Betsy DeVos: Educational Corporatization by Any Means Necessary

With regard to Trump and his educational agenda, there is no clearer symbol of where he wants to go with education than his Secretary of Education pick, Betsy DeVos. Some of you out there have probably received emails from various groups asking you to contact your senators and to tell them to oppose DeVos’s appointment.

But many of you don’t know just how bad a pick she is, or its impact on adjunct/contingent faculty, particularly those who work at public institutions.

First, unlike the students we see in the public system, DeVos was born into tremendous wealth, her father Edgar Prince having been an industrialist who founded the Prince Corporation, an auto parts supplier.  She later married Richard Marvin “Dick” DeVos Jr., heir to the Amway fortune. She herself is the product of private Christian Schools, and has never been a student at a public institution.  Further, she has no direct experience in public education, either as a teacher, administrator, or even a school board trustee. Ironically, in spite of her elite, privileged, and ideologically narrow upbringing , she asserts of her educational activism that she has been “a fighter for the grassroots.”

Her real claim to fame within the Republican Party is that she has been a tireless party advocate, and more importantly, a heavy fundraiser.

As a self-styled educational reformer, DeVos is a champion of school choice, and favors the use of public funds in the form of school vouchers to allow children to attend public school.  Her real motivation for this position is likely driven by her Christian faith.

As for her “success” in achieving educational reform, her record is less that exemplary.  Detroit’s charter school system, for which she was in large part responsible, was, in the words of Douglas Harris, a Brookings Institution Fellow and Founding Director of the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, even acknowledged by educational reformers as “the biggest school reform disaster in the country.” As for her specific actions regarding the Detroit Charter School system, Harris further wrote:

She devised Detroit’s system to run like the Wild West. It’s hardly a surprise that the system, which has almost no oversight, has failed. Schools there can do poorly and still continue to enroll students. Also, after more than a decade of Ms. DeVos’s getting her way on a host of statewide education policies, Michigan has the dubious distinction of being one of five states with declining reading scores.

Perhaps more troubling, especially for those of us in Higher Ed, and particularly adjunct/contingent faculty, is her notion of the US Public Education System as a “dead end,” and, in a thinly-veiled argument for both school choice and the view of  public schooling as “an industry,” stated:

As long as education remains a closed system, we will never see the education equivalents of … Facebook, Amazon . . . Wikipedia, or Uber.

Perhaps then, DeVos feels the US education system should aspire to allowing fake information like Facebook, working its employees to death like Amazon, creating reference material from open and questionable sources like Wikipedia, or reducing the entire educational workforce to independent contractors (that’s right, just like adjunct/contingent faculty) like Uber.

Finally. For those of you who care about academic freedom, consider this, Besty DeVos, in describing her motivation for school reform stated:

Our desire is to be in that Shephelah, and to confront the culture in which we all live today in ways that will continue to help advance God’s Kingdom, but not to stay in our own faith territory.

I suppose some could find comfort in the words “outside our own faith territory” except when thinking of what she has said further in this regard:

It goes back to what I mentioned, the concept of really being active in the Shephelah of our culture — to impact our culture in ways that are not the traditional funding the-  Christian-organization route, but that really may have greater Kingdom gain in the long run by changing the way we approach things — in this case, the system of education in the country

Shephelah, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a plot of land the Israelites fought over with the Philistines, and the desire to have the land was that he/she who controlled it, would in turn control the people.  Another way to think of such thinking is to know it as “Dominionism” which can loosely be defined as the belief that one needs to create a nation governed by Christians based on their interpretation of Biblical Law.

For those Philistines among us, DeVos’s quest for Shephelah should be a cause of grave concern.

As confirmation hearing are soon upon us, it is urgent that you act to oppose the DeVos nomination, that is, if you value Public Education, Worker Rights, and Academic Freedom;  DeVos is clearly a threat to all of the above.

