My Adjunct Action Day Speech at Mesa

Dear Students, Full-time Faculty, Classified, Administrators, and of Course Adjuncts:

Approximately one year ago, when for the first time on a widespread scale such rallies as these took place, I was to a degree excited by the chance to speak out along with my colleague and fellow adjunct John Hoskins to draw attention to the adjunct condition.

Sadly, it’s a year later, and there are still so many students out there who don’t know the meaning of the term, or how it has become synonymous with teacher exploitation, marginalization, and the rationing of instruction.

The adjunct, or so called “part-time” instructor is a teacher, who like his/her full-time counterparts, must possess either a Master’s or Doctorate degree, so that he/she can teach to more or less the same student population in subjects, which he or she, has the same level of expertise. In truth, the student taught by either will rarely know which one is the full-timer and which one is the adjunct unless the teacher in question tells him or her.

However, unlike, and this is the word, unlike the full-time instructor, the adjunct is limited to teaching no more than 67% of a full-time load in one district, for fear of having to give them, like a full-timer, a long term employment contract, full health benefits which can extend to his/her family, occasional sabbaticals, and some cases, a structured early retirement plan

The adjunct is given no long term contract, and in many districts, no rehire rights (meaning that that you can be fired for any reason, like for example, the Dean having a family friend in mind for your job). It means living a life and a career in four to six month spurts for years and even decades. While a smattering of schools will give health benefits to adjuncts who maintain 50% or greater loads for more than a year, most schools offer adjuncts no health benefits at all. There are no sabbaticals for adjuncts, and for adjuncts, retirement comes when an older adjunct is simply not rehired, and he/she has been given the message that it’s time to go away.

More significantly, the adjunct is paid only for the time he/she spends in the classroom, with extremely limited if any compensation given for office hours and professional development, and no compensation for hours spent grading or doing research. To be fair, officially full timers are not paid for these things, but they are paid to maintain a minimum 30 hours on a campus, and when salaries are awarded, the adjunct will be paid at a rate  that is effectively ½ to 1/3 of what his/her full-time colleague makes.

Were this not enough to consider, know that in many cases these teachers also do not enjoy designated office space to work with their students.

There are hidden costs to being an adjunct too. Because of the low pay and limited work at any one institution, the adjunct may commute to over four campuses in a week, driving over 300 miles. The gas, the wear and tear on his/her car, the hours of lost time are all costs borne by the adjuncts. Further, when the adjunct cannot receive the health benefits the full-time employee receives, he/she must bear those additional costs out-of-pocket.

Often salary increases, when spread across-the-board for faculty, further the disparity, as the 2% salary increase for the $70,000/year full-timer will receive a $1400 increase, which the adjunct who teaches 60% at a 50% rate for an annual salary of 21,000/year will receive just $410. Unfortunately, at the store, both the adjunct and the full-time pay the same rate for milk.

Please do not misunderstand, I do not condemn or wish to deny my fellow full-timers of their wages, for they do earn their money. AFT has fought to reduce this disparity, as reflected in our last contract, which brought significantly rose adjunct salaries, and office hours. I condemn a system which from the start has used the “adjunct” as a cheap tool to provide only a half-fulfilled promise of educational equity.

I once believed that the “adjunct” was originally created as the status given to a moonlighting instructor, like a local businessman who once a week came to the community college to impart his vocational knowledge, and that as budgets were tight, a sort of fiscal creep set in, which over 40 years of time created the present climate in which now 70% of all community college instructors are adjuncts living and working at academia’s edges.

The truth is, at least in California, that in 1967, when the California legislature deemed it legal to hire adjunct instructors, it was so that schools could collect federal funds while not having to pay the full wages and benefits accorded full-timers. The system of adjunctification, you see, was not created by accident, or by a simple slouching towards budgetary pressures. It was from the start, as it is today, a system of exploitation by design.

And the costs of this system to adjuncts has been mighty. Forget the lost wages or lack of benefits—think instead of teachers toiling for years in hope of the full-time job that for many will never come, think of the adjunct living in apartment after apartment, and driving one broken down car after another, hoping his/her car will make it to the next teaching assignment. Think even more of the adjunct without health insurance who never gets that chest pain checked out until she learns its stage three cancer, think of the adjunct who loses a classes do to layoffs at one college, and having the ignoble status of being a working teacher, yet homeless and living in a station wagon with her three children ages 6 through 17. Think these are children who have ambitions like you own.

And trust me, I could tell you stories like this several times over.

Now, after telling you all this, I suppose what you know about an adjunct is negative.

What you also need to know is that, for the most part, an adjunct, is a person who loves to teach and so much so that even when making $15 an hour or less for the actual work that he/she does, he/she looks forward to the next teaching assignment, not simply for the promise of salary, but the opportunity to make a difference in people’s live, and in the community. (And as an aside, no worker should be making less than $15 dollars an hour, including adjuncts, especially when we aspire to the idea that our citizens should be taxpayers, and not dependent on government assistance.)   As for the love of the job that adjuncts feel and the empowerment that can come from it, I think of the older student I had in a remedial class who never thought of herself as a writer, who wrote an essay about stopping herself from a third suicide attempt that to this day leaves me almost speechless.

The adjunct is that person who will do extra office hours, or show up on off days for unpaid professional and curriculum development, not out of obligation, or sometimes even a desire to get a full-time job, but because it’s the right thing to do for the students, the college, the community.

And contrary to the notion of the “adjunct” as a temporary worker, many adjuncts have worked at specific schools for decades, some far longer than any full-time instructor, like one of my colleagues at Mesa College, who has been teaching since 1963. And they leave special marks not just on the students they teach, but everyone around them.

I tell you this so that you know that today, while I would naturally like to see both equal pay for equal duties between adjuncts and full-timers, and in fact, a reduction/conversion of adjuncts to full-timers. My request today is a bit simpler to fulfill.

During the economic recession of 2008-13, the loss of funding to community colleges meant the loss of thousands of jobs for adjuncts, while students at Mesa would face waiting lists in excess of 15 students to get that one class they needed for graduation. What brought an end to this situation was the monies that came into the system as a result of Prop 30, a temporary tax measure which will expire in its entirety by the end of 2017. Without these monies, we could see a return to unemployed adjuncts and students without classes.

Today we have before you petition form calling for an extension of the progressive tax component of Prop 30. Please sign these petitions so that we can get it on the ballot in November, and then help us pass it so that we can teach you.

In addition, we are asking you to send letters in support of AB1690, a job security bill which gives an adjunct, after six semesters of successful evaluations, rehire rights based on seniority, and in the event of a weak evaluation, a chance to improve. This bill, if passed, will not make convert any adjuncts into full-timers, but it makes it possible for those good teachers who happen to be still classified as adjuncts on the job, and doing their good work.

Really, all I’m asking you to do today is to make it possible for us, as adjuncts, to continue in making a difference in your lives. Considering what we endure, can you grant us that?


4 thoughts on “My Adjunct Action Day Speech at Mesa

  1. I’ve been collecting #nawd2 links ~ can’t miss noticing that there are more from San Diego than anywhere else. Montclair State U in NJ “nawded” too. There were a other actions that seemed nawdish (or would that be ‘nawdly’?) but did not identify as such. I’m saving them too but in a separate bundle. Tweets will go on a Storify ~ and that link in the collection.


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