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The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

United DePaul organizes graduate students, student employees and adjunct faculty in unionization efforts

Maya Oclassen

John Gould, a DePaul Ph.D. philosophy student, teaches four classes a year in his department while being required to be enrolled in two seminar classes per quarter.

Making a salary of about $25,000 a year while not receiving benefits from the university such as health insurance, Gould started unionization efforts a year and a half ago. 

DePaul administration, meanwhile, says it is taking a deeper look at its pay structure for graduate students, adjunct faculty and others.

“At DePaul, we are a community that values everyone’s contributions, including the vital work of our adjunct faculty and graduate assistants. We appreciate the role adjunct faculty have in bringing academic excellence and real-world experiences into the classroom,” said DePaul Provost Salma Ghanem in a statement to the DePaulia.

United DePaul was started by Gould in order to advocate for the rights of not only graduate student workers but student employees and adjunct faculty.

“It all started because we all work extremely hard, and felt, and continue to feel underappreciated,” Gould said.

Gould continued to explain the stress that he and his peers face when they can’t afford to seek health care because of their lack of health insurance and lower yearly salary.

“We have no health insurance, none at all…I know many people from doing this now that can’t afford to go to the doctor,” Gould said. “It’s really, really hard.”

DePaul announced a plan in fall 2023 to offer  healthcare coverage to degree seeking students. Coverage begins in September 2024, with student’s able to opt-out from May 15 to Sept. 20 if they have previous coverage, according to leadership note by Gene Zdziarski, Vice President for Student Affairs.

United DePaul cites the MIT living wage calculator to show that an adult with no children must make an hourly wage of $22.86 to be considered a liveable wage in Chicago.

 Most student workers at DePaul make an average of $16/hour, motivating United DePaul to fight for “a better work environment, higher wages, transparency and affordable/free health care.”

Along with demands for health insurance plans, United DePaul wants to push the university to be more transparent with its investment portfolio so students can “see what DePaul spends (our) tuition money on.”.

Neighboring Chicago universities, such as Northwestern and Loyola University, have had similar unionization pushes for non-tenured faculty that have proven successful.

“We’re not asking for something that hasn’t already been in place at other universities in Chicago,” Gould said.

Northwestern graduate workers recently saw a significant win in their unionization efforts, ratifying a contract which includes full dental and vision health insurance coverage, visa support for international workers, along with yearly salary increases over the next two years.

Gould believes that DePaul has not implemented similar programs to neighboring Chicago universities because the university has not felt “real, substantial, internal pressure,” which Gould says he is trying to execute through United DePaul.

Northwestern graduate alumna and DePaul adjunct professor in the environmental studies program, Imeña Valdes, expressed concern in the instability that the adjunct position at DePaul creates.

“I’m not even sure what ‘normal’ is for an adjunct because of how unstable that job is, just because of how they reach out and ask if you want to teach a class for a particular quarter,” Valdes said. “It’s just kinda whenever they reach out.”

Adjunct faculty are hired on a contract basis, which is quarter by quarter, and don’t have any guarantee of continued employment.

DePaul English professor and American Association of University Professors (AAUP) liaison Marcy Dinius explains the high concentration of adjunct faculty that DePaul employs.

“Currently in this academic year adjunct faculty are teaching 45% of credit hours at the university, just shy of half,” Dinius said.

This data is available through the university’s Institutional Research and Market Analytics database.

Dinius also believes that being adjunct faculty at DePaul threatens stability in comparison to tenured faculty, who only teach 37% of the credit hours at the university.

“It’s incredible instability for some people who rely on teaching at DePaul for basically their entire livelihood,” Dinius said.

Receiving tenure from the university means “job security and protections of academic freedom”, says Dinius. 

Union organizing can also directly align with DePaul’s founding Vincentian mission and Catholic affiliation, according to Dinius.

“It would be a contradiction for DePaul to be at odds with that,” Dinius said.

Catholicism has a long history with unionization and social tradition, dating back to Pope Leo’s XIII’s Rerum novarum in 1891 which “…called for the state to protect the poor and workers. It called for just wages, and insisted that workers should be able to form labor unions that could bargain on their behalf,” according to Commonweal Magazine.

Former DePaul President, Dennis Holtschneider, significantly opposed adjunct unionization, which he expressed in his 2016 Op-Ed.

Holtschneider cited Supreme Court cases such as NLRB v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago (1979) which ruled unanimously to reject the National Labor Relations Board “attempt to expand its jurisdiction to include religious educational institutions,” according Holtschneider.

This ruling does not apply to adjunct or term faculty, which has allowed neighboring universities, such as Loyola, to unionize. 

In addition to the ties to Catholic and Vincentian teachings that can be seen through unions according to Dinius, Gould, the Ph.D. student, believes that DePaul has the money to meet the demands of United DePaul.

Gould said the efforts of United DePaul to show the discrepancies between the salaries of non-tenured faculty in comparison to those such as DePaul’s basketball coach and administrative staff.

“It goes to show that the money is there, DePaul has the money,” Gould said. “It’s about whether or not they think you’re worth the money.”

Adjunct faculty has a history of attempting to unionize at DePaul, but former President Holtschneider expressed that “the university would prefer if contingent faculty did not unionize,” according to a DePaulia article from 2016.

Dinius believes that President Manuel offers a more “open-door” and “friendly” approach to conversation, and expresses hope that the administration “would listen to the faculty and the students about this.”

But Gould says this will not come without pressure from the community that has been created in United DePaul. 

The organization is made up of solely DePaul community members, and does not have affiliation with outside labor organizations, says Gould.

“By DePaul, for DePaul,” Gould said about the organization.

As United DePaul continues to organize and express their demands, Dinius expresses gratitude in the fight for unionization.

“Demanding what they need to live is wonderful, and I hope they are successful,” Dinius said.

DePaul Provost Salma Ghanem released a statement to the DePaulia regarding graduate and adjunct faculty:

“At DePaul, we are a community that values everyone’s contributions, including the vital work of our adjunct faculty and graduate assistants. We appreciate the role adjunct faculty have in bringing academic excellence and real-world experiences into the classroom. We stay connected to the needs of this important group through adjunct faculty representation on Faculty Council, as well as the Adjunct Faculty Advisory Committee, which includes representatives from all the colleges and schools. DePaul is engaged in a faculty composition study, and adjunct faculty are part of the committee that is evaluating the best mix of faculty to support our students and programs. In addition, adjunct faculty at DePaul receive competitive pay, including course cancellation fees and compensation for university-level service. They are eligible to participate in various benefit plans, including the retirement plan and the university’s tuition waiver program. DePaul also offers health insurance benefits to qualified adjunct faculty.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story did not mention DePaul’s current student healthcare plan, announced Fall 2023. This omission has been corrected. 

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  • D

    DePaul grad studentApr 16, 2024 at 12:42 pm

    Well said. I also think it is truly unacceptable for DePaul to force an expensive, undesirable healthcare plan. Why should GAs or PhD students on a stipend have to pay full price for healthcare, when so many other programs cover healthcare for their graduate students? DePaul clearly has the money, but would rather spend it on their more-than-6-figure salaries.

    • L

      Loop StudentApr 19, 2024 at 2:59 pm

      The school does not provide enough financial support and insurance for GAs and PhD students to cover their living expenses. Now, the rent prices in Chicago are soaring, the cost of living is increasing every year, and our new insurance is even more expensive than UIC and IIT, and it’s not even included in the stipend. If the school wants to cut costs, they don’t have to be so stingy; they can start by looking at other aspects.