The Narrative of the Martyr in the Age of Adjunctification and the Decline of the Humanities


A Cry for Help?!

Martyr me! Martyr me!

Put me on a cross!

Send me to the trailer park (The English Village*),

Put me in an abandoned chem lab!


I’ll work for free!

I’ll read papers ‘til my eyes bleed!

I’ll make the same comments on every paper!

Some will be positive!

I’ll turn papers into data and run them through the scantron machine!

I’ll teach comp online!

Restrooms for "English Village"

Restrooms for “The English Village”

Martyr me! Martyr me!

Put me on a cross!

Put me on a cross!

For student learning outcomes,

Martyr me!



The “English Village”

*The “English Village” is the new name given to a collection of  old trailer-classrooms formerly named the “T-buildings:” “T” for temporary. Unlike authentic English villages, like in England, this one does not have a pub.

On this campus, as on many other campuses, new buildings have been going up non-stop for over a decade. As state of the art LEED certified buildings, swank, sexy structures, with water-friendly landscaping, go up for all non-humanities disciplines, the English department gets trailers with faulty cooling systems that cool to a certain temperature, then heat to a certain temperature in a perpetual cycle that never ends. This, even with the best efforts of a hard working, sympathetic dean. In contrast, there’s a new math and science building that’s huge and domineering; there’s a social sciences building that’s real sexy; coming soon are a new student center and bookstore as well as (no kidding) an “Exercise Science” building (a state of the art gym). I’ve been informed, by one who knows, that these last two buildings do not have any classrooms.


Sexy New Exercise Science building

It is true that the first new structure was the School of Humanities building; yet, it is also the one with the fewest classrooms that is supposed to house the English department (right, the biggest department on campus, with the greatest need for classrooms) as well as all the other languages and humanities’ disciplines. English classes largely are taught in the English Village trailers  (to be fair, these have been made “smart”) as well as abandoned, slated-to-be-demolished chemistry buildings. And other random places. This, to me, signals the adjunctification of the humanities; perhaps especially English as a discipline that is about art rather than the language skills necessary for what novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson has called a “life of economic servitude.” English is the most adjunctified of all disciplines. Not only are most introductory and transfer level English courses taught by adjuncts, but they are taught in places that are relics of the 20th century. Or in borrowed spaces of the 21st century.

Abandoned chem lab/compclassroom

Abandoned Chem Lab/Comp Classroom

The abandoned chemistry labs in which we teach English are replete with gas hookups and emergency eye-wash stations; after all, one never knows what one might read in a freshman comp class. Eye wash stations could be useful.

The humanities have been adjunctified. The other day I overheard a tenured business professor (!) who was running quizzes through a scantron commenting to an adjunct working in a general workroom space (where else is she going to work?) that soon there would be a program to grade papers and so “they” would not even have to grade papers anymore. And, I suppose, students will no longer have to write them, as they hang out at the swanky student center, doing whatever it is  they’ve been instructed to do (not writing).

Swank New Student Center

Swank New Student Center

The faculty mostly has been adjunctified and the humanities have been and are continuing to be diminished in importance. So why are we complicit in the adjunctification of higher education, the institution, the ideal for which we became deeply indebted to serve? It’s been happening for a generation or two; where will it end?

It seems like it will end one day, as has been prophesied by many now for years, as a thing different from what it has been. Rather than an institution that supports the development of knowledge and moral acumen, for most, it  will be job training. In this scenario, there is no “higher” education, except, perhaps, for the wealthy elite. And, as much as we might wish it is not happening, we are indeed passively playing our role in the unfolding of the story of the adjunctification of faculty and the diminishment of the humanities.

The cult of martyrdom, the idea of self-sacrifice that seems to pervade the ranks of teachers from all levels of education, facilitates the adjuctification and corporatization, the transmogrification of colleges into corporate diploma mills. Our attitudes of martyrdom doom us to complicity with our undoing. One of the key ways that faculty have been adjunctified so that now roughly 75% are off the tenure-track is the exploitation of our willingness to sacrifice ourselves, to work for free. We feel noble (a psychological wage) that we are engaged in good work (and it is good work, perhaps even “right work” in the Buddhist sense). But this leads to the rationalization that we must sacrifice, that sacrifice is needed because the philistine legislators do not fund us, that sacrifice is needed because students need so much, that sacrifice makes us good people. Ironically, it gives us a sense of fulfillment. When called on to take action to save ourselves, our common rationalization is we don’t have time: “my focus is on my students.” We embrace our cult of martyrdom.

