National Adjunct Action Day is 2/24/2016 (For Us)

Good Adjuncts:

For those of you who follow this blog, you know that, at least in California, myself and John Hoskins, along with many others in San Diego, were heavily involved with events regarding National Adjunct Action Day (I also referred to it as the “whatever”) last year.  We put a lot of effort not only in the planning of events (there were six separate rallies in San Diego County alone).

Planning these events was not simply about having a few meetings, pulling out a card table, getting a microphone and making a poster.  It involved 1) looking at specific actionable items, 2) securing facilities and equipment (which will take several weeks of advance planning, 3) arranging for higher profile speakers, 4) Coordinating with students and outside labor/social justice groups, 5) putting together literature, 6) Publicizing the event, 7) Organizing adjuncts and students to work tables, 8) Presenting before college governing boards, and trust me, I could go on.

We started planning for this year’s events on 2/26/2015, which is approximately one day after National Adjunct Action Day, which was 2/25/2015.

In keeping with the idea that this was a “day of action,” I stated on this blog that we were looking for marking National Adjunct Day on Wednesday, Feb. 24th, 2015 which would be the fourth Wednesday in February, effectively commemorating National Adjunct Day. We of course imagined that there would be various activities leading up to the day, but weren’t looking at designating this as a week.

The reason for this is that both the CTA and CFT, the two major unions in California, already have “Campus Equity Week” which runs during the last week in October.  In fairness, while this used to be a biannual event, it is now in fact an annual event, and works well for us in terms of pressuring the state legislature, which controls our funding, and in addition, help us “rally the troops” for Election Day the following week.

After running a week of these events, as we did in San Diego, we can’t really run another full week of events because we end up appearing redundant and burning out some activists.

The idea of a “day of action” is to concentrate our efforts into a series of mass actions which will have the most impact, and perhaps draw media attention.

In the San Diego and Southwestern Community College Districts, the first day of instruction for the Spring Term is February 1st.  To effectively arrange facilities and organize our actions requires at least three weeks, and while some prior planning can be done, it’s extremely hard to organize during the break except at the basic planning stage because so many people “check out” during break.

Recently, a group I assume that is affiliated with Brandeis University  put out on social media that a National Adjunct Week of Action would be taking place from Feb. 15th-20th.   It would have been nice if they had actually talked with people like myself, who actually organize this stuff, because I would have them that we had prior plans, and that the timeline doesn’t work for us.  In addition, to what I stated before, Feb 12th -15th is actually a four-day holiday weekend in our districts, which is another problem in itself.

By the way, I spent a bit of time on the net looking for discussions of a National Adjunct Action Day for 2016 in November right after Campus Equity Week.  I saw nothing, so we assumed that we had to act, and we have.

To the people planning events on the 15th-20th, I’m glad you’re doing something and I sincerely wish you well, but I’m telling my good adjuncts in the San Diego area we’re looking at Wednesday Feb. 24th.

If we truly want to take the National Adjunct “Whatever” a unifying and effective event, then after this year’s activities, let’s have all the main groups coordinate and lest come up with a time window that works for everybody.  I am happy to be reached through the blog, or via my email, which is mixinminao@gmail.com.

However, I will say this, if you feel the need to speak to, and act out on adjunct issues, don’t let it being a specific day stop you—get out there and do something whenever.  The adjunct nation needs you!

Sincerely,

Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct

How to Screw an Adjunct Part I: Out with the Old, in with the New

 

Good Adjuncts,

For my next few posts, I will be addressing how adjuncts are driven out of the profession either intentionally or otherwise through the actions of Deans, Department Chairs, and Full-timers.

The first of these practices is necessarily intentional, fairly venal, and therefore deserving of the first such post—what I affectionately call “Out with the Old, in with the New.”

Whether we want to admit it or not, Western culture is highly youth-oriented, and, as most of the students in Higher Ed. are under the age of 25, there is an unstated, yet clearly present pressure on academia to remain “relevant” to its student body with youthful professors.

It doesn’t matter that in the past teachers tended to be older while students were younger–the rise of web-based everything has led to a positivist immediacy where everything newer is better, and everything new itself must be ever so tweaked to be “better”. At the same time, there is a student body coming to our institutions who are increasingly less self-efficacious—they are less inclined to reading textbooks, even when made available online, and more inclined to look for a You Tube video or Wikipedia post for their information.

