The New School and the union representing its part-time faculty entered mediation Thursday afternoon, after 95% of the nearly 2,000 adjunct instructors who’ve been on strike since Nov. 16 rejected the university’s “last, best and final offer.”
Part-time faculty, who are members of ACT-United Auto Workers Local 7902, turned down the university’s offer by a vote of 1,821 to 88. The offer included higher costs for health care and reduced access to the grievance process, according to several union members.
The contract representing the university’s part-time faculty expired in 2019. Striking workers cheered the mediation, which they viewed as a sign of progress.
“The wheels are in motion,” said part-time faculty member Alex Robins, who teaches fashion history at the Parsons School of Design, which is part of The New School. “It’s winning the battle but not yet winning the war. We remain committed to winning a fair contract.”
The most recent proposal from the university included 18% raises over the five years of the contract. The union had demanded raises retroactive to 2018, the last time part-time faculty received a wage boost.
Part-time faculty make up 87% of The New School’s overall teaching staff while earning as little as $4,300 per class, according to the union, or $21,500 for those who teach five classes a year, a not-uncommon load. Adjunct faculty frequently hold an additional two to three jobs to make ends meet, according to the union.
In a letter to faculty, staff and students on Thursday morning, The New School President Dwight A. McBride wrote about the decision to mediate: “We are at a pivotal moment and the need, obviously, is urgent. As we aim to reach agreement as quickly as possible, the university’s bargaining team remains ready to meet at any time.”
He also warned that the university may cease paying striking workers’ salaries if the work stoppage goes on, stating that doing so has been a “contingency” and that the university does “not have the resources to be able to continue that indefinitely.”
‘A Financial Stretch’
The 18% wage increase rejected by the workers “is already a financial stretch” for the institution, The New School’s management wrote in a memo it sent to the school community Nov. 29.
The memo said those raises would “require the university to either generate an additional $40 million in new revenues or cut an equivalent amount in costs, beyond what was previously accounted for in the financial plan.”
The New School is a “highly tuition dependent” institution, with nearly 85% of its $454 million annual budget coming from housing, tuition and dining costs paid for by students, according to the university. Its $394 million endowment is dwarfed by those of other private universities, like Columbia University’s $13 billion endowment and the $5 billion of nearby New York University.
Salaries and other compensation account for 32.6% of the university’s expenses, according to its 2020 tax records, the most recently available.
The New School, a liberal institution that boasts notable alumni such as James Baldwin and W.E.B. Du Bois, and has employed notable faculty including the democratic socialist historian Erich Fromm, was widely criticized last month by students and parents for encouraging students to cross the picket line and continue to attend class.
As a result of the strike, the university created an all-remote module for students titled “Canvas Common Experience,” which includes podcast episodes and readings including the FAQ page of watchdog group Genocide Watch and the action plan of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Climate and Environmental Justice.