After the November midterm elections left the Republican Party firmly in control of both the House and the Senate, the change in power could halt the unionization of adjunct professors around the country, despite a breakthrough year for union advocates in the District.

Following the unionization of adjunct professors at Georgetown University in 2013, at The George Washington University in 2006 and American University in 2010, Howard University and the University of the District of Columbia are currently negotiating their contracts with adjunct professors to improve their work experience, while professors are also organizing at the Catholic University of America and Trinity University of Washington.

To support the District-wide movement, union organizers working for the D.C. branch of the Services Employees International Union, SEIU Local 500, which represents 2,400 adjunct professors at universities in Maryland and D.C., including the professors at Georgetown, discussed plans this year to create a contract that encompasses all the universities in the District. If the plans come to fruition, Washington, D.C., would be the first city to have such an approach.

However, SEIU Vice President for Higher Education Kip Lornell, who is also an adjunct professor of music at GWU, said that the recent transition of power in Congress could hinder these efforts, due to the GOP’s general wariness of unions.

“I think the rhetoric will be that unions are costing jobs, unions are costing money,” he said.

Lornell predicted that progress around the country, particularly at public state schools, would stall in the future, particularly because of university funding cuts.

“I think probably that part-time faculty members at state schools are less likely to be unionized because what has happened at most state schools is the continued decrease in funding, which is why tuitions in state and out of state continue to go up and even though the part-time faculty there save universities money, there may be more of a cry for full-time faculty to teach more classes and not rehire part-time professors,” he said.

The issues surrounding adjunct professors received increased national attention this year when Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) (SFS ’66, LAW ’69) introduced a bill earlier this year to assist adjuncts with loan forgiveness plans. While Republican control of Congress will likely lead to little movement on such measures, Lornell did not anticipate that Congress would directly target adjunct professors.

“I don’t think adjuncts are looking toward Congress, I think the idea there would be to just leave us alone to unionize as we are able to do by law and I really don’t see Congress meddling in that change at all,” Lornell said.

Despite cries for federal support of the adjunct unionization movement and Durbin’s bill, Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president for government relations and public affairs for the American Council on Education, released a statement earlier this week opposing such intervention in the relationship between universities and adjunct professors.

“Colleges — like all employers — are already subject to extensive labor law regarding the treatment of employees, and I doubt that new federal regulations focused specifically on adjunct faculty are necessary or desirable,” he wrote.

SEIU Political Director Anne McLeer disagreed, stating that government intervention could help facilitate change.

“I am all for the government being more involved in how colleges are run and I think that the government, not that this is going to happen, should look at where people’s tuition dollars are being spent because they’re not being spent on instruction. They’re being spent on executive salaries, bloated administrations,” she said.

Lornell added that universities save money by hiring part-time professors. According to the 2013-14 American Association of University Professors survey, the average salary of an assistant professor at Georgetown is $101,200, compared to $177,900 for full professors.

In spite of the bleak outlook for the future of unionization, adjunct professors have won victories, such as the success of adjunct professors at Georgetown in negotiating a contract with the university. The experience sets Georgetown apart from other Jesuit institutions that object to the unionization of adjuncts based on a religious exemption to the National Labor Relations Board.

“I think a significant accomplishment was our ratification of a contract at Georgetown,” McLeer said. “Georgetown stands out as a model for collaboration with their faculty for, first of all, not opposing the organizing to begin with and in collaboration with the adjuncts, negotiating a really good contract.”

Lornell also praised the high salaries of Georgetown adjunct professors. While Georgetown assistant professors earn $101,200 on average, the average salary at GWU was $87,500.

“You can be sure that Georgetown salaries are level one AAUP salaries — that is the top level for salaries for full-time faculty,” he said.

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