A National Adjunct/Contingent Caucus: What it Can and Should Be.

On July 14th at the Biennial AFT National Convention, members of the American Federation of Teachers Adjunct Contingent Caucus will convene to select caucus leaders who, in the face of a post-Janus America, along the increasing threats expanding labor contingency and academic corporatization, must work in conferring with and guiding AFT to more effectively understand and act upon adjunct contingent Issues.  To be effective at this task, here are the basic steps and actions it must undertake, or encourage the High Ed. Division of AFT to undertake:

  1. Define and Recognize the Varying Degrees of Educational Labor Contingency

Adjunct/Contingent teacher plight is in part plagued by a literal soup of job titles from, “part-time” and “adjunct,” to “associate,” “lecturer,” and “non-tenure track.” The wide variety of these terms, none of which are truly understood by a general, non-academic public, only serves to shroud the nature of their exploitation under a false narrative which suggests such teachers/instructors/and professors are “professionals,” in the sense that they are fairly remunerated, enjoy job security, and benefits, and possess collegially equal footing with their full-time, contracted and tenure-track coworkers.

One thing all these adjunct/contingent instructors share is precarity.  In this regard, the Adjunct-Contingent caucus should impress upon the AFT that any instructor who consigns to work under these conditions out of economic or professional necessity is in fact a precarious worker, and that at as a central mission, AFT is dedicated to the reduction and ultimately the elimination of academic precarity.

This is itself a first step, which has been partially addressed by resolution. However, working conditions vary from not simply state to state, but from system to system, and sometimes from institution to institution. Most locals, and even larger state federations, lack knowledge of the variances.  While certainly some of this is controlled via local contracts, many of limitation/classifications imposed on these workers via state law or code. This often involves, but is not limited to the following:

  • Cap limitations (restrictions on teaching above a particular “full-time” percentage at a given institutions or within a given district.)
  • Contract limitations (restrictions on how long a person’s term of employment may be before they are given a permanent, or long-term contract.)
  • Re-hire rights (do teachers working term-by-term have, provided if classes are available, a reasonable expectation that they will be rehired in a successive term, and entitled to some due process if not.)
  • Access to unemployment or retirement benefits.

The Adjunct-Contingent caucus should then work with AFT to create a readily access electronic resource which allows members in one state or system to access and see what is happening in other systems without having to wade through state Ed code or local contracts to do it.

  1. Facilitate inter-system and inter-Federation discussion of Adjunct/Contingent Issues

Presently, the Adjunct/Contingent Committees of various systems within particular state federations do not interact.  For example, in California, UC Lecturers and AFT Community College “Part-timers” only come into contact with one another peripherally and then only really within a Higher Ed. resolutions session within a State Convention which is now only going to be held biennially. Their interaction at the last convention led to the passage of a Cap-raising resolution for Community College faculty, and the passage of a resolution calling for rehire rights language legislation for UC faculty.  More could be accomplished in terms of resolution and legislative policy were this interaction to more frequently occur.

Further, there needs to be interaction between Adjunct/Committees from different state federations. While preferably this interaction should be physical and in person, this interaction might be cost effectively achieved through wider usage of Zoom, Blue Jeans, or even Google Hangouts.

AFT needs to take advantage of electronic technology to put adjunct officers and representatives in better contact with one another.

  1. Provide a Tracking of Individual State Budget or Legislative Campaigns Concerning Adjunct/Contingent Workers

The California Federation of Teachers, generally by late November, is able to list its budgeting priorities, and by early Spring is able to indicate what bills it is sponsoring. Publicization of these priorities, in conjunction with adjunct organizing and mobilization has led to some modest successes.  Having an updated, but simple and basic list of these priorities for each federation published nationally would allow other federations to draw inspiration, consider their own priorities, and create greater solidarity.  AFT communications could arrange for this data to be reported from the state feds to them, and then posted on a national site.

  1. Update Contact Information Regarding All Higher Ed Locals and Indicating whether those locals represent exclusively represent adjunct/contingents, full-timers, or are wall-to-wall units.

Presently, much of the information provided on AFT’s main site is out-of-date or vague regarding various locals.  Only if this information is up-to-date and complete can it fully facilitate understanding.

  1. The Creation of Timed, Monitored Discussion Boards focused on Specific Contract or Adjunct Issues

Because of the prohibitive cost of travel and the limited time frame that exists within a 2-3 day conference, or even a week long retreat.  The creation of a board focused on, say rehire rights, ancillary duties, or healthcare, may be far more useful, AFT Staffers with specialties in these fields and having and the opportunity to examine and negotiate multiple contracts could serve as moderators.

  1. Better Outreach to Isolated Locals who are not Active within their Respective Federations

Within the CFT, many locals will not send representatives to either State Councils, CFT committees, or the State Convention.  Notably, many of these same locals also have some of the poorest working conditions for Adjunct/Contingent Faculty.  Many of these locals are strapped for resources, and may lack the knowledge expertise and generally encouragement to improve their unit members working conditions. AFT should encourage federation staffers to make available to committee members the contact information of adjunct officers within these isolated locals for the purposes of creating greater knowledge support, and solidarity.

