Following are comments made in an email thread on which proposed language changes affecting adjuncts in AFT 1931 in SDCCCD 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, in a letter submitted to the union’s Executive Council,. 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.
The hiring system 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 (AB 1725), 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 a claim 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, conversely, as detrimental to adjuncts as well as students, as is suggested, 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.
In the interest of coordination with other protest events, our humble but serious Adjunct Action Day NAWD took place today. A last minute change was the accommodation of the national school walkout to protest gun violence in schools, which conflicted with our planned protest. We altered our start time to 10:20 from 10:00. Of course, we addressed gun violence. Also addressed, in several short speeches, including comments by, among others, me, Geoff, Jesus Gaytan, and one of our supportive board members, Peter Zschiesche, were taxing the richest to pay for free community college, appealing to the governor to increase adjunct office hour pay, the injustice being perpetrated on DACA students, and ending adjunctification by hiring all or most of the 87% adjunct faculty at Mesa College, a quick and efficient solution, into full-time positions, paid for by a tax on, you guessed it, the richest’s ill-gotten gains.
In my brief time at the mic, I asked why it’s acceptable for employees at community colleges to work a career (18 years, so far, in my case) with part-time status, when this is still frowned upon in most other areas of employment. Yes, I know the neoliberal agenda is unfolding, full speed ahead, and the gig economy is growing by leaps and bounds. But I protest, nevertheless.
Here, on a rainy day in San Diego, Geoff Johnson is introducing our speakers.
We did have a heckler, bag full of alternative facts, who kept trying to hijack our comments by asking, trying to talk over the responses, why rich people should be taxed or should have to pay for things for other people, like it was an undue burden on them. My answer was, “because they have all the money!” He offered choice alternative facts on gun control and on undocumented people as well. Although offered “better” facts, he rejected them and insisted that, for instance, background checks for gun purchases were already extraordinarily rigorous. He had other “facts,” all of which were shot down.
My comments did not bother him until I openly pondered, akin to the petition, which we touted also, to have free community college paid for by a dedicated estate tax on property valued at $3.5 million put on the people’s ballot in California, why not have a ballot measure to hire long-time adjuncts into full-time positions paid for in a similar way with some kind of tax on billionaires? It was this inquiry that got him started on the “why should rich people pay for anything?” line. He sparred a little bit with every speaker.
And so there you have it, short but sweet.
Peace, Love, and worker solidarity!
Here is the text of the speech I gave to kick off a week of Campus Equity Week 2017 events at San Diego Mesa College.
Adjunctification and Corporatization: How Students Became Consumers and Professors Became Precarious
“The mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itself.”
In 1837, Ralph Waldo Emerson gave a speech, “The American Scholar,” in which he made this comment. His words represent a resistance to the idea that education should be utilitarian, a notion rooted in anti-intellectualism. Emerson saw the mind as a creative force in the universe that could aspire to ideals such as the ones enshrined in the Constitution: Justice, Peace, and Compassion, for instance. Emerson saw the pursuit of these lofty aims as the appropriate aims of the American Scholar. The scholar, in seeking to know himself and his world, elevates the entire community. Emerson’s words speak to us today as we face the corporatization of higher education.
What is adjunctification? It is an ungainly and disquieting word, a neologism that is necessary to name a process that would otherwise be seen, and, regrettably, increasingly is seen, as business as usual in higher education. I use this idiom, “business as usual,” to heighten the connection between adjunctification and the paradigmatic ideology that higher education is a business, or, more precisely, a corporation, which brings me to the other unwieldy word in the title: “corporatization.”
These words, adjunctification and corporatization, together name the decades long process that has institutionalized in higher education the ideological assumptions that the student is a customer, education is a commodity, and the aim of higher education institutions is to maximize profit and minimize cost while delivering an easily consumable product: to achieve, in corporate rhetoric, “efficiency.” This is the opposite of what the aim of higher education should be and the implications of this failure of imagination for democracy, the failure to aim high, to aspire beyond the wrongheaded notion that a student is a customer, are dire.
