In Unity: A Strong, Active Union and Equal Pay for Adjuncts

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The adjunct crisis is the higher education crisis. In other words, the eclipse of the humanities by STEM, the prevalence of administrative and accreditation scandals, and the specter of “accountability” coming to higher education, are all the result of adjunctification. We are not prepared to resist the onslaught of privatization.

There is a division within our union ranks not of our own design, which we do not clearly see. And this is troubling. We are divided. Our union is divided. As long as we accept that the interests of adjuncts and contract faculty are different, as long as we conceive of them as distinct bargaining groups, we will perpetuate this division, this two-tiered system. It is not an accident, I think, that tenure has been under attack in the courts recently, at just this point, a perfect storm. It is not an accident that the ACCJC tried to shut down CCSF, the largest California community college full of adjuncts who are paid on an equity scale, as part of a scheme, I am convinced, to privatize the entire system. But ACCJC failed, in part, because of the unity of local 2121. I am also convinced that much of the solidarity of that local comes from the equity pay. It is one thing to recognize that adjuncts are essential; it’s another to be that recognition and establish equal pay. I realize there are plans to get funding from the governor, and that other plans have repeatedly been killed in one of the appropriation’s committees. But these don’t seem to be working. When will elected representatives see the light? When will the governor be so generous? Which governor will be so generous? How many drops in the bucket before it’s full?

We did not design this two-tiered system, but we perpetuate it in numerous ways. One way we perpetuate the ongoing exploitation of 75% of faculty is the unquestioned acceptance of the system. I am aware, of course, having participated now for a couple of years in a campaign to petition California’s Governor Jerry Brown to fund equal pay categorical items in the state budget, as well as efforts to publicize the adjunctification of higher education which have been nationwide even, that we are, in this way, “questioning” the system, and trying to change it. Personally, I’m not sure what else we could do at the state level than what we are already doing. Probably, there is more that we could do at the state level. But my opinion is that we could do more at the local and personal levels. And increased activism and participation might just trickle up to the state level.

For one thing, locally, we can participate more fully in AFT sponsored Campus Equity Week (CEW) and National Adjunct Walkout Day (NAWD) events. Rather than a ragtag group of adjuncts trying to pull off major events, which has been the case in our recent efforts at Local 1931, we could have the whole force of our union, tenure-track, adjuncts, classified, each of us contributing in some small or large way to the cause, which is, after all, resistance to the corporatization of higher education. We could take these nationally recognized days of protest seriously as some of the most important events of the year for our union. We could have a show of numbers, of full-timer and part-timer political action, staging multiple events across campuses: teach-ins, rallies, poetry readings. guerrilla theater, music, movies, pizza. We could engage students in protest.

Another thing we could do at the personal level is to realize that the two-tiered system is the first part of the “management” strategy to “divide and conquer.” We are divided, clearly. Will we see the “conquer” stage before it happens? Was the ACCJC plot to privatize, effectively, CCSF an attempt to begin the stage of conquering?

In our last round of negotiations, because of our unique Resource Allocation Formula, which gives the union a prescribed portion of state funding, we were able to provide adjuncts with an 8% raise, while full-timers took only a 5% raise. This was in the right spirit, but I’m not sure if we can really count on ever achieving equal pay if we only gain 3% each round. We need more.

We need a plan to establish equal pay for adjunct faculty, with a timeline. The plan can and should be multi-pronged, focused on state-level efforts as well as local efforts. In order to make a plan, I think we will need a paradigmatic shift in the way we see ourselves If the interest of full-time faculty is to save higher education as a public good, including tenure as well as a wide-ranging curriculum, equal pay for adjuncts is the first step toward a strong union of financially secure members. Financial security would empower adjuncts to get off the freeway and focus more on activism; it would invigorate our union.

The adjunctification of higher education is not an accident of market forces. It is an intentional, ideological scheme to render a public good a private luxury. We must see resistance to adjunctification as our most important battle if we hope to reclaim the promise of higher education in America. To have real unity, we need real equality. Adjuncts need equal pay.

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