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Fixing a broken university

Still working without a contract, the PSU Faculty Association (PSUFA) is holding two student forums this week to let students know “teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions,” Susan Fuhr said. Fuhr, a member of PSUFA’s bargaining team and professor at PSU is helping organize the upcoming student forum to build bonds and support for part-time professors on campus.

Meeting with ASPSU two weeks ago, PSUFA “indicated our interest in bringing students into a dialogue about the role of adjuncts (part-time professors) in their education and the issues we believe important in our current bargaining for better working conditions,” Fuhr said. With several ASPSU members expressing interest in PSUFA’s situation, students and adjuncts began planning the forums.

The student forums will take place this Wednesday at 2 p.m. in the Parkway Commons North section of the Smith Memorial Student Union cafeteria, and Thursday at noon in the same place.

“PSUFA wants to find out what students think about their adjunct faculty,” Fuhr explained. “We want to educate them (students) about the issues we care about as their instructors.” Another topic of discussion at this Wednesday’s forum will be obtaining student support for a potential strike action winter term, Fuhr said.

If a strike or other actions takes place winter term, “we would like students to know what the issues are and support us,” Brook Jacobson, the PSUFA president, said. “We are trying to reach out to the campus community and students to initiate conversations on why we think our issues are critical for students who are paying higher tuition and getting less,” Jacobson explained.

PSUFA’s issues were addressed at the negotiating table in early November without resolve. No agreement was reached between the administration and PSUFA on job security and the advancement of adjuncts, and PSUFA has not received a written counter proposal, Fuhr said. “There were also proposals on salary and health care that remain in contention,” Fuhr added. In hope of moving past the previous negotiations, which stalled, mediation was obtained for November’s negotiations “as a communication tool to encourage more efficient and effective presentation of proposals from the administration to us (PSUFA),” Fuhr explained.

After the mediated contract negations in the beginning of November, Jacobson said, “I felt like very little happened.”

Issues adjuncts face are job security, heath care and pay equity. Jacobson expounded upon these issues. “Adjuncts don’t know what classes they’re going to be teaching and when far enough in advance, so they can’t plan and prepare,” Jacobson said. Numerous adjuncts work at multiple institutions, such as PCC and Marlyhurst; some commute from Eugene to PSU. “When you’re working part time, it’s really vicious. People have families to support,” Jacobson explained. Adjuncts do not receive multiple-term contracts as full-time professors do.

Part-time faculty is not given health insurance by the university, unlike their full-time collegues. “Some people make just enough to disqualify themselves from the Oregon Health Plan,” Jacobson said, “but not enough to buy their own health insurance.”

A PSUFA flyer states that the 600 part-time professors on campus earn “20 percent less compensation per credit hour taught” than full-time professors. The flyer also asserts “the administration has proposed a wage freeze for two years.” October 27th-31st, PSUFA participated in a nation-wide campaign called “campus equity week.” After collecting student, faculty, and staff signatures all week, the adjuncts delivered them to univeristy President Daniel Bernstine.

In making connections and common bonds with students, the flyer states, “Our union has vigorously opposed higher tuition as a false solution to budget problems. We believe the state should fully fund higher education, and we have spoken, written, lobbied, rallied, marched and demonstrated for full funding for the university.”

The flyer advocates taxing the rich in order to obtain full funding for higher education.

“We don’t think budgets should be balanced by increasing student debt or denying faculty health benefits,” the flyer states. “Unless we come together to demand changes, they won’t happen … As the old saying goes, if it’s broke, fix it.”