Statement Made on Behalf of AFT 1931 Regarding Adjuncts

Good adjuncts:

There is a crisis in Higher Education

In 1968, the Kerner report, in speaking of the sharp socio-economic divide between blacks and whites, spoke of a nation moving towards “two societies…separate but unequal.”  The troubling issues of racial inequity notwithstanding, in higher education there are also two societies, that of the full-timer and that of the adjunct instructor.

The full-timer’s society is one distinguished by the relative security of tenure, reasonable pay and benefits, administrative support for professional development, often the form of sabbaticals, a sense of singular institutional identity, and collegiality.

The adjunct’s society is distinguished by essentially the lack of all of the above.

Adjuncts are for the most part at-will workers, subject not only to the ups and downs of educational budgets, but the whims of administrators, department chairs, and their other full-time colleagues.  Many, if not most, have no direct health and welfare benefits from their employers, despite the employee mandates of Obamacare.  Professional development may be encouraged and in some cases expected, but rarely institutionally supported.  More importantly, the adjunct must be a servant to each institution he/she works at, yet never fully committed to one, as for many, their “offices” consist of at best group adjunct workrooms, but more often than not, cafeterias, coffee shops, or their cars.

This for pay which is in many cases a fraction of what a full-timer is paid for a similar credit load.

The real crisis here is that the two societies are in fact increasingly moving towards one society—that of the adjunct.  At many campuses, adjuncts represent not the majority of instructors, but in fact, teach the majority of the classes.

Politicians and administrators alike have been complicit in this trend, believing that by providing education on the cheap through the standard model of adjunctification/exploitation, they can hoodwink students and parents into the notion that they can truly provide quality education while glossing over their lack of political will in seeking the necessary revenue for providing, not only a quality education, but social justice to those workers/adjuncts on its front lines.

Adjuncts deserve nothing less than the following:

1)      A realistic chance to become a full-time faculty member by increasing full-time positions in accordance with 75/25 legislation and a clear pathway to full-time employment

2)      A consistent rehire policy based on seniority so that they don’t have to live in constant fear of losing their jobs

3)      Pay commensurate to what full-time instructors are paid for the same work

4)      Health and welfare benefits for themselves and their families so that they no longer have to fear being sick or avoid going to the doctor when medical issues arise

Clearly, what adjuncts deserve is something that will neither be cheaply, easily, or quickly attained, but the time for ignoring or putting the addressing of these needs has long since passed.  The time for serious discussion, and ultimately action, is upon us.

Geoff Johnson

A Good Adjunct


Equal Pay for Equal Work?

It’s time for equal pay at every college in the nation.


I have not had a raise in four years, not even a cost of living adjustment/raise to keep up with inflation. Instead, the university gave us a pay cut last year by making us pay for our parking (about $180 per semester) when we didn’t have to do that before. Taking public transportation is not an option in my city so I  don’t have a choice but to drive. I drive 1.5 hours a day to teach one or two classes and then drive another 1.5 hours to get home.

My salary for teaching a class is the same amount that ONE student pays to take my class. I teach anywhere from 20-30 students, bringing in 20-30 times the amount of money that the university pays me. If the university doubled my pay, it wouldn’t make much of a dent in their pockets but would significantly improve the quality of…

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Equal Pay for Adjuncts: What is May Day For?

Equal Pay for Equal Work: What is May Day For?

Imagine working at one job for fifteen years and then spending three days filling out an extraordinarily rigorous (read: ponderous and obtuse) application (last time I completed one, I clocked myself at about 60 hours) so that you could have the outside chance of being hired to work the job that you already work. If you win the hiring lottery, you are paid fully; if you lose, you are paid about half or less of what the winners are paid.

Does that sound reasonable? Does it sound like justice?

This is a common scenario for most college faculty, adjuncts who are committed to one (or more) institution(s) and who, whenever there is enough funding for one or two tenure-track positions, get to “compete” with hundreds of applicants from all over the world, as search committees spin the lottery wheel.

And, no, it isn’t reasonable to expect someone who already does a job, and has been relied on to do this job for many years, and has been deemed excellent by all measurements, to go through this process, the effect of which, perhaps inadvertently, but nevertheless, is to maintain two-tiers of employees, one tenured, the other adjunct, who essentially do the same work, but whose pay by comparison is excessively unequal.

This situation can end if we do one thing: pay all college faculty on one pay schedule: equal pay for equal work. Pay parity.

The objection that tenured faculty do more work is specious. Seriously, one reason some do so much committee work is that there aren’t enough tenure-track faculty. More to the point, what is the most valuable part of faculty work-time? Is it teaching? Do you spend any more time teaching than I? Many adjuncts, hustling about to make enough to survive, easily spend more time on teaching tasks than many tenure-track faculty (And I ‘m pointing this out only as a fact. I make no judgment). Forty hours a week is the expected workload for tenured and tenure-track faculty. Adjuncts often work more than forty hours a week because they teach at two or more institutions, even more than a full-time load, to make only a portion of a full-time wage.