And college administrators exploit our martyr-hood. Adjuncts work without job security or decent pay. Tenure-track work to keep what they have. We all work because we want to do our best for our students and we see no end to the need for our work. We work u until we drop, whether we’re paid for it or not. Who does not grade all the essays in a timely fashion? The fact that we’re so busy staying up all night working to the point of martyrdom kept us and keeps us from resisting, for instance, the inexorable creep of adjunctification.

I’m not suggesting that we do less good work, that we fail to serve students justly. But unless we can come to the realization that our sense of martyrdom, especially the martyrdom of adjuncts, is leaving us open to exploitation by (b)adminsitration that wants to finish the story and corporatize higher education completely, we will become the future corporation of higher education, public or not. Adjuncts will be sacrificed, replaced by massive online courses taught by the few faculty (of some description) left. And students will not be served. Nor will democracy in an age of perpetual media white noise.

The martyr syndrome is not the only cultural narrative that accommodates the exploitation of faculty. The no money lie contributes. So does the tenure is a cushy job for life narrative. And freeway flyers are just plain busy, scrambling for the next meal, trying to survive the crisis. But the cult of the martyr is within us.

How do we exorcise this demon, the cult of the martyr, that is within us?

Update fall 2016:

This fall semester, I was assigned a room in an abandoned physics building (a decent room, relatively speaking), but, in a summertime room boondoggle involving a secretary and a lifeguard, the room was reassigned to the lifeguard instructor, who needed the room for the days when it rains in drought-ridden San Diego and his class can’t meet at the pool. Meanwhile, my class was moved to an adjacent, smaller, and pedagogically unsound room (for composition), without any consultation with the English department assistant chair, who is responsible for room assignment. He is not pleased. What will happen? I don’t know.


Fighting Labor Contingency: Getting Teacher Unions to Work with the Larger Labor Community

Good Adjuncts,

As I more or less said in an earlier post, if the fight to address the issue of adjunctification is ever going to get anywhere, we have to realize and act upon the fact that adjunctification has been going on in earnest in all aspects of the economy under the terms like “labor contingency,” and the “independent contracting” of the “gig economy”.  In that post, I pointed out how this was the discussion you needed to have with your students.

But that’s just the beginning of it.

Teachers’ unions and traditional labor unions need to get on the same page in addressing the issue, and really, adjuncts are the true link between the two.

For those of you needing a little background into the history of labor and teachers’ unions in this country, the history of such unions takes two strains.

One strain was that, as with the rise of the labor movement in general, it was younger women, who suffering from poor salaries, working conditions, and a general lack of respect, formed teachers’ unions which tended to act more or less like traditional labor unions, by going out on strike, forcing negotiations, etc.  Such teachers’ unions in turn identified themselves with the larger labor struggle, and were part of a larger labor movement to improve the lot of all workers.  Much of this contributed to a period of increasing economic equality between the years 1930-1970, and has come to be known as “The Great Compression.”

Another strain was that teachers’ groups, in some cases led by management, formed educational associations which over time morphed into teachers’ unions.  While these groups would in turn fight for their members’ salaries and benefits, they generally took a more conciliatory tone with management, and more or less distanced themselves from traditional labor.  This became more prominent from the Mid-70’s onward (note the interesting parallel to the start of adjunctification in earnest).  From the 1970’s onward, America on the whole has experienced an increasing economic inequity which author and journalist Timothy Noah has referred to as “The Great Divergence.”

I write this not to put blame for income inequity at the feet of these teachers’ unions so much as to say that these unions’ lack of working in consort with the larger labor community has not only lessened their own power, but the power of unions and workers in general to resist the forces which favor the consolidation of wealth into fewer hands at the expense of a larger social contract with the general public.

As I said before, I am active within two different local teachers’ unions.  One is very rooted in social activism.  Part of this is driven by the fact that they are an older, more-urban and multi-school district. Their membership is larger, has more resources, and has a significant number of members with a social activist mindset.  This union has greater links to the social activist tradition of the first strain.

This union is very active in the local AFL-CIO labor Council.  It strongly supports the labor actions of the AFL-CIO affiliates, and in turn is able to garner general labor support for not only education-friendly candidates, but for a wide variety of labor and social progressive issues.  In this respect, they are seen not only as a labor union, but as a community force.  On the adjunct level, they have, despite some issues, one of the best adjunct priority re-hire policies in the state, and provide adjuncts working over a 50% load full-insurance benefits or the adjunct and his/her dependents, including discounted vision, dental, and chiropractic care.  They also have provided paid office hours for over 10 years.

