Fall will soon be upon us. For some teaching over the summer, it is but another stage of what must seem the perpetual and contiguous academic year, yet for the rest of us it is again a return to the teaching we love, but under the conditions we abhor.
As a core component if the mission, we as faculty (not adjunct, not contingent, but just plain faculty, which we have always been) see to provide others with the capacity to better their own lives and the lives of others. At the core of that mission, particularly for those faculty in public Higher Ed., this is necessarily about equity.
Here’s some historical background …
True public Higher Ed institutions first grew out of the desire to bring new technology and farming techniques to a rural underclass. The formation of such “land grant” colleges in turn led to the formation of public institutions of higher learning for African Americans. It is in the midst of this era that Republican President James Garfield, a strong supporter of public education stated: “Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained.” Through the Progressive and Post-War Eras, this mission was expanded.
However, from the late 1960s onward, ironically within close proximity to the signing of the Civil Rights Act, American Public Higher Education has been operating at cross purposes–on the one hand promoting the notion of equity to students in terms of equal access to education, yet on the other hand, telling them it must come at a price which the students themselves must increasingly bear, and underfunding public institutions. Further, the façade of this egalitarian education has been maintained by converting the majority of Higher Education faculty and support staff to a loose, vulnerable, and precarious, aka “flexible” workforce.
Campus Equity Week is ultimately about returning Higher Education, public or otherwise, back to this notion of equity, by first establishing equal working conditions among its faculty, who suffer from the existence of a two-tier system of full-time, tenured and contract haves, and an ever-increasing minority of adjunct/contingent have nots.
The core of this workforce are adjunct/contingent faculty who generally make less than half of what their full-time colleagues are paid for the same work. One in four receives some kind of government assistance in spite of holding advanced degrees. The majority are women. Perhaps most portentous is that fact that the majority are also over the age of 50, leaving more than a few people to wonder just what the face of American Public Higher Ed faculty will be in 20 year’s time. Another note regarding the over 50 nature of these workers—many are excluded from social security benefits, and instead must rely on small public pensions from unstable public funds.
This year, groups such as the New Faculty Majority have called for Campus Equity Week to be October 30th-Nov. 3rd. Traditionally, the week has been marked as the last full week in October. Personally, I think whether someone has a Campus Equity Week on one week or the other doesn’t matter so much as adjunct/contingent faculty do something to mark, bring awareness to, and move towards political action regarding contingent academic labor, and the larger issues of campus/societal inequity.
As I’m writing this, it is now July 7th, which to many must seem is a bit premature regarding an event not happening yet for nearly four months. I would argue you couldn’t be more wrong, which is not to discourage you if you do start after, or not even until the month of October itself, but to let you know that if you want to do more than set up a card table and hand out leaflets in front of the student union building, there’s going to be work, planning, coalition-building, and discussions that need to happen.
While my writing on this blog has been infrequent, and not by choice, I will for the next few months be posting a regular series of posts about particulars in the planning of Campus Equity Week.
These will be meant to be a guide, and in no way a mandate.
In fact, the first bit of advice I’d give you is to figure out on your own what you 1) want to do, 2) need to do, 3) can do, then do it, and feel good that you did it. No gesture is too small if you truly believe you did what you could.
Over the course of these blog posts, I’ll hope you’ll share in your planning.
Good luck and let’s get started, shall we?
A “Good” Adjunct