By Chanel Cain, Howard University News Service
A large group of students, supporters and faculty- gathered around the flagpole on the yard at Howard University to march towards the administration building to hold a rally over labor issues. Part-time and non-tenured full-time faculty members plan to strike next week if their union is unable to reach an agreement today with the university.
The demonstration, announced on the TeachingFacultyUnion@HU Twitter page on March 10, came as a response to years of failed negotiations for non-tenured faculty members. The list of demands was published on Tuesday. Without an agreement today, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 500, announced that faculty members would go on strike next Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Howard professor Cyrus Hampton, who led the march to the administration building, has been part of many of the negotiation meetings. Despite the efforts of the union to present compromises, “very little bargaining, very little negotiation, and very little conversation ever actually happened,” he said. “That’s a big part of why we are deciding we have no choice but to have this unfair labor practice strike.”
In a statement released on The Dig, the Office of the Provost asserted it was still committed to finding the best way forward with the non-tenure track faculty.
“Our commitment to a peaceful bargaining process has not changed, and we will continue advancing good faith efforts to reach an agreement with the union and address the needs of adjunct and non-tenure track faculty and the university.”
In a following statement sent out on Wednesday through Office of University Communications email, the Office of the Provost said: “If a strike were to occur, courses would continue as scheduled by our non-unionized faculty. The university will implement contingency plans to lessen any adverse impact on our students.”
Negotiations have been ongoing for three years. The university is being represented by the Jackson Lewis law firm, which the faculty union says has stagnated conversations due to the firm being anti-union. In 2019, Jackson-Lewis hosted the “Remaining Union Free: A Counter Organizing Simulation” in four cities across the United States.
The most prominent demands are pay equivalent to comparable institutions, multi-year contracts for non-tenure faculty and an end to rule that denies non-tenure faculty the chance to renew their contracts after seven years. Notably, this was the rule that forced author and alumna Toni Morrison to leave the institution in 1963.
In the emailed statement, Provost Anthony K. Wutoh explains that the seven-year rule is in place to “ensure that the university has the correct complement of faculty to meet the academic needs of our students while maintaining the flexibility that the university needs to meet and manage fiscal needs, and protect the integrity of the tenure process.”
English professor Sean Pears, a non-tenured faculty member currently in his second year at the university, believes the application of the rule does more harm than good for the university.
“Even if your department still needs you, even if you’ve been doing a great job teaching, even if you want to stay, they just will not invite you again,” Pears said. “There’s no opportunity at that point to reapply.“
Another aspect of the non-tenure track brought into contention was the one-year contracts that must be reapplied for every year. For Cheryl Yael Kiken, a professor and new mother, this adds another level of stress for her job.
“Each year we have to reapply for our jobs, meaning there is no guarantee we will have employment from one year to the next,” Kiken said during the rally. “This is especially scary now that I have a child.”
Kiken also stated that with the cost of living in D.C., her salary was unsustainable. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Howard lecturers made on average $49,879 during their nine-month contracts in 2018. Lecturers at Spelman College made on average $65,211 during the same time period. Howard faculty consistently earned less than the average pay in D.C. for their positions.
For many faculty members, the fight goes beyond seeking better conditions. Hampton, who graduated from Howard in 2006, wants to continue to foster a welcoming environment, one that helped craft him into the educator he is today.
“It sounds a little cheesy, but … with my students, it feels like nieces and nephews; it feels like young cousins,” he said. “I am honestly thankful, as much as I can get frustrated and I can get tired and exhausted by some of the problems and issues at Howard.”
The union asserts their “demands are about making Howard better,” as stated on the flyers handed out by several supporters on the yard.
“The only thing we want is for it to be a stable, well-paid job, and it would be like a dream,” Pears said. “That’s what we’re fighting for.”
Chanel Cain is co-editor of HUNewsService.com.