The other is a single-school district which is some 50 years younger, with many of its faculty being more middle to upper middle class in spite of its being in a more exclusively Latino community.  It is more affiliated with the second strain of teacher unionism, yet is coming more to the realization of this strain’s shortcomings.

The second local has, until recently, not been involved in the larger local labor movement, and, in my opinion, it has, until recently, left them open to the electing of governing board members who have been pushed by local construction and trade groups in concert with a local political machine in which people work their way up the ladder via the governing board.  Some years back, several of the board members, along with some administrators, were indicted and convicted on corruption charges.  At one point, all instructors took a 5% pay cut, there were massive layoffs of adjunct staff, limited movement was made in terms of jobs security, and adjunct support facilities deteriorated. Recent years have seen a significant turnaround, with a slight increase in wages, paid professional development, and the start of a small, paid office hours program, but there is still a long way to go.

Despite the sharp contrasts I draw between these two unions, both face similar challenges, particularly with regard to dealing with adjuncts and with labor contingency in general.  The first is that both teachers’ union are affiliated with larger national unions largely driven by their majority K-12 membership which generally does not have a full understanding of Higher Ed, from its work conditions to its labor force.  As a result, the concerns of Higher Ed are often given lesser priority and attention.   The second is that for the longest time, the main focus of both teachers’ unions is on the preserving of working conditions for the full-time unit members, with no specific or central strategy for addressing the increased use of adjunct labor, pay inequity.  They clearly don’t like adjunctification or pay inequity, but are stymied about what to do, primarily in the face of an anti-increased revenues movement which has gripped America since the late 1970’s.

This mindset however is weakening, due in part to a growing income inequity in the face of a growing economy.  Perhaps the strongest break in this mindset can be seen with the passage of Prop 30 in California in 2012.

Now is the time for adjuncts to step forward, and we need to do this by aligning ourselves with the interests of the larger labor community.  It’s always been there for adjuncts to pursue.  For my own part, I have tried to forge links, through my locals, with the AFL-CIO Labor Council, and involved myself with the labor campaigns like the SEIU’s and UDW’s respective struggles for janitors and home healthcare workers.  I have been actively involved with the “Fight for 15” campaign pointing out, that for all the Higher Ed training adjuncts have, many adjuncts work for similarly low pay with no benefits and tenuous job security. By the way, if you ever go to one of the rallies, you will see people who are far more marginalized than our adjuncts out in force on the street in seas of purple, red, or green shirts chanting boisterously for justice.

It’d be nice to see adjuncts so motivated.

And guess what?  At least at the community college level, many of these workers, or their children, are our students.

Talk to your fellow adjunct and full-time union members about being part of the larger labor community.  Get them to see the larger picture.  If you can’t get your union leadership on board, then go a local labor and social-justice based organization and tell them you want to help.  No, this doesn’t mean giving your life to them, but hey, just holding a sign of support at a rally, or writing a letter to the editor, or inviting a worker to your class to speak of his/her experiences is a start.

Better yet, make organized labor or social justice groups a part of your Camus Equity Week. Invite them to take part.

And adjuncts, on every campus is that janitor, clerical, or classified staff who works alongside you, right down to the older cafeteria worker who has two kids at home and a life you don’t know about.  Ask them about their work conditions and challenges, and generally show you care.

You might find that they will care about you too.

Then, when you speak and agitate for better work conditions for all workers, along with an end to adjunctification, they’ll support you too.

As the old union saying goes “an injury to one is an injury to all.”

Stop the injury, start the healing.  We can be ONE.

Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct

My AB 1690 Advocacy Letter to the California Senate Education Committee Members

Good Adjuncts:

For those of you outside the state of California, a big adjunct issue playing itself out in the chambers of the California Legislature is the push for adjunct job security via AB 1690.  The bill made it past the Senate Education Committee, and now awaits a more uncertain battle in the great legislative graveyard–the Senate Appropriations Committee, where its forerunner AB 1010, died last year. I choose to be optimistic.  if it makes it out of appropriations, it is almost certain to get approved by the floor of the senate, then sit before Governor Jerry Brown.  What will he do? No one is certain, but I’d like to think he’ll sign it,and I’m doing everything I can, along with so many others, to see he has that chance.

This the letter I wrote to the legislative aides of particular senators on the Ed. Committee.  They are often the better people to contact than the senators themselves because they actually have the time to read and process what you say, and communicate this to the senators, who do listen to them.

