Last time I wrote an entry of substance, I told you that I would be writing about how the full-time application/interview process can be improved, and I still plan on writing about this, but for the time being, I want to get at an issue of bigger importance.
And that issue is well…us.
In previous entries, such as the “Myth of the Good Adjunct” and “Happy Adjuncts,” I suggested that because of either a sense that by simply working hard and ignoring the issue, or being satisfied with having work in spite of the obvious exploitation, adjuncts had deferred from speaking out about the adjunct condition. This of course is true, but I think the real source of our collective inability to effectively advocate for ourselves is truly a driven by laziness, cynicism, and ultimately a lack of value for our own voices.
More than being just an adjunct blogger, I sit on an Executive Council for one teacher’s union as an adjunct rep for an entire campus, while in another union at a separate college, I represent adjuncts for the school of Languages and Literature. So yes, I’m a bit of an activist junkie. However, I do this in addition to teaching 17 units a semester (as opposed to 15 for a Full-Timer), and having a wife and child to support. I teach in two different disciplines, often with four to five different preps, with an average student load of 35-40 students per class. I work.
I know other adjuncts who will teach up to eight classes, or who will have outside activities, family issues, or health conditions which preclude them from being activists. I get that you can’t regularly attend meetings, read every article on the adjunct condition, or write multiple letters to an elected official.
However, what makes you think that I can do it all the time as well, or that if I do, that those in power will necessarily assume that I speak for you? I’ve got news for you. You can only go so many times before the powers that be before they ask, ‘Who’s the power behind you?”
At one of my schools we are facing what will effectively be the end of rehire rights for adjuncts. A group of the activist adjuncts along with the union reps put out a call for all adjuncts to write one-paragraph anonymous statements on how rehire rights were important to them. The general adjunct body at this college been repeatedly told about the issue for several months. When the deadline for statement submissions arrived, a very small number of statements came in (I don’t want to really say how many), and the majority of them were from the same adjuncts who put out the call (self-included).
Ironically, everyone I spoke to in person about it swore they were going to submit one, but very few did.
What the people who didn’t get their submissions in fail to realize is that these statements were to be presented to the governing board and administration to show the mass support for rehire rights.
Right now, the union president has extended the deadline for submissions in the hope that adjuncts will get off their dead asses and write. This is a union president elected by full-timers who is himself a full-timer.
So tell me, if a full-time union president who doesn’t have to (and trust me, if you saw how few adjuncts even bothered to vote in the last election…) goes out of his way to support adjuncts and no adjuncts even take the time to stand up for their own rights, where’s the hope for change?
You can’t get people to respect your rights if you don’t demand them for yourself.
Every now and then, when I’ve tried to get other adjuncts to respond to issues, or informed them of their basic rights, there’s this notion that if they demand these rights, they are simply doomed to reprisals by full-timers or administrators, or that the whole struggle for adjunct rights will go nowhere.
First of all, when I’m speaking of rights, I’m talking about policies written into contract language that people have worked hard to negotiate for adjuncts so that in fact ADJUNCTS WILL USE AND EXERCISE THESE RIGHTS. These can be everything from paid healthcare to rehire rights. If an adjunct is not taking advantage of these rights, why should anyone bother to fight for them? And guess what? If your rights are being violated, you should be pressing the union to help assert those rights. That is what unions are expected and obligated to do.
Now I know I’m going to hear from some adjuncts, that sometimes the union has not supported them, and you’re right. I’ll take that further and say that sometimes unions screw their own employees, and more often than not, those at the top of the screwed list are adjuncts.
But now here’s a concept. Instead of sitting and seething in a silent and unrequited sea of bitterness, get the word out what’s going on—push for change, and get other people to do so as well.
This of course, as cynics will note, won’t be easy. The history of labor is a long history of people having to eat crap sandwiches before gaining their due rights. It took decades of activism for public employee unions to even be recognized in some states. The history of labor is also of sometimes bad unions that had to be changed by activism from within. These changes were brought about by the efforts of individuals who were largely powerless alone, but who became stronger as they increased in numbers and commitment.
By the way, someone has to be that individual, and more often than not, it’s not because that individual necessarily chose to be exploited, but because the forces that be chose to exploit him.
Of course then again, you could wait for the next generation to do things. Maybe you want your son or daughter to fight your battles in the future, or the students you hypocritically exhort to stand up for their rights. Or better yet, you will teach the next generation not to become adjuncts, or teachers, but administrators or barons of entrepreneurship and industry who can become exploiters themselves.
My, what a wonderful legacy you could contribute to…
Not Valuing Our Own Voices
Over the last six months, this blog has set out to inform the larger adjunct community about the travails of the adjunct condition and the manner in which we are exploited to the expense of everyone involved, from adjuncts, to their families, to their students, to full-timers, to colleges, and society at large.
If I’m lucky, maybe 30 people will read this post at all, and that’s if in fact, I’m very lucky. Nearly anything written by any one of the main adjuncts who blog on this site gets limited readership. If however, we simply repost a discussion by Noam Chomsky, an article from NPR, or a piece from MSNBC, that’s when the hits come in.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad Chomsky, NPR, and MSNBC are reporting on our plight. What I do need to point out however, and you may be surprised to hear this, is THEY’RE NOT ADJUNCTS.
Why can’t we listen to each other, read each other, acknowledge each other, organize with each other, and work with each other for change?
We have so many stories, and no, you don’t have to die literally homeless and indigent like Mary Vojtko to be worthy of attention.
Start talking to each other, organize, show in larger groups at union meetings and ask, either impolitely or no, why more isn’t being done to address your needs. Increasingly adjuncts, you make up the majority of instructors at your respect campuses, and in many cases, you teach the majority of the classes.
Start acting like you’re the majority and make people listen to you, not through the voices of others, but your own.
A Good Adjunct in the Majority
We have met the enemy, and he is us. There is no doubt about the existence of a national movement which is gaining media attention. But you are right: more of us need to speak up. I sometimes think that we are so isolated, as individuals scrambling from campus to campus to get enough to survive, that it just doesn’t sink in that adjuncts, especially at the community colleges, are an overwhelming majority, and if, as a Chronicle article put it, adjuncts shrugged, we could bring the institution to a standstill. What if students were standing by our side?
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