Have a consciousness raising, satirical, ironic, laughing, not crying, carnivalesque Campus Equity Week!
87% adjuncts at San Diego Mesa College and growing…
Here is the text of the speech I gave to kick off a week of Campus Equity Week 2017 events at San Diego Mesa College.
Adjunctification and Corporatization: How Students Became Consumers and Professors Became Precarious
“The mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itself.”
In 1837, Ralph Waldo Emerson gave a speech, “The American Scholar,” in which he made this comment. His words represent a resistance to the idea that education should be utilitarian, a notion rooted in anti-intellectualism. Emerson saw the mind as a creative force in the universe that could aspire to ideals such as the ones enshrined in the Constitution: Justice, Peace, and Compassion, for instance. Emerson saw the pursuit of these lofty aims as the appropriate aims of the American Scholar. The scholar, in seeking to know himself and his world, elevates the entire community. Emerson’s words speak to us today as we face the corporatization of higher education.
What is adjunctification? It is an ungainly and disquieting word, a neologism that is necessary to name a process that would otherwise be seen, and, regrettably, increasingly is seen, as business as usual in higher education. I use this idiom, “business as usual,” to heighten the connection between adjunctification and the paradigmatic ideology that higher education is a business, or, more precisely, a corporation, which brings me to the other unwieldy word in the title: “corporatization.”
These words, adjunctification and corporatization, together name the decades long process that has institutionalized in higher education the ideological assumptions that the student is a customer, education is a commodity, and the aim of higher education institutions is to maximize profit and minimize cost while delivering an easily consumable product: to achieve, in corporate rhetoric, “efficiency.” This is the opposite of what the aim of higher education should be and the implications of this failure of imagination for democracy, the failure to aim high, to aspire beyond the wrongheaded notion that a student is a customer, are dire.
Corporatism is the ideology that all social relations are explainable through market relations. One of the conclusions which follows from this ideology is that market value, the “bottom line,” is ultimate. The corporatization of higher education has been the applying of the idea by legislators and administrators that public higher education should be run like a business. This is a problem because higher education as a public good is not and cannot be a business. The two are mutually exclusive, except within the faulty logic of corporatization ideology. A business sells a product and needs to balance the cost of production with profit, or the business will fail. Higher education is the public institution which, and this is the brief version, is entrusted with old knowledge, new knowledge, and with ways of making knowledge, of leading students to transform information into knowledge through critical thinking. It offers students not only knowledge of the world and the world of ideas, but also an opportunity to grow as individuals and mature into the best possible versions of themselves as free-thinking citizens, ready to participate in fulfilling the promise of democracy in America as well as fulfilling the promise of their lives. Higher education is a public good, not because it prepares students for the workforce, although it does this, but because college students, by reaching deep within to meet the challenge of learning, discover talents and skills they may not have otherwise known they have, which they then bring to the democratic community. If higher education fails, community fails. And when community fails, we have injustice and hate.
Economist Guy Standing, in his groundbreaking 2010 book, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, explains that the term “precariat,” a combination of “precarious” and the Marxist term “proletariat,” also known as the “working class,” is a new word necessary to describe contemporary labor conditions. Today, according to Standing, the proletariat has been replaced by the precariat. The proletariat had unions and job security; the precariat is an “independent contractor” and has job insecurity. To achieve maximum “efficiency,” it is necessary to have maximum “flexibility” of labor. What is the most flexible labor? One that is temporary, disposable, and exploitable. Sounds like an adjunct. The aim of corporate ideology is to make the laborer precarious, insecure and fearful, and easy to manage.
What is an adjunct professor? A member of the precariat of higher education. An adjunct is, by definition, non-essential and disposable to the mission of higher education. Roughly 75% of community college professors nationwide are adjunct: part-time, temporary. Yet, this description is a lie. Typically, adjunct faculty are rehired over and over, for many years. Why? Because they are, obviously, essential to the mission of the college. To describe them as temporary and non-essential is absurd. At Mesa College, 85% of faculty are adjunct. That means only 15% of faculty are full-time. If you are a student looking for your professor, chances are she will not have her own office, or even be on the same campus.
