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April 29, 2016

Boston University part-time professors and administrators on Thursday reached a tentative agreement that could serve as a model for other colleges and universities. (Courtesy of Boston University)

Part-time professors at New England’s largest university reached a three-year contract settlement with administrators on Thursday -- two months after voting to form a union. Under the deal, more than 800 part-time faculty at Boston University will see higher wages and improved job security, an agreement that could serve as a model for other part-time college professors.

“What Boston University is agreeing to in this contract that we have demanded is that they recognize us as being essential to higher education," said Dan Hunter, an adjunct professor who has been teaching creative writing and public policy at BU since 1999.

Under the agreement, pay for BU adjuncts in all departments will increase for the first time. 

Right now, the baseline pay for non-tenured, full-time faculty is approximately $50,000. Under the deal, BU adjuncts teaching a full course-load of six classes will earn $8,400 per course, up from about $5,000 per course. Hunter says that bump should provide pay equity.

"You can't say that one teacher is at this level and another teacher is elite when you're charging students the same amount of tuition for the same amount of credit hours,” said Hunter.

Part-time faculty will also be paid for courses canceled on short notice before the semester begins.

Hunter says that over the past 17 years, a number of his courses were canceled due to low enrollment, and he was never compensated for the time he spent preparing for the classes. But the deal reached this week will change that.

"It means that there's a commitment not only by me, the professor, but also the university that this is a course that is valuable and it's valuable to the students," said Hunter.

To hear an extended interview with Dan Hunter click the Play button below.

Adjuncts will also have access to professional development funding that supports their research and teaching.

"The university cannot function without us. There are 800 of us. In 2015, we taught 1,800 courses, reaching approximately 35,500 students. We are part of Boston University,” said Hunter.

The BU deal recognizes the growing role of part-timers in American higher education: Today, more than 70 percent of all faculty at American colleges are not tenured, and labor organizers say this contract sets a new standard for adjuncts in New England and across the country.

"The idea that part-time faculty are organizing at our universities is not a bad idea because, in general, they've been a class of faculty members who have not received a fair shake," said Paul Reville, a professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education.

BU hasn’t disclosed how the deal will cost, but Reville says higher pay for adjuncts could drive up costs at BU, where the sticker price -- before financial aid – already hovers around $60,000 per academic year. Still, Reville says, there are other ways to control costs in higher education.

“There are a lot of other things that I'd look at cost-controlling in higher ed before I cost control on faculty salaries," said Reville.

The three-year contract still needs to be ratified by part-time faculty.

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