Now to some extent the Higher Ed. community gets this, and at face value claims to promote the idea of teaching people self-efficacy or independent learning, and we have all heard of the Dean, Vice President, or President who at either a convocation or school meeting exhorts the faculty to challenge their students and strive for a high abstract ideal, usually conveyed in the school slogan of the year, like “Excellence in Education.”

The truth of the matter is this: an adjunct can challenge his or her students, but if, over time, the number of students completing the course should significantly drop, or should a small cadre of students complain, even if the adjunct may have received strong evaluations, that teacher will have a number on his or her back.

As a union adjunct rep at two different community colleges, I am often approached by adjuncts having to grieve for their jobs, and the most common issue has to do with older adjuncts finding themselves either being declared ineligible to teach, or, after years of successful evaluations, suddenly in trouble.

Let’s talk about the eligibility issue first. In an ideal world, a person teaching Math at the community college level would have a Masters or Doctoral Degree in Math.  The problem is, and this is true in many disciplines, most of the people holding these degrees can get more lucrative or stable jobs elsewhere, meaning the pool of available candidates to teach is small.  (Now the real solution to this problem would be to hire on more teachers into full-time positions, or simply to pay these adjuncts a higher wage and provide some job security, but this would require money, and that would require courage from administrators and politicians, and an honest discussion with the voting public, and this hasn’t even remotely happened yet.)  Therefore, to meet the demand administrators will seek out people with equivalent qualifications to do the job.

Generally speaking, these people, in the case of Math, will hold Masters or Ph.D.’s in related fields, like Engineering, and clearly to have the knowledge and skills to teach basic skills and freshman level Math courses.  Notably, a surprising number of these teachers are foreign-born and educated.  Very often, they are a good fit for the school, they teach well, and are serious about their work.

Yet the fact of the matter is, in the eyes of a Dean, they aren’t a “real” teacher because they don’t actually have the field-specific degree.  The Dean is still dreaming about that ideal world in which all his/her faculty, full-time or adjunct, have that subject-specific degree.  The problem is, that these adjunct instructors have been doing a good job and getting satisfactory evaluations.  What further complicates this is that in some cases, these adjuncts will have things like priority rehire rights, which means that the Dean cannot, by personal choice alone, get rid of these teachers easily.

But this doesn’t mean the Dean is going to give up striving to get what they want, and this is where equivalency status comes into play. At the California Community College level, equivalency status can either be determined by a committee, or by Dean. In part, because Deans are often looking for an instructor on the fly, they may simply give one of these teachers immediate equivalency. Further, because the Dean is initially happy with the arrangement, quarters or semesters will go by with the Dean never challenging the equivalency status of the adjunct.

The thing is, unless an instructor goes through an actual equivalency committee his/her equivalency status is temporary, meaning form term to term.  And moreover, a Dean will often (and perhaps conveniently) neglect to inform the instructor of this. This means that should a Dean have a change of heart, they can draw into question the qualifications of even the most successful and longest teaching adjuncts who lack the subject specific degree.  Sometimes, because there is usually about a 5-10 year turnaround on Deans, a new Dean might come in and decide to “clean house”, especially when he/she sees some promising new teachers coming onto the scene with subject-specific degrees in mind.  I was loosely involved with one case in which a teacher with 20+ years of experience was let go, not because of his teaching, but because it was suddenly decided he no longer had equivalency status.

Playing Devil’s Advocate, I suppose one could argue that there is a legitimacy issue here in that you should have people with Math Degrees teaching Math, but from a qualitative standpoint, if both the students and the teacher’s fellow adjunct and full-time faculty are satisfied with his/her work, it makes sense to keep that instructor.  But then again, that wouldn’t be keeping with the notion of “Out with the Old, in with the New.”

The more common drama facing older adjuncts is the shift in evaluations.  Understand that most school like to keep teachers, including adjuncts, at least to the extent that they provide continuity and help their respective departments and schools achieve their goals.  The thing is, they often want to keep them around for only so long.

Many adjuncts, when they first come into a job, are excited about their work, and are eager to please, which means regular attendance at department meetings, professional development exercises, conferences, and involvement in shared governance, tutoring centers, etc.… Over time, it can get harder to sustain these activities in that they have to spread themselves out over several campuses in multiple districts, have other jobs, or family responsibilities.  Many older adjuncts are not faced just with the issue of children, but rather, older parents.  Further, let’s face it, it’s not always easy to get a good schedule as an adjunct.  Often they get early morning or evening classes, or classes taught off site at high school, higher ed. centers, and extensions. These are the classes at times and locations full-time instructors do not want to teach.

One of the other issues I see come up among these older adjuncts is how they often become “isolated” professionally, or by a presumption that if they are simply adjuncts that they should singularly focus on their relationship with students.

During this same time, full-time instructors will likely be actively engaged in professional development and departmental matters at a specific campus.  In addition to it being easier to do at a single campus where they don’t lose 5-15 hours a week of transportation and set-up time, it is actually part of their job title–they are awarded tenure on the amount of outside the classroom work that they do, and are compensated for it in salaries which are often two to three times what an adjunct makes for an equivalent teaching load.  Further, it will not only be easier for these instructors to get money to attend conferences, it will also be easier for them to get release time from work in that they only have to deal with one employer.  Moreover, full-time instructors can and often do apply for sabbaticals multiple times during their careers, giving them the opportunity to bone up on additional coursework at the school’s expense without having to work.

One can thus imagine that the rate of evolution in teaching techniques and styles is often, though not always higher, among full-timers.  (There are some full-timers who do the minimum and simply check out, but this is another issue).  One can also imagine that these full-timers will inherently be inclined to look closer at and think more highly of those young, go-getter adjuncts, and over time, think less and less of the older adjuncts.

In fact, some of these adjuncts can get regarded with contempt.  I can recall one of the more adjunct-friendly full-timers commenting to me that “…there are just some of the older adjunct who only show up to teach and never talk to me.  I’d just wish they’d quit or go away.”

I would also like to assert that there is a bit of sexism that plays a role here as well.  With younger, less mature populations, older female adjuncts will often find themselves dealing with disciplinary issues, particularly in basic skills classes, and far too often, the attitude of full-timers and Deans is that the teacher is a problem.

I think good adjuncts, you can imagine what the cumulative impact of the above is on older adjuncts, and how, after years of successful teaching, they can find themselves facing a poor evaluation and the end of a career, for old adjuncts rarely retire, so much as they are simply left off the schedule.

Well then, what can be done regarding this issue of “Out with the Old, in with the New”?

First of all, Deans need to be held accountable for who they hire, and do the proper diligence to see that teachers who have been awarded Equivalency” status.  Any equivalent hire should be subsequently taken to an equivalency committee in the semester of an adjunct’s hire to either confirm or deny their status. The equivalency card should no longer be a tool for a Dean’s creative way of dealing with personnel.

As regards older adjuncts in general, full-timers need to develop some empathy and understanding.  Talk to your full-time colleagues about these issues.

By the way, just because it’s harder for an older adjunct to grow in his/her profession doesn’t mean he/she should be excused from having to do it.  When he/she can manage it, they should participate in professional development and other departmental activities, and though they should also be paid for it, payment can’t always be the expectation or motivation.  Teaching is a collaborative activity, and so it’s important for adjuncts to interact with other colleagues, even if it’s only online, but preferably, in person.

Anyway Older Adjuncts, shield yourselves, and younger adjuncts, take note, because nearly all Older Adjuncts started off like you, and despite your full-time aspirations, many of you will become us.

A “Good” Old Adjunct

Geoff Johnson

The Silly Season Part II: The Myth of Impartiality in the Full-Time Application Process

Good Adjuncts,

When I last wrote on the full-time position application/interview process, I told you that I was planning on writing about concrete suggestions for improving the process, and I’m going to get at some of them here, but to do so I need to get at what drives much of its cumbersome, redundant, and impractical nature.

At the heart of it is the myth of impartiality.

What do I mean you ask?

Well, unlike the people who decided this year’s Oscar nominations, most public institutions are very concerned about trying to redress the fact that their instructional staff is dominated by faculty that are white, male, or culturally Anglo-Saxon, especially in places like Southwestern College in Chula Vista, California, where the overwhelming majority of student are Latino/Hispanic. To some extent, students should be taught by teachers that can have a deeper personal awareness of their students’ backgrounds. Perhaps even more so, students should have the experience of learning from teachers of other races, sexes, and socio-cultural backgrounds to have both a broader world view, and a capacity to think outside certain cultural boxes.

