As a wave of labor organizing rolls across college campuses around the country, Loyola University Chicago now faces the challenge of putting its Jesuit principles into practice as frustrated professors push for a union.
The administration argues a union would interfere with the university’s “mission.” But according to Loyola’s struggling non-tenured faculty members, their poverty wages and exhausting working conditions prove that it is the administration’s corporate greed that is flouting the Jesuit tradition of social justice.
Like many adjuncts, English and gender studies professor Alyson Paige Warren has slipped into a kind of professorial purgatory, bouncing between teaching gigs at two local campuses and a non-profit. She constantly asks herself, “where do I need to cut from my own time? [Or] time that I should and could be using to research or publish or contribute to the community, or give more to some of my nontraditional students, instead [I spend] just flying from university to university.” Due to what Warren calls “second-class citizenship” imposed on Loyola adjuncts, she is excluded from benefits afforded to full professors, such as regular office hours or just a day-to-day presence on campus. So she ends up messaging students on the run and “grading papers on the train,” leaving even less time for actual teaching duties, like developing courses and programming.
These constant economic and professional pressures loom over some 6,500 non-tenured faculty at Chicago-area private colleges and universities, according to Service Employee International Union’s Faculty Forward campaign. The job of the adjunct is practically by definition unstable. Their schedules—and thus their income—can shift dramatically semester to semester, not only destabilizing instructors economically but also undermining the academic experience of undergraduates, who are often taught foundational courses by contingent faculty. Across Illinois, about one in five part-time faculty at private institutions depend on public benefits.
As neoliberal business models seep into the higher-education system, contingent non–tenure track faculty—those without permanent, long-term professorships—now fill more than three-quarters of instructional positions. Unionization efforts in Chicago—which just scored a major triumph with a vote to unionize the University of Chicago’s contingent faculty—grow out of rising concerns that academic labor is being deskilled and degraded by the institutions to which they’ve devoted their careers.