I am writing this essay at the mild urging of long-time adjunct activist, Vanessa Vaille.
As time drifts into the middle of summer, for those adjuncts who have neither scored a class or been financially compelled to do so, the US Higher Ed system as well entered into that time period that the vast majority of adjuncts know of as the “unemployment zone.” For many of us, it is that time when you usually watch your dollars carefully, and if you’re lucky, survive on unemployment checks, and if you’re not, hope that you can get by without selling plasma or the what not, which I had to do as a graduate teaching assistant at SDSU one summer (and guess what? I was working 40 hours a week as a custodian but my paycheck was deferred until mid-August).
As both an adjunct and union activist, I can’t say my summer thus far has been entirely free of work. There is still the matter of last minutes grievances that show up when adjuncts suddenly find that their teaching assignments for the Fall have been messed with, or not given at all. The recent passage of SB 1379 (Priority Rehire Rights for Adjuncts) has meant working with management to make sure they’re in compliance with the law before the July 14th deadline. There is prepping for upcoming negotiations, campus equity week planning, membership drives (yes, over the summer!) and planning for future membership drives. There’s consulting with lobbyists about things like getting extra money from the legislature for adjunct office hours (we did in California to the tune of five million dollars), and paid maternity leave for female teachers that doesn’t come out of their sick pay….
This is maybe about half of what I have had to work on this Summer, including class prep for the Fall.
I tell you to give you some context to my reaction when a recent email thread went out on the CPFA website regarding a “2017 Summer Part-time Faculty Leadership Institute” running form August 3rd-5th” in Orange County. The concern, expressed by longtime adjunct warrior John Martin (and this is meant in the most positive sense of the term—thanks for your hard work John!) was if anyone is going. John’s concern, from what I surmise, is wanting to have people at that summit to make sure that somehow the message gets out to CCC Chancellor Ortiz Oakley, and likely those people connected with the California Community College League (Badmin, Inc.), as well as those faculty perhaps a little too close to the afore-mentioned groups and the new, yet-to-been-seen-if-improved ACCJC, that:
- As regards “leadership,” until the adjunct condition is properly addressed, the California Community College System is not really showing very much of it.
- Whether we call ourselves, Adjuncts or Contingent faculty, are not “part-time” or “temporary workers.”
- Adjunct/Contingent faculty, in that we make up over 70-80% of the Community College Faculty, should be defining what leadership is.
By the way, I think these are all worthy goals, and for those adjuncts with the time to take away an additional three days away from their families, in addition the money to fly or drive to Orange County, and pay for an expensive hotel room and endure sitting in drab conference rooms for hours on end, go get them.
But to be clear about this…
- Ortiz Oakley, the CCLC, the AACJC and the other players at this institute know full well what the situation of so-called “part-timers” is. People like me have spent the last ten months concertedly telling them, and others have been doing this with them for decades.
- To know what these “Institutes” are about, well, let’s just start with that word. I’ve attended a number of “Institutes” for various organizations over the years, and some of them were good, some a complete waste of time. The one thing they had in common is what they weren’t: open dialogue sessions in which all participatory parties had an equal voice. All of them were conducted by a specific group with a specific agenda: to teach or bring people around to a certain way of thinking or practices to achieve goals which the sponsors of the institute most want to happen. This is sometimes a good thing, as when a union teaches you how to better negotiate a contract, or an educational conference acquaints you with a new teaching methodology that makes you a more effective educator.
- Any “Institute” which refers to “adjunct/contingent” faculty as “part-timers” neither appreciates how the vast bulk of adjunct/contingent faculty are not “part-time,” nor truly considers them to be the equal of full-time/contract faculty.
The “leadership” angle here, and you don’t really need to work too hard in reading into this, is that it’s a dog whistle to desperate adjuncts: “Go to this conference and you will be instilled with the ‘leadership’ to help you in those faculty and presidential interviews, and thus cross the threshold into the happy land of full-time employment.”
Well now let’s talk about what this “leadership” usually means:
- Get involved with your academic senate and become a point person for collecting SLO Data. While you may be paid a pittance, or not at all (remember there’s FLEX and Hurdle credit), you will be thought of well. You score extra points for publicly shaming other faculty, especially adjuncts, for not turning their SLO data in. You get even more if you say in spite of the data collection, that it’s not enough, and your institution needs even more, without the prompting of Admin, who actually could care less. And you are a real superstar if you can fight your own faculty union by accusing them of being obstructionist for defending your rights.
- Take it upon yourself to pour hours into training for putting together an online training platform, for again, maybe some, but likely, no pay. Make sure that your class is the absolute “bestest” and then, make sure, after you’ve martyred yourself, that everyone else needs to live up to your sanctimonious standard, or privately indicate to your equally indoctrinated colleagues that those who don’t do what you do are lazy, incompetent, or both, and “deserve” to be adjuncts.
- Now that acceleration has become the next big wave (and to be fair, I’m actually a supporter of it, but with reservations), be sure to become a cheerleader for it, and be sure to have ready and pat answer to knock your concerned colleagues down when they express problems or concerns they’re finding when they see increasing numbers of students struggling in their classes. Be sure to insinuate that they must not be doing things right, or that they’re simply anachronistic.
- Emphasize how you’re all about diversity (as if other adjunct/contingent faculty haven’t been working on this for years, and have never read Angela Davis, Jeff Andrade, Tim Wise, Bell Hooks, etc…). Assume that because there’s a lack of pigment in their skin, that they aren’t a minority, don’t have a minority spouse or mixed race child, never had an incarcerated parent, must have grown up in some white upper-middle class fairy tale, never experienced racism, live in some white enclave, only teach dead white male material, and from a “traditional” academic perspective.
I suppose I could go on, but you get the idea.
In a certain sense, if going to one of these “leadership institutes” did in fact result in a full-time job for an adjunct, I’d say every adjunct should go, but it won’t, because the fill-time/contract hiring process will still remain the Byzantine and alienating process that it is.
I would further add, that if the Chancellor and company were really interested in pushing their brand of leadership to the masses, they also wouldn’t do it on one weekend in the middle of Summer and place a financial burden on people who can least afford it. Every campus would have an adjunct/contingent leadership program which ran year-round and was put together by adjunct/contingents in cooperation with contract faculty, classified staff, students, community members, and administration.
So, as you can guess, I won’t be going to the “2017 Part-Time Faculty Leadership Institute.”
But I won’t be missing it.
A Good Adjunct (not a “Part-Timer”)