Geoff Johnson

A Good Adjunct

Trump’s Immigration Policy Plans will Send Adjuncts to the Unemployment Line

It’s already clear that Trump’s plans for “making America great again” didn’t include adjunct/contingent faculty, but, for some, it wasn’t clear that he is going to make our jobs go away.

He most certainly is.

For those of us, such as myself, who teach in the border region, and in particular, teach in the Community College System, significant numbers of our students are immigrants, the children or family members of immigrants, or are American citizens, who for a variety of reasons, a big one being financial, live on the other side of the border and commute to school on a daily basis.

Many other students simply “look” like immigrants, if you’re racist presumption of an immigrant is someone who:

  1. “Looks” Latino, Arab, African, Asian
  2. Chooses to speak a language other than English in public
  3. Wears “ethnic” clothing
  4. Speaks with an accent

Before he even embarks on the building of his “wall,” likely paid for by cuts to social and educational programs, the hardline stance that Trump promises on immigration will negatively impact enrollment in Community Colleges and Higher Ed nationwide.

Let’s break it down.

1) The Dreamers:  As of 2016, there are an estimated 2.1 million undocumented students living in the United States. Between 200,000 and 225,000 are currently enrolled in US colleges. The repeal of the Dream Act will not simply put the enrollment status of the Dreamers in college at risk. Further, if colleges are forced to deny enrollment to these students in the future effects on college enrollment will be severe.  Clearly, fewer students will mean fewer sections for adjunct/contingent faculty to teach.

2)  The Undocumented Immigrant Population as a whole:  There are an estimated 11.2 million undocumented immigrants in the US.  One should consider that these are not people who are separate from the American population.  They are often married to American citizens, or have American children who depend on them for support.  These children in turn rely on the support of the parents so that they can attend college.  While the threat of deportation is always a reality, the increasing threat of deportation means that many would-be college students will lose the financial and familial support they need to go to college.  Again, fewer students, and fewer sections.

3) Border Militarization:  Because of the often low wages in relation to the cost of living in places like San Diego, there are a significant number of American citizens (including several “Anglo” adjuncts I personally know) who live in places like Tijuana and commute to the US to teach on a daily basis.  Border crossings can sometimes take up to several hours.  Militarizing the border with the threat, not simply of a wall, but with increased scrutiny at border crossings will increase the wait times, and make it harder for students to attend classes.

4)  Immigration Enforcement:  One need only look back at the passage of bills like AB1070 in Arizona to get a sense of where immigration enforcement can head.  This bill, though later amended, allowed for authorities who have “reasonable suspicion” to stop and check a person’s immigration status, and if one couldn’t produce some form of identification could keep them in custody.  What exactly constitutes a “reasonable suspicion”?  When you have a soon-to-be President who speaks of a blanket ban for Muslims in this country, does this mean wearing a beard or a Hijab?

And if you think this can’t or doesn’t happen, then you should talk to the Latinos riding the San Diego trolley who have been approached by the Border patrol and checked for their status.

Creating a climate of fear and discomfort does not aid enrollment-it deters it.

Several California community college senates and governing boards have already adopted resolutions against cooperating with immigration officials.  You should support these resolutions.

If you can’t bring yourself to think about the impact it will have on the people I have mentioned above, consider how it will affect you, because your job may depend upon it.

Geoff Johnson

A Good Adjunct

Trump: Nationwide Adjunctification without Union Representation

Since Trump won in November, I knew we (adjunct/contingents) were screwed, but to get at the full degree of just where things would go, it took me to see the latest proposal being pushed out there regarding Trump and federal employees to get the full searing sense of what the outcome might look like.

Understand, that it was a given that Trump, whose own record with unions is deplorable at best, would not only seek to put an end to public employee union agency fees ala the Friedrichs case that was halted with the death of Antonin Scalia last year, but, in a nod to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, will seek out National “Right-to-Work” Legislation.

It is also clear, in his railing against “regulations,” that on-the-job worker protections will be seriously rolled back.

