better. We are simply asking the university administration to make Howard’s policies toward teaching faculty consistent with Howard’s legacy and mission in the Black community.”