Most adjuncts are career academics who have devoted their lives to the public good of higher education. Without them, higher education would disintegrate. Most adjuncts always intended to be academics, to teach, or research, or perform as experts in their field of expertise. Chances are these are people whose passion is teaching. They are professionals dedicated to teaching, to making the world a better place. These dedicated professionals devote most of their lives to gaining, maintaining, and teaching their subject matter. This is what they do; it is who they are. It is a calling.
This is bad for students. Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions. The precarious nature of being adjunct oppresses the adjunct and her students. It makes her education precarious. For instance, students do not have equal access to adjunct professors who have no official, long-term relationship with the institution, in whom the institution has not fully invested. Nevertheless, enduring the unequal working conditions, adjuncts, most of whom would prefer a full-time position, most of whom would be full-time except for the dominant corporate ideology, do most of the teaching in higher education, and do it well. Their qualifications are equal, their labor is equal, their commitment is equal. But the conditions in which they labor to maintain the quality of higher education for students are unequal. Most have more than one job, but earn half what they would make if they had one full-time job. This is unjust. How is this situation equal access for students? You can’t say that it is.
The idea that the ultimate value of labor is determined by market “forces” dictates that the cost of labor should be as low as possible. Adjunctification is the making of academic labor cost as low as possible. The result for faculty is financial insecurity and the powerlessness that goes with precarity. The business model shortchanges both faculty and students. Students are not only shortchanged because they are denied access to full-time faculty; the business model also requires that students focus their study on a vocational plan. The purpose of a commodified education becomes training students to be good corporate workers as opposed to students seeking knowledge, who study in the liberal arts, which tends to liberate. Most of the traditional subjects of a liberal arts education, including math, science, and the humanities, seem to have no practical value in this paradigm. Of course, if value is cast as utilitarian, then the liberal arts doesn’t. Science perhaps, but only if it is connected to a technological development that leads to profit. But if the value of higher education is cast as what makes students able to fulfill the potential of their lives, then the deep, reflective thinking that is required to master language, math, and science, to think philosophically, to know the diverse nature of American culture, and global culture, is what higher education should be about, that is, fostering the growth of minds. In contrast, the commodification of higher education turns the mind into readily consumable fast food.
The question that remains is what do we do about this? First, we must begin by seeing that the student is not a consumer and that faculty, most of whom are precariat, need to be empowered to provide students with the learning opportunities they need to aspire to fulfill their potential. Empowering faculty will require a radical idea, one which now does not exist as a political goal, except in name. We want to fund more full-time positions. But in the current model, there will never be enough money allocated to accomplish this goal of 75% of courses taught by full-time faculty. To accomplish this will require a radical paradigm shift.
Higher education operating under the limits of a business model offers a one-dimensional paradigm. Humans, like students and faculty, are multi-dimensional beings. When market values replace public values, education is cast as a commodity, and self-interest is held as the highest good in a super-competitive, economically defined world, individual and societal potential is diminished. Faculty are underpaid because ideas are undervalued. We need a paradigm shift. We need liberation from the business model. We need to aim higher.
UCSD students made this video for a sociology course. This is the kind of work students can do to resist the adjunctification and corporatization of higher education. Students and faculty must unite in resistance.
I am one of the adjuncts interviewed.
The following “adjunct moment” is the record of an adjunct dealing with the extra bullshit that adjunct professors deal with on a day to day basis in the service of the public good. It’s not me, but it could happen to any freeway-flying adjunct, anytime, anywhere. I will point out that full-time professors do not face this bullshit, not to accuse them of anything, but to bring attention to the disparity in working conditions, which are student learning conditions. This disparity cannot be emphasized enough, in my opinion. It’s worth noting that no pedagogical changes are very likely to improve student “success” until we make radical changes in the way we hire college faculty, especially at the community college level. Community colleges are the most adjunctified corner of higher education. Until we have a new system of hiring, one that acknowledges the moral obligation of colleges to their adjunct faculty, especially the ones who have been hired multiple times, by hiring them full-time, students will face the same challenges that their adjunct professors (straight up 75% at community colleges) face. Short of hiring them full-time, which is the only moral solution, they might settle for equal pay.
I am publishing this for the adjunct professor who wrote it, who shall remain anonymous.
