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Organizing the Academic Precariat

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The Murphy Institute

25 W 43rd Street, 18th Floor

New York, NY, 10036 212-827-0200

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Organizing the Academic Precariat: Perspectives on National Trends and Recent Successes


Co-sponsored by the Scholars Strategy Network (NYC Chapter) and the Murphy Institute, CUNY


In recent years, the ranks of non-tenure track adjuncts, lecturers, and other contingent faculty in U.S. higher education have continued to swell, a trend that shows few signs of abating. This academic precariat has become the faculty majority across public and private institutions, comprising 50 percent of faculty at public research universities, nearly 60 percent at private research universities, and over 80 percent at public community colleges. They earn shockingly meager pay: adjunct faculty earn only $2,700 per course on average—or roughly $21,000 per year on a full teaching load.

This half-day conference brings together scholars, unionists, and adjuncts to explore the latest research on the academic precariat and recent breakthroughs in adjunct organizing. How has austerity reshaped higher education, and with what consequences for faculty and students? How has the rise of contingent academic labor unfolded across public, private, four-year, and two-year institutions? What can we learn from successful adjunct unionization drives in New York and Washington, D.C., and from contract gains for adjuncts in California? What will recent and future threats to labor and higher education mean for contingent faculty?



Introductory Remarks
(12:15-12:30pm)

Session 1: History and Trends (12:30-2:00pm)

Moderator: Ruth Milkman, Distinguished Professor, Sociology, CUNY Graduate Center and Murphy Institute

  • Stephen Brier, Professor of Urban Education, CUNY Graduate Center and the Murphy Institute, co-author of Austerity Blues: Fighting for the Soul of Public Higher Education (2016)
  • Luke Elliott-Negri, PhD Student, CUNY Graduate Center and Chair of the GC PSC chapter, author of “Wall to Wall: Industrial Unionism at the City University of New York, 1972-2017” (forthcoming)
  • Steven Hurlburt, Senior Researcher, American Institutes of Research, author of “The Shifting Academic Workforce” and “Cost Savings or Cost Shifting? The Relationship Between Part-Time Contingent Faculty and Institutional Spending” (2016)

Break (2:00-2:15pm)

Session 2: Lessons in Adjunct Organizing (2:15-3:45pm)

Moderator: Isaac Jabola-Carolus, PhD Student, CUNY Graduate Center

  • Malini Cadambi Daniel, Director for Higher Education, SEIU, and coordinator of SEIU’s Faculty Forward adjunct organizing campaign
  • Jonathan Karpf, Lecturer, San Jose State University, Associate Vice President-Lecturers, North, and member of the Board of Directors, California Faculty Association
  • Sonam Singh, Adjunct Lecturer, Barnard College, and Organizing and Bargaining team member, Barnard Contingent Faculty-UAW Local 2110

Break (3:45-4:00pm)


Session 3: Moving Forward (4:00-5:00pm)

Break-out group discussions among participants and speakers

  • Unionization and first contracts, with Sonam Singh (Barnard)
  • Organizing within a union, with Jon Karpf (CFA)
  • Organizing unorganized adjuncts, with Malini Cadambi (SEIU)
  • Cross-campus alliances


Closing Reception (5:00-6:00pm)

Note: Lunch provided


Questions/Additional information: ijabolacarolus@gradcenter.cuny.edu

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The Murphy Institute

25 W 43rd Street, 18th Floor

New York, NY, 10036 212-827-0200

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