Contingent faculty deserve more

Contingent faculty deserve more

“Magis” is a term that we hear a lot on Saint Louis University’s campus these days. Magis simply means ‘more’ in Latin. In the Jesuit context, it captures the striving for excellence, to do more for the greater good of all of society. Magis is also a term added to an Operational Excellence initiative that was recently launched to improve SLU’s efficiency and effectiveness and to increase revenue and growth.

SLU contingent faculty members—who have little employment security, inadequate access to benefits and promotion, and oftentimes have to teach on multiple campuses in St. Louis to make ends meet—are deeply committed to SLU as an institution, to its social justice mission and, especially, to its wonderful students. We, too, want magis, more, for SLU.

Considering that only 32 percent of SLU’s expenses go toward instruction, we strongly believe that investing more in those who teach SLU students is an essential way to strengthen our campus community.

Another important Jesuit concept that is meant to shape our daily lives on campus is “cura personalis:” care of the person. Many contingent faculty do not feel adequately cared for and do not feel valued enough. Many of us struggle to make a living wage, doing a job that we love at a university with an endowment of over a billion dollars.

We deserve more—in fact, a complete shift from where we are now. Many of us might not know until August whether we will be teaching for SLU next semester. Many of us do not have adequate office space to meet with students. While at most other schools in town, parking for faculty is free, many of us walk extra miles every day for free parking so as not to lose additional money out of our meager paychecks. Many of us do not have access to health care coverage. Many of us get very little recognition for the excellent work that we do, or support to keep getting better at our jobs.

We deserve more not only for the dignity of faculty, but so that our students can get the most out of their educational experience and the ever-growing tuition bills that come with it.

In our own efforts to strive for magis, contingent faculty at SLU have decided to form a union. We believe that only as a union will we have a loud enough voice that will be heard. More than 400 students have signed a petition asking administration to support our unionization efforts and to refrain from spending tuition money on anti-union efforts (such as very expensive anti-union lawyers).

More than 70 tenure-track faculty members have signed a similar petition in support of better working conditions for contingent faculty. By unionizing, we are joining our colleagues at Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis Community College, St. Charles Community College and more than 40 other institutions of higher learning nation-wide that have decided to change the face of academia.

Saint Louis University prides itself in its focus on social justice. The Catholic Church has a long history of supporting labor movements. Let’s actually live our mission. SLU students and contingent faculty deserve ‘magis.’

Dr. Ina Seethaler has been a contingent faculty member in SLU’s Women’s and Gender Studies Department for the past three years.