For your reading pleasure, a brief narrative in the spirit of the upcoming Campus Equity Week:
“The Word of the Day”
F***! is my word for the day. I just arrived at school and confirmed my worrying suspicion that I left my students’ essays in the adjunct faculty work room at Grossmont College. I searched for it in my car and my house, but I only found about 500 pages of the other 4 English Composition classes I teach. I am pissed that I left it in the office because to go get them is a REAL pain in the ass. If it were not for the integrity I have, I would tell the students that they will not have an opportunity to revise this essay that is to be submitted in a portfolio to the English department as a requisite to enter into transfer level college English. I also will have to tell them that as opposed to my declared plan for their preparation for the portfolio that I am contradicting myself and shortening their instruction (that they cannot trust me at my word).
I am sure many times this occurs and a teacher has no choice but to shorten the quality of their instruction. I am sure many of them have pangs of conscience when they relinquish under the fact that they are not prepared. I am fraught with stress and anxiety because I want to be good at what I profess. For me, teaching brings out my perfectionism, an ethical obligation to teach well. My word of the day is deeply felt in this moment!
I am sure you are thinking that I am being dramatic, that I should simply walk over to the workroom before class and retrieve the papers. I would say the same of any professor on campus, but here is the issue. Technically, while I do the very same thing a professor does for considerably less pay, I am not a full-timer not for lack of credentials or of trying. I am an adjunct, a position that does not garner an office and which is underpaid and restrictive in that each college limits the number of hours to part-time. So, to make a living professing English, composition, and the social merits of the humanistic endeavors of higher education, I teach at 3 institutions. So the word of my day is F***.
F***! I left my English 49 Essays from San Diego Mesa College in the work room at Grossmont College 20 minutes or 15 miles away by freeway.
Rather than shorting my students, I have decided to sacrifice my sanity. It is no question that I will be on the freeway for 40 minutes, plus 20 minutes of running from office to car and car to office. One hour of my day and 5 dollars of gas, to fetch papers. However, it in not merely the fetching that is causing such problems. I had planned to be grading during that hour, and I had arrived 2 hours early to grade those very essays before my 11:00AM English 205 Critical Thinking Class and to continue grading after my 205 class at 12:35 and before my 4:00pm 101 class, so I can deliver them to the 6:35pm English 49 class. In the bag was another class’s essays that I need to read by tomorrow.
All in all when I arrived to school today and realized that I was having an “adjunct moment,” I thought about the consequences of not having one office and one campus to work at. If I was full-time, none of this would have happened, and my classes would not suffer. But, having multiple campus workrooms creates opportunities for one to get mixed with the other. I have never lost any papers, but I have heard of other instructors losing some. I immediate can sympathize with them because of the way my car trunk looks with student papers. For the majority faculty, at least in English, our car trunks are the closest filing cabinet for our work.
F***! This little “adjunct moment,” really pisses me off because most who read this will not understand that the problem is endemic and that it hurts instructors and students regularly. Underpaid, restricted, disunited faculty working out of the trunks of their cars to turn Americans into citizens capable of participating effectively in the economy and politics is a laughable indignity, as Aristotle would classify this comedy that we call “Higher Education.”
Any ;adjuncts out there who have any experiences you want me to share and who want to remain anonymous, I’m very happy to oblige. It’s high time we get real.
Yes, the chances of having a successful Campus Equity Week are greatly bolstered by Full-time involvement, but many of our full-time colleagues are either otherwise involved, or even dismissive or hostile to our activism.
But this can’t stop you from trying.
Whatever the full-time part-time relationship is at your institution, it is in fact very much in the interest of the overwhelming majority of full-time faculty to seriously address adjunctification. What follows is, through your own means, what they need to hear and know.
Here’s a big surprise—administrators hire adjunct faculty because they are directed to provide a certain volume (as opposed to quality) of instruction at an ever-decreasing price. This doesn’t mean that many Deans, Vice Presidents, Presidents, and Chancellors don’t care about the quality of instruction, but in an American political culture which has consistently cut public higher education funding since the Reagan Era, they’re not really allowed to at the expense of their careers. Beyond the administrators themselves are the elected/appointed classes, often guided by political exhortations derived from market-driven notions of success which view students as widgets and teachers as cogs. Lost in the process are real study, inquiry, empathy, and most of all understanding. Of course, and adjuncts, give to the institution, and to everyone besides themselves, a certain “flexibility” by which study, inquiry, empathy and understanding can be skirted.
There are clearly costs to adjuncts and their families, but also to full-time faculty.
