Ariel Goldberg, an adjunct professor who teaches at the Parsons School of Design, a part of the New School, has, by all appearances, a glittering résumé: Mx. Goldberg has taught at Columbia, Rutgers, and the Pratt Institute, curated exhibits at museums and recently, gave a talk at the Museum of Modern Art.
Besides the New School, Mx. Goldberg, who uses they/them pronouns, has multiple other jobs, including at a synagogue and a museum. Yet, this year, they had to apply for food stamps and have amassed $15,000 in credit card debt just to get by. They are also on Medicaid.
“It’s just, like, bizarre,” Mx. Goldberg, 39, said, speaking about the jarring sensation of giving a talk at the MoMA a few weeks ago, only to go home to scroll through the internet looking at ads for zero-interest credit cards.
As a part-time professor in one of the most expensive cities in the nation, Mx. Goldberg’s predicament is not unusual. Now, their experience, shared among many others, has fueled a strike at the New School as adjuncts demand better pay and working conditions.
They are part of an army of part-time faculty in New York and across the country who provide both plentiful and cheap labor to colleges and universities, a sector that has been struggling lately amid a financial and demographic crisis.
Higher education institutions have become more reliant on adjuncts because they are cheaper than full-time, tenure and tenure-track faculty, and there is a glut of them, especially in the humanities — a byproduct of universities churning out graduate students who later return to academia for jobs because options in the private sector are limited.
When colleges shave costs, part-time faculty often bear the brunt.
Those forces have been colliding recently at the New School, a historically left-leaning, nonprofit university, when nearly 1,800 part-time faculty, backed by their union, went on strike to protest pay and working conditions. Negotiations quickly turned acrimonious and as of Monday, were locked in a stalemate as the strike entered its third week.
The school said it will begin withholding wages for strikers starting Wednesday, saying it could no longer afford to compensate faculty when classes were suspended
The walkout has followed a similar strike among 48,000 staff in the University of California system and as thousands of graduate students at Yale are planning to vote on whether to unionize. Adjuncts at the City University of New York are also closely watching how negotiations pan out ahead of their own contract negotiations with CUNY in February.