Introduction: Like adjuncts, postdocs are contingent employees, often move from position to position and are underpaid relative to their faculty colleagues. Below is an account of a group that came together to raise important issues.
by Geoffrey Rojas, University of Minnesota
Over the last 15 years, postdocs at the University of Minnesota have enjoyed access to the UPass, a public transit subsidy. In late August however, the University unilaterally revoked access to the discount - increasing transit costs to us by 300%. Not only were we not consulted, or even notified when the change occurred, we were told by the graduate school to simply accept it and move on.
Generally postdocs have no say in how anything works at the U so, most just begrudgingly accepted it. Those of us volunteering in the Postdoctoral Association didn’t. At first we reached out to the administration to figure out what happened and fix it. Trying to deal with issues via a system that isn’t designed to deal with your problems is ultimately fruitless.
So, we decided our only recourse was direct action by the only group willing to do anything: ourselves. We underwent a grassroots organizing campaign. We circulated petitions, we sent personal emails, we talked to the campus newspaper, we called the dean of the graduate school, we contacted the provost. Faculty were so incensed they were contacting administrators on our behalf. We made as much noise as we could - and it got noticed.
Two weeks later we were sitting down with the Director of parking. He had 25 pages of petitions, signatures, and comments we had delivered sitting on the table next to him. A day after our meeting we were notified the U had reversed its decision and access was going to be restored.
I’ll admit this wasn’t the most radical change, but we managed to get the administration at one of the largest universities in the country listen to our voice - all through collective action.
This isn’t the end of the story. We still do not have a permanent voice in the administration or governance at the U. Even though faculty consider us colleagues, the university treats us as temporary employees. Until this changes, postdocs, much like adjuncts, are going to continue to feel out-of-place within the community at the U. Without a sense of solidarity and community between us all, we will continue to be averse to the risk necessary for innovation and discovery. As the central aim of science is discovery and education, we need that sense of community and the solidarity necessary to achieve it.