But what Trump is truly after is the very notion of worker’s rights, or anything that has to do remotely with the notion of collective bargaining.

Just introduced, the “Promote Accountability and Government Efficiency” Act (H.R. 6278), and sponsored by Todd Rokita (Republican, Indiana 4th District), seeks to do the following, and here I quote for the AFL-CIO Action Network:

  1. Completely change the federal pay system, and prohibits all pay raises — including annual pay raises — unless you get a 4 or 5 out of 5 performance rating.
  1. Make all new federal workers “at will,” meaning they can be fired without explanation.
  1. Allow immediate suspension for current workers for performance or conduct and only ten days for appeal.
  1. Eliminate official time, so that union representatives can no longer work to protect your pay, your benefits or your job during the work day.

Read the bill for yourself

In case you don’t get it, the passage of such a bill would have trickle down effects.  If you can make all federal workers “at will” employees, why not all public employees, and in particular teachers?

Consider that the first provision effectively ends the concept of a COLA, or cost-of-living allowance, so as things get more expensive, your salary may not rise, unless you toady well, or are like that shiny new penny to your evaluator or administrator.

With the second provision, say goodbye to not only tenure, but ultimately the push for priority re-hire rights for Adjunct-Contingent faculty. And understand, this is not just a job issue.  Tenure was created to serve as a protection which is at the heart of Higher Education:  Academic Freedom.

Imagine, while you’re on vacation over the Summer being told you’re terminated, only to find out you missed the appeal window, because you were unaware.  Further, consider that if, even at a single institution, there were just 10-20 cases in a given term, your grievance team would likely be overwhelmed, especially considering they couldn’t do any union work during the day.

And by the way adjuncts, over the past few years dealing with grievance, I’ve seen a number of these cases, as many administrators like to use the “Summer exit plan” to get rid of what they deem as “pesky adjuncts.”  They have and will be coming after you.

Number four on the list is effectively a union killer.  If you read the bill, it calls for the prohibition of any union activity using, and I quote “any Government property (including office space or computers.”  This means, if you have a complaint, you can’t even email me (a union rep) from the office, or use the school email to do so.  We also couldn’t meet with you on campus.

You say this is unconstitutional, and a violation of our first amendment rights.  Well, now that’s determined by the Supreme Court, whose immediately future justices will be chosen by none other than our Union-hating President Trump.

If there has never been a time for adjuncts, teachers, public employees, and workers in general to not stand up and resist and resist loudly, this is it.

Here’s a first step to take, but it’s not enough.

Adjuncts need to publicly rally on all Campuses to speak our cause and the cause of workers in general. For those of you on other campuses, mass Spring action  is not only called for, it’s essential.

Adjunct Action Day At Southwestern College and in the San Diego Community College District is Wednesday, February 22nd.  You can bet this will be part of the discussion.

Geoff Johnson

A Good Adjunct

Adjuncts, Get Your Stories Published!

Good Adjuncts,

This is a recent message I got from my friend and colleague Larissa Dorman, who also happens to be a kick-ass organizer for AFT in the UC System:

Dear Geoff, 
I hear you were recently elected to the AFT Adjunct/Contingent Faculty Caucus:)  Was hoping you might be willing to help me circulate a call for submission on a book I am working on with a colleague from UCSD.  It is a tight one month window for the first round of submissions and we are hoping to reach faculty nationwide.
Here is the info and detailed call for submission:

https://laborofloveadjunct.wordpress.com/home/call-for-submissions/

Basic Info:

Labor of Love: Adjunct Stories in Higher Education

Deadline: Thursday, September 1st, 2016 by 6pm PST

Submit to: laborofloveadjunct@gmail.com

We are seeking adjuncts’ stories for an edited book for a general audience on what it means to be an adjunct instructor at an American college or university. We are looking for stories that show who adjuncts are, how they became adjuncts, the effects that their working conditions have on their work, and their ideas for fixing the broken university system.

Let me know what you think and if you can help in any way to get the word out.  I know Mahler is going to send to the SDCCD and GCCCD adjunct lists.
Take care,
Larissa
Let’s help Larissa out Good Adjuncts.
Geoff Johnson
A “Good” Adjunct

AB 1690 Has Passed Appropriations. Help it Get to the Governor’s Desk.

Good Adjuncts:

AB 1690, the bill which calls for setting a minimum standard for  job security for California Adjunct Community College instructors has made it out of the California Senate Appropriations Committee, and now moves on the floor of the House, the Senate, and then the governor’s desk.

It is highly expected that it will clear the House and Senate, but then nothing is ever certain.

That’s where you come in.

Please sign this petition to Senate Pro Tem Kevin de Leon asking him to help AB 1690 pass off the Senate floor and go to the Governor’s desk… We don’t know if we will ever get this chance again, and the Non-Tenured faculty at community colleges can’t wait any longer for these basic job rights!

http://www.upte.org/local/support-of-ab-1690-lara/

Again, if you’re not familiar with the language in AB 1690, here it is:

http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160AB1690

Let’s make this happen.

Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct

P.S.:  I’m now in the process of preparing a letter to the governor, which I’ll be putting out here, among other places.  Look for it.

Here is a link to a sample governor’s letter: AB%201690%20Letter%20To%20The%20Governor%20Template

JRH

 

 

Making an Inclusive Campus Equity Week

Good Adjuncts:

The following powerpoint has been loosely adopted as the CFT’s Campus Equity Week Organizing Strategy.

My belief is that if we want to create a lasting campaign for adjunct activism which is effective and builds the partnerships we need for success, this is it.

Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct

The Narrative of the Martyr in the Age of Adjunctification and the Decline of the Humanities

 

A Cry for Help?!

Martyr me! Martyr me!

Put me on a cross!

Send me to the trailer park (The English Village*),

Put me in an abandoned chem lab!

Anyplace!

I’ll work for free!

I’ll read papers ‘til my eyes bleed!

I’ll make the same comments on every paper!

Some will be positive!

I’ll turn papers into data and run them through the scantron machine!

I’ll teach comp online!

Restrooms for "English Village"

Restrooms for “The English Village”

Martyr me! Martyr me!

Put me on a cross!

Put me on a cross!

For student learning outcomes,

Martyr me!

 

IMG_0676

The “English Village”

*The “English Village” is the new name given to a collection of  old trailer-classrooms formerly named the “T-buildings:” “T” for temporary. Unlike authentic English villages, like in England, this one does not have a pub.

On this campus, as on many other campuses, new buildings have been going up non-stop for over a decade. As state of the art LEED certified buildings, swank, sexy structures, with water-friendly landscaping, go up for all non-humanities disciplines, the English department gets trailers with faulty cooling systems that cool to a certain temperature, then heat to a certain temperature in a perpetual cycle that never ends. This, even with the best efforts of a hard working, sympathetic dean. In contrast, there’s a new math and science building that’s huge and domineering; there’s a social sciences building that’s real sexy; coming soon are a new student center and bookstore as well as (no kidding) an “Exercise Science” building (a state of the art gym). I’ve been informed, by one who knows, that these last two buildings do not have any classrooms.

IMG_0678

Sexy New Exercise Science building

It is true that the first new structure was the School of Humanities building; yet, it is also the one with the fewest classrooms that is supposed to house the English department (right, the biggest department on campus, with the greatest need for classrooms) as well as all the other languages and humanities’ disciplines. English classes largely are taught in the English Village trailers  (to be fair, these have been made “smart”) as well as abandoned, slated-to-be-demolished chemistry buildings. And other random places. This, to me, signals the adjunctification of the humanities; perhaps especially English as a discipline that is about art rather than the language skills necessary for what novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson has called a “life of economic servitude.” English is the most adjunctified of all disciplines. Not only are most introductory and transfer level English courses taught by adjuncts, but they are taught in places that are relics of the 20th century. Or in borrowed spaces of the 21st century.

