By Sam Haas, city editor
A mass of protesters chanting pro-worker slogans and carrying orange-emblazoned signs stared down Green Line trains outside Northeastern University (NU) on Tuesday afternoon.
Demonstrators from the student group Empower Adjuncts blocked service on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) E line for 25 minutes in solidarity with adjunct faculty at NU, who have spent the last year negotiating for a contract with university officials.
“The fact that this has gone on for so long is unacceptable,” Alissa Zimmer, protester and third-year environmental studies and political science major, said. “The administration has done nothing to move the collective bargaining process forward. We feel it is necessary for us to perform civil disobedience for the administration to listen to us.”
The protest began outside NU President Joseph E. Aoun’s office at 716 Columbus Ave. shortly after 1 p.m. Demonstrators began by chanting in support of adjuncts – “What’s disgusting? Union busting. What’s outrageous? Adjunct wages.” – before local members of the Fight for $15 campaign joined.
“[Northeastern] is willing to treat the people who teach my classes as expendable,” Sarah Anderson, a third-year political science and environmental studies major, said to the crowd outside Aoun’s office. “Adjuncts are not expendable.”
After two students delivered a letter to the president’s office outlining their position, the group of nearly 60 walked across campus to Huntington Avenue, where they blocked the T tracks at the Northeastern University stop.
The ongoing tension between adjuncts and administrators has not gone unnoticed by people outside of the university, protesters said.
Others mentioned the negative economic impacts they say Northeastern’s treatment of professors has on adjuncts.
“Northeastern University is an active machine of creating poverty, not only within its workers but with its students as well as the surrounding community,” Daniela Gonzalez, a protester who graduated from NU this spring, said. “The university exists for our education, for our professors and for the students. They are trying to actively disempower us and break us apart.”
Low wages and overwork are a difficult reality for part-time lecturers, according to Peter Fraunholtz, an adjunct professor of history and international affairs at Northeastern who has been teaching for 18 years.
“A lot of my colleagues are working three, four or five classes, making $2,500 or $3,000 per class,” Fraunholtz said. “I don’t think we’ve been asking for the moon by any stretch, so the big question for the university is ‘what’s in the way of paying adjuncts fairly and reducing the uncertainty of the employment?’”
Northeastern hasn’t released detailed specifics about its employment of adjuncts. Fifty-two percent of lectures at the school are part-time, according to a 2014 Boston Globe article.
While the action may have been for a good cause, the disruption subverted its message, according to Tia Marquis, a Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences student whose train ride was delayed by the group.
“That was ignorant,” Marquis said. “It wasn’t peaceful… This was being selfish, not selfless. Yeah, people heard the protest, but no one was really listening because they were trying to get somewhere.”
In a statement, the university said it supported the rights of students to protest and would work to draft a contract with adjuncts.
“Like any great university, Northeastern is committed to the free and open exchange of ideas,” the university said. “We respect the organizing rights of members of our community, and we continue to bargain in good faith with part-time faculty to reach an agreement that benefits our entire university community.”
Photo by Brian Bae