  1. Provide Grant Monies so that Empowered Adjuncts Might Help in the Accomplishment of the Aforementioned Points

Many of AFT’s staffers are already stretched. Providing grant monies for motivated adjuncts to assist in the accomplishment of these tasks would be an effective way to help take the weight off of AFT staffers, and allow Adjunct/Contingent members to engage in greater self-reliance, and for some who are financially strapped, a chance for some small income.

These seven steps would be first points that an Adjunct-Contingent Caucus should strive towards, while at the same time pushing/promoting larger adjunct issues/campaigns that extend beyond Higher Ed. to the general economy and society as a whole.  Contingency is itself driven by forces which seek to reduce the human condition to a commodity to be necessarily undervalued and had on the cheap to the advantage of those who learn how to game the system.  We simply need to end the game.

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Protect Adjunct Jobs and Working Conditions: Tell the Governor to Spend Money on Adjuncts, Not an Online College

Below are two letters concerning Governor Brown’s plan to set aside 120 million dollars for the Community College Chancellor to create a fully online California community college separate from the 112 colleges, all already offering online instruction.

The reasons this is a BAD idea are many, but just know this:

  1. This college would compete with the online courses presently available at other colleges, which would damage enrollment at your school and sending you looking for more work.
  2. This college would hire mostly adjuncts from all over the world, not just the US, and from many places where the wages are low here might be quite high to them elsewhere.
  3. It would have, and these are the words of the Chancellor who would administer it, “meet and confer” status, meaning no real collective bargaining, no union protections, and likely crap wages.

The first is the letter I wrote for Southwestern College.  Below that is a template for the letter you need to write for your college.  To make each letter unique, enter the college you’re teaching at in the first open blank on the template,, and in the second blank, the percentage of classes taught online at your college.

Such information is public knowledge and can be gotten from your college’s office of Institutional Effectiveness. Copy, paste, edit, print out, send:

Here’s the Sample Southwestern Letter, followed by the template you should work from:

Governor Edmund G. Brown

℅ State Capitol, Suite 1173

Sacramento, CA

 

Governor Brown:

In your recent budget summary, and specifically before leading into your discussion of this year’s education budget, you spoke of “moving government closer to the people.”  This in fact has been the impetus of your “Local Control Funding Formula,” or LCFF, designed to direct money to those districts or regions of the state where it is most needed.

While this desire to improve California’s workforce to reach its often most marginalized and disadvantaged population is laudable, your proposal to meet this need via the creation of a California Online Community College, though well-intended, is a step in the wrong direction.

Presently, online education is already widely available throughout California’s 72 Community College Districts and 114 Colleges.  At Southwestern College in Chula Vista, for example, 10.5% of instruction is currently provided fully online, by trained and certified online instructors.  These schools also already provide online counseling and 24-hour asynchronous tutoring.  Community Colleges can already meet the needs of students who cannot attend a traditional campus because of work or other considerations.  At the same time, unlike a fully online academy, students have the option of going to a physical location to have their needs served, such as counseling, tutoring, and health services.

The Online California College is aimed at a particular population of adults who face challenges that will not allow them to attend traditional college such as distance to the nearest college, work schedules or physical limitations that force them to stay home.  Many of these potential students may lack the learning skills and efficacy for formal learning.  For these students, there may the need before or even while taking an online course for more personal, face-to-face attention, or hands on instruction.  Online learning in general requires a high degree of self-discipline and focus, and support to bring such students to this point can be and is provided by existing community colleges.  In this regard, a fully online college cannot solve the problems nor meet the needs of these students.

The creation of an Online California College separate of the existing community colleges will only serve to decrease their enrollment, leading to potential class and program cancellations at these colleges, and in addition, causing many of the most economically at risk educators in the state, adjuncts and classified staff, to lose their jobs.  It is quite likely that with a fully online academy that many teachers will no longer be California residents, or even US residents, and without union protections, will likely be paid less with limited or no benefits. Presently, one in four adjuncts nationwide is on some form of assistance, and increasing the numbers of these adjuncts seeking assistance adds to the problem of poverty in the state.

Rather than spending 120 million dollars on an Online College that creates redundancy and will hurt students, teachers, and their respective communities, this same money would better spent by increasing the number of full-time instructors, including those who are qualified to teach online. Furthermore, increasing both the pay of adjunct or part-time instructors to a more equitable level would allow them to reduce their teaching loads and better serve students, especially those who are teaching online.  Finally, increasing funding for paid part-time instructor office hours, which can be and are currently provided virtually by online instructors, will improve student retention and completion, as a number of studies have shown.

Governor Brown, your desire for a better California is shared, but let us achieve it by properly funding the good work community colleges have the greater potential to do.

 

Name (Please Print):__________________________

Address:___________________________________

___________________________________

Signature:__________________________________

Date:______________________________________

 

Here is the template you should download and use:

Governor Edmund G. Brown

℅ State Capitol, Suite 1173

Sacramento, CA 95814

 

Governor Brown:

In your recent budget summary, and specifically before leading into your discussion of this year’s education budget, you spoke of “moving government closer to the people.”  This in fact has been the impetus of your “Local Control Funding Formula,” or LCFF, designed to direct money to those districts or regions of the state where it is most needed.

While this desire to improve California’s workforce to reach its often most marginalized and disadvantaged population is laudable, your proposal to meet this need via the creation of a California Online Community College, though well-intended, is a step in the wrong direction.

Presently, online education is already widely available throughout California’s 72 Community College Districts and 114 Colleges.  At     [your]    College in  [your city], for example,  [?]  % of instruction is currently provided fully online, by trained and certified online instructors.  These schools also already provide online counseling and 24-hour asynchronous tutoring.  Community Colleges can already meet the needs of students who cannot attend a traditional campus because of work or other considerations.  Unlike a fully online academy, students have the option of going to a physical location to have their needs served, such as counseling, tutoring, and health services.

The Online California College is aimed at a particular population of adults who face challenges that will not allow them to attend traditional college, such as distance to the nearest college, work schedules, or physical limitations that force them to stay home.  Many of these potential students may lack the learning skills and efficacy for formal learning.  For these students then, there may the need before or even while taking an online course for more personal, face-to-face attention, or hands on instruction.  Online learning in general requires a high degree of self-discipline and focus, and support to bring such students to this point can be and is provided by existing community colleges.  In this regard, a fully online college cannot solve the problem nor meets the needs of these students.

The creation of an Online California College separate of the existing community colleges will only serve to decrease their enrollment, leading to potential class and program cancellations at these colleges, and in addition, causing many of the most economically at risk educators in the state, adjuncts and classified staff, to lose their jobs.  It is quite likely that with a fully online academy that many teachers will no longer be California residents, or even US residents, and without union protections, will likely be paid less with limited or no benefits. Presently, one in four adjuncts nationwide is on some form of assistance, and increasing the numbers of these adjuncts seeking assistance adds to the problem of poverty in the state.

Rather than spending 120 million dollars on an Online College that creates redundancy and will hurt students, teachers, and their respective communities, this same money would better spent by increasing the number of full-time instructors, including those who are qualified to teach online.  Furthermore, increasing both the pay of adjunct or part-time instructors to a more equitable level would allow them to reduce their teaching loads and better serve students, especially those who are teaching online.  Finally, increasing funding for paid part-time instructor office hours, which can be and are currently provided virtually by online instructors, will improve student retention and completion, as a number of studies have shown.

Governor Brown, your desire for a better California is shared, but let us achieve it by properly funding the good work community colleges have the greater potential to do.

Sincerely,

Name (Please Print): __________________________

Address:____________________________________

____________________________________

Signature:___________________________________

Date:_______________________________________

Fighting for Paid Part-Time Office Hours: Get Your Letter Templates Here and Give Governor Brown Your Thoughts

Good Adjuncts:

This is a letter to the governor asking for more categorical funding for office hours.  Last year, as a result much effort by many, including a letter campaign similar to this one, we were able to get a 70% increase to the State Part-time Office Hours Fund.  This is still a drop in the bucket to what is needed, because the state only matches 10% of what local districts pay out for office hours.  For this reason, the pay is low, and hours are limited, and that’s if a district actually has a paid office hours program.

We need more money, and this is the letter for it. It’s similar to the letter put out as a part of Campus Equity Week last Fall, but it’s been “freshened up,” and is this time not directed to the Director of Finance, but to the governor himself.  Copy the letter, paste it, make any changes you want, print it, sign it and send it, or better yet print it, make hundreds or thousands of copies, give them to everyone you know, collect them, and send them.

If you want me to send you this letter as a microsoft word attachment, please email me at mixinminao@gmail.com

By the way,  print is better than email.

Let’s get it done

Geoff Johnson

Here’s the letter:

Governor Edmund G. Brown

℅ State Capitol, State 1173

Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Governor Brown:

In your most recent budget summary, you have made it clear that you take a concerted interest in the achievement of student success.

One of the most significant components in the achievement of student success is a meaningful and productive student-teacher interaction and it is not limited to what happens in a classroom.  These interactions often require students and teachers to meet outside the classroom to discuss student issues that at times may not be just curriculum but other educational matters that are necessary for providing direction and ultimately leading to student success.

It has been found in repeated studies that this outside-the-classroom student interaction is often one of the most critical factors in helping the most at risk and challenged students to succeed. A teacher needs to be more than just a classroom facilitator for the student to succeed.

It then is highly ironic to know that at California Community Colleges approximately 70% of faculty are temporary, part-time, or adjunct instructors, who are largely paid only for their time in the classroom. In addition, because many are disproportionately paid at half the rate or less than their full-time counterparts, these adjunct instructors will often have to travel to other districts to teach, leaving them with limited time to fully interact with their students.