Obviously, the loss of other full-time faculty means that the remaining full-time faculty are inevitably going to be given more departmental responsibilities, which in the wake of the measure-and-confirm-teacher-accountability-through-mass-data-collection movement (see Student Learning Outcomes) means an increasingly burdensome workload outside the classroom. Add to this the increasing obligation to serve on multiple committees while maintaining professional development and research projects, and it’s clear that a lack of full-time colleagues doesn’t serve full-time instructors’ interests. One might also note, with fewer full-timers, its means more work for the full-time faculty doing peer evaluations, as adjunct/contingent faculty are generally barred from evaluating fellow adjuncts, let alone other full-time faculty.
But quite frankly, the real dangers are far worse than this.
Administrators, to avoid direct confrontation with full-time dominant teachers’ unions, have generally chosen to expand adjunctifcation through attrition, but now, in a number of places, there are increasing efforts to end two-tierification, by incrementally destroying the very notion of a full-time job. This has been the primary tool which has transformed a 75/25 full-time/adjunct faculty ratio to a 25/75 over the last 40 years.
For the most part, the academic community has done little more than acknowledge this, and has behaved much like a frog in a pot of water that’s slowly being brought to boil.
The thing is, in many places the pot in already boiling.
The move against tenure in Higher Ed has been out there for some time, but in the wake of the destruction of tenure and collective bargaining in Wisconsin for teachers in general, legislation directly aimed at ending the practice of tenure in Higher Ed. has been introduced in both Missouri and Iowa.
By the way, for those of you in supposedly union and education-friendly states like California, don’t kid yourselves. There are serious moves that have been undertaken against tenure, and not led by anti-Higher Ed. Republicans, but supposedly education and labor friendly Democrats. One of California’s present candidates for governor is former-LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who, under then-Governor Schwarzenegger, pushed for the passage of AB1381, a measure which allowed the Mayor to supercede the authority of the elected board of education. Villaraigosa himself supported the expansion of charter schools.
To those not aware of how this relates to adjunctification, charter school teachers are for the most part non-union, get paid significantly less than their public school counterparts, have limited benefits and due-process connections, and are treated as contingent, or at will workers. Sound familiar? Of tenure, and I quote, Villaraigosa stated, “It’s an antiquated system.” While Villaraigosa was referring specifically to K-12 teachers in this context, it is not too far of a leap to assume this thinking would apply to Higher Ed. as well, and if you read in the interview where he made this statement, he more or less implies it.
Villaraigosa is in fact one of a number of supposedly pro-union, pro-education politicians thinking along these lines. Think New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, or New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, both from very blue, and supposedly pro-union states.
In yet other cases, rather than wait for the end of tenure, some institutions are simply eliminating some full-time positions outright. By the way, if you read the last article I provided a link to, it shows how the university tries to soft-pedal the cuts by suggesting the cuts were simply done to deal with supply/demand issues, then offers how it will allow some of the full-time faculty to “apply for the new positions.” These “new” positions were inevitably teaching the same coursework under an adjunct contract.
More disturbing and prophetic is the recent posting of a position of for a Language program Director at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The job opening, which lists a PhD. and a plethora of work-related experience as preferred requirements, involves the following job duties:
Now here’s the catch, this job, which by any standards of the imagination, is a job requiring 40+ hours/week, is being offered as a 67% position with “prorated benefits” at 28,000 a year. Understand, this is a job in Chicago where the average rent is over $1500/month, and is the 12th most expensive community in the US.
This represents something far worse. Now instead of breaking up the full-time job into smaller contingent chunks, institutions are simply putting forth direct full-time jobs under part-time working conditions.
So long as marginalizing academic workers through contingency is unchecked, it will become the tool by which academia in general is destroyed, and no faculty member is truly safe from this.
All of this in a way, reminds me of the quote attributed to Protestant pastor and Hitler foe, Martin Niemoller:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
As Higher Ed. is clearly eroding into a vast sea of contingency at an ever-increasing rate and scope, it’s time for full-time faculty to speak out—for their own sake.
A “Good” Adjunct
So you’ve decided to take action, or do a series of activities, or maybe you want to, but feel stymied.
Of the main challenges I have faced, and continue to do so, is dealing with the apathy or self-interest of my colleagues. I know that some adjunct activists would want me to speak of fear first, and I’ll address this later, but I will tell you apathy and self-interest are far bigger challenges.
