Adjunct professors at one Chicago university attempted to unionize. Despite a promising beginning, the exercise rapidly descended into farce. Most of the instructors at East-West University, a small, 30-year-old school and the only majority-minority private four-year college in Illinois, are adjunct professors. Since there were some 50 adjunct professors and only 18 full-time faculty members, the organizers thought they had a chance.

Not really. According to an article at Inside Higher Ed:

A few days after the Illinois branch of the National Education Association filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board for a union election to represent adjuncts at East-West, [the adjuncts] all received a letter. It was dated a few days before the petition was filed and received a few days after. It said that the university considered that all of the adjuncts were no longer employed, and would not be employed for the summer, and that full-timers would teach classes to be offered then.

That posed a problem for the NEA chapter: To have a union election, you generally need to have … employees to unionize. The university’s letter effectively said that East-West didn’t really have any adjuncts anymore. Adjunct leaders say that’s absurd, given that the Chicago university of 1,200 students has about 18 full-time faculty members.

Absurd or not, they still had to withdraw the petition. While the union thinks it would have won an election to represent the employees, they now didn’t have any employees. The NEA plans to try to file a new petition in the fall.

The school had never before sent adjuncts letters explaining their employment status over the summer. Another change in human relations policy at the school is that from now on all candidates for adjunct faculty positions will apparently be personally interviewed by chancellor of the university himself.

If the adjuncts actually manage to get a union, it looks like there are several fairly obvious labor issues to tackle right away.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer