Meehan puts students, faculty last

UMass president refuses to bargain with Lowell adjunct profs for better wages and benefits

MARTY MEEHAN’S FAILURES as president of the University of Massachusetts system have been big news lately. A controversial land grab to benefit Amherst at the expense of other campuses and a no-confidence vote by UMass Boston faculty were just the start.

Now, he’s facing another controversy at UMass Lowell, where he was chancellor before taking over the entire system. It’s one that strikes at the heart of a university’s mission – teaching. For three years, Meehan has refused to negotiate or fund a contract that covers nearly half of UMass Lowell’s teaching faculty.

When he was a Democratic member of Congress from Lowell, Meehan could be counted on to fight for working people. Not anymore. With a newly signed contract expected to bring him nearly a $1 million a year in taxpayer-funded salary and perks, Meehan seems to have traded in his old values for a millionaire lifestyle, while students are forced to foot the bill with yet another increase in tuition and fees. He’s shortchanging UMass Lowell students and faculty and his hometown of Lowell by denying a key part of the Lowell workforce fair pay, health insurance and retirement benefits. 

Even though we have the same high levels of education and expertise and teach many of the same classes, adjunct professors at UMass Lowell are paid far less than our counterparts at other campuses, such as Amherst. The inequality doesn’t stop with our paychecks. While our colleagues in the rest of the UMass system have health insurance and retirement benefits, we go without. We are simply asking for system-wide parity.

With the university depending more and more on adjunct faculty to teach an increasing number of classes, the treatment of faculty teaching staff matters more than you may think. The success of our students depends on the fair treatment of their teachers. Researchers at the Delphi Project “Changing Faculty and Student Success,” found that when universities treat adjunct faculty members poorly, students suffer.

During the crucial first two years of a student’s college education, the majority of classes are taught by adjunct faculty members. We’re a key part of the campus community but are not afforded the support and respect that role requires. 

The claim that UMass Lowell has negotiated in good faith with adjunct professors is untrue. Right now, the university is facing unfair labor practice charges for covertly instructing departments to limit course assignments to adjunct professors to prevent us from gaining eligibility for health insurance while saying the opposite at the bargaining table. For years, UMass Lowell administrators have attempted to evade offering adjunct faculty members health and retirement benefits by categorizing us as “temporary employees” even though most of us have taught at UMass Lowell for many years, with some still being labeled “temporary” after teaching there for decades.

Why is this Meehan’s problem to fix? The answer is clear. Meehan oversees the entire UMass system. It is his job to ensure every student, regardless of the campus they attend, receives an equally high quality education. That is not a campus issue—it’s a system-wide one.

This controversy has raised some key questions that Meehan refuses to answer, resorting instead to shallow talking points, slick statements and attempts to scare students with even more tuition increases. Why, when UMass Lowell students pay the second highest tuition in the system, does UMass invest less in them? Why are adjunct professors at Lowell paid less than professors at Amherst, even though the cost of housing in Lowell is 21 percent higher? Why are UMass Lowell adjunct professors denied health insurance and retirement security when adjunct faculty members at every other UMass campus have those benefits? While taxpayers and students are busy making Meehan a millionaire, what are we getting in return? These are questions we will not stop asking.

We get up and go to work every day with the mission to do everything we can to make sure our students have the attention and resources they need to succeed in college and in life. Shouldn’t that be Meehan’s mission too?

This pattern of unequal treatment seems tailor-made to reinforce regional and institutional inequality within the UMass system. It’s a bad approach for UMass students and is poisonous to the city and people of Lowell.

We all know we show our values and priorities by how we spend our money. Watching how Marty Meehan uses UMass system resources, it seems clear he puts Lowell, its campus and its students and faculty at the bottom of his priority list.

Dr. Gregory F. DeLaurier is a visiting lecturer in Political Science at UMass Lowell Honors College. Laurel McMechan is a member of the Senior Adjunct Faculty at UMass Lowell.

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