On the Use of Competitive Hiring to Erode Tenure by Adjunctification

Following are comments made in an email thread on which proposed language changes affecting adjuncts in AFT 1931 in SCCCD were debated. They might be of interest to other adjuncts or full-timers having similar debates elsewhere. The proposed changes include improving seniority rights, a provision for mandatory interviews when full-time positions are available, and efforts to improve the struggle of freeway fliers, including two week cancellation pay. Some full-time faculty have vehemently opposed the changes. The comments have been slightly edited.

Here are my comments in support of the proposed changes to the contract language being discussed in this thread as well as an attempt (an inadequate one) to put the discussion in a larger context that might allow us to see our situation more clearly. I beg your indulgence.

The human condition is richly ironic. Our best intentions often go awry and we end up accomplishing the opposite of our original aims. This has happened with the competitive hiring process in search of the “best” at community colleges.

The competitive hiring process was instituted to ensure that the hiring of faculty was just, that it offered equal opportunity to all candidates. The result has been mixed at best. Nationally, the lion’s share of tenured positions in academe belongs still to white males. Most diversity hires have been in adjunct positions. Sixty percent of adjuncts are women. It is a sacred cow. We should slaughter it and make burgers at a unity barbecue.

Someone in the thread stated that the hiring process is “broken.” The hiring process is not so much broken as it has been coopted through underfunding into the means of eroding tenure, resulting in a two-tiered system that divides faculty. We think in terms of “adjunct interests” and “full-time interests,” and accept the proliferation of adjuncts as some naturally occurring phenomenon. If the system had worked as intended, and full-time hiring had proceeded at a pace that maintained the percentage required by law, many who are adjuncts but who would prefer full-time employment would have been hired full-time many years ago. Implying, whether you intend it or not, that adjuncts are adjuncts because they are not of the “best” quality, is condescending as well as impossible to support.

Adjunctification is an unwieldy neologism that is necessary to name this slow erosion of tenure that has been happening now for decades. The defunding of higher education is a core cause. But the long, slow process of increasing reliance on adjuncts, especially in community colleges, has other causes, interrelated and somewhat embedded in our collective psyche. One cause is the failure of faculty to resist with enough force to stop it. Another is the blind belief in the American ideology of individual success. Those who win the lottery of tenure have every reason to feel good about it. But they often have forgotten those left behind who are equally qualified, but not as lucky. Yes, they feel powerless, and with good reason: decreasing faculty power accompanies adjunctification. These are only a couple of causes of this complex transformation, but, at any rate, we have become divided and on the verge of being conquered, unless that has already happened and we didn’t notice it because our heads were in the sand when it happened.

The collective faculty head has been in the sand now for decades. Allow me to note some data: in 1970, 75% of higher education faculty nationally were full-time, tenure-track. As the SDCCD 2017-2018 Facts on File reports, 81% of faculty in our district are adjunct, close to the national percentage. That’s down from 87% in the last SDCCD report. How many such decreases will we need to reach the 75% full-time faculty status or even the 75% credit hours required by AB 1725? How can we accept this? We should be stunned by these numbers, but we’re not. At least not enough to consider advocating for revision of the legal code. Yes, that would be radical. It seems unimaginable to us.

The most common sense comment I saw in this thread was the suggestion by Marina Cohen, retired IT adjunct:

“Most adjuncts are not even considered for full time jobs when they come up, even if they apply. That needs to change, as well.  Adjuncts should be the first in line for full time positions if they have the credentials and a good record. Even “part time” loyalty need to be rewarded. Hire from within FIRST. Go outside ONLY if you cannot get the qualified personnel from your experienced part time staff. “

Yes, I know legal code is rarely common sense and that the language of Title V is problematic. But can we make sense? Does it make sense that only 20% of those qualified to teach full-time at a community college are deemed good enough for full-time employment? And what are the effects of this condition on students? (Not good, according to City College student Ryan Rising). Perhaps what we can do to resist is unclear, but we should at least do something, even if it is as modest as the proposed changes to the contract.

Adjunctification is inherently unjust. Make no mistake, we’re not talking about an appropriate use of a few faculty, retirees or those who do not desire full-time employment as an academic, to address fluctuating enrollment, or some other need. We’re talking about the transformation of higher education faculty from full-time status to part-time status, a transformation that parallels the larger global shift to worker precarity described by Guy Standing. The adjunct is the precariat of higher education, on the edge of financial (in)security, serially unemployed, debt-ridden, hoping to get lucky. This may not describe every individual, but it is generally apt.

The proposed changes in contract language regarding adjuncts is a modest, local effort to address adjunctification and its pernicious effects on the “game” of higher education, effects which are detrimental to both the unlucky precariat adjunct and the tenure-track, not to mention the student. To see the proposed changes as somehow is to miss what’s happening right before your eyes. Adjunctification is how we will be/have been divided and conquered, especially if the Janus case turns out as expected. We need unity if we want to maintain the integrity of community college education. And we need a new vision of how to reverse adjunctificiation if the union is to remain strong after Janus.

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3 thoughts on “On the Use of Competitive Hiring to Erode Tenure by Adjunctification

  1. Of course Adjuncts are not of the quality the Tenured are. If they were of the same quality they would be tenured already. This is circular reasoning, and in addition exhibits the logical fallacy known as “Begging the Question”, that is assuming the idea to be proven as true. In other words, begging the question involves using a premise to support itself.

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