Some of you have heard the expression that organizing adjuncts is like herding cats, and to a large extent it’s true. I constantly hear how adjuncts are busy teaching their heavy loads at multiple campuses with family and personal obligations to boot. I would like all these busy adjuncts to know that everyone (including myself) is busy too, but anyway…
Keeping it positive here, a lot of adjunct apathy is driven by the sort of tunnel vision that all academics and professionals develop where they compartmentalize their world and their reaction to it into a compartmentalized set of behaviors. Activism necessarily involves getting them to step out of that compartmentalization. These are the adjuncts that, while agreeing with what you’re doing, will stroll by a poster without looking, or never open emails unless they are from a student or immediate supervisor. They also don’t vote in union elections, and only really stand up when they feel they’ve been screwed.
These are not people who are going to be reached or engaged by posters, emails, or general calls to action. To get these people involved, you need to talk to them, frequently, and not just about the immediate ask you’re making, but about who they are, and their concerns, and in a lot of cases, it’s going to involve more of you listening than you speaking.
By the way, if you, as a singular activist, are going to commit yourself to trying to talk to everyone one your own, this is a fool’s errand. You need to focus specifically or people you regularly see (though you should not just be going to one adjunct office all the time), and you need to have them talk to their network of folks.
At AFT’s Higher Ed Conference in Detroit this past April, I had the opportunity to listen to one of the more on-point and powerful union organizers, a woman by the name of Jane McAlevey, who played a key role in organizing nurses in Philadelphia. She explained that in organizing, and this is also true regarding the undertaking of any action or mobilization, we need to recognize that some of us are “activists” and some of us are “organizers”. To be to the point, the “activist” is someone who sees the issues, and wants to speak out, and is usually the first one to a call to action. This is the person you can always count on to be there, but they may not be the one to get others involved. The organizer, by contrast, may not be feel so compelled to speak out, but in a given worksite may be the one others listen to and the person who will get others to stand up.
The thing is, most of us who are involved in the early stages of planning actions tend to be activists, and we’re really caught up into speaking out, but we don’t do the work of cultivating organizers among our colleagues. This has to change, and it’s something I’m working on myself.
Another way to address apathy, is by creating options for levels of involvement, and to provide people with tangible actions which are pointed to specific changes.
Some people may want to speak, or do guerilla theater. Some may want to come to a rally, or simply want to wear a sticker or a button. Others may want to do an in-class assignment on labor contingency. Embrace and praise all of it.
If you’re mobilizing, what’s your end goal? Don’t just make noise and be done with it. Are you looking for signatures on a petition to put more money or any money in the state budget for adjunct benefits? Is it a letter to the board of trustees asking management to bargain in good faith? Upon collecting those letters or petitions, are you going to follow up and explain what happened when you presented them, then communicate this to members?
What happens after Campus Equity Week is just as important as what happens before.
Of course, there’s the cynical adjunct crowd who argues that your actions won’t amount to much or be effective. First, acknowledge at this may have been true (hopefully if you’ve had struggles in the past, you will have thought through how you can make things better), but point to the need to simply not accept the status quo, or explain to them the high costs of doing nothing. What is the result of not standing up to Betsy’s Devos’s anti-public education agenda? By the way, you can go local with this. Ask any educator in Illinois what the costs of not standing up to Governor Rauner might be. If there have been successes, you need to talk about them, and explain how they played a role.
In California, with the force of Campus Equity Week, Adjunct Action Day, and sustained letter-writing campaigns, we were able to 1) help pass a proposition which preserved 15% of the Community Colleague education budget, 2) secure a 70% increase in state adjunct office hours funding for community colleges, and 3) are on the cusp of passing an up to 12 -week paid maternity leave bill for female educators, yes including adjuncts. The signatures needed to get the proposition on the ballot barely happened, and had these adjunct-oriented actions not happened, it may well have not made it on the ballot. The office hour increase was heavily supported by the letter-writing campaign, and the maternity–leave bill was in part publicized through these organizing activities.
Lastly, there is the issue of fear. First, while not to make light of it, often the power of fear is not in the actual capacity of an administration to actually sanction people, but in the perception that they have the ability to do so.