Tenured faculty, please do not be offended; rise above an egocentric response. Adjuncts (most, anyway) do not think this situation is the fault of tenured faculty. But it is a fact that tenured faculty enjoy privileges which adjuncts do not, and which adjuncts deserve. No one expects tenured faculty to give up their privileges (maybe only a few perks). Of course tenured faculty have earned this privilege; but then so have adjunct faculty.

In the San Diego Community College district, adjuncts have things that most adjuncts across the nation do not. Most do not have rehire rights, health benefits, office space with computers, or unemployment compensation rights. At my primary site, adjuncts who teach in my department are so fortunate that the tenured faculty in the department invite them to meetings of all sorts, let them vote on most issues, and encourage them to pitch in as much as they wish. I often tell people that, if you are so unfortunate as to be an adjunct professor in the early 21st century, my department is one of the best places to be in the universe.

But still, my pay for teaching six classes is about 40% what it would be if I were paid on the same schedule as full-time faculty. My expertise, my skill, my commitment is equal. My pay should be equal.

Nationally, contingent academic workers (also known as adjuncts) are organizing and mobilizing for justice. The national media is beginning to cover the exploitation of adjuncts on a regular basis. The New Faculty Majority has organized and is advocating for justice.  The AFT, FACCC, AAUP and other faculty organizations are talking about the exploitation of adjuncts. It is time for unions to walk the walk. Since adjuncts are the majority everywhere, unions should prioritize adjuncts’  interests. No more pay raises until there is pay parity. No more advocating for tenure-track funding until there is pay parity. The adjunct crisis is the crisis of higher education, tenured faculty, adjunct faculty, students and staff. This is the moment for us to stand together and to demand the justice of equal pay for adjuncts, to demand one pay schedule for all college faculty.

This May Day, our annual celebration of social justice for workers, should be about the justice of equal pay for adjuncts.

The Myth Of Meritocracy In Academia

The myth of meritocracy, that if you are a good adjunct, and make all the right choices, etc., you will be rewarded with a tenure-track position, echoes the false hope of the American Dream.

Conditionally Accepted

Many sociologists, as well as scholars in other disciplines, talk about the “myth of meritocracy” in their classes.  They inform their students that many in the US believe good ol’ hard work is the primary determinant of one’s successes, opportunities, and wealth — BUT nothing could be further from the truth to explain pervasive inequality.  Not only is this an inaccurate explanation, hence referring to it as a myth, it is also dangerous because it masks all of the other factors beyond one’s control that produce and maintain disparities.  Hopefully, we push our students one more step to see inequality as the product of individual and structural factors, not merely a few bad apples who lie, cheat, and steal, or discriminate and hinder others’ success.

Ironically, academics — including many sociologists — fail to apply this perspective to assess how status, wealth, resources, and opportunities are distributed within…

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That Overload Thing

Hello Again Good Adjuncts

Sorry I’ve been away awhile in that world the adjunct (and full-timer) knows so well–grading hell. However, unlike the my full-time colleagues, because the districts that I work for either choose to pretend the other districts don’t exist, or ignore the fact that adjuncts may teach in other places, I got no Spring Break this year because there was no attempt on the part of either of the two districts I work for to coordinate their academic calendars. This of course meant that while my full-time colleagues got to enjoy a week of R&R and down time with their family, I got one extra day to hang with the family and go take them to see The Lego Movie.

But hey, what can I say? “Everything is awesome…”

Good adjuncts, I still owe you a column on how the hiring process needs to be improved, and it will be forthcoming, but for now I’d like to talk about something that is maybe a little bit dynamite in terms of the adjunct-full-timer dialectic when we adjuncts choose to complain about some issues we have with some full-timers.

And today’s issue is (drumroll please) …full-time overload teaching.

Some years back, I was sitting in a meeting of a room of union activists, all of whom, in fact, I think of as good people, and who have also done a lot of good. At the time, there was, as there is almost perpetually, a budgetary shortfall, meaning effectively a cut in sections.

Approximately two weeks prior to that meeting, I had been in a department meeting, where more or less the same issue was being discussed. To the credit of my full-time department colleagues, there was talk of limiting full-timers from taking on additional overload in that it would put many adjuncts out of a job. This didn’t mean taking away longstanding overload from full-timers that had been doing it for years, but simply not allowing more at the present time. The teachers at the meeting, a combination of full-timer and adjunct alike were in consensus that this is in fact what should happen.

On this day, several adjuncts had their jobs saved.

Anyway, back to the union meeting. Mindful of this precedent, I tried to broach this subject with the representatives in the room, and before I could get far there was the reply: “Well, we don’t want to be in the business of telling department chairs what to do,” followed by several harrumphs and stern nods of approval. A sort of frost seemed to settle. I saw at this point where this discussion was going to go, and so I shut up.

Notably, just after this incident, the state of California recently changed their 60% rule (that an adjunct could only teach a 60% percent load in any given district) to a 66% rule meaning, that in this particular district, adjuncts in my department could teach an additional class. Nearly all of the older adjuncts in the department, myself included, wanted to teach that additional class, yet all of us knew that doing so would put younger adjuncts out of a job. At that time, every one of these older adjuncts, mindful of this, refused to take the additional class at least for a semester or two until the budgetary situation stabilized itself.