Abandoned chem lab/compclassroom

Abandoned Chem Lab/Comp Classroom

The abandoned chemistry labs in which we teach English are replete with gas hookups and emergency eye-wash stations; after all, one never knows what one might read in a freshman comp class. Eye wash stations could be useful.

The humanities have been adjunctified. The other day I overheard a tenured business professor (!) who was running quizzes through a scantron commenting to an adjunct working in a general workroom space (where else is she going to work?) that soon there would be a program to grade papers and so “they” would not even have to grade papers anymore. And, I suppose, students will no longer have to write them, as they hang out at the swanky student center, doing whatever it is  they’ve been instructed to do (not writing).

Swank New Student Center

Swank New Student Center

The faculty mostly has been adjunctified and the humanities have been and are continuing to be diminished in importance. So why are we complicit in the adjunctification of higher education, the institution, the ideal for which we became deeply indebted to serve? It’s been happening for a generation or two; where will it end?

It seems like it will end one day, as has been prophesied by many now for years, as a thing different from what it has been. Rather than an institution that supports the development of knowledge and moral acumen, for most, it  will be job training. In this scenario, there is no “higher” education, except, perhaps, for the wealthy elite. And, as much as we might wish it is not happening, we are indeed passively playing our role in the unfolding of the story of the adjunctification of faculty and the diminishment of the humanities.

The cult of martyrdom, the idea of self-sacrifice that seems to pervade the ranks of teachers from all levels of education, facilitates the adjuctification and corporatization, the transmogrification of colleges into corporate diploma mills. Our attitudes of martyrdom doom us to complicity with our undoing. One of the key ways that faculty have been adjunctified so that now roughly 75% are off the tenure-track is the exploitation of our willingness to sacrifice ourselves, to work for free. We feel noble (a psychological wage) that we are engaged in good work (and it is good work, perhaps even “right work” in the Buddhist sense). But this leads to the rationalization that we must sacrifice, that sacrifice is needed because the philistine legislators do not fund us, that sacrifice is needed because students need so much, that sacrifice makes us good people. Ironically, it gives us a sense of fulfillment. When called on to take action to save ourselves, our common rationalization is we don’t have time: “my focus is on my students.” We embrace our cult of martyrdom.

And college administrators exploit our martyr-hood. Adjuncts work without job security or decent pay. Tenure-track work to keep what they have. We all work because we want to do our best for our students and we see no end to the need for our work. We work u until we drop, whether we’re paid for it or not. Who does not grade all the essays in a timely fashion? The fact that we’re so busy staying up all night working to the point of martyrdom kept us and keeps us from resisting, for instance, the inexorable creep of adjunctification.

I’m not suggesting that we do less good work, that we fail to serve students justly. But unless we can come to the realization that our sense of martyrdom, especially the martyrdom of adjuncts, is leaving us open to exploitation by (b)adminsitration that wants to finish the story and corporatize higher education completely, we will become the future corporation of higher education, public or not. Adjuncts will be sacrificed, replaced by massive online courses taught by the few faculty (of some description) left. And students will not be served. Nor will democracy in an age of perpetual media white noise.

The martyr syndrome is not the only cultural narrative that accommodates the exploitation of faculty. The no money lie contributes. So does the tenure is a cushy job for life narrative. And freeway flyers are just plain busy, scrambling for the next meal, trying to survive the crisis. But the cult of the martyr is within us.

How do we exorcise this demon, the cult of the martyr, that is within us?

Update fall 2016:

This fall semester, I was assigned a room in an abandoned physics building (a decent room, relatively speaking), but, in a summertime room boondoggle involving a secretary and a lifeguard, the room was reassigned to the lifeguard instructor, who needed the room for the days when it rains in drought-ridden San Diego and his class can’t meet at the pool. Meanwhile, my class was moved to an adjacent, smaller, and pedagogically unsound room (for composition), without any consultation with the English department assistant chair, who is responsible for room assignment. He is not pleased. What will happen? I don’t know.