Now this next part is not directed at those who are in fear, but those who are not. It is your obligation to show people that you can speak out, and if, in the event someone is clearly sanctioned for these actions, that you rally in their defense. Now I say this with the proviso that the individual in question didn’t destroy property, act violently, or engage in activity which violated their union contract. Common sense applies.
As for those of you in fear, as much as one, such as myself, can try to allay you fears, you need to make your own judgment call. If you’re afraid, and you can’t be convinced otherwise, then don’t act. But if you don’t act, others would still like, and deserve, your support.
By the way, I’m a fearful person too. Any smart person is, but what I and you fear are two different things:
I fear that not acting out will mean a loss in wages, job security and benefits. I have a child I need to support, and a wife with type-two diabetes. I act out to protect them.
I fear that not acting out means my students will enter world of contingent labor where all but an elite few are part of a vast precarious poor. I act out to prevent this.
I fear that adjunctification runs hand-in-hand with the destruction of American Higher Ed, and with it, the capacity to prevent calamities from global warming, to epidemics, to a deterioration of free speech, democracy, and even the rule of law. I act out to resist this.
I fear more what not acting out will mean than if I don’t. I would say you should too.
A “Good” Adjunct
As I stated in the my last blog, in prepping and ultimately putting Campus Equity Week activities in motion, there is a need for your group (this isn’t and can’t be a one person operation) to define and narrow its focus.
However, this has to go hand in hand with an assessment of the resources at hand.
Building Bricks with Straw
For those of you lucky enough to have unions which are interested in pursuing the issue and doing something (I’ll discuss what lesser endowed groups can do later), you need to look at the following:
Of this list, the first two points are key to immediate planning. The following four will require time, patience, empathy, and respect. If you manage to generate any assets from these areas in one go-around of Campus Equity Week, then you have achieved a smashing success. You may find yourself here, not working on this year’s Campus Equity Week, but the ones to come. (You didn’t really think just holding on Campus Equity Week was going to change your world, did you?) By the way, I’ll be writing about what I’ve learned on doing this in later posts.
Building Bricks without Straw (or rather, Finding the Straw to Build the Bricks)
For those of you without much of a structure in place, I would start first at the most basic level—look at colleagues who are willing to speak out or want attention drawn to the issue. For those adjuncts lucky enough to have an adjunct work space, or maybe even better yet, a shared common work space, this is where a conversation needs to start.
While my union local is very supportive of Campus Equity Week, it wasn’t the immediate leadership that instigated or planned CEW. It was the result of a few adjuncts sitting around in an office talking about something needing to be done. We saw an opportunity, approached them, got support, got money, then went out and secured what we need.
Obviously as I write this, it’s now summer, so many of you will not have contact with your colleagues, but that doesn’t mean you won’t once the fall term starts, and certainly in those weeks leading up to the start of the term, many of you will have contact with other instructors.
When doing this, you also need to reach out beyond your immediate colleagues. It’s time for Sociology and Child Development teachers to talk, just as it is for English Composition and Engineering instructors to talk.
For the most committed of activists, there’s often that point in planning when they find themselves in a room of few people, or suffer the curse of having 10-20 people giving lip service to support, then ultimately crap out for a variety of reasons, the most common reason is that “they’re busy” (as if you aren’t, or don’t care about your students either).
I’m not going to lie to you. Some of this is going to happen. Expect it. But then, how serious is the problem of adjunctification to you? The cost of doing nothing is to see things get worse.
You don’t need to have a big rally for Campus Equity Week. In fact, because we do a big mobilization in the Spring for Adjunct Action Day, I generally avoid rallies for CEW, and concentrate on events like panel discussions, movies, cultural events (like poetry or fiction readings). In the age of Trump, mobilizations are as frequent as sunny days in Southern California. You don’t win with burned out constituencies. As I see it, first one needs to educate, then agitate.
Understand that doing a Campus Equity Week can be as simple as having 15 instructors wearing shirts saying “Equal Pay for Equal Work, Ask Me What I Mean.”
Higher Ed educators are smart people. You are a smart person. Be creative.
I can tell you this. Just five committed adjuncts can make a Campus Equity Week, even at an institution of 20,000+ students.
Of course, this all said, there remain challenges, from evil administrators, to unsympathetic colleagues and union leadership, to fearful folk.
I’ll talk about them in the blog posts to come.