By doing this, adjunct jobs were saved.

Now did any of us want to do this? Hell no. We’re adjuncts. We buy our clothes from Craig’s list or sometimes even the thrift shop, and not to be like Macklemore.

We did it because it was the right thing to do.

Anyway, after 2008, when the budget at the other college that I teach at plummeted, the on-site union, despite the screams and howls of some of its full-time faculty, put together a temporary M.O.U., or memorandum of understanding which asked full-timers to not take overload, when class sections were being drastically cut, to preserve adjunct jobs.

When this happened, adjunct jobs were saved.

Now that the economy and budget have rebounded, the concern over the full-time overload teaching has abated, though legislation in the California State House to control full-time overload teaching was briefly put forth, then either killed or withdrawn.

Unfortunately, for me at least, it’s still an issue.

To be fair here at the outset, I myself teach about a 120% load, but part of this is due in fact to how the credits are awarded the classes I teach. For me, this computes out to five classes per semester.   I’d like to say that I teach this much in part because I like the money, but when you make just around 40,000 dollars a year living in Southern California, I’d say need is the greater motivation.

I have some part-time colleagues who teach up to eight classes. When I see them, they’re exhausted. I had a similarly overloaded adjunct colleague who died at the age of 49 in the school parking lot a few years back (and no one ever created a memorial for him on campus unlike his full-time colleagues who had their careers cut short by death). When I see these overloaded adjuncts I understand that many of them have financial pressures to work, but I still try to suggest to them, gently of course, that this is maybe not the best thing to do for themselves.

Part of me also worries about what effect this will have on the students they teach and the families they are kept away from, and how administrators, who notice these “super adjuncts”, feel when we ask for more pay per sections, reduced class sizes, or course workloads.

So no full-timers, I don’t ignore the fact that adjuncts teach overload, or the fact that it’s problematic for them to do it as well.

What I have a problem with is how overload is dispensed out to full-timers as a sort of income enhancer that is awfully close to what is generally called “double-dipping”.

When the contract at one of my campuses was settled, for a rather measly 1.57 % COLA, one of my full-time colleagues complained of the deal, that after years of no salary increase she was only going to get an increase which amounted to little more than 100 dollars a month. This effectively meant she was making 90,000 dollars a year, and no, she wasn’t a department head or administrator or 20+ year senior instructor.

When I saw this, I about fell over. 90,000 dollars a year? If I made 50,000 dollars a year, I’d be dancing in the streets. Why, I might be able to have a car that’s less than 8 years old with under 150,000 miles on it. I might be able to put aside money for my son for college. Hell, I might even be able to buy a set of slacks from a department store rather than the bargain bin at Costco.

Now in no way am I assuming that all full-timers make more than two times what the equivalent adjunct makes, but come on people. You make a lot more than we do, so when you complain that you need to make more money by teaching overload, pardon us if we cry crocodile tears. I really feel bad that you’re having to shell out so much money for your kid’s private colleges, your European vacations, and those houses in the good neighborhoods.

While you may be complaining about how somebody’s dog crapped on your yard, I recently  had to deal with a drunk taking a piss on mine.

Still, I get it. You need extra money, so now what you’re going to do is get the institution to let you teach an extra class without the pleasure of hopping in a car and driving to another campus where you may not have an office to work in, like me, of getting the class at a funky time, like me, with sometimes minimal support or facilities, like me.

I’d say clearly you and me are not alike.

Here’s an idea. Unless the institution absolutely positively needs you to teach an additional class, or you’re not banking classes so you can have an extended sabbatical (look at me, I’m an adjunct and I support sabbaticals!), you can get in your newer car and drive to another district and do the same kind of gig that the great unwashed masses of adjuncts undertake.

My suspicion is that if all the full-time faculty had to do this semester after semester, full-timers would more eagerly seeking an end to adjunctification.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking: “I was an adjunct once.”

Yeah, well guess what? I was a baby once. I was also a teenager, and when I tell my teenage son this while trying to dispense sage advice well….well let’s just say he’s not so sympathetic, and why should he be? My angst and his angst may be similar, but they’re not fully relatable. Moreover, it doesn’t ease his suffering. Would you tell someone with a broken leg, “hey, relax, I had a broken leg once…”

Don’t tell an adjunct you were an adjunct once. One, they already know or suspect it, and two, it’s kind of like saying, “I know, now quit yer bellyachin’.”

Anyway, the practice of full-time overload teaching should be phased out over time. This doesn’t mean suddenly throwing people who have built lives around years of the practice under the bus. Rather, it should mean that for future hires, full-timers should only be teaching overload in the event of dire departmental need, or if the instructor needs to bank credits for an extended sabbatical leave. While full-timers who still choose to teach more classes elsewhere may be a little more stressed, you  full-timers will still be making a hell of a lot more than your adjunct colleagues if you choose to simply teach your regular full-time load. Moreover, your students will probably appreciate your ability to give them increased attention, and an adjunct will be able to pay for his/her rent.

Now, back to grading hell…


Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct