Linda Nguyen covers NAWD for The Mesa Press: http://www.mesapress.com/staff/2015/03/10/national-adjunct-action-day/
In addition to the battle for paid adjunct office hours, part-time equity pay, and more full-time positions, perhaps the greatest concern has been over the issue of job security.
Understand that being an adjunct doesn’t simply mean being part-time, it means being considered an instructor being used, or rather hired, only as needed, with that notion of “needed” being not simply defined by the ups and downs of state budgets, but the whims and personalities of schedulers and administrators, from college presidents to department heads.
This of course is primarily an economic concern for adjuncts, who as a result must live their lives on a three-to-six month basis, even after teaching twenty or more years. An entire career can collapse in either a quarter or a semester.
Now, to the rare non-teacher who might read this blog, you might be saying to yourself: “So what? If I have a bad job performance review, or show up to work drunk, or insult my boss, I can get fired, so do I really have job security?”
Well, to be fair, no one does, or should have the kind of job security that allows them to be a crappy worker, and no, unions aren’t about protecting crappy workers. In fact, I get really pissed off when I perceive of an instructor failing to do their job, either because they ignore the needs of students, demean them, or are simply lazy. They make my job harder.
What unions are about is making sure that you don’t get fired when you are in fact doing your job, or that you don’t get fired off the mere accusation, without substantial proof, that you are doing your job badly.
Even if you’re a non-union worker, I assume that if you were doing your job, and your boss came up to one day, and said, “your fired”, and when you asked why, he/she simply said, “my prerogative,” you would feel it unjust, even if it is legal for him/her to do so.
The thing is, many adjuncts at colleges where there are no-hire rights face the above scenario. I have heard of adjuncts being told that they would not be rehired because they simply disagreed with or challenged a senior colleagues’ opinion and not necessarily in a confrontational manner or even public forum, but in a private conversation. Other times, no reason at all will be given.
What maybe adds a little icing on the cake to such injustice is when the adjunct in question may have good evaluations, and seniority over another adjunct who is retained. Some of these fired (or should I simply say, “left off the schedule”) adjuncts get the pleasure of later learning that their class will be taught be a shiny new adjunct with no previous teaching experience.
In fact, older adjuncts (those north of 50 years of age and 20 years experience) can be a popular target.
Now to be fair, while it may happen on occasion at my own institutions, I must say it is relatively rare (and I know saying this, I’m probably going to hear from people who got screwed, and I should, because when it happens to you, it sure as hell doesn’t feel “rare”) in comparison with some of the horror stories I’ve heard from other colleges. Part of the reason it is less frequent is because my institutions do have collective bargaining agreements (union contracts) which contain language regarding rehire rights.
That said, there are certain “holes” in the language regarding either the classes you can be re-hired for, the number of classes you can be guaranteed, seniority, etc…
Usually when adjuncts hear this, they are immediately frustrated and angry, and with good reason, but more often than not, rather than blaming the administrators who exploit these holes, or create them through adversarial bargaining, the blame goes on the unions who “don’t care about adjunct issues”.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are many times when unions could and should do more for adjuncts, or at least do a better job of facilitating the expression of their concerns, and I’ve written on this, but often the most contentious discussion that takes place in negotiations, and the place where admin is most intransigent is over adjunct rehire rights. I’ve seen entire contract negotiations held up over the issue. Know that wanting something and even expressing it is never a guarantee you’re going to get it, no matter how hard you yell.
This is what brings me to AB 1010. This is a California Assembly Bill that has recently been introduced by Jose Medina, an Assemblyman out of Riverside which calls for the implementation of a union adjunct rehire rights policy for all community colleges. Read it here:
When I first heard about the bill, I was a bit apprehensive, mainly because I know, from having looked at rehire rights policies in other contracts, that you need to be very careful with the language you have for such policies, because any vague language which is subject to interpretation can be exploited by management, and either overturned or reinterpreted by an arbitrator if the matter reaches the level of a stage three grievance.
This is often why unions and admin will revisit their rehire policies to “clean up” the previous language.