A “Good” Adjunct
As you move forward in planning, recognize that you will not be able to talk all things adjunct/contingent. In addition to the aforementioned seven points, I could easily provide a list of another 10 to 20 issues related to adjunctification. For CEW at San Diego Mesa College last year, we scheduled 12 hours of over six different events over from lectures, to panel discussions, to films (I suspect few other groups are planning to do this much, and we’re probably scaling things back a little this year). I didn’t come close to getting at all the issues.
A particularly nagging problem with Campus Equity Week is that beyond your fellow adjuncts and full-time faculty, 90%+ of your main audience (students) have no-idea what an adjunct instructor is. Much of CEW, over the last three cycles that I’ve organized and ran has been about re-explaining this.
Because I’m doing this at a two-year college means I’m constantly dealing with a new crop of students, which to be honest is why Campus Equity Week needs to be an annual event, not a biennial event held in off-election years as if the expanding issue of labor contingency, not only in academia, but throughout the world economic system, is not a central electoral issue. We must stop engaging in self-marginalizing practices.
Anyway…you need to consistently work on student education regarding the issue. Part of the energies involved in doing this can be solved if adjuncts begin these discussions with their respective classes, if this is not being done by adjuncts en masse, you will need to devote the majority of CEW activities to this education.
In my experience, the usual things adjunct groups want to focus on are: 1) the unequal pay and benefits structure relative to full-time instructors; 2) the lack of job security; 3) and the impact of adjunctification on students. At the same time, I realize that for some groups may simply want to focus on getting an institution to engage in collective bargaining, or simply getting adjuncts to join unions. You have to gather your people who are committed doing constructive activities, then get them to prioritize and concentrate their focus and message.
While your group is going to make its own decisions on how to proceed, I think that the last of the first three priorities I just listed (the effect of adjunctification on students) should not be lost on you. With CEW you’re asking students to advocate for you, and in some cases, challenge an institution. If you don’t explain or acknowledge the effects of adjunctification on students as a key part of your message, then your only real appeal is to their sense of social justice. That has a limited appeal, especially at a campus such as mine, where one in five students suffers from food insecurity, and at least one in ten students is homeless. By the way, many of these students will effectively work as contingent or at-will employees such as yourselves for outfits such as Uber, Lyft, etc. (See a possible link here?)
You also will want to consider what it is that your union is trying to bargain for adjuncts on the contract, and what is happening on either the legislative or electoral level (this is also why CEW also needs to happen during election years) that will impact adjunct working conditions.
When setting priorities, you can certainly mention the various problems regarding adjuntification, but I suggest you need to focus on three or four resonant themes at most, and have them lead to some kind of actionable and empowering goal, be it the signing of a letter, the support of a proposition, a funding proposal, or piece of legislation, etc. You’ve got to give people something more than an opportunity to feel sympathy for, or anger about your cause.
By the way, even though I know there are a lot recalcitrant exploiters out there, your priorities need to be about issues, not people. Sure the governor, the college president, or a particular governing board member may be “evil,” but most of the times their evil is just a symptom that doesn’t go away with their replacement. Unlike the news media model, when it comes to their own lives, people care more about what affects them than who is doing it.
As an example, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s sitting on a beach isn’t the issue. It’s that, unlike him, New Jersey citizens were denied access to state beaches because of his refusal to fund government services. What people want are services first. Beyond that, most people could care less where Christie hangs out.
I’m just scraping the surface here, but I hope it’s enough to get you thinking and planning.
A “Good” Adjunct
We are a motley lot, teaching under a wide variety of conditions, and as a consequence, have various issues as regards to the adjunct situation. In preparing for Campus Equity Week, we need to recognize, in spite of our shared grievances, this motley nature, and embrace it.
I recall last year, while meeting with members of the American Federation of Teachers Adjunct Contingent Caucus at the AFT National Convention, that once we broke down into smaller groups, we found the high priority issues not only varied from state to state, but from system to system–say teaching at a community college versus teaching at a public university versus teaching at a private institution. Some teachers were represented by unions with wall-to-wall units (Adjuncts and Full-timers), while others were adjunct only, and some were struggling to get administration to even negotiate with them. . .
In spite of all this, what did become clear, is that what adjunct/contingent faculty have anything in common is this:
Campus Equity Planning, at the most basic level needs to start here—recognizing the common concerns, not for the sake of necessarily discussion all of these points, but to understand that, as various groups plan their respective Campus Equity Week activities, this is the general space they’re coming from, and also the space they will diverge from.