I put this letter out here to show you good adjuncts what constructive steps you can truly take to get the change we all need.  See the letter below the sign out

Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct


To Whom it May Concern:

My name is Geoffery Johnson, and I am writing to you in support of AB 1690, which addresses job security for part-time, temporary instructors (adjuncts) at California Community Colleges.

I am a member of the California Federation of Teachers Part-Time Committee. In addition, I am the direct representative for adjunct instructors at San Diego Mesa College and Southwestern College in Chula Vista, directly representing some 1300, adjuncts, and, as a part of the San Diego Community College District’s AFT Guild, involved in representing some 2,800 to 3,000 adjuncts.  I also sit on the evaluations Committee at Southwestern College and have been a five-time academic senator at San Diego Mesa College, having sat briefly on its Student learning outcomes Committee.

I emphasize this only to make it clear that beyond simply being an adjunct, I have a larger awareness of the impact of working conditions on adjuncts, and its impact on student learning and success.

As you may be aware, 70% of California Community College instructors are classified as “temporary” employees, or more commonly known as “adjuncts” who are employed from term-to-term on a contingency basis, or simply as need demands.   The term “adjunct” itself implies that such instructors are “ancillary,” or “non-essential,” when in truth these instructors are often responsible for the majority of instruction at given community college.  They may be “adjunct” in name, but clearly essential to the community college system.

One of the greatest challenges to such instructors is that most of these instructors, even when classes are available, have no sense that, even if they do exemplary work in the classroom, they can reasonably expect to be rehired.  At many colleges, instructor can simply be fired without cause, or as it is politely put, not offered a class assignment for the following term.

On a personal level, for these instructors, many of whom teach at multiple campuses working as self-called “full-time part-timers,” it means a life lived where one can rarely plan out beyond six months in advance.  With regard to the California community college system, it has meant high faculty turnover, stressed faculty, and significantly impacted instruction, particularly as the system aspires to the notion of ‘student equity.”  In some colleges, the annual turnover rate for adjuncts is over 25% of the entire adjunct faculty.  With such turnover, such colleges lose the long term institutional knowledge and the value of veteran teaching needed to provide educational integrity.

AB 1690, if passed, will provide adjuncts who have taught successfully for six semesters with rehire rights.  Moreover, it will establish rehire priority on a seniority basis, consistent with how full-time public educators are treated.  Furthermore, it will provide those instructors who might stumble in their work a one-semester improvement plan of great benefit to incoming instructors who might struggle to find their footing initially, but who then become great adjuncts and sometime, even better full-time instructors.

Some argue against such a bill, claiming that it takes away an administrator’s flexibility to schedule classes, but in a number of colleges have negotiated similar rehire policies and administrators were still able to schedule classes. I point to the present rehire policy in the San Diego Community College District, which has been working successfully for close to ten years.

Another argument made is that AB1690 would prevent local unions from negotiating better rehire rights, but AB1690 only sets a minimum base, and one far better than what many districts have been able to negotiate.

One might also note that in terms of student success, the San Diego Community College District has a higher Student Completion/Success rate than Southwestern, and a number of studies have linked greater access to instructors with institutional knowledge to higher student Completion/success rates.

In truth, what a lack of rehire rights creates, beyond the afore-mentioned problems, is the potential for nepotism and unchecked discrimination, which is not what California aspires to. In fact, just in terms of union grievances submitted by adjuncts over rehire-related issues in the San Diego District is relatively small, and much smaller for the 2100+ adjuncts in the district, compared with the 760 adjuncts in the Southwestern district where the rehire policy has no seniority clause and only a vague statement on “consistency of assignment.”

A final argument made against AB 1690 is that it will cost money in order for lists to be made for scheduling.  This is in fact untrue. The San Diego Community College District accrued no additional costs as a result of having a similar rehire rights policy.  Rehire lists are kept by Deans and schedulers, like Department Chairs, who in many cases already have this data.  The reporting of this data would be no different than the district reporting when adjuncts have reached certain steps or columns when their pay is determined.

The passage of AB1690 will not end adjunct instructors being hired on an “as needed” basis, but it will provide adjuncts with the notion that under reasonable conditions, they can expect to keep teaching when they do a good job, and that these good adjuncts will be available to help students achieve their goals.


Geoffery Johnson

Adjunct Rep San Diego Mesa College, (AFT 1931)

Executive Adjunct Rep Southwestern College (SCEA/CTA/NEA)

Member, California Federation of Teachers Part-Time Committee

Member, AFT National Part-Time Caucus

Crossing the Divide: The Converstation that Adjunct and Full-time Faculty Need to Have

Good Adjuncts:

In our great battle against the exploitation we experience, perhaps our biggest challenge is reaching across what I will refer to her as “the big divide,” or the differences in perception between full-time and adjunct/contingent faculty.