Some of the obvious solutions to increasing this student-teacher interaction would be to hire more full-time instructors to be in compliance with the 75-25 full-time/adjunct ratio that is mandated by AB1725, or to simply provide the funds to pay adjuncts more equitably in relation to their full-time counterparts.

A more immediate step that you and the legislature chose last year was to increase state part-time office hours by providing an additional five million dollars to the office hour fund. While this clearly was a step in the right direction, this fund only covers about 10% of the local part-time office hour funding. This lack of funding leaves many districts to choose to offer very limited office hours (for example,  2-3 hours of paid office hours for an entire semester for a 3-unit course at Southwestern College or a total of 8 hours for the entire semester at Pasadena City College regardless of the number of courses taught) or no paid office hours at all.

As evidenced, the money in the state part-time office hours program is inadequate and needs to be increased. Please consider allocating an additional 25 million dollars for the state part-time office hours program.

Empower California’s adjuncts to create the student-teacher interactions critical to student success.

Sincerely,

Name (Please Print)________________________  Signature:_____________________________

Address________________________________________________________________________`

Date_____________________________________

 

Adjunct Action Day (aka NAWD) 4.0, Yes It’s Still Happening (At Least in San Diego)

Good Adjuncts:

Sorry I’ve been away.  The curse of trying to fight for social justice and equity in the age of Trump is that you don’t suffer for work.  That is why you have seen few new entries here of late.

Because of our involvement in a major rally in San Diego on Saturday, Feb. 24th, we are moving our Adjunct Action Day activities to Wednesday, March 14th.  In addition to this, there are a number of joint CTA and AFT community college adjunct-oriented letter writing campaigns, that are starting up, and you will have access to those letters here.

We’ve not gone away in apathy or depression, in fact the opposite–we’re just f**king busy.

I know, and so are you, and you’re getting screwed on pay.  I guess we’ve got to do something about that.

Geoff Johnson

Attempting to be a “good” Adjunct.

Campus Equity Week Prepping Part V: Getting Your Full-Time Members on Board

Good Adjuncts,

Yes, the chances of having a successful Campus Equity Week are greatly bolstered by Full-time involvement, but many of our full-time colleagues are either otherwise involved, or even dismissive or hostile to our activism.

But this can’t stop you from trying.

Whatever the full-time part-time relationship is at your institution, it is in fact very much in the interest of the overwhelming majority of full-time faculty to seriously address adjunctification. What follows is, through your own means, what they need to hear and know.

Here’s a big surprise—administrators hire adjunct faculty because they are directed to provide a certain volume (as opposed to quality) of instruction at an ever-decreasing price. This doesn’t mean that many Deans, Vice Presidents, Presidents, and Chancellors don’t care about the quality of instruction, but in an American political culture which has consistently cut public higher education funding since the Reagan Era, they’re not really allowed to at the expense of their careers.  Beyond the administrators themselves are the elected/appointed classes, often guided by political exhortations derived from market-driven notions of success which view students as widgets and teachers as cogs.  Lost in the process are real study, inquiry, empathy, and most of all understanding.  Of course, and adjuncts, give to the institution, and to everyone besides themselves, a certain “flexibility” by which study, inquiry, empathy and understanding can be skirted.

There are clearly costs to adjuncts and their families, but also to full-time faculty.

Obviously, the loss of other full-time faculty means that the remaining full-time faculty are inevitably going to be given more departmental responsibilities, which in the wake of the measure-and-confirm-teacher-accountability-through-mass-data-collection movement (see Student Learning Outcomes) means an increasingly burdensome workload outside the classroom.  Add to this the increasing obligation to serve on multiple committees while maintaining professional development and research projects, and it’s clear that a lack of full-time colleagues doesn’t serve full-time instructors’ interests.  One might also note, with fewer full-timers, its means more work for the full-time faculty doing peer evaluations, as adjunct/contingent faculty are generally barred from evaluating fellow adjuncts, let alone other full-time faculty.

But quite frankly, the real dangers are far worse than this.

Administrators, to avoid direct confrontation with full-time dominant teachers’ unions, have generally chosen to expand adjunctifcation through attrition, but now, in a number of places, there are increasing efforts to end two-tierification, by incrementally destroying the very notion of a full-time job.  This has been the primary tool which has transformed a 75/25 full-time/adjunct faculty ratio to a 25/75 over the last 40 years.

For the most part, the academic community has done little more than acknowledge this, and has behaved much like a frog in a pot of water that’s slowly being brought to boil.

The thing is, in many places the pot in already boiling. 

The move against tenure in Higher Ed has been out there for some time, but in the wake of the destruction of tenure and collective bargaining in Wisconsin for teachers in general, legislation directly aimed at ending the practice of tenure in Higher Ed. has been introduced in both Missouri and Iowa.

By the way, for those of you in supposedly union and education-friendly states like California, don’t kid yourselves.  There are serious moves that have been undertaken against tenure, and not led by anti-Higher Ed. Republicans, but supposedly education and labor friendly Democrats. One of California’s present candidates for governor is former-LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who, under then-Governor Schwarzenegger, pushed for the passage of AB1381, a measure which allowed the Mayor to supercede the authority of the elected board of education.  Villaraigosa himself supported the expansion of charter schools.

To those not aware of how this relates to adjunctification, charter school teachers are for the most part non-union, get paid significantly less than their public school counterparts, have limited benefits and due-process connections, and  are treated as contingent, or at will workers. Sound familiar? Of tenure, and I quote, Villaraigosa stated, “It’s an antiquated system.” While Villaraigosa was referring specifically to K-12 teachers in this context, it is not too far of a leap to assume this thinking would apply to Higher Ed. as well, and if you read in the interview where he made this statement, he more or less implies it.

Villaraigosa is in fact one of a number of supposedly pro-union, pro-education politicians thinking along these lines.  Think New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, or New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, both from very blue, and supposedly pro-union states.

In yet other cases, rather than wait for the end of tenure, some institutions are simply eliminating some full-time positions outright.  By the way, if you read the last article I provided a link to, it shows how the university tries to soft-pedal the cuts by suggesting the cuts were simply done to deal with supply/demand issues, then offers how it will allow some of the full-time faculty to “apply for the new positions.”  These “new” positions were inevitably teaching the same coursework under an adjunct contract.

More disturbing and prophetic is the recent posting of a position of for a Language program Director at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The job opening, which lists a PhD. and a plethora of work-related experience as preferred requirements, involves the following job duties:

  1. Coordinate 14 separate courses in blended German from first through fourth semesters.
  2. Supervise and train 10 teaching assistants
  3. Teach three courses of one’s own
  4. Participate in Departmental events, “like High School Day”

Now here’s the catch, this job, which by any standards of the imagination, is a job requiring 40+ hours/week, is being offered as a 67% position with “prorated benefits” at 28,000 a year.  Understand, this is a job in Chicago where the average rent is over $1500/month, and is the 12th most expensive community in the US.

This represents something far worse.  Now instead of breaking up the full-time job into smaller contingent chunks, institutions are simply putting forth direct full-time jobs under part-time working conditions.

So long as marginalizing academic workers through contingency is unchecked, it will become the tool by which academia in general is destroyed, and no faculty member is truly safe from this.

All of this in a way, reminds me of the quote attributed to Protestant pastor and Hitler foe, Martin Niemoller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

As Higher Ed. is clearly eroding into a vast sea of contingency at an ever-increasing rate and scope, it’s time for full-time faculty to speak out—for their own sake.

Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct

Campus Equity Week Prepping Part IV: Addressing Challenge of Adjunct Apathy and Reluctance

Good Adjuncts,

So you’ve decided to take action, or do a series of activities, or maybe you want to, but feel stymied.

Of the main challenges I have faced, and continue to do so, is dealing with the apathy or self-interest of my colleagues.  I know that some adjunct activists would want me to speak of fear first, and I’ll address this later, but I will tell you apathy and self-interest are far bigger challenges.

Some of you have heard the expression that organizing adjuncts is like herding cats, and to a large extent it’s true.  I constantly hear how adjuncts are busy teaching their heavy loads at multiple campuses with family and personal obligations to boot. I would like all these busy adjuncts to know that everyone (including myself) is busy too, but anyway…

Keeping it positive here, a lot of adjunct apathy is driven by the sort of tunnel vision that all academics and professionals develop where they compartmentalize their world and their reaction to it into a compartmentalized set of behaviors.  Activism necessarily involves getting them to step out of that compartmentalization.  These are the adjuncts that, while agreeing with what you’re doing, will stroll by a poster without looking, or never open emails unless they are from a student or immediate supervisor.  They also don’t vote in union elections, and only really stand up when they feel they’ve been screwed.

These are not people who are going to be reached or engaged by posters, emails, or general calls to action.  To get these people involved, you need to talk to them, frequently, and not just about the immediate ask you’re making, but about who they are, and their concerns, and in a lot of cases, it’s going to involve more of you listening than you speaking.

By the way, if you, as a singular activist, are going to commit yourself to trying to talk to everyone one your own, this is a fool’s errand.  You need to focus specifically or people you regularly see (though you should not just be going to one adjunct office all the time), and you need to have them talk to their network of folks.

At AFT’s Higher Ed Conference in Detroit this past April, I had the opportunity to listen to one of the more on-point and powerful union organizers, a woman by the name of Jane McAlevey, who played a key role in organizing nurses in Philadelphia.  She explained that in organizing, and this is also true regarding the undertaking of any action or mobilization, we need to recognize that some of us are “activists” and some of us are “organizers”.  To be to the point, the “activist” is someone who sees the issues, and wants to speak out, and is usually the first one to a call to action.  This is the person you can always count on to be there, but they may not be the one to get others involved.  The organizer, by contrast, may not be feel so compelled to speak out, but in a given worksite may be the one others listen to and the person who will get others to stand up.