The idea of an “impartial” application process, driven in part by EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) guidelines, was driven to root out the institutional bias that kept under-represented groups from being present among college faculty. The assumption has been and is that if the process is “impartial” that naturally the best candidates for the full-time position will rise above that bias. At the same time, this “impartiality” will also prevent a kind of cronyism in which personal favorites of administrators and or faculty are chosen for their likability rather than their skill or talent.

The truth of the matter is that despite decades of this push for impartiality, college faculty are still not that diverse, and moreover, cronyism and partiality are still very much in place.

I think few college faculty, when seriously looking over the ethnic and socio-cultural diversity of our campuses, can say that our faculty as a whole is reflective of the diversity that it should be, although there are a few who would take umbrage at my assertions of cronyism and partiality. In response to these, let me offer up a couple of examples:

If you’re really interested in getting a diverse applicant pool for a full-time position, then you’re naturally going to want to throw out a wide net; this would translate into a position being advertised for minimum of six weeks. Why so long? Well, it gives the applicant enough time to 1) research the institution, 2) consider the position requirements, 3)acquire transcripts and letters of recommendation (needed in some cases), 4) fully consider the supplemental questions usually asked, and 5) write an effective letter of introduction and intent. It would also stand to reason that the position would be advertised widely, like say in the Chronicle of Higher Education and, as in the case of California Community College System, websites like the California Community Colleges Registry, and that the position would be widely announced on the very campus where the position is being offered.

Sadly, this practice is only randomly observed. In one specific case, I can recall position being posted the day before a Spring Break with just a two-week window for applications. Yup, they were certainly looking for a wide pool of applicants. You can probably bet that even some of the adjuncts in the same department were caught unawares, which must have made that mad dash to assemble all the necessary materials real fun, not to mention of course, that the duress under which the applications were assembled meant that all the applicants were putting forth less than their best.

Another example I have is of a position with I believe a one-month posting window that was so poorly advertised that one adjunct, who had been working on an involved project with the department chair, didn’t even know about it, nor did half the adjuncts in the department, not to mention adjuncts who weren’t working in the district.

When I first heard about these examples, I thought surely the California Ed. Code would prohibit such practices, but no. How a position is advertised is determined by the hiring committee alone. Does that sounds fair?

Another place where partiality and cronyism play a factor is in what is known as the supplemental application. Now before I get going, first let me say that supplemental components on applications are essential. Specific departments are going to have certain needs, and they need to determine whether candidates do or do not meet these needs.

The problem is that many of these supplemental applications become either too long, or tied to the jargony in-language of a department, and actually can work against a diverse applicant pool. Four of five supplemental questions which speak to an applicant’s teaching, professional development, campus involvement, and theoretical viewpoint should be enough. I recently filled out one application with Twelve supplemental questions, each of which involved giving highly detailed and well-thought out answers. Many of the questions were in fact redundant, and not one of the 20+ other adjuncts I talked to about the application as a whole didn’t think the number of questions was excessive, and this includes two of the adjuncts that actually got the full-time positions.

The “jargony” aspect of the application will come out when certain cue words are thrown out like “Generation 1.5” and “Affective Domain” to talk about ideas and concepts that already existed and were being discussed in simpler language before the words were used. These words remind me of the Post-Structural Literary Theory language used in Grad School Programs in the 80’s and early 90’s. When applicants see these words, most of them, unless they were at the specific conference where the word was used, or in that specific department’s meeting where the word had been bandied about, are going to go and google it, or chat about it with their colleagues, figure out they’ve been dealing with it already, then turn around and write about it in the application, making sure to drop the word to show awareness. Naturally, the applicant who is on the “inside track” with the language is going to succeed, but does this sort of circle-jerking of a term really result in getting the best candidate?

The effect of the massive supplemental application is more pernicious in another regard. If you, as anyone I talked to about the application, spends over 30+ hours filling it out, it’s time taken away from teaching, family, sleep, etc. Each supplemental application is different, so if one is applying to mutliple schools, this turns the application process into an unpaid full-time job to supplement the already overworked and underpaid job one has. Generally, the people who have the time and energy to devote to this are younger, or not encumbered with family, namely children, or having to support the whole household independently on a single income. There are exceptions of course, but few.