Fighting Labor Contingency: Getting Teacher Unions to Work with the Larger Labor Community

Good Adjuncts,

As I more or less said in an earlier post, if the fight to address the issue of adjunctification is ever going to get anywhere, we have to realize and act upon the fact that adjunctification has been going on in earnest in all aspects of the economy under the terms like “labor contingency,” and the “independent contracting” of the “gig economy”.  In that post, I pointed out how this was the discussion you needed to have with your students.

But that’s just the beginning of it.

Teachers’ unions and traditional labor unions need to get on the same page in addressing the issue, and really, adjuncts are the true link between the two.

For those of you needing a little background into the history of labor and teachers’ unions in this country, the history of such unions takes two strains.

One strain was that, as with the rise of the labor movement in general, it was younger women, who suffering from poor salaries, working conditions, and a general lack of respect, formed teachers’ unions which tended to act more or less like traditional labor unions, by going out on strike, forcing negotiations, etc.  Such teachers’ unions in turn identified themselves with the larger labor struggle, and were part of a larger labor movement to improve the lot of all workers.  Much of this contributed to a period of increasing economic equality between the years 1930-1970, and has come to be known as “The Great Compression.”

Another strain was that teachers’ groups, in some cases led by management, formed educational associations which over time morphed into teachers’ unions.  While these groups would in turn fight for their members’ salaries and benefits, they generally took a more conciliatory tone with management, and more or less distanced themselves from traditional labor.  This became more prominent from the Mid-70’s onward (note the interesting parallel to the start of adjunctification in earnest).  From the 1970’s onward, America on the whole has experienced an increasing economic inequity which author and journalist Timothy Noah has referred to as “The Great Divergence.”

I write this not to put blame for income inequity at the feet of these teachers’ unions so much as to say that these unions’ lack of working in consort with the larger labor community has not only lessened their own power, but the power of unions and workers in general to resist the forces which favor the consolidation of wealth into fewer hands at the expense of a larger social contract with the general public.

As I said before, I am active within two different local teachers’ unions.  One is very rooted in social activism.  Part of this is driven by the fact that they are an older, more-urban and multi-school district. Their membership is larger, has more resources, and has a significant number of members with a social activist mindset.  This union has greater links to the social activist tradition of the first strain.

This union is very active in the local AFL-CIO labor Council.  It strongly supports the labor actions of the AFL-CIO affiliates, and in turn is able to garner general labor support for not only education-friendly candidates, but for a wide variety of labor and social progressive issues.  In this respect, they are seen not only as a labor union, but as a community force.  On the adjunct level, they have, despite some issues, one of the best adjunct priority re-hire policies in the state, and provide adjuncts working over a 50% load full-insurance benefits or the adjunct and his/her dependents, including discounted vision, dental, and chiropractic care.  They also have provided paid office hours for over 10 years.

The other is a single-school district which is some 50 years younger, with many of its faculty being more middle to upper middle class in spite of its being in a more exclusively Latino community.  It is more affiliated with the second strain of teacher unionism, yet is coming more to the realization of this strain’s shortcomings.

The second local has, until recently, not been involved in the larger local labor movement, and, in my opinion, it has, until recently, left them open to the electing of governing board members who have been pushed by local construction and trade groups in concert with a local political machine in which people work their way up the ladder via the governing board.  Some years back, several of the board members, along with some administrators, were indicted and convicted on corruption charges.  At one point, all instructors took a 5% pay cut, there were massive layoffs of adjunct staff, limited movement was made in terms of jobs security, and adjunct support facilities deteriorated. Recent years have seen a significant turnaround, with a slight increase in wages, paid professional development, and the start of a small, paid office hours program, but there is still a long way to go.

