The Post-Janus Path Forward

On June 28th, while I was in the midst of considering the impact of one of my locals losing dues from over 300 “fee-payers,” I saw a piece of commentary titled, “Why the Supreme Court Ruling on Unions Could Be Good for Adjuncts” by Keith Hoeller, a retired philosophy adjunct from Washington state.

In the commentary, Hoeller primarily argues that 1) particularly wall-to-wall (those faculty unions will both full-time and part-time members) have systematically underserved the needs and interests of full-time faculty; 2) that, clearly, adjuncts would be served better by adjunct-only unions; and 3) that the path to this is by adjuncts pushing for the de-certification of wall-to-wall units, with the apparent goal of using the leverage to realize supposedly one-tier faculty labor system known as the “Vancouver Model,” whereby uncoming part-time instructors are paid at the proportional full-time rate, and, after teaching a 50%+ load for more than 18 months, would become full time.

Along with this, Hoeller also effectively called for an end to the tenure system, and additionally asserted that in California, it was,CPFA, the California Part-Time Faculty Association, that had been responsible for improvements in adjunct/contingent working conditions, rather than the unions that represent them.

What Hoeller does here is take his first assertion, which sadly has some truth to it, then follow with a series of some questionable and outright false assertions before calling for adjunct/contingents to undertake a risky labor action which may in fact cost them any collective bargaining rights in the quest for an ideal, but a tremendously costly and politically unachievable goal in light not only of the current political environment, but of a political environment which in truth has existed for over 40 years.

As an adjunct who faced the threat of homelessness, and has been on some form of public assistance in the past and on more than one occasion, I fully get the anger, frustration, and sense of desperation.

But the Janus decision will not work as a bargaining chip to get better things for adjuncts in the long run. The threat of opt-out language has had teachers’ groups nervous and watchful for years.

First, it’s hardly a secret that full-time faculty in many but certainly not all wall-to-wall locals have placed full-time priorities over adjunct/contingent needs.

I am in fact familiar with one local, whose union affiliation has since changed, in which the leadership took state equity money meant for adjuncts and diverted it to full-time salaries.

That said, there are a number of locals within the California Community College System who have won their adjuncts health insurance and paid part-time office hours. Moreover, many of these same locals have sought to consistently give adjuncts higher percentage pay raises than full-timers to progressively more towards pay equity within the budgetary limitations created by a fiscally conservative governor. Much of this was achieved when adjuncts became more participatory in their wall-to-wall unions, and in the case of Cabrillo and Ventura Community Colleges, actually assumed leadership.

Separate full-time and part-time units, in a number cases, are often the result of full-timers wanting to disregard the interests of part-timers in favor of their own exclusively. This cuts directly against what Hoeller asserts. I myself wonder how pay equity is achieved with separate bargaining units when a simple “me too” clause would necessarily force administrators to give across-the-board raises to both full and adjunct units at the same percentages.

It’s better to make full-time faculty aware that adjunctification and the exploitative incentives which fuel it will ultimately harm their own working conditions, student learning, and academic freedom.

Hoeller also claims that whatever improvements that have come for adjuncts in California were the result of CPFA’s advocacy, and not unions like CTA and AFT/CFT. This is false.

CPFA is a relatively small organization which has maybe 100-200 paying members, and a smaller core of maybe 50 activists. While CPFA has called for improvements in working conditions, the actual legislation and budget lobbying was in much larger proportion done by CTA, AFT, and other groups like FAAAC, and the California Community College Academic Senate. I can speak to this directly as a member of CFT’s legislative committee. Our pushes for categorical funding for pay equity, paid adjunct office hours, along with maternity leave legislation, etc, were not generated by CPFA influence. Hoeller’s assertion is in fact an insult to the very hard work done by union officers, staff, and rank and file members, both adjunct and full-time, in mobilizing support, giving testimony, and lobbying legislatures to do the right thing.

But if Hoeller’ s claims here are problematic, his solution to the problem would in fact be seriously injurious. De-certing a union is no small enterprise, requiring the consent of over half a union’s given membership, both adjunct and full-time. Any such action requires a high degree of disaffection with a union, but it may also mean, among some faculty disaffection with the very concept of a union itself. Those who de-cert may not be inclined to have any union, leaving those adjuncts who had and wanted union protections and collective bargaining completely without power.

This said, what’s more likely to happen is for disgruntled adjuncts to simply become non-members, weakening the bargaining power of their union.

And by the way, this wouldn’t lead to the realization of a “Vancouver “Model” anytime soon if ever.

First of all, the “Vancouver Model” is supposedly a system which eliminates the two-tiered adjunct/full-time model, except that it doesn’t–you have to be teaching over 50% over 18 months to get a full-time position. Even if this system were adopted, admin would likely find ways to string adjuncts along at under 50% for years, or simply fire/rehire them every fourth semester (Ever heard of “churning” anyone?).

Of course, there’s the idea that adjuncts would be paid at the same rate as full-timers proportionately. Good idea. Damn straight, should happen.

I just have one question. Where’s the money going to come from?

Here’s a little surprise–they hire adjuncts because we’re cheaper. They don’t hire full-timers as much as they should because they cost more money.

Realizing the Vancouver Model, at a typical California Community College, where 50% of sections are taught by adjunct making half as much as full-timers, would conservatively require an increase in a school’s ongoing budget of at least 25% and likely more like 35+%, once you kick in the health insurance and other benefits that would have to be accorded to the new full-timers.

And by the way, what about all the Classified Staff who are adjunctified as well? Don’t you think they wouldn’t want, or deserve similar equitable working conditions?

In order for this to happen at public institutions, a particular state would need to bring in significantly more revenues. We’re talking billions of dollars just for the California Community College System. While Californians have passed limited revenue-enhancing measures in the past, and might go along with a proposition to raise funds, it’s not likely to the degree or extent it would take to make the Vancouver model viable in the immediate future. There still needs to be a significant cultural, and subsequently, electoral change at all levels of government for this to occur.

However, a bigger obstacle to overcome to move towards a Vancouver Model in California would be Ed Code language covering the hiring process for full-time hires. Written in part to supposedly insure against undue impartiality and equal opportunity, this code, commonly referred to as Title V, prevents straight adjunct to full-time conversions, and demands a significant advertising of an open position, and then a fairly rigorous vetting and interview process. Because it is in part tied to EEOC regulations, amending it has always been a place legislators avoid for fear of an obvious backlash on the grounds such actions could lead to discriminatory practices.

And this is coupled with the fact that though the adjunct population is more culturally and racially diverse than the full-time population at a given campus, it still is, for the most part, primarily white, and significantly more so than the students they teach, or the community at large.

This is not to say that this disparity has in part to do with minority individuals, out of economic challenge, either not seeking advanced degrees for low-paying jobs–it does–the fact still remains that higher ed faculty, both adjunct and full-time, need to be more diverse, and until this happens, Title V will be hard to amend.

Of course, adjuncts and other supportive souls can still, in spite of all this, push for a Vancouver Model, but they don’t need to de-cert their unions to do it and form separate adjunct unions. On that note, how does creating two separate bargaining units lead to a one-tier system? This seems awfully counter-intuitive.

Hoeller also has it in for tenure, which he simply views as merely a lifetime employment policy for full-time faculty, rather than as a tool meant for the protection of academic freedom.

Coming from Montana, and growing up in Missoula, a college town, I heard stories of how mining interests, among other extraction industries, would seek to have professors fired for publishing research which in fact would show how their activities were inflicting ecological damage and potentially endangering the public. Tenure protected these academics so that they could in turn protect the common interest.

What tenure is really about is not an individual academic’s job security. It’s really about insisting that if an academic is to be fired, it is with just cause, and that the instructor is given a chance to defend his or her self.

Ultimately, this is what rehire rights language is all about–ensuring that adjunct instructors who have proven themselves receive continued teaching assignments, and at a certain load, unless it can be established that their teaching was persistently subpar, or that they violated the terms of their contract through unethical, inappropriate, or criminal behavior.

Of course, it’s not tenure, because adjuncts are still only hired on a contingency basis, and yes,  there are problems with rehire rights language even in the places that have it, but this is one of the challenges of negotiation—you persistently need to work to expand it. Another thing adjuncts should encourage their locals to do is to look at the evaluation process, as is being called for by UC Lecturers, who are arguing that, as student evaluations carry with them sex and gender bias, they no longer be used as a tool for determining whether a lecturer should be rehired or not.

The path forward is for adjuncts to further involve themselves and engage other adjuncts on the periphery within the structure of a union, and aim towards realistic and tangible goals in the short term, with the intention of creating a tipping point towards more substantive change.

And adjuncts will need full-time allies to achieve this.

Yes, it’s slow, it’s messy, and there will be those full-timers who don’t get it, but adjuncts and the full-timers who support us are the majority.  We can and will prevail.  Consider that for academics to organize in general was a fight in California that took decades, as it has elsewhere. We can’t stop now, or those who truly keep us down, those who hate unions and favor the exploitation of all workers in general, will win.

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2 thoughts on “The Post-Janus Path Forward

  1. Another good post, Geoff — clear, thoughtful and well reasoned analysis with specific details and recommendations.

    Have you read any of Don Eron’s and Suzanne Hudson’s pieces on contingency and academic freedom? In brief, he posits academic freedom as the first step because it enables the protected voice to ask for the others.

    Liked by 1 person

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