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Barnard contingent faculty union calls for student support at SGA meeting

Members of the Barnard contingent faculty union attended a Student Government Association meeting on Monday to share their belief that adjunct faculty are being treated “unfairly” by the college.

The contingent faculty union, consisting of adjunct and full-time non-tenure-track faculty, was voted into existence in October 2015 and has been negotiating a first contract with Barnard since February. The union’s original proposal included calls for adjunct base pay to be increased to $15,000 per course—a 200 percent increase from their current base pay of $5,000 per course—and for benefits to be extended to all members of the union.

Though the two parties have met 17 times and are slated to meet again this Friday, complications over financial feasibility and definitions of fairness have hindered an earlier contract agreement. To express their discontent with the negotiations, the union has said it will consider a strike if they cannot reach an agreement over their contract with Barnard and has increased its presence on campus by holding several demonstrations.

At a previous SGA meeting, Barnard Provost and Dean of Faculty Linda Bell reiterated Barnard’s stance on negotiations with the contingent faculty union. Bell explained that if the college were to meet all of the union’s demands, they would have to more than double the budget allocated toward contingent faculty salaries.

“Fundamentally, I want to preserve the quality of our academic program, and we are an institution that has a very tight budget,” Bell said at the meeting.

“I wish I could change the paradigm,” she added. “I would love to be at the forefront of resetting the scales of what it means to be an adjunct faculty member, [but] we can't change the paradigm—we operate within the paradigm.”

Bell also said she would assess salaries offered at comparable institutions and attempt to offer a rate above the median or just below the top third salaries.

“That's a principle we use for staff throughout the college,” Bell said. “When we made our economic proposals to the union we used the same principle.”

At Monday’s meeting, adjunct dance lecturer Siobhan Burke, BC ’08, spoke about how a large part of Barnard’s appeal for prospective students is the close relationship that professors have with their students.

“That’s one reason I chose to come here instead of across the street,” she said.

Burke said that because students pay a high and increasing tuition to attend Barnard, she believes they deserve to work with adjunct professors—who often have to work several jobs because of low pay rates—who can dedicate all of their time and efforts to aiding students in their educational pursuits.

The union and the college are scheduled to meet three more times this semester, this Friday included. But should they fail to reach an agreement, negotiations could continue into the spring semester.

Burke stressed the importance of students showing their support for the union.

“We need to be supported in doing our work,” she said. “We need to be supported in serving you guys and giving you what you came here for.”

margaret.vorhaben@columbiaspectator.com | @ColumbiaSpec

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