Despite the sharp contrasts I draw between these two unions, both face similar challenges, particularly with regard to dealing with adjuncts and with labor contingency in general.  The first is that both teachers’ union are affiliated with larger national unions largely driven by their majority K-12 membership which generally does not have a full understanding of Higher Ed, from its work conditions to its labor force.  As a result, the concerns of Higher Ed are often given lesser priority and attention.   The second is that for the longest time, the main focus of both teachers’ unions is on the preserving of working conditions for the full-time unit members, with no specific or central strategy for addressing the increased use of adjunct labor, pay inequity.  They clearly don’t like adjunctification or pay inequity, but are stymied about what to do, primarily in the face of an anti-increased revenues movement which has gripped America since the late 1970’s.

This mindset however is weakening, due in part to a growing income inequity in the face of a growing economy.  Perhaps the strongest break in this mindset can be seen with the passage of Prop 30 in California in 2012.

Now is the time for adjuncts to step forward, and we need to do this by aligning ourselves with the interests of the larger labor community.  It’s always been there for adjuncts to pursue.  For my own part, I have tried to forge links, through my locals, with the AFL-CIO Labor Council, and involved myself with the labor campaigns like the SEIU’s and UDW’s respective struggles for janitors and home healthcare workers.  I have been actively involved with the “Fight for 15” campaign pointing out, that for all the Higher Ed training adjuncts have, many adjuncts work for similarly low pay with no benefits and tenuous job security. By the way, if you ever go to one of the rallies, you will see people who are far more marginalized than our adjuncts out in force on the street in seas of purple, red, or green shirts chanting boisterously for justice.

It’d be nice to see adjuncts so motivated.

And guess what?  At least at the community college level, many of these workers, or their children, are our students.

Talk to your fellow adjunct and full-time union members about being part of the larger labor community.  Get them to see the larger picture.  If you can’t get your union leadership on board, then go a local labor and social-justice based organization and tell them you want to help.  No, this doesn’t mean giving your life to them, but hey, just holding a sign of support at a rally, or writing a letter to the editor, or inviting a worker to your class to speak of his/her experiences is a start.

Better yet, make organized labor or social justice groups a part of your Camus Equity Week. Invite them to take part.

And adjuncts, on every campus is that janitor, clerical, or classified staff who works alongside you, right down to the older cafeteria worker who has two kids at home and a life you don’t know about.  Ask them about their work conditions and challenges, and generally show you care.

You might find that they will care about you too.

Then, when you speak and agitate for better work conditions for all workers, along with an end to adjunctification, they’ll support you too.

As the old union saying goes “an injury to one is an injury to all.”

Stop the injury, start the healing.  We can be ONE.

Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct

My AB 1690 Advocacy Letter to the California Senate Education Committee Members

Good Adjuncts:

For those of you outside the state of California, a big adjunct issue playing itself out in the chambers of the California Legislature is the push for adjunct job security via AB 1690.  The bill made it past the Senate Education Committee, and now awaits a more uncertain battle in the great legislative graveyard–the Senate Appropriations Committee, where its forerunner AB 1010, died last year. I choose to be optimistic.  if it makes it out of appropriations, it is almost certain to get approved by the floor of the senate, then sit before Governor Jerry Brown.  What will he do? No one is certain, but I’d like to think he’ll sign it,and I’m doing everything I can, along with so many others, to see he has that chance.

This the letter I wrote to the legislative aides of particular senators on the Ed. Committee.  They are often the better people to contact than the senators themselves because they actually have the time to read and process what you say, and communicate this to the senators, who do listen to them.

I put this letter out here to show you good adjuncts what constructive steps you can truly take to get the change we all need.  See the letter below the sign out

Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct

 

To Whom it May Concern:

My name is Geoffery Johnson, and I am writing to you in support of AB 1690, which addresses job security for part-time, temporary instructors (adjuncts) at California Community Colleges.

I am a member of the California Federation of Teachers Part-Time Committee. In addition, I am the direct representative for adjunct instructors at San Diego Mesa College and Southwestern College in Chula Vista, directly representing some 1300, adjuncts, and, as a part of the San Diego Community College District’s AFT Guild, involved in representing some 2,800 to 3,000 adjuncts.  I also sit on the evaluations Committee at Southwestern College and have been a five-time academic senator at San Diego Mesa College, having sat briefly on its Student learning outcomes Committee.

