In the face of national attacks on working people, Miami Dade College adjunct faculty join a growing statewide movement demanding greater investment in higher education.
Just days after the Supreme Court issued a harsh decision aimed at curbing public employees’ rights, adjunct faculty at Miami Dade College announced they have filed for a union election. Adjuncts join a growing statewide movement with their colleagues organizing to improve wages, job security and access to quality education by organizing for change on their campuses and in Tallahassee.
“As an educator, we’re being attacked from all sides. The Supreme Court is trying to limit our power. Politicians are cutting investment in colleges and universities,” said Shelley Dockery, an adjunct at Miami Dade College’s North Campus who teaches graphic arts design. “That’s why it’s more important now than ever to come together with our colleagues to have a voice on our campus and in Tallahassee.”
Despite increasing tuition by 40 percent over a decade, Miami Dade College, the largest community college in Florida, invests even less in instruction per student than most other colleges in Florida. It also has the highest share of faculty working part-time and with little job security of all 28 institutions in the Florida College System. In 2016, 80 percent of faculty at MDC were contingent and off the tenure track.
“It is no secret that Florida’s higher education system is in crisis. Adjuncts like me, some of us with PhDs, are being paid well under just $20K a year and our students are drowning in student loan debt,” said Alwyn Melton from the School of Justice at Miami Dade College’s North Campus. “We know these problems aren’t exclusive to Miami Dade College, but as the biggest community college in the state, it has an obligation to lead the way in solving these problems for educators and students alike. Right now, that’s not the case.”
In moving to form their union, Miami Dade College faculty join their colleagues at Valencia College, Seminole State College, Hillsborough Community College, Broward College and University of South Florida as part of a statewide movement to renew the promise of higher education in Florida.
As more and more colleges and universities increasingly rely on part-time and contingent faculty to teach the majority of courses, adjunct professors across Florida have increased their calls for greater investment in the state’s higher education system, including tuition free college, a minimum of $15 an hour and a union voice for all campus employees. Earlier this month, Christian Schlaerth, an adjunct professor at Miami Dade College and Faculty Forward member, spoke with NPR about how tuition-free college and additional investments in higher education would benefit all Floridians.
This story comes after Faculty Forward member Nancy Fernandes called on Florida gubernatorial candidates to invest in higher education by supporting universal K-16 access at the first debate. Three of the four candidates – Andrew Gillum, Chris King and Mayor Philip Levine – voiced support for some form of free college.
Once seen as the gateway to the middle class, the defunding of Florida’s universities and colleges has turned higher education into a pipeline to poverty. For over a decade, Florida elected officials have gutted higher education, reducing spending by nearly 20 percent per student across the state. These budget cuts have largely been passed to students through tuition increases and on to adjunct faculty, whose low pay has remained more or less stagnant. According to a survey of nearly eight hundred faculty members across Florida, poverty among adjunct faculty teaching at universities and colleges is extremely common. In response, adjunct faculty across Florida have come together to form their unions and launch a higher education voter pledge that calls for adequate funding for colleges and universities, safe campuses where all can learn, student loan relief and debt-free college for all, as well as good jobs, fair pay and union rights for campus employees.
See coverage by NPR on Miami Dade College faculty’s victory.
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