Organizers Robin Sowards and Clint Benjamin at USW headquarters in downtown Pittsburgh, two blocks away from the campus of Point Park University. PPU adjunct faculty are voting this month on whether to join the Steelworkers. Credit Josh Raulerson / 90.5 WESA
Steelworkers organizing Professors
Beaver County Blue via NPR Pittsburgh
Like any English professor, Clint Benjamin spends a lot of his time grading papers.
“There’s a mountain – a teetering Matterhorn of papers at the end of the weekend, or during the week,” Benjamin said. “You’ve just gotta get through them.”
By his own estimate, Benjamin spends 30 to 40 hours a week on grading alone. He also has to attend meetings, answer emails, keep office hours, and commute between the Community College of Allegheny County and Duquesne University campuses, where in a typical week he prepares and teaches five sections’ of English and writing classes.
For his troubles, Benjamin earns between $25,000 and $30,000 a year and no benefits – if he’s lucky enough to get the maximum number of appointments each institution offers. As a contingent employee, Benjamin is compensated at a fraction of what his similarly credentialed tenured and tenure-track colleagues earn. (Adjunct faculty normally hold a terminal degree in their field: typically a PhD or, in Benjamin’s case, an MFA.)
Benjamin recently took on a third job as an organizer with the United Steelworkers’ Adjunct Faculty Association, which recently led a successful effort to organize part-time faculty at Duquesne.
The campaign drew national attention last year, when the death of 83-year-old adjunct professor Margaret Mary Vojtko became a cause célèbre for the higher-ed labor movement. Vojtko was broke and facing homelessness when she died shortly after being let go by Duquesne, her employer of 25 years.
Many adjuncts, like Benjamin, saw in Vojtko’s story a glimpse of their own possible future – and that of their profession.
"I do love what I’m doing, but that’s how the administration gets us," he said. “It’s a crisis.”