Corporatism is the ideology that all social relations are explainable through market relations. One of the conclusions which follows from this ideology is that market value, the “bottom line,” is ultimate. The corporatization of higher education has been the applying of the idea by legislators and administrators that public higher education should be run like a business. This is a problem because higher education as a public good is not and cannot be a business. The two are mutually exclusive, except within the faulty logic of corporatization ideology. A business sells a product and needs to balance the cost of production with profit, or the business will fail. Higher education is the public institution which, and this is the brief version, is entrusted with old knowledge, new knowledge, and with ways of making knowledge, of leading students to transform information into knowledge through critical thinking. It offers students not only knowledge of the world and the world of ideas, but also an opportunity to grow as individuals and mature into the best possible versions of themselves as free-thinking citizens, ready to participate in fulfilling the promise of democracy in America as well as fulfilling the promise of their lives. Higher education is a public good, not because it prepares students for the workforce, although it does this, but because college students, by reaching deep within to meet the challenge of learning, discover talents and skills they may not have otherwise known they have, which they then bring to the democratic community. If higher education fails, community fails. And when community fails, we have injustice and hate.
Economist Guy Standing, in his groundbreaking 2010 book, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, explains that the term “precariat,” a combination of “precarious” and the Marxist term “proletariat,” also known as the “working class,” is a new word necessary to describe contemporary labor conditions. Today, according to Standing, the proletariat has been replaced by the precariat. The proletariat had unions and job security; the precariat is an “independent contractor” and has job insecurity. To achieve maximum “efficiency,” it is necessary to have maximum “flexibility” of labor. What is the most flexible labor? One that is temporary, disposable, and exploitable. Sounds like an adjunct. The aim of corporate ideology is to make the laborer precarious, insecure and fearful, and easy to manage.
What is an adjunct professor? A member of the precariat of higher education. An adjunct is, by definition, non-essential and disposable to the mission of higher education. Roughly 75% of community college professors nationwide are adjunct: part-time, temporary. Yet, this description is a lie. Typically, adjunct faculty are rehired over and over, for many years. Why? Because they are, obviously, essential to the mission of the college. To describe them as temporary and non-essential is absurd. At Mesa College, 85% of faculty are adjunct. That means only 15% of faculty are full-time. If you are a student looking for your professor, chances are she will not have her own office, or even be on the same campus.
Most adjuncts are career academics who have devoted their lives to the public good of higher education. Without them, higher education would disintegrate. Most adjuncts always intended to be academics, to teach, or research, or perform as experts in their field of expertise. Chances are these are people whose passion is teaching. They are professionals dedicated to teaching, to making the world a better place. These dedicated professionals devote most of their lives to gaining, maintaining, and teaching their subject matter. This is what they do; it is who they are. It is a calling.
This is bad for students. Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions. The precarious nature of being adjunct oppresses the adjunct and her students. It makes her education precarious. For instance, students do not have equal access to adjunct professors who have no official, long-term relationship with the institution, in whom the institution has not fully invested. Nevertheless, enduring the unequal working conditions, adjuncts, most of whom would prefer a full-time position, most of whom would be full-time except for the dominant corporate ideology, do most of the teaching in higher education, and do it well. Their qualifications are equal, their labor is equal, their commitment is equal. But the conditions in which they labor to maintain the quality of higher education for students are unequal. Most have more than one job, but earn half what they would make if they had one full-time job. This is unjust. How is this situation equal access for students? You can’t say that it is.