Anyway, filling out any of the applications is more or less a cathartic process, and so when after all the work, an applicant, approximately six weeks later, receives a thin letter, which effectively says “your application was considered, but you were not chosen . . .” then follows up with the most bullshit rejection letter line “. . . we hope that you will consider applying again in the future  . . .” you can bet it’s a bit demoralizing. Now to be honest, people do have to get rejection letters, and people are going to have to be disaappointed, but you certainly can lessen the sting if the application is less arduous. The fact of the matter is that after a few of these serious gut punches, adjuncts stop applying, but they don’t stop working. In fact, I know of one whose been working since 1963, and still is.

You’d think after 30 years, she’d be made full-time by sheer commitment to the job.  Further, if she hasn’t been fired in 52+ years, one could assume she knows how to do the job.

A final example I want to offer up of partiality, at least as it exists at the California Community College Level, is the presidential interview. Consider that a large community college campus has 200+ full-time faculty, and some have even more. Consider as well that these faculty and the positions they hold are in areas of specialization and expertise of which the president often had limited or no knowledge. Consider further that these presidents are more CEO’s and public relations figures than academics. I wonder if, in any similar-sized company in the US, that the CEO interviews each full-time employee? My guess is…no.

Then, does it really make sense for the president to conduct the final interview for each full-time academic position?

My sense for why this happens is because of accreditation and the corporitization of the college campus. Whether he/she tells you or not in the interview the president wants to choose somebody to help sell the campus and make him/her look good. Unfortunately, this doesn’t neccessarily have to do with being an academic. Presidents want people compliant with accrediation (think SLO’s), who aren’t going to raise hackles over raised class caps, reduced access to educational resoucres when he/she deems it necessary, and proposed new policies and facilites, whether of dubious nature or not. The fact that this one individual (the president)  has the ultimate say in whether a person gets the full-time job or not should make it clear that the application process is anything but impartial.

If you’d like to take at least some of the silliness out of the silly season, then:

1) All applications should be uniformly advertised and posted with enough time for applicants to resonably get their materials together.
2) The supplemental components should be limited to 4-5 questions, and the application as a whole should take no more than 5-10 hours to process.
3) The hiring committees (Composed of a Dean, Department Chair, Faculty and one Student Representative) should be the first and final people to decide upon a full-time hire.

But I have an additional suggestion. Many of the problems with partiality and cronyism in the process are not because the people who hire adjuncts hate adjuncts. In fact, quite the opposite. They want to hire the adjuncts who work alongside them, for they know that they can do the job.

Fair enough. Then departments and/or schools should be given the opportunity to offer “closed” positions in which the only eligible applicants are those that work for the institution already. An internal promotion process whereby adjuncts at an existing institution could become full-time instructors would significantly improve morale among adjuncts, and impel them to be more connected to the institutions at which they work.

Most workers, and teachers are no exception, operate by a notion of a protestant work ethic which implies that hard work is rewarded by a rise of one’s station in life.

That an adjunct could simply become a full-timer by hard work and dedication alone? Perchance to dream…

Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct

Adjuncts Will Be Hurt By Friedrichs

Good Adjuncts:

One of the things that so plagues the adjunct nation is that all too often we either collectively sign on to, assent to, or simply ignore “opportunities,” or changes in policy that in the long run hurt us deeply.

What I’m about to talk about here is how you choose to negotiate the conditions of your employment, and what can either keep you from getting exploited, to what can guarantee that you have no control about the conditions of your work.

Presently, the US Supreme Court is hearing arguments regarding the case of Friedrichs versus the California Teaching Association, regarding the issue of agency fees. Though not all do, many teachers’ unions impose an agency fee on the people who are in a particular bargaining unit. In other words, whether you have officially signed on as a member of that union or not, you are required to pay union dues insomuch as they pay for the cost of collective bargaining, but not the union’s political activities. In fact, you can presently request that any portion of your dues directed towards political funds be refunded.

Friedrich’s position is that the union’s activities constitute what is called “impelled speech,” and that the union’s activities, even or especially when talking with admin about things like class caps, curriculum, equity, etc. are necessarily political, so that therefore, they should not have to pay. The unions’ argument is that, as collective bargaining and contract enforcement are often expensive activities, all workers who benefit from the union’s collective-bargaining agreement should pay for its costs.

