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Are universities hiring non-tenured adjuncts—who now make up two-thirds of the faculty workforce—because their tenured veterans won’t retire?

Delayed retirement is a contributing factor in the proliferation of adjuncts, says Brian Kaskie, associate professor of health policy at the University of Iowa’s College of Public Health. Employees who can’t be fired and won’t retire are a burden administrators don’t want to assume.

Nick Kalm is president and Courtney Harper is senior vice president at Reputation Partners, a communications consultancy that specializes in labor communications for universities and other organizations.

Unionization movements will continue to gain traction at colleges and universities, so it’s important for administrators to prepare. While pay, benefits and shared governance will be pressing issues, many institutions fail to develop a strategy to communicate with employees.

Students at UC San Diego walked out in solidarity with adjuncts at the university.

Faculty and students who demonstrated during the first National Adjunct Walkout Day on Feb. 25 aimed to raise awareness about the working conditions faced by part-time instructors. Despite the day’s title, walkouts were not only discouraged by many unions, but illegal in some states.

The temperature around higher education unionizing efforts often runs hot. Officials are reluctant to have outside labor groups on campus or to relinquish control over important personnel decisions—including pay, benefits and other sensitive employee issues. But should higher ed leaders fear unionization efforts?

The size of part-time faculty in higher ed has increased more than full-time faculty over the last two decades.

Institutions of all types benefit from the fact that adjuncts can be employed for a fraction of the investment needed for full-time faculty. At the same time, colleges face growing concerns that the needs of adjuncts, as well as their potential to contribute more fully to student success, are being overlooked.

Kirk Overstreet is assistant dean for adjunct faculty support at the College of DuPage.

College of DuPage, located just west of Chicago, is one of the largest community colleges in the United States, and it is the largest community college in the Midwest. The institution serves more than 30,000 students and offers a variety of courses, with more than 80 percent of its classes delivered face-to-face.