When you pass something as a bill and put it into law, it’s not so easy to do that. Look no further than the Obamacare case before the Supreme Court being fought over four words in a 600-page document (“established by the state”).
I was also nervous about the potential loss of seniority and rehire rights in the event an adjunct would have to turn down a particular assignment due to extenuating circumstances, like a schedule conflict with another district. If you read the bill however, you will find that a adjunct will only lose seniority if they turn down ALL classes offered, and to be fair, you’re never going to get a bill passed that would give protections to turn down classes to one’s liking.
Personally, I like the bill as it is written, and I think if it got passed, as it is presently written, that it would be a great windfall for adjuncts in California.
The key here is, as presently written. I will tell you now, when various administrators see this bill around the state, they will be none too happy with it.
First of all, the bill allows for adjuncts who have received seniority rights (after six semesters), and have received a less than satisfactory evaluation, to be given a written plan for remediation and then re-evaluated in the next semester. In effect, adjuncts would be given a second chance if they botch an evaluation. This, in my opinion is a great idea, but I can tell you from having pushed for this in negotiations is something administrators generally hate, and you can be sure they will speak to it.
Another provision in the bill that administrators will be unhappy with is this:
In cases where a reduction in assignment needs to occur due to program needs, budget constraints, or more contract faculty hires, the reduction shall occur first from among those part-time, temporary faculty members who have not yet qualified to be placed on the seniority list, and thereafter in reverse seniority order, with the least senior part-time, temporary faculty member reduced first. Any rights to a certain workload equivalent shall be maintained for a period of 18 months. In cases of class cancellation due to low enrollment, faculty members shall displace faculty members who are lower than they are on the seniority list.
A similar idea was floated by one of the negotiation teams at one of my colleges and it was a complete non-starter.
Now maybe we’ll all get lucky and every administrator and scheduler in the California Community College System will have either had a sudden change of heart, or simply be drunk, asleep, or stoned as the bill winds its way up to the governor, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Assuming then that we can get this bill past the Assembly and Senate, the next, and biggest hurdle, is…you guessed it, Jerry Brown. Now Jerry may be down with adjuncts or not, but again, this bill, like the categoricals I mentioned earlier, goes at the heart of the local control issue. This bill is about effectively taking a part of adjunct hiring policies out of the hands of local districts and putting it in the hands of the state.
Great, I say, and so should you, but again, this gets to what I discussed in my previous entry–there’s going to need to be a change in the philosophy regarding how education is managed in the state.
Do not believe for a minute good adjuncts that I don’t think we should fight this fight-we not only should, we have to. But we need to know what we’re up against, and we need to be strategizing to achieve this goal.
Part of this should be to wake up our local elected officials to the realities to local control. Maybe we need to remind them of the city of Bell, and let them know that on a smaller, yet more widespread scale, a similiar misdirection of educational resources and capriciousness of administrators is alive and well.
Anyway, get out there and fight for AB 1010 to be passed, and with real language that works for adjuncts.
A Good Adjunct
Now that we’ve acquired a bit of steam from the events of last week, what we do with it and how we make it sustainable is a big concern, and yes, a complicated one.
As a “national” action, NAWD was able to put out some salient points: 1) that adjuncts are treated shabbily, 2) they are an essential, not auxiliary part of academia, and 3) their ill treatment hurts educational institutions, students, and society as a whole.
But see, the thing is it’s easy to point out problems, and far harder to come up with solutions that can be practically achieved.
For the record, as if this needs to be said, what adjuncts need, first and foremost, is full-time employment, and short of that, the same sort of respect in terms of pay, benefits and opportunities as full-time contract teachers with respect to the amount and kind of work they do.
Anyway, the groups I worked with for NAWD concentrated mostly on the categorical allocation of funds for paid adjunct office hours, equity pay, and more full-time positions. We did this because, 1) the money was there 2) It was something specific 3) it would immediately improve the situation for adjuncts 4) it can be attained easily.
Our situation was also specific to the California state government, which controls our community colleges’ funding, and generally sets labor policy.
