After three weeks on the picket line, part-time faculty at the New School reached a tentative agreement with administration on Saturday, December 10. The university compromised on compensation, healthcare, and job security, and the union’s bargaining committee unanimously approved the new five-year contract. The remaining UAW Local 7902 union members will ratify the agreement no later than Saturday, December 17.
The New School’s 1,678 part-time professors comprise 87% of the university’s faculty. With adjunct professors on strike since November 16 (and many full-time professors and students also striking in solidarity), classes at the school were halted for nearly a month.
In response to canceled classes, a group of parents threatened a lawsuit against the institution: Tuition, room, and board at the New School are almost $80,000, making the Greenwich Village university one of the most expensive in the country. And last week, thousands of artists and professors signed a petition to boycott events at the school, including talks, screenings, concerts, and exhibitions.
UAW Local 7902 began their strike after months of failed contract negotiations. The union demanded higher compensation, stating that the New School’s adjuncts had not received raises in four years. UAW Local 7902 also demanded better healthcare, increased job security, and compensation for out-of-classroom work such as lesson preparation and grading.
As the union trudged through what had become a grueling bargaining process, last week, the school began withholding wages from striking workers.
“It was getting increasingly acrimonious,” artist and design professor Lee-Sean Huang told Hyperallergic. “People are still upset about how it all went down. Did it need to get this far? So there will need to be a reckoning. I’m not sure how it will play out.”
Although the adjunct faculty have now secured their first raise in four years — and the largest in New School history according to UAW Local 7902 — the professors’ salaries still fall behind those at peer institutions.
“This is yet further evidence of what can be gained — what can only be gained — when workers come together and fight with and for each other,” journalism professor Natasha Lennard said in a statement sent to Hyperallergic. “This has always been true, and is no less true in academia than it is in any other industry.”
In a statement, the school called the contract “strong” and “fair,” writing, “We are pleased to have reached agreements that support the needs of our staff, represent the long-held progressive values of our institution, and ultimately benefit all members of the university.”
The administration met the union on all of its core demands. Among other offers, the school issued raises across the board, guaranteed annual raises for all five years of the contract, and promised flat payments of $400 and $800 for out-of-classroom work. For example, a part-time professor teaching a 45-contact hour lecture who currently makes $5,753 will earn $6,475 in 2023, and $7,820 in 2027. (Teaching salaries for courses such as studios and labs are lower, coming in at $4,299 now and $6,875 in 2027.)
The administration also increased healthcare eligibility and guaranteed that health insurance plans would remain comparable from year to year. The university also agreed to many stipulations surrounding job security, including a faster path to annualization (after nine semesters rather than 11), doubled multi-year appointment terms (three years to six), and higher severance pay.
The union has criticized the New School for administrative bloat, stating that the university spends 2.3 times the national average on managerial costs. Throughout the fraught bargaining process, the school repeatedly cited a lack of room in its budget to meet the union’s demands. Unlike other New York City private schools such as New York University and Columbia University — which have endowments of $5.3 billion and $13.3 billion, respectively — the New School’s endowment was only $393 million in 2020, forcing the university to rely heavily on tuition. Canceled classes threatened the school’s ability to retain students into the 2023 academic year.
Huang said that when he messaged his students and full-time faculty colleagues that they had reached an agreement and the strike was over, “it almost felt like a homecoming or family reunion.”
“Just as with the pandemic, there has been a sea change,” Huang said. “We can’t go ‘back to normal.’ It’s about figuring out a new ‘normal,’ together.”