Confront the new labor model: from hotel room to classroom

At the demonstration outside Hyatt at AAR/SBL

Proud of our Ph.D. student Carolyn Roncolato and all those at Chicago Theological Seminary and the AAR/SBL members who supported the member resolution.  Read the New York Times article here on this work.

As I wore my “I Support the Hyatt Boycott” button around the AAR meeting and passed out flyers, I talked with many faculty members and aspiring faculty members about the fact that the “Hyatt” model or “Wal-Mart” model of part-time, low-pay, no benefits and no job security was also the way employment in academic religion is going.

I heard heart-breaking stories in return: faculty members who are nomads, living just above the poverty level despite working 70+ hours teaching part-time at different schools, having no benefits and struggling to pay off student loans.

The long awaited study,”A Portrait of Part-Time Faculty Members,” conducted by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce, paints a “dismal picture” of the working conditions of part-time faculty. The median pay, $2,700 per course, and limited access to health insurance “stand in stark contradiction to higher education’s claims about the value—including the economic value—of higher education.”

The inevitable conclusion: “the edifice of higher education is increasingly being maintained on the backs of an academic underclass.”

Gustavo Gutierrez once said, “I am suspicious of those who are not in the struggle for justice for themselves.”

We have to help our students, and ourselves as faculty members, connect the dots in this American economy. We all have to wake up to the fact that this labor struggle is one struggle: workers should be treated with respect and human dignity, as the Wal-Mart workers website so accurately says, and paid a decent wage with benefits.

From retail to hotels to factories, to colleges and beyond, recognize that disrespect for the dignity of work is profoundly wrong.

It has to change.

About Susan Thistlethwaite

I am President Emerita and Professor Emerita of Chicago Theological Seminary; I write for the public here and in local papers. I am interested in what I call "public theology," or how deeper meaning is made and contested in the public square.
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