I emphasize this only to make it clear that beyond simply being an adjunct, I have a larger awareness of the impact of working conditions on adjuncts, and its impact on student learning and success.

As you may be aware, 70% of California Community College instructors are classified as “temporary” employees, or more commonly known as “adjuncts” who are employed from term-to-term on a contingency basis, or simply as need demands.   The term “adjunct” itself implies that such instructors are “ancillary,” or “non-essential,” when in truth these instructors are often responsible for the majority of instruction at given community college.  They may be “adjunct” in name, but clearly essential to the community college system.

One of the greatest challenges to such instructors is that most of these instructors, even when classes are available, have no sense that, even if they do exemplary work in the classroom, they can reasonably expect to be rehired.  At many colleges, instructor can simply be fired without cause, or as it is politely put, not offered a class assignment for the following term.

On a personal level, for these instructors, many of whom teach at multiple campuses working as self-called “full-time part-timers,” it means a life lived where one can rarely plan out beyond six months in advance.  With regard to the California community college system, it has meant high faculty turnover, stressed faculty, and significantly impacted instruction, particularly as the system aspires to the notion of ‘student equity.”  In some colleges, the annual turnover rate for adjuncts is over 25% of the entire adjunct faculty.  With such turnover, such colleges lose the long term institutional knowledge and the value of veteran teaching needed to provide educational integrity.

AB 1690, if passed, will provide adjuncts who have taught successfully for six semesters with rehire rights.  Moreover, it will establish rehire priority on a seniority basis, consistent with how full-time public educators are treated.  Furthermore, it will provide those instructors who might stumble in their work a one-semester improvement plan of great benefit to incoming instructors who might struggle to find their footing initially, but who then become great adjuncts and sometime, even better full-time instructors.

Some argue against such a bill, claiming that it takes away an administrator’s flexibility to schedule classes, but in a number of colleges have negotiated similar rehire policies and administrators were still able to schedule classes. I point to the present rehire policy in the San Diego Community College District, which has been working successfully for close to ten years.

Another argument made is that AB1690 would prevent local unions from negotiating better rehire rights, but AB1690 only sets a minimum base, and one far better than what many districts have been able to negotiate.

One might also note that in terms of student success, the San Diego Community College District has a higher Student Completion/Success rate than Southwestern, and a number of studies have linked greater access to instructors with institutional knowledge to higher student Completion/success rates.

In truth, what a lack of rehire rights creates, beyond the afore-mentioned problems, is the potential for nepotism and unchecked discrimination, which is not what California aspires to. In fact, just in terms of union grievances submitted by adjuncts over rehire-related issues in the San Diego District is relatively small, and much smaller for the 2100+ adjuncts in the district, compared with the 760 adjuncts in the Southwestern district where the rehire policy has no seniority clause and only a vague statement on “consistency of assignment.”

A final argument made against AB 1690 is that it will cost money in order for lists to be made for scheduling.  This is in fact untrue. The San Diego Community College District accrued no additional costs as a result of having a similar rehire rights policy.  Rehire lists are kept by Deans and schedulers, like Department Chairs, who in many cases already have this data.  The reporting of this data would be no different than the district reporting when adjuncts have reached certain steps or columns when their pay is determined.

The passage of AB1690 will not end adjunct instructors being hired on an “as needed” basis, but it will provide adjuncts with the notion that under reasonable conditions, they can expect to keep teaching when they do a good job, and that these good adjuncts will be available to help students achieve their goals.

Sincerely,

Geoffery Johnson

Adjunct Rep San Diego Mesa College, (AFT 1931)

Executive Adjunct Rep Southwestern College (SCEA/CTA/NEA)

Member, California Federation of Teachers Part-Time Committee

Member, AFT National Part-Time Caucus