The idea that the ultimate value of labor is determined by market “forces” dictates that the cost of labor should be as low as possible. Adjunctification is the making of academic labor cost as low as possible. The result for faculty is financial insecurity and the powerlessness that goes with precarity. The business model shortchanges both faculty and students. Students are not only shortchanged because they are denied access to full-time faculty; the business model also requires that students focus their study on a vocational plan. The purpose of a commodified education becomes training students to be good corporate workers as opposed to students seeking knowledge, who study in the liberal arts, which tends to liberate. Most of the traditional subjects of a liberal arts education, including math, science, and the humanities, seem to have no practical value in this paradigm. Of course, if value is cast as utilitarian, then the liberal arts doesn’t. Science perhaps, but only if it is connected to a technological development that leads to profit. But if the value of higher education is cast as what makes students able to fulfill the potential of their lives, then the deep, reflective thinking that is required to master language, math, and science, to think philosophically, to know the diverse nature of American culture, and global culture, is what higher education should be about, that is, fostering the growth of minds. In contrast, the commodification of higher education turns the mind into readily consumable fast food.
The question that remains is what do we do about this? First, we must begin by seeing that the student is not a consumer and that faculty, most of whom are precariat, need to be empowered to provide students with the learning opportunities they need to aspire to fulfill their potential. Empowering faculty will require a radical idea, one which now does not exist as a political goal, except in name. We want to fund more full-time positions. But in the current model, there will never be enough money allocated to accomplish this goal of 75% of courses taught by full-time faculty. To accomplish this will require a radical paradigm shift.
Higher education operating under the limits of a business model offers a one-dimensional paradigm. Humans, like students and faculty, are multi-dimensional beings. When market values replace public values, education is cast as a commodity, and self-interest is held as the highest good in a super-competitive, economically defined world, individual and societal potential is diminished. Faculty are underpaid because ideas are undervalued. We need a paradigm shift. We need liberation from the business model. We need to aim higher.
UCSD students made this video for a sociology course. This is the kind of work students can do to resist the adjunctification and corporatization of higher education. Students and faculty must unite in resistance.
I am one of the adjuncts interviewed.
The following “adjunct moment” is the record of an adjunct dealing with the extra bullshit that adjunct professors deal with on a day to day basis in the service of the public good. It’s not me, but it could happen to any freeway-flying adjunct, anytime, anywhere. I will point out that full-time professors do not face this bullshit, not to accuse them of anything, but to bring attention to the disparity in working conditions, which are student learning conditions. This disparity cannot be emphasized enough, in my opinion. It’s worth noting that no pedagogical changes are very likely to improve student “success” until we make radical changes in the way we hire college faculty, especially at the community college level. Community colleges are the most adjunctified corner of higher education. Until we have a new system of hiring, one that acknowledges the moral obligation of colleges to their adjunct faculty, especially the ones who have been hired multiple times, by hiring them full-time, students will face the same challenges that their adjunct professors (straight up 75% at community colleges) face. Short of hiring them full-time, which is the only moral solution, they might settle for equal pay.
I am publishing this for the adjunct professor who wrote it, who shall remain anonymous.
For your reading pleasure, a brief narrative in the spirit of the upcoming Campus Equity Week:
“The Word of the Day”
F***! is my word for the day. I just arrived at school and confirmed my worrying suspicion that I left my students’ essays in the adjunct faculty work room at Grossmont College. I searched for it in my car and my house, but I only found about 500 pages of the other 4 English Composition classes I teach. I am pissed that I left it in the office because to go get them is a REAL pain in the ass. If it were not for the integrity I have, I would tell the students that they will not have an opportunity to revise this essay that is to be submitted in a portfolio to the English department as a requisite to enter into transfer level college English. I also will have to tell them that as opposed to my declared plan for their preparation for the portfolio that I am contradicting myself and shortening their instruction (that they cannot trust me at my word).
I am sure many times this occurs and a teacher has no choice but to shorten the quality of their instruction. I am sure many of them have pangs of conscience when they relinquish under the fact that they are not prepared. I am fraught with stress and anxiety because I want to be good at what I profess. For me, teaching brings out my perfectionism, an ethical obligation to teach well. My word of the day is deeply felt in this moment!
I am sure you are thinking that I am being dramatic, that I should simply walk over to the workroom before class and retrieve the papers. I would say the same of any professor on campus, but here is the issue. Technically, while I do the very same thing a professor does for considerably less pay, I am not a full-timer not for lack of credentials or of trying. I am an adjunct, a position that does not garner an office and which is underpaid and restrictive in that each college limits the number of hours to part-time. So, to make a living professing English, composition, and the social merits of the humanistic endeavors of higher education, I teach at 3 institutions. So the word of my day is F***.
F***! I left my English 49 Essays from San Diego Mesa College in the work room at Grossmont College 20 minutes or 15 miles away by freeway.
Rather than shorting my students, I have decided to sacrifice my sanity. It is no question that I will be on the freeway for 40 minutes, plus 20 minutes of running from office to car and car to office. One hour of my day and 5 dollars of gas, to fetch papers. However, it in not merely the fetching that is causing such problems. I had planned to be grading during that hour, and I had arrived 2 hours early to grade those very essays before my 11:00AM English 205 Critical Thinking Class and to continue grading after my 205 class at 12:35 and before my 4:00pm 101 class, so I can deliver them to the 6:35pm English 49 class. In the bag was another class’s essays that I need to read by tomorrow.
All in all when I arrived to school today and realized that I was having an “adjunct moment,” I thought about the consequences of not having one office and one campus to work at. If I was full-time, none of this would have happened, and my classes would not suffer. But, having multiple campus workrooms creates opportunities for one to get mixed with the other. I have never lost any papers, but I have heard of other instructors losing some. I immediate can sympathize with them because of the way my car trunk looks with student papers. For the majority faculty, at least in English, our car trunks are the closest filing cabinet for our work.
F***! This little “adjunct moment,” really pisses me off because most who read this will not understand that the problem is endemic and that it hurts instructors and students regularly. Underpaid, restricted, disunited faculty working out of the trunks of their cars to turn Americans into citizens capable of participating effectively in the economy and politics is a laughable indignity, as Aristotle would classify this comedy that we call “Higher Education.”
Any ;adjuncts out there who have any experiences you want me to share and who want to remain anonymous, I’m very happy to oblige. It’s high time we get real.
One of several speakers at the Mesa College May Day rally 2017, on a beautiful day in San Diego, here I am speaking to about 100-150 faculty and students about “Adjuncts, Academic Freedom, and the Corporatization of Higher Education.” The video starts a few seconds late. My first words were “Happy May Day. Resist hate. Resist injustice” The text is in my previous post.
Adjuncts, Academic Freedom, and the Corporatization of Higher Education
Corporatization is a feature of the ideology that all social relations are explainable through market relations. One of the conclusions which follows from this ideology is that market value, the “bottom line,” is ultimate. The corporatization of higher education has been the applying of the idea that public higher education should be run like a business. This is a problem because higher education is not and cannot be a business. The two are mutually exclusive, except within the faulty logic of corporatization. A business sells a product and needs to balance the cost of production with profit, or the business will fail. Higher education is the public institution which, and this is the brief version, is entrusted with old knowledge, new knowledge, and with ways of making knowledge. It offers students not only knowledge of the world and the world of ideas, but also an opportunity to grow as individuals and mature into the best possible versions of themselves as free-thinking citizens, ready to participate in fulfilling the promise of democracy as well as fulfilling the promise of their lives. Higher education is a public good, not because it prepares students for the workforce, although it does this, but because college students, by reaching deep within to meet the challenge of learning, discover talents and skills they may not have otherwise known they have, which they then bring to the democratic community. If higher education fails, community fails. And when community fails, we have injustice and hate.
Critiquing the corporatization of higher education is not a new thing; many have written about it at least since the ‘90s, but, given the current political climate, it never has been more important to talk about it. The first step in the implementation of a corporatization ideology is to make working conditions precarious, that is, to make workers insecure, easier to exploit, and to weaken or destroy workers’ unions. In higher education, this first step in the process has been adjunctification, a way to end tenure by not hiring professors for tenure-track positions, and to over-rely on part-time professors. The over-reliance on adjuncts has been increasing now for decades. Today, 75% of college faculty are part-time adjuncts, the reverse of what was once intended. I often describe adjunctification as tenure leaving by the back door. No one sees it going, and then it’s gone. Everyone wonders where it went. And with it goes academic freedom, because tenure is the only real protection for academic freedom. Today, only 25% of faculty have tenure and secure academic freedom. We are getting precariously close to not having tenure or full-time faculty.
Union protection of academic freedom depends largely on union protection of tenure. Adjunctification, to be clear, is the effective end of tenure. Adjuncts don’t have tenure and so lack academic freedom. Even when adjuncts belong to a union that is active in protecting academic freedom, like ours, adjuncts’ academic freedom is not equal to tenured academic freedom. Since adjuncts are hired only for one semester, and they must receive a new contract each semester; their academic freedom depends on the commitment to academic freedom of those who have the power to not rehire them. In other words, adjuncts don’t possess academic freedom, at least not full and secure academic freedom.
Faculty academic freedom is student academic freedom, just like faculty working conditions are student learning conditions. The oppressive nature of being adjunct oppresses the adjunct and her students. For instance, students do not have equal access to adjunct professors who have no official, long-term relationship with the institution, in whom the institution has not fully invested. Nevertheless, enduring the unequal working conditions, adjuncts, most of whom would prefer a full-time position, do most of the teaching in higher education, and do it well. But the conditions in which they labor to maintain the quality of higher education for students are oppressive. Most have more than one job, but make half what they would make if they had one full-time job. This is unjust. The idea that the market value is the ultimate value of labor dictates that the cost of labor should be as low as possible. This shortchanges both faculty and students.
In a few weeks, adjuncts, the 75% majority of faculty, will be unemployed, not on summer break like full-time faculty, but jobless. This is what precarious working conditions look like. We are obviously needed because we are hired again and again. Many people, when they understand the situation, ask, why don’t they just hire you full-time? Good question. No one has a good answer. But we could start with equal pay for equal work.
What would be best for students?
The answer is not Betsy DeVos, the new education secretary, who specifically took aim at adjuncts in comments she made to students attending the Conservative Political Action Conference: “The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think. They say that if you voted for Donald Trump, you’re a threat to the university community.” I don’t know any faculty who said exactly that. She exhorted the students to “fight against the education establishment.” She was calling, in other words, for an attack on academic freedom. Adjuncts, 75% of the higher education faculty, precarious, underpaid, serially unemployed, are named because she realizes that if the majority can be intimidated, the tenured minority, who have an empowered position within the institution, will be weakened. The new regime in Washington, with a corporatization-oriented cabinet, will seek to use this weak link to undermine academic freedom further and to make academic laborers even more precarious. We cannot let that happen. Faculty, adjuncts and tenured, need to stand together with students as community to resist the corporatization of higher education, to resist injustice, to resist hate.
Let us celebrate May Day, and recognize the contributions of workers to the economy and to society. After all, we are the majority.
The neoliberal agenda is upon us. Of course, it arrived early in higher education. It looks like adjunctification, the “dirty little secret” that we are all complicit in hiding, which not only shortchanges students, but, most significantly, fragments faculty unity at perhaps the worst time in living memory. If, and many say when, fair share dues are lost, teacher union voices will be stifled.
This is not an accident. The neoliberal playbook calls for disempowering the worker in the name of efficiency, and this process begins with job insecurity. In higher education, this has happened by replacing tenure-track positions with adjunct positions. Community college faculty, especially, have been adjunctified. The overt corporate takeover of the nation, fast becoming normalized, what I refer to as administration #45, is poised to charge ahead with policies intended to end public higher education as a common good.
Resistance on May Day is a beginning. Now, more than ever, we need to prioritize resistance to adjunctification. It is the linchpin in the Neoliberal strategy to undercut union power and be free to privatize and pillage the institution, by producing citizens who think critically, that is most a threat to its agenda.
Here, in recognition of May Day actions everywhere, is a post I wrote for May Day in 2014.