What exactly are these differences in perception? Well, first of all, let me say what they generally aren’t on the whole.

Some of the angrier of adjuncts (and by the way, it’s OK to be angry, but  I would advise it’s better to be angry and strategic), will conclude that most full-timers operate with the assumption that they are full-timers because they are simply “the best” and deserving of the privileges of higher salary, job security, and good benefits.

On the other hand, full-timers will conclude that adjuncts are “simply mad because they couldn’t get a full-time job,” can never be satisfied, and either don’t or can’t appreciate the additional outside-of-the-classroom duties and responsibilities that come with the full-time job.

The number of full-timers who I have met who wholly and openly subscribe to the above view I can count on one hand.  Conversely, the number of adjuncts who I would say wholly fit the aforementioned full-time perception is also in the single digits.

Why is it out there? It’s because adjuncts and full-timers don’t talk to each other nearly enough.

With regard to the adjunct issue, the biggest sense I have is that nearly all full-timers agree that the system is unfair, exploitative, and none of them would like to return to working as an adjunct.  Many of them are truly pained over the fact that they work alongside people who are every bit as qualified as they are, and sometimes even more so.  The hiring process, with all its byzantine twists and turns, is something they take seriously, but they feel frustrated by the fact it produces only a few full-timers, and that it’s not narrowing the diversity gap. They despair of the institution filling the gaps in the loss of full-time positions with increasing numbers of adjunct and contingent jobs.  At the same time, in part because of the loss of full time instructors, and because of the corporate creep of results-based learning based on largely  abstract and numerical data, many full-timers are feeling extremely harried and overburdened, and feel that if they’re going to be forced to endure this nonsense, then at least they should be fairly compensated for it.  Many like and highly respect their adjunct colleagues.

As for adjuncts, yeah, there are people angry about not getting a full-time job, but the bigger problem is that the overall lack of pay has created enormous strains on their life from basic living health.  Further, they are angry because even when they do good work, or even work in unpaid, outside-of-the-classroom capacities, there’s no guarantee they will even have a job the following semester, let alone even getting closer to that coveted full-time position.  Often they feel further tweaked when they’re hit up in evaluations for not always being up to speed with the latest teaching trends and technology, despite the fact they have no time or money.  That said, adjuncts do care deeply about their departments (even the ones who don’t show up to the department meetings which are often scheduled which they are least convenient to adjuncts).  They like to see their students and the program succeed, and will just as be inclined to talk about curricular development and student progress as they will bitch about the sorry nature of their jobs.  Many would love to sit and do (where possible), sit on committees.  Many also like their full-time colleagues.

OK, now that said, here’s where the real divide is.  Most full-timers, while acknowledging that full-timers are underpaid and work under bad conditions, feel that the essential task to solving the problem is to create more full-time  positions, and reduce adjunct labor to preferably around 25% of instruction.  This sort of thinking operates around the notion that an adjunct is an incomplete worker used to deal provide instruction in the face of a paucity in funding.  In other words, the solution is to “make the adjunct whole” by converting them to a full-time position.

As for adjuncts in general, the view, as you may know, is very different.  Adjuncts know that there is no magic fairy that’s going to float down from the sky and supply the billions of dollars it would take to create the tens of thousands of full-time faculty jobs to realize the dream of 75/25 full-time/adjunct instruction.  The fact of the matter is, even under the best of conditions, the realization of more full-time jobs will be slow and steady, and then only if budgeting priorities and the general will of the people will call for it.  This still means, in many cases, up to 200+adjuncts applying for one full-time job.

Maybe more importantly, what it means is that adjuncts and their vast numbers aren’t going away any time soon.  Sure, most adjuncts want a full-time job, and they also want to win the lottery.

Adjuncts want full-timers to realize that they have more than wishes-they have immediate needs, and the most glaring is better, and dare we say it, equal pay.  In fairness, equal pay is almost the same pipe dream, but a steady movement towards that goal by incrementally increasing adjunct pay in relation to full-time pay is doable, as is adding, slowly but surely more full-time positions.

In other words, adjuncts, at least reasonably thinking ones, see it not as a case of either/or (full-time positions/equity pay), but both/and.

