Getting Adjunct Progress: Going Beyond the Local Part I: Local Limitations

This is the first in a series of entries looking at the needs and challenges of addressing the adjunct crisis beyond the immediacy of the local bargaining unit.

Adjunct activists, (and by the way, if you 1) have happened to read this, 2) are an adjunct/contingent teacher, and 3) want to be paid or simply treated like the academic that you are, guess what: you’re an activist, which means you’re responsible for sticking up for yourself. Welcome to the club.  I’m not sending you a card, but like your department chair, I will let you know that you’re “appreciated.” If it has not become already apparent, your local union is generally limited in the gains they can make for you. The main reasons for this are as follows:

It’s Not Their Main Concern. Yes, some “wall-to-wall” locals (units which include full-time tenure track faculty and adjunct/contingent faculty) act more on behalf of the full-time tenure track faculty, and sometimes at the expense of the adjunct/contingent faculty, by being, among other things, loathe to even small, incremental percentage increases for adjunct/contingent faculty as a path to pay equity, or pushing for adjunct/contingent health benefits, as well as paid office hours, professional development, departmental inclusion, shared governance, etc. At the same time, many wall-to-wall units are not necessarily this callous, but might perceive that if the full-time unit suffers it could impact the overall effectiveness of their local, if not it’s viability.  The often limited involvement to outright apathy of adjunct/contingent faculty in contrast to full-time faculty is the driver for this thinking. (In other words adjuncts, don’t be apathetic or uninvolved.)

They Lack Local Political Capital. Too many union faculty simply think that if a local concentrates singularly on internal solidarity that somehow they might prevail, falsely assuming that what happens regarding their working conditions only does so at the bargaining table. These people assume that somehow administrators are more moved by a committed faculty who 1) never hired them, 2) can’t fire them, 3) have forgotten that administrators are hired more to control than to empower them. Administrators, while often given varying degrees of free reign to manage their faculty, operate at the pleasure of Boards of Trustees or Governing Boards which are either locally elected, or appointed by politicians, usually at the state level.  In some cases, these administrators may be taking a hard line with faculty not of their own accord so much as at the behest of their Board.  To better control the local situation, the local needs to either have the ear of, or simply control, the board by getting faculty-friendly members on it.  Too few locals have PACs (Political Action Committees) which vet prospective board candidates, financially support the faculty-friendly ones, or better yet, search for, recruit, and groom them. And in those cases when board members are not elected or appointed, many locals lack governmental-relations committees that can meet with and influence the politicians who make the appointments.

They are Unable to Create Solidarity with Other Groups. On any campus, faculty play a crucial, if not the crucial role in what happens regarding student learning, but faculty are not alone. Besides administrators, there are para-professional office/support staff from IT, admissions officers, tutors, custodial and food service workers. Too often (and if it’s happening at all, it’s too often), faculty units will ignore the needs and concerns of these workers, whether these workers have unions of their own or not.  Imagine that the custodial or office/clerical units might just have an issue with faculty clamoring for cuts to these units in exchange for salary increases.  Add in that faculty often (though not always and especially not in the case of adjunct/contingent faculty) are paid better, enjoy greater benefits, and job security, and you can imagine that when local faculty members are engaging in a contract campaign, that their calls for fair faculty working conditions will fall on deaf ears.  Add further that there are often great disparities between faculty and staff in terms of class, race, and gender, and the problem become worse.  While it’s a problem that can be remedied, it’s one that takes time, and considerable empathy.

Working Conditions and Pay are more Controlled by Legislative Bodies and Statutes than by Local Institutional Bodies. While many public institutions rely on a variety of sources for funding, the funding which faculty unions can most directly impact is the funding institutions receive from state or local government bodies. What this means is that unless there is a mandate at the state or local level for significant change in terms of educational funding, with an eye to improving faculty working conditions as a path to improving student learning, any local institution’s budget will have little room for change. As for standards regarding faculty working conditions, decisions made at the board or administrative level are often guided by statute. In the California Community College system, for example, a 67% load limit/district for adjunct/contingent faculty is set by State Ed Code. The only way to have this cap lifted is by getting the state legislature to do so.

They Lack Knowledge and Expertise. In addition to not being aware of any of the four afore-mentioned points, many locals and their officers 1) have limited knowledge of labor law, 2) fail to understand the negotiating process and what qualifies as a fair or unfair labor practice, and 3) have frequent leadership turnover or limited commitment by local faculty. Sometimes even change in local working conditions can be better achieved by local officers and bargaining units being exposed to what has been achieved elsewhere by other locals’ faculty bargaining units.

One way to addressing each of these problems involves working with other similarly-affiliated locals, or state and national umbrella organizations, but this is not without challenge as well, which I will address in my next post.

Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct

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No One “Deserves” to Be An Adjunct

Considering highly frustrated adjunct instructors, I will often hear even from some of the more “woke” full-time faculty, comments like, “it’s no wonder he/she is an adjunct,” or that “so and so deserves to be an adjunct.”

