Part-time faculty at the New School, which includes the Parsons School of Design, have agreed to end their three-week strike over wages and job security after a “tentative agreement” was reached with the university. The news was announced on Saturday on social media by the union representing the part-time faculty, ACT-UAW Local 7902.
It was the longest-ever strike by adjunct faculty in the United States, and the culmination of seven acrimonious months of negotiations over job security, healthcare, and stagnant wages.
More than 1,300 active adjunct professors—nearly 80 percent of the teaching faculty at the New York school—participated in the strike. A major point of contention was the salary discrepancy between part-time faculty and administrators. Despite comprising an overwhelming percentage of the school’s workforce, their salaries represent only 8.5 percent of the school’s budget. Instructors argued that their salaries had seen only a slight increase over the past four years despite the rising inflation and unparalleled expense of living in New York City. In November, the union rejected a 3.5 percent wage increase the university offered after having asked for 10 percent. Following the vote, the university returned to the bargaining with a federal mediator.
In the wake of the agreement, the union said that the compensation offered still lagged behind comparable institutions in the area, but that university administration had accepted their bottom line on health insurance, including “expanded healthcare eligibility to faculty teaching one course, no hikes to our out-of-pocket health insurance costs, and caps to annual premium increases,” according to the announcement.
Wage increases will vary depending on the number of contact hours—a measure of the hour of scheduled instruction given to students—but faculty who teach a 45-contact-hour studio course, among the most common formats at Parsons, will receive a 60 percent raise over five years. Their pay will rise from $4,300 to $6,875 per course by 2026.
“While the part-time faculty are saddened that the university’s intransigence at the bargaining table forced them to leave their classrooms and take to the picket line, they emerge from their work strong, organized, and eager to face the struggles ahead,” the union said in a statement.
University administration faced a slew of negative press during the strike. Over the weekend, a leaked email allegedly written by the New School’s Talent Engagement Coordinator began circulating online suggesting that administration was preparing to hire temporary replacement instructors. The union decried the potential hiring of “scabs” and a subsequent pledge by New York City–based professors not to cross the picket line at the New School attracted more than 650 signatures.
Tokumbo Shobowale, the New School’s executive vice president for business and operations, wrote in an official post on the university’s website that the leaked email is “incorrect and does not reflect a final, accurate, or official version of the university’s intended plans, and we understand how difficult it has been for some people to read it.”
A variety of prominent performers, designers, artists, and academics also signed an open letter vowing to boycott all New School programming until the strike ended. The signatories included Tauba Auerbach, Judith Butler, Matt Keegan, Park McArthur, Cameron Rowland, Sable Elyse Smith, and Barbara Smith. Additionally, a group of parents threatened to file a class action lawsuit against the university.
Meanwhile the union and some members of the tenured faculty openly criticized the administration’s poor budgeting which has led to longstanding financial troubles. The New York Times reported in 2020 that the school would face a budget shortfall of $130 million and “was set to draw down its endowment by an astonishing $80 million, nearly a quarter of its total value.” However, the report continued, “management salaries had increased by 45 percent between 2014 and 2019,” while revenue increased only 17 percent within that period.
“This tentative agreement is only the beginning,” the union’s statement continued, “and the part-time faculty will continue to take power back from The New School’s top executives and place it where it belongs: with the faculty and students, without whom the university could not function.”