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Porter Square-based Lesley University

Porter Square-based Lesley University is already in negotiations with adjunct faculty and may soon need talks with core faculty. (Photo: Thomas)

Full-time faculty at Lesley University filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board this afternoon, the local Service Employees International Union said.

The unit covers nearly 200 of the university’s “core faculty” and, if successful in a vote, would add to the 550-plus adjunct faculty who have already unionized through the FacultyForward union arm at Lesley, said Jason A. Stephany, director of communications at SEIU Local 509. The faculty union project has about 3,000 members in Greater Boston.

Dates and balloting details for the Lesley core faculty vote will be determined by the NLRB office in Boston in the coming weeks, he said.

“There is real energy and momentum amongst our full-time colleagues, and we look forward to winning our election in the weeks ahead,” said Jason Pramas, who has taught communications at Lesley since 2012. “Together, we’ll bring Lesley University’s focus back where it belongs: on giving our students the best educational experience possible.”

Employees of the Porter Square-based university have described core-faculty membership as being a financial improvement over adjunct faculty, but just as uncertain from one semester to the next.

The title “might make you think that ‘core faculty’ such as myself are tenured or tenure-track, which would be the case at almost any other comparable university in the country. But we’re not. There is no tenure at Lesley University,” Pramas said in testimony to the City Council in February. “In fact, core faculty at Lesley are all either half-time or full-time contract faculty – that is to say, contingent faculty just like adjuncts.”

A core faculty member might make $32,000 a year plus benefits and have an office, but return the next year to getting $3,500 per course with no benefits and an office shared by hundreds of fellow adjuncts, Pramas said. The more than 700 adjunct faculty would “make better money working for Starbucks” than teaching four courses a year at Lesley, “when they can get four.”

Adjunct faculty members, meanwhile are stuck in slow-moving negotiations for their first contract at Lesley, part of a trend toward unionization by instructors stuck in the unstable, low-paying roles nationwide. A offer made by Lesley in late February described by Sarah Slavick, an adjunct professor in the fine arts department of Lesley’s College of Art and Design, was still for “poverty wages” despite roughly a year of negotiation – less than $20,000 a year for a full-time workload of five courses.

As at universities around the country, Lesley instructors and student activists complain that administrators are paid too highly in comparison. Slavick said compensation for Lesley President Joseph B. Moore has risen more than $100,000 since 2009, to more than a half-million dollars annually.

John Sullivan, director of communications for Lesley University, said recently that “the university believes significant progress has been made and is optimistic that we will reach resolution on the remaining items,” but declined to speak in depth about the talks or union issues. He said Monday that the university was in communication with the NLRB but had no further comment.

The faculty members’ bid for unionization drew public support at a March 2 meeting of the City Council as well as formal council support, with two members able to sympathize from their own experience as adjuncts.

“This is unfortunately happening in many places. In fact, as an adjunct I have no idea when I’m teaching next” and can’t rely on wages from it, councillor Dennis Carlone said.

Councillor Nadeem Mazen said he has had similar experiences teaching at various universities. When they can “cut corners on supporting good people and helping them attain a living wage, they do,” Mazen said. “Even our best and brightest and most laudable institutions fall prey to this. It’s an incredibly important business model conversation to have, but there’s also a very important human conversation that needs to happen.”

“In this case, Lesley needs to put its money where its mouth is in supporting the community,” Mazen said. “I hope we extend that conversation to other universities.”

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