Visiting Faculty at San Francisco Art Institute Vote by 78% to Form a Union with SEIU Local 1021

Keith Boadwee, John Priola and Christian Nagler, all visiting faculty at SFAI, attended the vote count at the NLRB in San Francisco on Friday, May 30.

Keith Boadwee, John Priola and Christian Nagler, all visiting faculty at SFAI, attended the vote count at the NLRB in San Francisco on Friday, May 30.

Two weeks after Mills College, SFAI’s “visiting faculty,” as the school calls them, are the latest group of adjunct professors to join SEIU through the nationwide Adjunct Action campaign.

 

At San Francisco Art Institute, a well-known and respected private nonprofit arts college—where students pay almost $40,000 a year in tuition alone—roughly 78% of the faculty (about 200 teachers) are essentially part-time temp workers.

They have no job security from semester to semester. They are paid by the course, often earning less than $30,000 a year with no benefits even teaching several classes, despite having advanced degrees, exemplary performance and evaluations and years of teaching experience. Classes may be added or cancelled at the last minute, leaving them in a financial lurch and creating constant instability. The school calls them “visiting faculty,” no matter how long they have been teaching there—prompting jokes such as “visiting for life,” or “I have been visiting for 17 years.”

“We want an end to a climate of fear that resonates even where we gather online. We want the security to do the work on which SFAI depends whether it admits it or not. We want the standing to communicate our knowledge of the needs and problems of the institution to which we are devoted without fear of reprisal. SFAI will benefit from an organized and empowered cohort of adjunct teachers,” says Dale Carrico, a professor of critical thinking at SFAI.

Visiting faculty have now taken a stand. They have voted by 78% (124 to 35) to form a union through SEIU Local 1021—despite an aggressive anti-union campaign by their administration, under the leadership of President Charles Desmarais, who simultaneously sang the praises of his father, a Teamsters shop steward, while warning his faculty that a union in a small art college would disrupt their “close-knit artistic community.” Visiting faculty have decisively repudiated that argument.

Adjunct faculty at Mills College in Oakland also voted by a 78% margin to form a union with SEIU Local 1021 on May 14. The following day, adjuncts at Northeastern University in Boston voted to form a union with SEIU. They join over 20,000 adjuncts nationwide who have now unionized with SEIU through the Adjunct Action campaign.

Just a few decades ago, adjuncts constituted a minority of faculty, and were most often professionals who did not consider teaching their career. However, now over 50% of faculty nationwide are contingent, and about 75% in the Bay Area, even as tuition skyrockets and student debt becomes more and more unmanageable. As universities are increasingly run like corporations, trying to bring in more money with ever lower labor costs, the teachers educating students increasingly feel the need to take a stand to improve not only their own quality of life, but also the quality of the education their students are paying for so dearly.

 

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