Campus Equity Week is referred to as a national event, but in fact, it is more of a national idea or sentiment. There is not a national employer of adjuncts, or some singular system of Higher Ed. in the United States. Public Education is generally controlled at either the state or community level. Further, the demographics, socioeconomic conditions, and institutional culture of these institutions varies, sometimes greatly within even a single community college district.
As it is that issues will differ from group to group, the goal in prepping for Campus Equity Week should be you should make sure to first establish a group that is internally motivated and action-oriented, and can develop its own achievable sense of what to do, and the means to carry it out, before reaching for the stars, so to speak.
As I suspect, or at least hope, most of the readers of this blog are active within particular adjunct advocacy communities, I will address my most next posts towards the idea of getting you to 1) set your priorities, 2) evaluate assets, 3) acknowledge and address challenges, and 4) seek organizing opportunities).
A “Good” Adjunct
Fall will soon be upon us. For some teaching over the summer, it is but another stage of what must seem the perpetual and contiguous academic year, yet for the rest of us it is again a return to the teaching we love, but under the conditions we abhor.
As a core component if the mission, we as faculty (not adjunct, not contingent, but just plain faculty, which we have always been) see to provide others with the capacity to better their own lives and the lives of others. At the core of that mission, particularly for those faculty in public Higher Ed., this is necessarily about equity.
Here’s some historical background …
True public Higher Ed institutions first grew out of the desire to bring new technology and farming techniques to a rural underclass. The formation of such “land grant” colleges in turn led to the formation of public institutions of higher learning for African Americans. It is in the midst of this era that Republican President James Garfield, a strong supporter of public education stated: “Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained.” Through the Progressive and Post-War Eras, this mission was expanded.
However, from the late 1960s onward, ironically within close proximity to the signing of the Civil Rights Act, American Public Higher Education has been operating at cross purposes–on the one hand promoting the notion of equity to students in terms of equal access to education, yet on the other hand, telling them it must come at a price which the students themselves must increasingly bear, and underfunding public institutions. Further, the façade of this egalitarian education has been maintained by converting the majority of Higher Education faculty and support staff to a loose, vulnerable, and precarious, aka “flexible” workforce.
Campus Equity Week is ultimately about returning Higher Education, public or otherwise, back to this notion of equity, by first establishing equal working conditions among its faculty, who suffer from the existence of a two-tier system of full-time, tenured and contract haves, and an ever-increasing minority of adjunct/contingent have nots.
The core of this workforce are adjunct/contingent faculty who generally make less than half of what their full-time colleagues are paid for the same work. One in four receives some kind of government assistance in spite of holding advanced degrees. The majority are women. Perhaps most portentous is that fact that the majority are also over the age of 50, leaving more than a few people to wonder just what the face of American Public Higher Ed faculty will be in 20 year’s time. Another note regarding the over 50 nature of these workers—many are excluded from social security benefits, and instead must rely on small public pensions from unstable public funds.
This year, groups such as the New Faculty Majority have called for Campus Equity Week to be October 30th-Nov. 3rd. Traditionally, the week has been marked as the last full week in October. Personally, I think whether someone has a Campus Equity Week on one week or the other doesn’t matter so much as adjunct/contingent faculty do something to mark, bring awareness to, and move towards political action regarding contingent academic labor, and the larger issues of campus/societal inequity.
As I’m writing this, it is now July 7th, which to many must seem is a bit premature regarding an event not happening yet for nearly four months. I would argue you couldn’t be more wrong, which is not to discourage you if you do start after, or not even until the month of October itself, but to let you know that if you want to do more than set up a card table and hand out leaflets in front of the student union building, there’s going to be work, planning, coalition-building, and discussions that need to happen.
While my writing on this blog has been infrequent, and not by choice, I will for the next few months be posting a regular series of posts about particulars in the planning of Campus Equity Week.
These will be meant to be a guide, and in no way a mandate.
In fact, the first bit of advice I’d give you is to figure out on your own what you 1) want to do, 2) need to do, 3) can do, then do it, and feel good that you did it. No gesture is too small if you truly believe you did what you could.
Over the course of these blog posts, I’ll hope you’ll share in your planning.
Good luck and let’s get started, shall we?
A “Good” Adjunct