We also pursued it because we knew we could get buy-in from a coalition of groups like students, full-time faculty, governing board members and legislators, and even some administrators.
The big challenge here, and the mountain yet before us, is Governor Brown, but more so an outdated philosophy regarding “local” control. To be brief, this philosophy is that local districts inherently have a better idea of how money should be spent and so therefore the state should effectively pass on the pots of money exercising as little control as possible as to how this money should be spent. Well, being that this money is largely controlled by local administrators and boards, this has meant that much of this money has gone to places they deem most important, and this has often been at the expense of instruction.
It should be no surprise that administrative services and the money paid to administrators has more or less exploded in relation to the money put towards instruction, nor should it be a surprise that these groups, whether intentionally or no have come to regard adjunct labor as both expendable and exploitable. As long as administrator’s hands are not categorically forced to deal with instruction properly, school budgets will always be balanced on the backs of adjuncts.
There is of course, two other, more sinister forces at work–political posturing and straight up corruption.
First, in case many of you haven’t figured it out, more often than not, the people who run to be on school boards are not doing simply out of the kindness of their hearts, or because they have a deep commitment to education. Now by saying this, I’m aware there are true public servants out there and I feel that lately I’ve been working with a few, but let’s be real. Many governing board members are simply filling their resumes for higher office, or are burnishing their public image either for business, or to simply self-aggrandize. These are people who are often ready to buy into the sound-bite culture of incompetent culture-corrupting teachers, whiny unions, bloated budgets, wasteful spending, etc. These people see teachers as public servants, and I mean in the Downton Abbey sense of the word servant.
By contrast, they are big on promoting high-profile projects that at times will be more flash than substance, and love creating more and more of those links between the institution and the almighty business community. This will sometimes lead to things like thousands of dollars being spent on sending a select group of students to a swanky leadership conference while the adjunct office will go for a week or two without a 120 dollar toner cartridge because we (the wasteful adjuncts) need to conserve resources–just put the student handouts up on blackboard, nevermind whether some of your more indigent students can actually afford to download it.
By the way, I’m not anti-business, and community colleges should have such relationships, but I teach World Religions, so you can imagine why I might have a little problem when a curriculum’s worth is evaluated in terms of its strict utilitarian value.
Then of course, there’s the straight up corruption. Anybody ever notice how local construction companies and certain academic vendors take a very strong interest in local school board elections? Ever wonder how these groups, many of whom who are fiscally conservative and actually small government, can suddenly get behind large bond measures? Did you really think it was because these groups really have a soft spot for the work you do?
I’ll assume that, being as I like to think of my readers as smart, that you would give a big “NO” as an answer to the last question. One of the latest trends in academia is the building of Wellness Centers on college campuses with the idea that they be open to the general public, and hey, if you can get a private company to run the the site, even better. Better yet is to charge higher prices than local privately-owned fitness centers operations to boot, then to pitch the whole project as a future revenue stream for the college.
Meanwhile, as for the rotting classroom with rat infestations and lack of adjunct office space? Well, we all have to make do, you know, and perhaps we can address that in the next bond measure…provided the public will go along with it.
Now bond funds are never used for instruction, but if bond funds are not being directed towards the direct support of instruction, what do you suppose is going to happen to the monies that are with the “stellar” track record up above?
What this all means is that more than just getting a few categorical items in a budget, there has to be a fundamental change in philosophy as to how community colleges and academic institutions are managed, and it needs to come from the top down and with an eye on both transparency and equity.
…And it’s going to take some courage, particularly on the part of the governor of California, to step up and actually starting calling some specific shots and setting priorities rather than waving his hands and telling someone else to do it, or wait for some initiative mandate from the voters, particularly when the initiative process is largely dominated by private big money.
The question California adjuncts and their supporters should be asking themselves now is, how to we get the governor to see what needs to be done?
By the way, there is also talk of a adjunct job security bill as well, and while it faces the same problem of local control, it represents a another can of worms which is perhaps even more complicated and divisive within adjunct ranks.
That will be the subject of my next entry.
Till then, be strong and keep up the good fight good adjuncts.
A Good Adjunct