Gleaning the court’s intent from the commentary of some of the Supreme Court Justices today, it is likely that the agency fee will be done away with.

To many full-timers, and perhaps moreso to adjuncts, this will seem like a blessing. “What, I don’t have to pay union fees? Why that’s great, I don’t make that much money. The union hasn’t done that much for me (or so they think). I can use that several hundred dollars a year.” For yet others, and I’m sure this really appeals to many adjuncts, the assumption is that the union only respects the specific interests of a very small group, and mostly those are full-timers if I’m in a “wall-to-wall” unit which includes both part and full-time employees. Not having to pay an agency fee will give me the power to force the union to meet my needs if they want my money.

Well let’s just take a look at those assumptions, and why buying will be seriously injurious to your working conditions.

First of all, collective bargaining is not a particularly simple process, especially when dealing with bargaining unit contracts that are over 100+ pages longs, loaded with legalese, and which must be negotiated with administrators who are not always forthcoming, correct, honest, or competent in discussing the finances. Most contracts will involve 100’s to 1000’s of employees working under a myriad of working conditions, with ever so slight changes to curriculum, labor laws, legislative initiatives handed down from on high, etc. The people who negotiate these contracts, are first and foremost, teachers themselves. This is time-consuming work that requires expertise, training, and experience. Be aware that admin., who often have considerable budgets to work with, will at times hire professional labor lawyers to negotiate on their behalf. Most teachers working a full-time equivalent load, whether adjunct or full-time, cannot do this work effectively unless they receive some amount of release time from work to take on these tasks. Less money coming in means the union can’t pay these people to do the extra work needed to negotiate a better contract.

There is another problem here that comes up when negotiating teams are not given release time—fewer people volunteer to do the work, meaning the talent pool for the negotiating team shrinks. What you will then get, at times, is the negotiating team member who, in the face of a tough negotiation (and who is perhaps thinking of becoming a future administrator), will settle a contract early, leaving on the table potential salary gains, benefits, or vital changes to work conditions. If your union, facing an administration which claims to be running a deficits, allows for your unit to take a several-percentage page decrease, an increase in class sizes, or increases unpaid non-instructional work demands, that several hundred dollars you just “saved” has been picked from your pocket and then some.

As for the claim that teachers unions often represent the specific interests of a few, there is some truth to this. Unions by and large represent its most active members, and particularly those who vote on the leadership, fill out negotiating surveys, come to meetings, participate in larger union activities, and vote on whether to ratify a contract or not. For the most part, because full-time employees usually work at one campus and are therefore more engaged with their on-site union than an adjunct teaching at multiple campuses and represented by multiple unions, they are more likely to have their interests and concerns heard by the one union they’re involved with. Ironically, on most, if not nearly all campuses where “wall-to-wall” unions exist, adjuncts represent the majority of members, but vote and participate in such small numbers that they do not effectively lead policy.

To address this problem, adjuncts simply need to vote and participate more, which takes needed time and energy, and will at times lead to frustration when others don’t see your way of thinking at first (welcome to being in a union). You can’t do this if you’re not a member, and it’s a lot easier to rationalize to oneself to become a member when you’re already paying fees for it.

The thing is, it’s always been pretty easy for an adjunct to talk himself /herself out of getting involved, but at what expense? Do you really want more of the same treatment?

As for those of you adjuncts who think this will force the unions to come to you begging for you to join, to some extent this will happen, but… Taking time to get people to sign up to become members takes time, and the time people like me spend seeking you out means time away from negotiations, handling grievances (which I’ll talk about a bit more later), planning events, talking to school board members and local politicians on our workers concerns, etc. By the way, in many cases, the loss of funding will also mean that union members will not be able to pay people to actually do membership drives, which when you’re trying to reach members who teach at offsite locations or at non-traditional times, like evenings or weekends, is often essential. This is turn means fewer dollars which means unions will accomplish less work.

There’s also a certain contingent of full-time membership that sadly, see promoting adjunct issues as a detriment to their achieving their own specific interests. They tend to see the union less as a union and more as a professional organization, and they think long and hard about the “I” in union, but not the “U”. While in the long run, weak unions may result in the loss of bargaining power, they might not be too worried about the problem in that they’re closer to the end of their career rather than the beginning. They’ll be all too happy to have you not participate.

So does no agency fee still sound like a good idea?

Well now let’s talk about grievance. So many people think unions are simply about negotiating salaries and benefits that they fail to realize that they are also engaged in protecting worker’s rights. Without a union or a contract to represent you, you can be asked to work under ANY working conditions insomuch as they don’t violate your civil rights or OSHA law, and you can be FIRED AT ANY TIME WITHOUT CAUSE. Now some people might say, “Hey, but if I’m not an official member and just an agency fee payer. I’m not protected directly by the union.”

It’s true that if you’re not a member that a union can choose not to represent you, but often the employee rights that you have are the result of past grievance actions taken up by the union whether you were a member or not. It’s one thing for the union to have a contract with management, but making sure that it’s properly enforced is the job of a grievance team. While negotiations groups will get a lot of recognition by union members, it’s often the grievance team that does the hardest, most unpleasant, and in many ways, the most important work. This is also where the work a union does can become most expensive.

Consider that is a grievance needs to go to arbitration, this means having to pay for an arbiter and union lawyers. Even a simple case over an adjunct getting rehire rights can run over 10,000 dollars in expenses. Without the money of agency fees, it becomes increasingly difficult for unions to fight these cases.

The thing that’s interesting about almost all grievance cases is that almost no employee knows, going into a job, that they’ll ever have to grieve their work conditions, and although a union may anticipate future grievances, it has no way to “plan” how much its grievances will cost. Here is where the funds of agency fees are perhaps most vital in supporting the cause of workers.

Chances are likely that the agency fee will fall, but that doesn’t mean you can’t join the union. What it does mean is that now, more than ever, you need to join the teacher’s union at your place of work. If you don’t have one, then you should contact a local teacher’s union about starting one.

You know the old cliché, “united we stand, divided we fall.” The fact of the matter is, it’s true. It’s time to unify and unionize good adjuncts.

Sincerely,

Geoff Johnson
A “Good” Adjunct

The 2016 State of the Adjunct Nation

Good Adjuncts,

Sorry I’ve been away so much; between the direct union activism of the last year and the deaths of both my mother and stepmother, I’ve only been able to put up a smattering of stuff.

I’m back, and I’m here to tell you the state of the adjunct nation is still unsound.

Granted, there have been positive changes afoot in the past year.

Outside of the limited smatterings of “Campus Equity Week” events, the call for, and on many campuses, the realization of a National Adjunct Day of Action marked the first significant effort at a mass labor action dedicated to the cause of Adjuncts.

Additionally, in many states, the improved economy meant increased tax revenues and in turn and uptick in wages and jobs for some adjuncts in some states. In California, a concerted effort to push the Governor and Legislature to address adjunct issues resulted in the designation of 62.5 million dollars towards the “conversion of part-time to full-time positions”. Also in California, an adjunct job security bill giving rehire rights to adjuncts in good standing received serious consideration before being killed in appropriations. In addition, some local districts crafted or increased funding for adjunct office hours and professional development.

Arguably, it was a move in the right direction, and yet…

Adjuncts still account for 75% of Community College and Higher Ed instructors, most have little or no job security, have to pay out of pocket for Obamacare, and make around 50% of what Full-time instructors make for teaching the same number of hours.

In fact, most adjuncts that did see pay increases usually received the same percentage increase as their full-time colleagues, which in fact did not bring the wages closer together, but saw them grow farther apart.

There has been no significant national movement on student loan debt forgiveness for adjuncts, and still significant numbers of adjuncts, in spite of their advanced degrees, years of teaching experience, solid evaluations, and professionalism, live on food stamps, receive government assistance, or are in fact homeless. To make ends meet, many adjuncts are teaching more classes than they should, traveling to multiple campuses in multiple districts, which adversely affects their teaching and makes it harder for students to access them.

According to the Labor Department’s December 2015 jobs report the average US wage was $24.57 an hour. For an adjunct, such as myself, who is only paid for their hours in class, with some token payment given office hours, I get paid for about one hour for every five that I actually work, which means my average of 73.00/hr (and I am paid at the top highest step I can reach in two relatively well-paying districts) is actually around $14.60/hr. I seriously doubt that any adjunct who truly puts the time into their classes that they should actually makes $24.57/hr for the work they actually do, even though they have a higher degree of educational attainment than 90% of the adult working population.