The thing is, most of us who are involved in the early stages of planning actions tend to be activists, and we’re really caught up into speaking out, but we don’t do the work of cultivating organizers among our colleagues. This has to change, and it’s something I’m working on myself.

Another way to address apathy, is by creating options for levels of involvement, and to provide people with tangible actions which are pointed to specific changes.

Some people may want to speak, or do guerilla theater.  Some may want to come to a rally, or simply want to wear a sticker or a button.  Others may want to do an in-class assignment on labor contingency.  Embrace and praise all of it.

If you’re mobilizing, what’s your end goal?  Don’t just make noise and be done with it. Are you looking for signatures on a petition to put more money or any money in the state budget for adjunct benefits?  Is it a letter to the board of trustees asking management to bargain in good faith? Upon collecting those letters or petitions, are you going to follow up and explain what happened when you presented them, then communicate this to members?

What happens after Campus Equity Week is just as important as what happens before.

Of course, there’s the cynical adjunct crowd who argues that your actions won’t amount to much or be effective.  First, acknowledge at this may have been true (hopefully if you’ve had struggles in the past, you will have thought through how you can make things better), but point to the need to simply not accept the status quo, or explain to them the high costs of doing nothing. What is the result of not standing up to Betsy’s Devos’s anti-public education agenda? By the way, you can go local with this.  Ask any educator in Illinois what the costs of not standing up to Governor Rauner might be.  If there have been successes, you need to talk about them, and explain how they played a role.

In California, with the force of Campus Equity Week, Adjunct Action Day, and sustained letter-writing campaigns, we were able to 1) help pass a proposition which preserved 15% of the Community Colleague education budget, 2) secure a 70% increase in state adjunct office hours funding for community colleges, and 3) are on the cusp of passing an up to 12 -week paid maternity leave bill for female educators, yes including adjuncts.  The signatures needed to get the proposition on the ballot barely happened, and had these adjunct-oriented actions not happened, it may well have not made it on the ballot.  The office hour increase was heavily supported by the letter-writing campaign, and the maternity–leave bill was in part publicized through these organizing activities.

Lastly, there is the issue of fear.  First, while not to make light of it, often the power of fear is not in the actual capacity of an administration to actually sanction people, but in the perception that they have the ability to do so.

Now this next part is not directed at those who are in fear, but those who are not.  It is your obligation to show people that you can speak out, and if, in the event someone is clearly sanctioned for these actions, that you rally in their defense. Now I say this with the proviso that the individual in question didn’t destroy property, act violently, or engage in activity which violated their union contract.  Common sense applies.

As for those of you in fear, as much as one, such as myself, can try to allay you fears, you need to make your own judgment call.  If you’re afraid, and you can’t be convinced otherwise, then don’t act. But if you don’t act, others would still like, and deserve, your support.

By the way, I’m a fearful person too.  Any smart person is, but what I and you fear are two different things:

I fear that not acting out will mean a loss in wages, job security and benefits.  I have a child I need to support, and a wife with type-two diabetes.  I act out to protect them.

I fear that not acting out means my students will enter world of contingent labor where all but an elite few are part of a vast precarious poor.  I act out to prevent this.

I fear that adjunctification runs hand-in-hand with the destruction of American Higher Ed, and with it, the capacity to prevent calamities from global warming, to epidemics, to a deterioration of free speech, democracy, and even the rule of law. I act out to resist this.

I fear more what not acting out will mean than if I don’t.  I would say you should too.

Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct

Campus Equity Week Prepping Part III: Evaluating Assets

Good Adjuncts,

As I stated in the my last blog, in prepping and ultimately putting Campus Equity Week activities in motion, there is a need for your group (this isn’t and can’t be a one person operation) to define and narrow its focus.

However, this has to go hand in hand with an assessment of the resources at hand.

Building Bricks with Straw

For those of you lucky enough to have unions which are interested in pursuing the issue and doing something (I’ll discuss what lesser endowed groups can do later), you need to look at the following:

  • Do you have a specific committee for adjunct issues (this doesn’t just mean an adjunct only committee)? If, not, do you have a group of adjunct reps?  Start here.  I know it’s summer, but you need to start reaching out to them, and highly advise you try to get them to meet as close to the start of the semester or quarter as possible.

 

  • Can you secure any kind of a budget for your activities, like making posters or flyers, having buttons, securing a DVD, having food or certain events? (By the way, don’t let a lack of funds stop you).

 

  • Have you made any relationships with school trustee, or governing board members? Do you know, or have you introduced yourselves to local student leaders?  Are there any friendly or sympathetic Deans?

 

  • Are there faculty on your campus that are particularly sensitive to issues of social justice? Do any of your colleagues teach or instruct on issues related to labor contingency, labor history, income inequity?

 

  • What is your relationship with classified/paraprofessional staff? Do you know or have good relationships with people in these groups or unions, if they’re not a part of your bargaining unit? (On that note, have you ever gotten into a discussion of them regarding their issues and concerns?

 

  • What are your connections to larger community groups involved with labor and social justice issues? Do you have any interactions or any kind of relationship with state legislators, or local representatives?

 

Of this list, the first two points are key to immediate planning.  The following four will require time, patience, empathy, and respect.  If you manage to generate any assets from these areas in one go-around of Campus Equity Week, then you have achieved a smashing success.  You may find yourself here, not working on this year’s Campus Equity Week, but the ones to come.  (You didn’t really think just holding on Campus Equity Week was going to change your world, did you?)  By the way, I’ll be writing about what I’ve learned on doing this in later posts.

Building Bricks without Straw (or rather, Finding the Straw to Build the Bricks)

For those of you without much of a structure in place, I would start first at the most basic level—look at colleagues who are willing to speak out or want attention drawn to the issue.  For those adjuncts lucky enough to have an adjunct work space, or maybe even better yet, a shared common work space, this is where a conversation needs to start.

While my union local is very supportive of Campus Equity Week, it wasn’t the immediate leadership that instigated or planned CEW.  It was the result of a few adjuncts sitting around in an office talking about something needing to be done.  We saw an opportunity, approached them, got support, got money, then went out and secured what we need.

Obviously as I write this, it’s now summer, so many of you will not have contact with your colleagues, but that doesn’t mean you won’t once the fall term starts, and certainly in those weeks leading up to the start of the term, many of you will have contact with other instructors.

When doing this, you also need to reach out beyond your immediate colleagues.  It’s time for Sociology and Child Development teachers to talk, just as it is for English Composition and Engineering instructors to talk.

For the most committed of activists, there’s often that point in planning when they find themselves in a room of few people, or suffer the curse of having 10-20 people giving lip service to support, then ultimately crap out for a variety of reasons, the most common reason is that “they’re busy” (as if you aren’t, or don’t care about your students either).

I’m not going to lie to you.  Some of this is going to happen.  Expect it. But then, how serious is the problem of adjunctification to you?  The cost of doing nothing is to see things get worse.

You don’t need to have a big rally for Campus Equity Week.  In fact, because we do a big mobilization in the Spring for Adjunct Action Day, I generally avoid rallies for CEW, and concentrate on events like panel discussions, movies, cultural events (like poetry or fiction readings).  In the age of Trump, mobilizations are as frequent as sunny days in Southern California.  You don’t win with burned out constituencies.  As I see it, first one needs to  educate, then agitate.

Understand that doing a Campus Equity Week can be as simple as having 15 instructors wearing shirts saying “Equal Pay for Equal Work, Ask Me What I Mean.”

Higher Ed educators are smart people. You are a smart person. Be creative.

I can tell you this.  Just five committed adjuncts can make a Campus Equity Week, even at an institution of 20,000+ students.

Of course, this all said, there remain challenges, from evil administrators, to unsympathetic colleagues and union leadership, to fearful folk.

I’ll talk about them in the blog posts to come.

Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct

Campus Equity Week Prepping Part II: Setting Priorities

As you move forward in planning, recognize that you will not be able to talk all things adjunct/contingent.  In addition to the aforementioned seven points, I could easily provide a list of another 10 to 20 issues related to adjunctification.  For CEW at San Diego Mesa College last year, we scheduled 12 hours of over six different events over from lectures, to panel discussions, to films (I suspect few other groups are planning to do this much, and we’re probably scaling things back a little this year).  I didn’t come close to getting at all the issues.

A particularly nagging problem with Campus Equity Week is that beyond your fellow adjuncts and full-time faculty, 90%+ of your main audience (students) have no-idea what an adjunct instructor is.  Much of CEW, over the last three cycles that I’ve organized and ran has been about re-explaining this.

Because I’m doing this at a two-year college means I’m constantly dealing with a new crop of students, which to be honest is why Campus Equity Week needs to be an annual event, not a biennial event held in off-election years as if the expanding issue of labor contingency, not only in academia, but throughout the world economic system, is not a central electoral issueWe must stop engaging in self-marginalizing practices.

Anyway…you need to consistently work on student education regarding the issue.  Part of the energies involved in doing this can be solved if adjuncts begin these discussions with their respective classes, if this is not being done by adjuncts en masse, you will need to devote the majority of CEW activities to this education.

In my experience, the usual things adjunct groups want to focus on are: 1) the unequal pay and benefits structure relative to full-time instructors; 2) the lack of job security; 3) and the impact of adjunctification on students. At the same time, I realize that for some groups may simply want to focus on getting an institution to engage in collective bargaining, or simply getting adjuncts to join unions.  You have to gather your people who are committed doing constructive activities, then get them to prioritize and concentrate their focus and message.

While your group is going to make its own decisions on how to proceed, I think that the last of the first three priorities I just listed (the effect of adjunctification on students) should not be lost on you. With CEW you’re asking students to advocate for you, and in some cases, challenge an institution.  If you don’t explain or acknowledge the effects of adjunctification on students as a key part of your message, then your only real appeal is to their sense of social justice.  That has a limited appeal, especially at a campus such as mine, where one in five students suffers from food insecurity, and at least one in ten students is homeless.  By the way, many of these students will effectively work as contingent or at-will employees such as yourselves for outfits such as Uber, Lyft, etc. (See a possible link here?)