This needs to stop.

Sure, there may be adjuncts who, in applying for full-time jobs, either present themselves poorly or simply are weak in comparison to other prospective candidates, but no one “deserves” to be an adjunct.

When people ask me, in terms of my job, what I like to be called, I answer in two parts:

  • If you’re asking me to define how I’m regarded by the institutions I teach at, the state and federal governments that fund or define my working conditions, the tenure track faculty and administrators I work with, and even the unions that represent me—I am an adjunct.
  • I otherwise choose to define myself as a community college professor or faculty member. It is, after all, my task to “profess,” and in fact, my students make and see no distinction between me and my full-time contracted faculty colleagues. Yes, I am aware that the term “professor” is a term to define a faculty member of the highest rank, but it is largely an internal academic distinction.

In the academic world outside of the Full-time Tenure Track Faculty, a variety of semi-stratified terms to describe instructors is bandied about, from adjunct, to part-time, to contingent, to associate, to Non-tenure track, to visiting professor, to lecturer, and so on…

The term “adjunct” largely seems to occupy the lesser strata of these terms in that an adjunct is generally distinguished as one who is “supplemental” to the larger academic mission of the institution, and as such is…

  • Temporary, or only to be used as needed
  • Limited in knowledge or expertise(academic or institutional)
  • Of lesser value, and thus deserving fewer resources, lesser academic freedom and pay.

So it should be pretty clear, I don’t like the term “adjunct,” but if I need to remind faculty of how I am regarded, I refer to myself as such.

That said:

  • No one deserves to be hired and fired on a term-by-term basis for unending consecutive terms. When, as in the California Community College System, close to 70% of faculty are “adjunct,” and by this hiring practice, are consigned to, in some cases, up to four to five decades of subsequent term “rehiring,” such adjuncts are in fact permanent workers and should be given the job security guarantees that reflect this.
  • No one deserves to be forced to teach in multiple institutions or districts to cobble together a livable wage, when the arbitrary caps on part-time work at particular institutions prevents an adjunct from taking on more work at one institution which the Dean and department chair would be happy to grant him or her. Necessary non-instructional academic time should not consist of uncompensated multi-hour off-campus travel from one site to the next.
  • No One deserves, particularly when he/she needs and has the same job qualifications as his/her full-time colleagues, to be thought of as lesser in knowledge, or lacking in the capacity to understand an institution’s culture or mission. Perhaps another way to put it is to say that all Higher Ed educators deserve a right to participate in departmental matters, and in shared governance, i.e. academic senate, and to be paid for it.
  • No One deserves to be denied the basic tools to complete the same job as his/her full-time colleague, like an office space to prep, grade, and consult with students and fellow faculty.
  • No One deserves to be denied the capacity in a Higher Ed setting to conduct classes as he/she sees fit on the basis or whether they are a full-time tenure track faculty or not. When being evaluated on their teaching, both full-time and adjunct should be evaluated by the same standards.
  • No One deserves, taking into account seniority and qualification, to be paid less for doing the same instructional or professional work.

To say that any Higher Ed instructor “deserves” any of the above is to not see them as a person, let alone as a colleague.

But, if an argument that one should recognize the basic humanity of one’s fellow colleagues can’t convince you, consider this: You’ll be hard pressed to find any public Higher Ed. institution’s mission statement that declares or even implies any student deserves to get a lesser education because his/her instructor was impacted by the arbitrary title of “adjunct,”especially when that institution aspires to the notion of equity.

Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct

California Community College Adjuncts Take Action: Send a Letter to Governor Newsom

In conjunction with the 2019 objectives of the CFT Legislative Committee, and in consultation with Bryan Ha, CFT’s lobbyist for California Community Colleges, I have composed the following letter (see below the sign out) to get our incoming governor to dedicate categorical funding to the tune of:

  1. 150 million dollars (ongoing) for more full-time positions
  2. 150 million dollars increase (ongoing) for paid part-time office hours

Signing and sending letters like these in physical form is important.  They have and do impact the budget process, and we have made small but steady gains for adjuncts over the past few years because of them.

Adjuncts don’t have to, and shouldn’t be the only ones signing and sending in these letters.  Get other faculty, students, staff, community and family members to sign and send in these letters.

And by the way, some of the more eager signers of these letters have been administrators and governing board members or trustees.

Some of you might want to say more than the letter, or think you can say it better in your own words.  Just use the letter as a draft which you can personalize as your own.

This letter is also available on the CFT website. (Go to this link and look at the item following the one calling for support of UTLA teachers).

This letter is just a part of a larger campaign this year to improve adjunct working conditions on a number of fronts. I will speak of these in future entries.

Sign and send these letters.  Be the change you want to see.

Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct

See the letter  below

 

Governor Gavin Newsom

State Capitol Building, 1st Floor

Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Governor Newsom:

One of the critical factors to increasing student success in the California Community Colleges is ensuring faculty-student interaction.

However, nearly 70 percent of community college faculty are temporary, part-time instructors, who are largely paid only for their time in the classroom. Most part-time faculty are disproportionately paid significantly less than their full-time counterparts, meaning they often have to travel and teach in multiple districts to make ends meet. This leaves limited time to fully interact with students.

In her 2016 study about the effects of part-time instructors on student success, Cheryl Hyland, an expert in the field from Motlow State Community College in Tennessee, stated: “Part-time students taught by adjunct faculty are retained at a significantly lower rate than first-time, part-time students taught by full-time faculty.” Hyland concluded that the nature of “having to teach at several institutions simultaneously in order to garner a livable income, hindered their [part-time faculty’s] interaction with students outside the classroom” … and this, along with other factors, “result in delayed or reduced instructor responsiveness to student needs and inquiries regarding classroom progress and performance, ultimately impacting student intellectual development and success.”

Increasing student-teacher interaction can be done, in part, by hiring more full-time instructors to come closer to reaching the 75-25 ratio of full-time faculty to part-time faculty mandated in AB 1725 nearly three decades ago, or by paying part-time faculty more equitably in relation to their full-time counterparts.

Another way is to increase paid office hour funding for part-time faculty. There is little money in the state’s fund for paid office hours, and any district that applies for funds has to pay the majority of the costs, so many districts have no paid office hours program, When districts do choose to participate, they are reimbursed for only 28 percent of program cost, and as a result, may offer very limited paid office hours. For example, during an entire semester at Southwestern College, part-time faculty got only 2-3 paid office hours for a 3-unit course, and at Pasadena City College part-time faculty got a total of 8 hours for the entire semester regardless the number of courses taught. Though the Legislature dedicated an additional $50 million to this fund in 2018, it was only one-time money, and not enough to expand sustainable office hour programs.

I ask that you consider increasing the allocation of funding in your January budget proposal for these important programs:

1) $150 million in ongoing funding for more full-time faculty positions;

2) $150 million in ongoing funding for paid office hours for part-time faculty.

Faculty working conditions affect our students’ learning conditions. We can and must do better.

 

Sincerely,

NAME (Print)_____________________________________________________________________________________

 

ADDRESS _________________________________

CITY & ZIP_________________________________

NAWD/Adjunct Action Day 5.0–Yeah, It’s Gotta Happen!

On February 25th, 2015 adjunct/contingent faculty rallied on more than 100 campuses across the United States to speak out against decades of their exploitation and both unfair and unequal treatment. This was obviously not the first such event in which adjunct/contingent faculty spoke out against their working conditions, but it was the first which captured the larger mainstream media narrative.

At the time, there were calls for a National Adjunct Walkout Day, and though a small number of adjuncts did in fact, walk out, many still rallied and spoke out.

In some cases, such as in the state of California, the actions helped to launch state legislative categorical funding initiatives which have in successive years lead to increased funding for more full-time positions, paid-part time office hours, equity pay, and a minimum bar for rehire rights language for California Community College Adjuncts.  The gains were small, but significant.

In successive years, the idea of such an event has morphed into an Adjunct Action Day, during which adjuncts, students, full-time employees, and other members of a particular campus community including administrators and para-professional/classified staff spoke to the issue of adjunctification.

While there were large numbers of campuses who participated in events in 2015, the following years have seen drop offs to where a smattering of campuses will mark such an event over the course of a Winter of Spring term.

We in San Diego have held the event every year in the San Diego, Grossmont-Cuyamaca, and Southwestern Community College Systems, and once again will do so on February 28th, 2019.

The date is significant for us in that the first NAWD/Adjunct Action Day Event was held on what was the fourth Wednesday in February, which by its very placement in the middle of the school week, and relatively early our Spring Semester allows for us to put forth ideas on the improvement of adjunct/contingent working conditions that we can carry forth on the state level up through the Spring, into June, when the state budget is settled, and into early Fall, when legislation is signed.

This year, we will be pushing for the following:

1)  Expanding part-time office hour funding by 150 million dollars statewide

2)  Increasing funding for more full-time positions, also by 150 million dollars

3) Ending the proposal for a performance-based funding model for California Community

Colleges (which will directly hurt students and adjuncts if enacted)

4) Providing up to twelve weeks of maternity leave for female educators which is not  taken from

either their sick or disability leave

5) Raising the single-district teaching cap from 67% to 85%

6) Increasing transparency while improving rehire rights language

We will also be standing in solidarity with CUNY’s call for 7K per class.

Our efforts with past Adjunct Action Days have borne fruit, but we can only truly harvest our activism if more groups hold Adjunct Action Day Rallies, either on February 28th, or another day in the Spring.

Make it happen adjuncts, and fight for what you deserve!

Geoff Johnson

A “Good Adjunct”