In fact, as I am presently between semesters, I am presently unemployed, as I am every Mid-December through late January or early February, because the Community Colleges I work at don’t want to give me, or any other adjunct for that matter, an actual contract guaranteeing my rehire rights, in spite of 10+ years of consecutively strong evaluations because then they would 1) have to provide me the same benefits as my full-time colleagues, and 2) the same proportional salary.

Meanwhile, the salaries of these institutions’ Chancellors, Presidents, and Vice Presidents are rising at higher rates, coupled with “longevity bonuses” that adjuncts will never see.

Yet, above and beyond all this, in California at least, there was hope that through a concerted effort by a number of different groups, from the main teachers unions in the state, to adjunct advocacy groups, that the governors’ budget this year would designate some specific monies to address adjunctification. What the budget does offer is a .46 COLA for Community Colleges in general along with 2% growth money tied to enrollment, and 200 million dollars for Career Technical education.

Any specific monies for increasing full-time hires, or paid adjunct office hours, or adjunct pay equity?

If you guessed zero, you’d be right.

Now for those of you out there that are inclined to think, “Hey, there’s COLA and growth money, so the inequities of the adjunct situation can still be addressed,” you need to understand what’s more likely to happen, as it has for the past several decades.

The COLA is relatively small, and so this is more than likely going to mean small salary increases across the board for adjuncts and full-timers alike, and unless you’re in a very progressive district with a very progressive full-time membership, the salary increase will be across, the board, meaning no closing of the adjunct/full-time pay equity gap. “Growth money” can be spent any number of ways by a district, and generally speaking, adjunct pay equity ranks low on the list.

To add to the fun, Governor Brown is not going to push for an extension of Proposition 30. There’s no word yet on whether he will oppose the effort of others to get this extension.

So, at least in California the State of the Adjunct Nation is unsound.

What can we do?

Well for one, we can’t take this lying down.

Each adjunct who actually gives a damn about addressing adjunctification needs to write his/her own letter—no more form letters. In addition, these letters need to speak to your personal situation as an adjunct and how being an adjunct and the whole aspect of adjunctification hurts you, your family, your students, and your community.

Brown’s budget also tends to stick it to the poor and is a bit weak on the social justice side, so it’s important that you work together with other student and progressive groups to make your local legislators and ultimately governor Brown know that moving California Forward means helping people out of poverty, not making California safe for 1%ers.

Sign and support voter initiatives calling for an extension of Prop 30, and let your local legislator know that your support for him or her is dependent upon their support for a Prop 30 extension.

And by the way, the National Adjunct Day of Action this year is Wednesday, February 24th. Start talking among your fellow adjuncts or teacher’s union about actions to take.

Or do nothing, because the crap sandwich you’re already eating tastes so good, and maybe in the future you can do without the bread.

Sincerely,

Geoff Johnson
A “Good” Adjunct

A Sestina For the Educated Tool: An Adjunct Poem

Sestina for the Educated Tool

Assuming ethos before my students,
I argue education’s importance
as a vehicle to one’s lifetime goals:
“Knowledge is a tool for empowerment
which can raise one out of poverty
and evoke a world of possibilities.”

Yet there are other possibilities,
ones that teachers rarely tell their students:
That education won’t prevent poverty
as long as efficiency’s importance
affects those who seek some empowerment
outside the margins of spreadsheeted goals.

Within the margins of spreadsheeted goals
exist only funded possibilities
meant to equate educational empowerment
with credentialing workers. Those students
looking beyond economic importance
find riches rewarded with poverty.

Yes, these educated toil in poverty
caused not by lack of professional goals
but rather, by the deferred importance
of human values and possibilities
not tied to direct paychecks for students,
but about personal empowerment.

My ethos, you see lacks the empowerment
of a promised escape from poverty.
Truly, were I honest with my students
I should reveal to how sometimes, the goals
of others deny possibilities
which are reflective of our own importance.

In fact, it is their presumed importance
which makes education without empowerment,
and instead makes possibilities
fade before the working poverty
of educated tools, whose unreached goals
are projected onto ideal students.

Possibilities beyond poverty
ensure importance and empowerment
when goals empower teachers and students.