This is not immediately easy for many full-timers to fully accept for a number of reasons.  To them, the immediate challenge to their own work conditions is the lack of full-time colleagues, which hurts everything from their workload, to their union numbers, to control over their lives.  They want more pay for what they clearly see as more work, and its understandable.  At the same time however, to increase adjuncts wages so that they are more equitable to full-time pay means having to get the money from somewhere, and this is where the real challenge comes.

I know, I know, I hear my adjunct legions screaming, “Who cares about what they want? To pay us equitably, even if this means lesser pay for full-timers, is simply correcting a past wrong.” Perhaps, but good luck selling that idea, and if you were a full-timer, with the increased pressures you’re facing, would you buy it? I also know that some of you may argue that it would simply be a matter of adjuncts overtaking their locals. In both my locals, adjuncts far outnumber full-timers, but from what I’ve seen, there’s no imminent possibility of that happening, nor is it likely it would actually make things better.

The way equity pay has to be sold is that it needs to be combined with the increase of full-time jobs, and it has to create avenues where adjuncts (who are paid) can step into outside-of-the-classroom roles that were exclusively reserved for full-timers.  The workload on full-time faculty needs to be eased. Equity pay should also, for the most part, be driven by statewide funding measures rather than forcing unions into fighting among their members.  This is where adjuncts and full-timers alike need to come together and sell equity as for the good of learning environment, students, and the community as a whole.

This doesn’t mean that local unions should singly address equity in their own contracts. The state needs to help and lead the way. It was after all, at least in California, the state legislature that created adjuncts, not local community colleges.

This is where adjunct-full-time conversations need to lead.  How does it start? I would suggest at first, one-on-one, and it’s going to take time, listening as well as speaking, and holding our adjuncts breaths at moments.  We can do this, and quite honestly, we must.

Geoff Johnson,

A “Good” Adjunct





Adjunct Engagement Via the General Membership Meeting, or Rather, the Lack Thereof

Good Adjuncts:

Having sat on the executive councils of two different wall-to-wall (adjunct/full-time) locals affiliated with two different national unions, one of the most glaringly obvious things that I see happen, and it’s perhaps the one thing that most “radicalizes” adjuncts to the extent that they no longer see their union as a tool for change, is how adjuncts, or adjunct issues become “compartmentalized.”

Perhaps an easy way to understand this is as follows.  You are an adjunct concerned about a vast array of issues which, to be honest, really makes you angry, like, “Why am I paid so much less than my full-time colleague, why do I have poor or no job security, and why do I get no benefits? ” You then take it upon yourself to go to a union meeting, expecting to get answers and hearing some kind of plan or active strategy.

When you get to the meeting though, what you hear instead are minutes, financial reports, perhaps a reference to negotiations, or some sort of union issue that seems far removed to the adjunct.  Then there may or may not be the discussion of political action which seems only tangentially connected to the issue of adjuncts, like a call for a support for hotel, grocery, or healthcare workers.  Often after that, and usually at the end of said meeting, there will be the “adjunct” or “part-time” report which, if given, may simply refer to an upcoming unemployment workshop.  And with that, the adjunct leaves, and we may be lucky if they come to another meeting.

In fairness to the local unions, much of the stuff on a meeting agenda is what unions must deal with as they involve the whole body.  Further, just walking into a single meeting without some sort of context to what the union has been/is dealing with is going to leave anyone, adjunct or no, confused.  Additionally, these calls for the support of outside groups are critical down the road for the their reciprocal support of local governing board candidates, state legislators, and propositions/and initiatives which can affect institutional funding and state policy positively, and generally, the bigger the local, the more they need to “play the game.”

Further, there are also macro-issues tied to accreditation, program review, resource allocation, planning, tenure review, etc. which affect the campus as a whole, and will affect adjuncts, but not with an immediacy that many adjuncts will see.

For example, many adjuncts were angry about all the attention being given in one of my locals to the accreditation fight at the City College of San Francisco.  I had to tell them that one of the reasons that City College was under assault was the accrediting board’s assertion that it paid its adjuncts too much, which was 85% of full-time pay, making it one of the most equitable institutions in the country with regard to adjunct pay.

In this regard, particularly if the other issues appear to be more immanent, the adjunct report will get de-prioritized.

But really, there are some problems here.  As an adjunct rep, I am the one, in at least one of the locals, giving the dreaded “adjunct report.”  Now I don’t know how many other people giving reports get “spoken to” after meetings, but I on occasion do.  Sometimes, it’s generally “meant well,” but I’ll get old things like, “you don’t want to sound too angry,” or “make sure that you’re inclusive,” and I could go on.

Thing that gets me about this is that often I’m in the process of trying to talk people up into taking action, for things like Campus Equity Week, Adjunct Action Day, Union Membership Drives, Signature Campaigns, for Letters to Politicians , etc.  Because these items require a high degree of participation and buy-in, in addition to being time sensitive, it’s more or less necessary that one is passionate.  And by the way, not once have I ever in a general meeting called out full-timers, though I have profusely thanked them on occasion for their support.  (And to be fair on this point, sometimes I’ve gotten more help from full-timers than adjuncts on these issues, adjuncts). There’s sort of this sense I get at times that when I speak, I have to be watchful for the “there he goes again . . .” look, or this unspoken suspicion that I’m suddenly going to go off on full-time faculty.

The statement that really gets me, (and it is never said to me, but is apparently said by other full-timers who will in turn talk to full-timers who talk to me) is the whine, “Why do we have to talk so much about part-time issues?”

Hmmm, I don’t know.  Your local’s membership is 70%+ adjunct.  Whenever there’s a loss of funding, full-timers are worried about whether or not they’ll take a salary cut or lose their COLA.  They might even see their class cuts go up.  For adjuncts at that point, the central concern is this—“Am I going to have a job next semester?”  Oh, and there’s also that pay disparity and general job security thing, and the fact that, despite strong adjunct opposition to it, such that it can be expressed, they keep hiring fewer full-timers and more part-timers.

The fact of the matter is you don’t talk about it enough, or more importantly, don’t consider adjunctifcation for what it really is—an existential threat to tenure, full-time employment, the labor movement, and the middle class.

But now I’m going to say something a bit shocking, and seemingly contradictory.  The general meeting is never going to be, in and of itself, an effective tool for engaging adjuncts.

Most adjuncts, because of the precarious nature of their work, can’t make these meetings in the first place.  Second of all, the few adjuncts who do show up to meetings have a very limited understanding  of how unions, particularly teachers’ unions, have to operate in dealing with management and the general public.  Too many have this notion that if you just get together and demand something in force you’re going to get it, like in the movie Norma Rae.  Third, adjuncts are angry at what are often wide varieties of slights, and as people who are every bit as smart and inquisitive as the full-time colleagues, they have ideas and questions as to why certain things have or haven’t been done (and too often they have to no affect, or simply can’t be done, but the adjunct doesn’t know this, or know why).

With regard to all three of these points, adjunct engagement needs to be better shaped to meet adjuncts if adjuncts are ever going to get more involved in helping themselves.

First, outside of the general meetings, there need to be times when adjuncts can simply hook up with other members of union leadership, and no, not just the adjunct rep.  If you were to substitute white and black for full-time/part-time and applied that model, just how do you suppose that would come off?

Second, instead of just having adjuncts come to a big meeting, having smaller meet-ups at varying times in different locations would help.  How about coffee and donuts on a Tuesday morning in an adjunct workroom, or at an off-site extension?  How about a brown bag lunch? Hell, couldn’t we just get a full-timer to walk into an adjunct workroom and just hang out and talk for a few minutes about work conditions with no agenda?

Third, create smaller meetings built around one or two items specific to adjunct concerns.  One meeting could simply be educational, like “What’s the negotiation process about?”  Another could be “Adjunct Vent Your Spleen Day,” etc.

Now I will say in closing, that if you adjuncts out there are waiting for full-timers to have his dawn on them and come to you, you will be waiting in futility.  You need to make it happen.  Suggest it, then demand it.  If nothing happens, then educate yourselves and get people among you to go to meetings.  By the way, I’ll still be out there trying to realize each of the three proposals I just made, but I’m one person.

Create the engagement you need and deserve.  It doesn’t happen without you.

Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct

It’s About All of Us: Tell Your Students What You Are

I’m posting the latest  from mixinminao (Geoff Johnson) because he is having some technical difficulties with his computer. Here is the hardest working activist in America’s latest post:

Most of you reading this are serious adjunct/contingent activists who are all too aware of how damaging adjunct working conditions are to your life economically, physically, emotionally, psychically. . . and I could go on.  You may also be aware of how it hurts students, the institution, and contract/full-time employees as well.  You may also be aware that people have written about this at length and that in the face of it, movement on much of the issue has been, with but a few exceptions, glacial at best.

Part of this is because every time we broach the issue on our campuses during activist events like Campus Equity Week or Adjunct Action Day, we spend more time having to tell students what an adjunct is, than being able to get students to actively work towards the reduction of adjunct instruction, and the betterment of adjunct working conditions.

At the beginning of every term, I ask the students in my classes on the first day how many of them know what an “adjunct” (what I choose to call myself) is.  Because of the heightened activism on my local campuses, I will now be lucky if I can get three or more students out of a class of 30 who can tell me; and I, unlike 90% of my colleagues actually ask my students about the term.  Most teachers, maybe think that to ask and answer such a question is “whining.”  What this effectively means is that these adjunct instructors have decided that these work conditions, as injurious as they are to not only to the students, the institution, and society, are really about themselves.  In other words, these adjuncts internalize their exploitation and put on the “brave face” to make their teaching appear “seamless” in quality comparison with the full-time instructor.  It’s as if students shouldn’t know that, unlike the full-time instructor:

  1. You have other jobs to go to, which significantly limits your students’ access to you.
  2. You may teach more classes than a full-timer out of necessity, meaning:
  3. You will need more time to return graded work with fewer comments
  4. You may appear harried or even disorganized when you come into class
  5. You teach at multiple sites, so:
  6. You may not be fully aware of the outside institutional resources for students
  7. Know enough about other instructors to recommend to motivated students
  8. Be fully aware of what is taught in prerequisite or follow-up classes

The fact of the matter is that it is and should be our job to inform students of these realities. Contrary to what many may believe, it’s not as if students are going to flee from your classes in droves.  Many students are tied to your classes because of their own tight schedules, and because so many of us teach at peak times with classes that are already impacted.  Many students have no choice but to take your classes, so do the right thing, tell them, prepare them.  Make it clear that you will do your best to provide that student with a quality education, but that the institution creates barriers and limits generally unseen, but nonetheless there.

At the same time, there is another problem, and many instructors particularly at the community college level can attest to this: many of our students are themselves working effectively as adjunct or contingent labor.  Even when students are informed about the adjunct situation, many of them will feel to a degree more resentful than sympathetic, and when one starts talking to students about this, it’s easy to understand why.

Few if any students have the stable, 40 hour-week-job (and if they’re students, it’s often better they don’t).  The bigger problem though is that many work at jobs for which full-time or stable employment is not an option.  In order to avoid having to provide insurance for their employees, or in some cases, to simply keep them “hungry for hours,” businesses will purposefully under-employ students who are also underpaid with respect to being able to cover basic needs.  Further, these jobs will lack any kind of security.  Even at better businesses which will provide an elite few workers full-time employment and benefits, there is a sort of two-tier-ification going on in which the vast majority will work the part-time, underpaid, no benefit job (sound familiar adjuncts?)

For some students, the jobs they work aren’t even jobs, but rather “gigs”.  All hail the rise of the “independent contractor” who works for outfits like Uber and Lyft.  These ‘contractors” are our students, and they quite often get paid worse than us and treated even more shabbily.

Now I can hear some adjuncts say, “…but they’re students,” and/or “these are transitional jobs.”  To them I say, “You need to talk to your students.”  Many of them have been doing this for years, and many may finish with degrees and still find themselves doing such work for a time. I would also say you need to look at the world beyond yourself.  The term “starving students” used to be more of a figurative than literal statement.  Recent reports show that up to 10% of students in the CSU or California State University system are homeless.  This is the largest four-year system in the country, with over 300,000 students.  We’re talking about 30,000 people with lives and aspirations and families in just one state school system.  And I’m not including the one in five have food security issues.

And yes, there are homeless adjuncts in California, but 30,000?  Do one in five California adjuncts have food security issues?

To reach these students, we need to ask for more than understanding.  We need to show empathy, and we need to show that we care about their lives, not just as students in our classrooms, but as people, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, and the very future of our nation.

And this all ties back to labor contingency.  A main contributor to the problems associated with the record income and wealth inequity in this country is that labor contingency which we all know too well in academia is exploding in the general workforce.  In a recent report given on the NPR program Marketplace, it was stated that up to 35% of the nation’s workforce is contingent labor with it expected to rise to 65-70% in the coming decades if unabated.  When people wonder why, in spite of falling employment wages have not risen, here’s one of their answers as to why.

In some respects, I would argue that labor contingency is potentially as serious and destabilizing a force as global warming.  Funny, but if people actually thought of it in those terms, would we have to waste our time as activists telling students “what an adjunct is”?

In short you need to make your students SEE your situation, and you need to SEE theirs.  To truly make any progress on the adjunct/contingent front, we need to do it from the beginning.  See this task for what it is: a moral, social, and yes a PROFESSIONAL obligation.