We are a motley lot, teaching under a wide variety of conditions, and as a consequence, have various issues as regards to the adjunct situation. In preparing for Campus Equity Week, we need to recognize, in spite of our shared grievances, this motley nature, and embrace it.
I recall last year, while meeting with members of the American Federation of Teachers Adjunct Contingent Caucus at the AFT National Convention, that once we broke down into smaller groups, we found the high priority issues not only varied from state to state, but from system to system–say teaching at a community college versus teaching at a public university versus teaching at a private institution. Some teachers were represented by unions with wall-to-wall units (Adjuncts and Full-timers), while others were adjunct only, and some were struggling to get administration to even negotiate with them. . .
In spite of all this, what did become clear, is that what adjunct/contingent faculty have anything in common is this:
- They are underpaid with respect to the same work for which their full-time colleagues are compensated.
- Only a smattering of these adjuncts have access to the same healthcare benefits as their full-time colleagues, particularly with respect to their families.
- They are effectively at-will employees, who rarely have even basic rehire rights, and lack due process rights, and effectively, academic freedom.
- During stretches in which they are, between semesters, they cannot receive unemployment compensation (though this may be changing).
- Retirement and pension conditions leave many adjuncts in extremely precarious conditions, and it is one reason why not only is the average adjunct age north of 50, but it’s not uncommon to see adjuncts teaching into their 80’s.
- They are professionally marginalized within their respective institutions, whether by denial of a simple physical place to work outside of class, or a position within the institution’s shared governance structure, or involvement in the departmental matters, or the curriculum development or evaluation process (as opposed to simply being evaluating).
- Whether by state employment classification or administrative, faculty, or institutional perception, adjuncts are perceived as “temporary” or “part-time,” when in fact, many have worked at an institution for longer, and through their collective assignments, teach loads in excess of their full-time colleagues.
Campus Equity Planning, at the most basic level needs to start here—recognizing the common concerns, not for the sake of necessarily discussion all of these points, but to understand that, as various groups plan their respective campus equity week activities, this is the general space they’re coming from, and also the space they will diverge from.
Campus Equity Week is referred to as a national event, but in fact, it is more of a national idea or sentiment. There is not a national employer of adjuncts, or some singular system of Higher Ed. in the United States. Public Education is generally controlled at either the state or community level. Further, the demographics, socioeconomic conditions, and institutional culture of these institutions varies, sometimes greatly within even a single community college district.
As it is that issues will differ from group to group, the goal in prepping for Campus Equity Week should be you should make sure to first establish a group that is internally motivated and action-oriented, and can develop its own achievable sense of what to do, and the means to carry it out, before reaching for the stars, so to speak.
As I suspect, or at least hope, most of the readers of this blog are active within particular adjunct advocacy communities, I will address my most next posts towards the idea of getting you to 1) set your priorities, 2) evaluate assets, 3) acknowledge and address challenges, and 4) seek organizing opportunities).
A “Good” Adjunct