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The Point: CC x 2


Greetings, Colleagues:

Honestly, the main thing I want to do this week in The Point is congratulate Professor Caroline Coscia on her election as the first-ever non-tenure track faculty member to be elected president of the FSU.  (The only non-tenure track member to serve as president previously was Elizabeth Mock, a librarian.)  We are all very lucky that Caroline, with her rare combination of policy expertise, intense loyalty to the membership, demonstrated commitment to interunion solidarity, and unflagging energy, is willing to take on this demanding job.  While I am more than a little sorry that Steve Striffler’s tenure will come to an end—what a fantastic president he has been!—I have complete confidence that Caroline will continue to build on the great work he has done.

But my title for the week is CC x 2 and I’ve only introduced Caroline Coscia as the first “CC.”  The other “CC” is the casualization crisis we are experiencing at UMass Boston (and in academia more generally).  We all know that non-tenure track faculty are at the heart of the work the FSU does and at the heart of the work that UMB does: as teachers, colleagues, scholars, artists, and so on, the contributions of NTT are, literally, incalculable.  But we can calculate how NTT faculty are valued and remunerated and on every front management comes up short. 

Caroline’s election is particularly apt at a moment when our university, like so many, has been fundamentally reshaped by the wholesale embrace of contingency by upper administrators on campus, in the system office and by state and federal legislators.  You don’t hear much, if anything, about this truly urgent situation from our chancellor or provost: while they both regularly speak at Faculty Council meetings and elsewhere, and send us blast messages separately (and, now and again, together in joint communications) this is an existential threat to our mission whose name does not get spoken by the most powerful people on campus.

The AAUP, on the other hand, has sure been willing to name the problem:

Forty years ago, 70 percent of academic employees were tenured or on the tenure track. Today, that figure has flipped; 75 percent of faculty are not eligible for tenure, and 47 percent hold part-time positions. Meanwhile, the number of management staff per full-time equivalent student at public institutions, and the salary outlays to management staff per FTE student at those institutions, have increased more than 18 percent and 24 percent respectively between academic years 2011-12 and 2018-19.

This report make clear that the casualization of the academic labor force has terrifying implications for academic freedom and shared governance. This state of affairs also interferes materially with the ability to provide the best experience for students or a humane workplace for non-tenure track faculty.

A couple of years back the American Federation of Teachers released a chilling report on casualization that they called An Army of Temps.  It is too much to digest here, but for now, I just want to call your attention to the horrifying tale it has to tell about adjunct labor and health care. A survey of over 3000 adjunct faculty members revealed that, for financial reasons, 45% postponed or put off seeking needed health care (including mental health services); 65% put off or postponed getting dental care or checkups; almost 30% did not get a medical test or treatment recommended by a doctor; more than 10% cut pills in half or skipped doses of prescribed medication. 

Think about how often you hear our provost and chancellor talk about transforming UMB into a health promoting institution.  Now think about how often you have heard them talk about what they are doing to assure that all of our colleagues are receiving adequate health care. Crickets.  At UMB the problem has less to do with getting health care coverage (most faculty teaching at least 50% load qualify) than with keeping it. Since the vast majority of NTT colleagues on campus are now initially hired on a semester-by-semester basis as Associate Lecturers—as a result of management preference—for many of our colleagues it has become almost impossible to know whether coverage will continue from one term to the next.  And some of you might have noticed that all manner of health concerns just seem to stubbornly refuse to resolve with the parameters of one semester. 

So why do the chancellor and provost talk so much about health-promotion if they are going to more or less ignore this major health emergency right in front of us?  Here we might turn to what Kelly Grotke, an expert in finance and securities valuation, calls the “financialization” of the university. This relatively new development in academic management “gives far greater weight to the results of one-size fits-all, metric-driven calculations of financial viability than to any other factor.” Most chilling of all, perhaps, in Grotke’s analysis is that “brand strength” becomes “the instrumentalized stand-in for the qualities and characteristics of particular institutions and communities.”  I worry that at UMB the language surrounding health promotion may be more of a marketing plan than part of an actual strategic plan.

Things are dire: more than 650,000 academic jobs have been lost during the pandemic and predictably, as Grotke notes, most were at the lower end of the pay scale.  Glimmers of success-through-solidarity can be found, however.  At Rutgers University, “several employee and faculty unions banded together to preserve jobs and benefits.” We will no doubt face cuts in our own system before long—the Board of Trustees has been making ominous noises—and we will similarly have to explore all possible strategies for fighting back.

This is your union: please tell us at how you think we should fight the casualization of our workforce while also working for the best working conditions possible for all our members.

[Breaking News: Contingent Faculty Union at Howard University is planning a strike beginning this Wednesday.]


Jeffrey Melnick (

American Studies Department

Communications Director, Faculty Staff Union Executive Committee

For information on the FSU, links to our contract and bargaining updates, and a calendar of events, see the FSU webpage