You also will want to consider what it is that your union is trying to bargain for adjuncts on the contract, and what is happening on either the legislative or electoral level (this is also why CEW also needs to happen during election years) that will impact adjunct working conditions.

When setting priorities, you can certainly mention the various problems regarding adjuntification, but I suggest you need to focus on three or four resonant themes at most, and have them lead to some kind of actionable and empowering goal, be it the signing of a letter, the support of a proposition, a funding proposal, or piece of legislation, etc.  You’ve got to give people something more than an opportunity to feel sympathy for, or anger about your cause.

By the way, even though I know there are a lot recalcitrant exploiters out there, your priorities need to be about issues, not people. Sure the governor, the college president, or a particular governing board member may be “evil,” but most of the times their evil is just a symptom that doesn’t go away with their replacement.  Unlike the news media model, when it comes to their own lives, people care more about what affects them than who is doing it.

As an example, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s sitting on a beach isn’t the issue.  It’s that, unlike him, New Jersey citizens were denied access to state beaches because of his refusal to fund government services.   What people want are services first. Beyond that, most people could care less where Christie hangs out.

I’m just scraping the surface here, but I hope it’s enough to get you thinking and planning.

Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct

 

Campus Equity Week Prepping Part I: First Finding Common Ground, Then Doing What You Can Do

Good Adjuncts,

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 evaluated).

 

  • 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).

Stay tuned…

Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct

Campus Equity Week 2017: If You Haven’t Started Thinking About It, You Need To

Good Adjuncts,

Fall will soon be upon us.  For some teaching over the summer, it is but another stage of what must seem the perpetual and contiguous academic year, yet for the rest of us it is again a return to the teaching we love, but under the conditions we abhor.

As a core component if the mission, we as faculty (not adjunct, not contingent, but just plain faculty, which we have always been) see to provide others with the capacity to better their own lives and the lives of others.  At the core of that mission, particularly for those faculty in public Higher Ed., this is necessarily about equity.

Here’s some historical background …

True public Higher Ed institutions first grew out of the desire to bring new technology and farming techniques to a rural underclass.  The formation of such “land grant” colleges in turn led to the formation of public institutions of higher learning for African Americans. It is in the midst of this era that Republican President James Garfield, a strong supporter of public education stated: “Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained.”  Through the Progressive and Post-War Eras, this mission was expanded.

However, from the late 1960s onward, ironically within close proximity to the signing of the Civil Rights Act, American Public Higher Education has been operating at cross purposes–on the one hand promoting the notion of equity to students in terms of equal access to education, yet on the other hand, telling them it must come at a price which the students themselves must increasingly bear, and underfunding public institutions.  Further, the façade of this egalitarian education has been maintained by converting the majority of Higher Education faculty and support staff to a loose, vulnerable, and precarious, aka “flexible” workforce.

Campus Equity Week is ultimately about returning Higher Education, public or otherwise, back to this notion of equity, by first establishing equal working conditions among its faculty, who suffer from the existence of a two-tier system of full-time, tenured  and contract haves, and an ever-increasing minority of adjunct/contingent have nots.

The core of this workforce are adjunct/contingent faculty who generally make less than half of what their full-time colleagues are paid for the same work. One in four receives some kind of government assistance in spite of holding advanced degrees.  The majority are women.  Perhaps most portentous is that fact that the majority are also over the age of 50, leaving more than a few people to wonder just what the face of American Public Higher Ed faculty will be in 20 year’s time.  Another note regarding the over 50 nature of these workers—many are excluded from social security benefits, and instead must rely on small public pensions from unstable public funds.

This year, groups such as the New Faculty Majority have called for Campus Equity Week to be October 30th-Nov. 3rd.  Traditionally, the week has been marked as the last full week in October. Personally, I think whether someone has a Campus Equity Week on one week or the other doesn’t matter so much as adjunct/contingent faculty do something to mark, bring awareness to, and move towards political action regarding contingent academic labor, and the larger issues of campus/societal inequity.

As I’m writing this, it is now July 7th, which to many must seem is a bit premature regarding an event not happening yet for nearly four months.  I would argue you couldn’t be more wrong, which is not to discourage you if you do start after, or not even until the month of October itself, but to let you know that if you want to do more than set up a card table and hand out leaflets in front of the student union building, there’s going to be work, planning, coalition-building, and discussions that need to happen.

While my writing on this blog has been infrequent, and not by choice, I will for the next few months be posting a regular series of posts about particulars in the planning of Campus Equity Week.

These will be meant to be a guide, and in no way a mandate.

In fact, the first bit of advice I’d give you is to figure out on your own what you 1) want to do, 2)  need to do, 3) can do, then do it, and feel good that you did it. No gesture is too small if you truly believe you did what you could.

Over the course of these blog posts, I’ll hope you’ll share in your planning.

Good luck and let’s get started, shall we?

Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct