To Have a Real Adjunct Walkout: Not Impossible, but Work Needs to be Done

Good Adjuncts

By reading my last post, some readers may assume that I don’t believe a real adjunct walkout could or should happen.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

My point regarding Adjunct Walkout Day in my last entry was that it is both simplistic and defeatist to assume one can simply pull off a walkout without considering all that would be involved.

Unlike the Women’s marches which “benefited” from the fact that just a day earlier, the most divisive, bigoted and bombastic politician in recent memory was assuming the highest office in the land despite losing the popular vote by 2.9 million votes,  adjunct actions are limited by the fact that adjunctification is largely treated as the dirty little secret of academia, with the workforce highly marginalized, and under the constant threat of loss of employment for even minor infractions.  Further, there are so many forms of adjuntification/contingency that it can at time be that adjunct/contingent groups fighting for change can find themselves at cross purposes.

Another point to make is that the Women’s march is literally the start of a broad-based movement, which will in time face challenges from division, to marginalization, to a loss of enthusiasm, etc.

That said, the Women’s March should serve as an inspiration for adjunct to think in terms of mass action.

To achieve a mass walkout of adjuncts, even on a local scale, there must be a both a common sense of alienation coupled with an equally strong sense of moral outrage.  I think to an extent, this is there, but there isn’t this common sense of what to do.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, adjuncts are fearful of reprisals from loss of employment to punitive scheduling, to even a simple reprimand.  As so many adjuncts are effectively just “hanging on” in terms of income because these reprisals could lead to the loss of their homes, impacting not just themselves, but their families.

Further, because unions can’t legally call for or advocate strikes unless they have exhausted negotiations with a particular management group and not only declared impasse, but held a strike vote in which the majority of the membership authorized a strike, the union cannot protect workers who participate in a walkout, nor can it officially call for one.

But this doesn’t mean a walkout couldn’t happen.

Here’s when any adjunct who might be thinking of a walkout needs to read their contact carefully.

Most adjuncts have, as a part of their language, a sick leave policy granting them time away from work.  In many cases, the taking of sick leave, if for a very short period of time, does not require a doctor’s note.  This effectively means that you could leave or miss work without reprisal (with the assumption that you’re sick).

Imagine, if you will, a day in which even 50% of an adjunct teaching force suddenly got ill.

On January 11th, 2016, frustrated with the dilapidated conditions of the facilities they were teaching in school teachers in the Detroit Public System staged a sickout which garnered national attention.  This action was followed up by a sick-out in early May which ultimately resulted in pay guarantees for its teachers.

Perhaps what the adjunct/contingent nation needs to do is consider this as an option.

But saying this and doing it are two different things.  Some things to consider:

1)  There has to be buy-in: There is, at any school, or district, a dedicated core of individuals who are willing to take the risk, and after them perhaps double the number who will talk a good game, or show interest, but then not act, and often, both groups combined, at best, represent only 10% of the adjunct faculty.  To get larger participation, there needs to be either a greater sense of outrage or injustice, and perhaps more importantly, a sense that by doing the action it will actually accomplish something.

2) There needs to be a specific goal: What is the objective of a walkout going to be?  It has to be more than “see how powerful adjuncts are,” or an abstract call for “adjunct justice”.  There needs to be a clear sense of objectives that can be realized, like pressure on considering specific legislation, or certain policies.  If it’s a national sickout, then it should focus a specific national issue, like unemployment benefits, healthcare, the WEP provision, etc.  If it’s a state level sickout, it needs to be connected to a state level issue, like funding for office hours, or equity pay, but this said…

3) There need to be allies among students, politicians, and the general public:  Given the current lack of awareness among students of who or what adjunct/contingent faculty really are, and how adjunct/contingent working conditions hinder student success, there’s a considerable amount of awareness raising that needs to go on.  Personally, I’ve seen awareness and consciousness rise among students, but not enough so that there is widespread concern among student groups.  There has to come a day when you can ask students in a given class, “Do you know what an adjunct is?” and have more than 50% of the class actually know and have a strong opinion about it.  Again, this gets back to the fact that adjunct/contingent faculty by and large avoid explaining who they are to their students.  As people in the business of attacking ignorance, it’s so ironic how many adjuncts contribute to it when it comes to the fact of being adjunct.

Politicians are not much different, and in fact, a bit worse.  Since the Reagan administration, teachers have been one of America’s favorite whipping horses as to the ills of American society, and the college professor is still by and large perceived as some sort of upper-middle class elite who drives a nice sensible car and looks down on less-educated Americans.  Further, we’re “impractical,” “we don’t know the “real world.” On the other hand, when it is acknowledged that many of us are financially struggling and live with employment insecurity, we are told by these same politicians, that it’s simply the market economy (even though many of us have full and overflowing classes), or that if we don’t like it, we should just quit, as if the 50+ year-old adjunct with an advanced degree is some sort of versatile property that can pick up a job a will.  Further, this is not a Republican or Democrat thing.  In fact, some Democrats have been even worse in their embrace of the Corporatization of Public Education. They often call for “school choice,” “charter school,” or speak of free Public Higher Ed (itself a worthy goal) but not a lick about improving the working conditions of the people who deliver that education.  There are politicians who do get it, like California State Assemblyman Jose Medina, but we need to bring these people up, and some of us need to run for office ourselves.

Adjunct and Contingents, as for the general public, how many of you talk about the work and salary conditions you experience among friends and neighbors?  By the way, when was the last time you saw an adjunct represented on TV or in a movie, and moreover, was there any mention of their lack of income, job security, or how students were affected by this?  News stories on NPR, MSNBC, or the Nightly News aren’t going to be enough.  We have to create a culture and have a presence in media where by our situation is known.

4) We need full-time allies who will stand with us: An adjunct walkout can work if full-time support is there, but we need to have support that is significant.  Maybe they need to walk out with us, or stand up to administrators who will seek to sanction by simply leaving us off the schedule the following semester. It would also be nice if they weren’t afraid of us “taking over,” which is something I hear more often than I would like.  I will say this, unless a concerted effort is made to de-incentivize the hiring of adjunct/contingent faculty, the tenure system will collapse, and for any adjunct foolish enough to think this would be a good thing, think again: it would effectively mean an end to academic freedom.  Then you can face the risk of getting fired without cause, or for showing your student a film about income inequality or racism that they’re not down with.  Adjuncts need to fight and stand for full-time positions, but at the same time full-timers need to realize that pay and benefit equity for adjuncts is the price for protecting tenure.

5) Any kind of sickout has to be a mass movement of leaders in smaller groups or cells, not something directed by a singular group of activists: As I already stated, union leaders by and large have their hands tied in calling for or directing such actions.  Even smaller activist organizations with visible leadership need to be aware that without mass support and protection, they face retaliation, which is fine if they’re willing to carry the costs of losing their jobs or careers, and subsequently labeled a martyr or symbol for the cause. Some people can do this, and we can applaud them for their sacrifice.  For others, mass action can provide both the support and anonymity to act.  The idea of a sickout can be spread through word of mouth, and when consensus is realized then people can act.

6) We need the support of those adjuncts who can’t, for whatever reason, join the sickout, and we need to support them: Any kind of strong labor action is a scary thing.  For many adjunct/contingents living from paycheck-to-paycheck, and even then not making it, such an action is frightening.  Some adjuncts feel bound to their students (though a sickout can very much be a teachable moment).  These are our brothers and sisters, and they can stand with us, speaking out as to why have chosen to act.  They can share in the communication of  our grievances and our demands for redress.  If we know that they understand our actions and stand with us otherwise, then we must embrace them.

And there you have it. This is what it’s going to take to have the walkout/sickout/whatever .  I personally don’t see it happening in the immediate future, but then again, I didn’t think I would see millions of people in the street the day after Trump’s inauguration.

I for one would love to be pleasantly surprised, but I’m just one person, and by writing this, I am excusing myself from leading this, but not from potentially participating.

For any adjunct/contingent who’s read this, I have now put the onus of leading or participating in such action upon you. It’s time for you to talk, and act, and plan.

Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct

Betsy DeVos: Educational Corporatization by Any Means Necessary

With regard to Trump and his educational agenda, there is no clearer symbol of where he wants to go with education than his Secretary of Education pick, Betsy DeVos. Some of you out there have probably received emails from various groups asking you to contact your senators and to tell them to oppose DeVos’s appointment.

But many of you don’t know just how bad a pick she is, or its impact on adjunct/contingent faculty, particularly those who work at public institutions.

First, unlike the students we see in the public system, DeVos was born into tremendous wealth, her father Edgar Prince having been an industrialist who founded the Prince Corporation, an auto parts supplier.  She later married Richard Marvin “Dick” DeVos Jr., heir to the Amway fortune. She herself is the product of private Christian Schools, and has never been a student at a public institution.  Further, she has no direct experience in public education, either as a teacher, administrator, or even a school board trustee. Ironically, in spite of her elite, privileged, and ideologically narrow upbringing , she asserts of her educational activism that she has been “a fighter for the grassroots.”

Her real claim to fame within the Republican Party is that she has been a tireless party advocate, and more importantly, a heavy fundraiser.

As a self-styled educational reformer, DeVos is a champion of school choice, and favors the use of public funds in the form of school vouchers to allow children to attend public school.  Her real motivation for this position is likely driven by her Christian faith.

As for her “success” in achieving educational reform, her record is less that exemplary.  Detroit’s charter school system, for which she was in large part responsible, was, in the words of Douglas Harris, a Brookings Institution Fellow and Founding Director of the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, even acknowledged by educational reformers as “the biggest school reform disaster in the country.” As for her specific actions regarding the Detroit Charter School system, Harris further wrote:

She devised Detroit’s system to run like the Wild West. It’s hardly a surprise that the system, which has almost no oversight, has failed. Schools there can do poorly and still continue to enroll students. Also, after more than a decade of Ms. DeVos’s getting her way on a host of statewide education policies, Michigan has the dubious distinction of being one of five states with declining reading scores.

Perhaps more troubling, especially for those of us in Higher Ed, and particularly adjunct/contingent faculty, is her notion of the US Public Education System as a “dead end,” and, in a thinly-veiled argument for both school choice and the view of  public schooling as “an industry,” stated:

As long as education remains a closed system, we will never see the education equivalents of … Facebook, Amazon . . . Wikipedia, or Uber.

Perhaps then, DeVos feels the US education system should aspire to allowing fake information like Facebook, working its employees to death like Amazon, creating reference material from open and questionable sources like Wikipedia, or reducing the entire educational workforce to independent contractors (that’s right, just like adjunct/contingent faculty) like Uber.

Finally. For those of you who care about academic freedom, consider this, Besty DeVos, in describing her motivation for school reform stated:

Our desire is to be in that Shephelah, and to confront the culture in which we all live today in ways that will continue to help advance God’s Kingdom, but not to stay in our own faith territory.

I suppose some could find comfort in the words “outside our own faith territory” except when thinking of what she has said further in this regard:

It goes back to what I mentioned, the concept of really being active in the Shephelah of our culture — to impact our culture in ways that are not the traditional funding the-  Christian-organization route, but that really may have greater Kingdom gain in the long run by changing the way we approach things — in this case, the system of education in the country

Shephelah, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a plot of land the Israelites fought over with the Philistines, and the desire to have the land was that he/she who controlled it, would in turn control the people.  Another way to think of such thinking is to know it as “Dominionism” which can loosely be defined as the belief that one needs to create a nation governed by Christians based on their interpretation of Biblical Law.

For those Philistines among us, DeVos’s quest for Shephelah should be a cause of grave concern.

As confirmation hearings are soon upon us, it is urgent that you act to oppose the DeVos nomination, that is, if you value Public Education, Worker Rights, and Academic Freedom;  DeVos is clearly a threat to all of the above.

Geoff Johnson

A Good Adjunct

Trump: Nationwide Adjunctification without Union Representation

Since Trump won in November, I knew we (adjunct/contingents) were screwed, but to get at the full degree of just where things would go, it took me to see the latest proposal being pushed out there regarding Trump and federal employees to get the full searing sense of what the outcome might look like.

Understand, that it was a given that Trump, whose own record with unions is deplorable at best, would not only seek to put an end to public employee union agency fees ala the Friedrichs case that was halted with the death of Antonin Scalia last year, but, in a nod to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, will seek out National “Right-to-Work” Legislation.

It is also clear, in his railing against “regulations,” that on-the-job worker protections will be seriously rolled back.

But what Trump is truly after is the very notion of worker’s rights, or anything that has to do remotely with the notion of collective bargaining.

Just introduced, the “Promote Accountability and Government Efficiency” Act (H.R. 6278), and sponsored by Todd Rokita (Republican, Indiana 4th District), seeks to do the following, and here I quote for the AFL-CIO Action Network:

  1. Completely change the federal pay system, and prohibits all pay raises — including annual pay raises — unless you get a 4 or 5 out of 5 performance rating.
  1. Make all new federal workers “at will,” meaning they can be fired without explanation.
  1. Allow immediate suspension for current workers for performance or conduct and only ten days for appeal.
  1. Eliminate official time, so that union representatives can no longer work to protect your pay, your benefits or your job during the work day.

Read the bill for yourself

In case you don’t get it, the passage of such a bill would have trickle down effects.  If you can make all federal workers “at will” employees, why not all public employees, and in particular teachers?

Consider that the first provision effectively ends the concept of a COLA, or cost-of-living allowance, so as things get more expensive, your salary may not rise, unless you toady well, or are like that shiny new penny to your evaluator or administrator.

With the second provision, say goodbye to not only tenure, but ultimately the push for priority re-hire rights for Adjunct-Contingent faculty. And understand, this is not just a job issue.  Tenure was created to serve as a protection which is at the heart of Higher Education:  Academic Freedom.

Imagine, while you’re on vacation over the Summer being told you’re terminated, only to find out you missed the appeal window, because you were unaware.  Further, consider that if, even at a single institution, there were just 10-20 cases in a given term, your grievance team would likely be overwhelmed, especially considering they couldn’t do any union work during the day.

And by the way adjuncts, over the past few years dealing with grievance, I’ve seen a number of these cases, as many administrators like to use the “Summer exit plan” to get rid of what they deem as “pesky adjuncts.”  They have and will be coming after you.

Number four on the list is effectively a union killer.  If you read the bill, it calls for the prohibition of any union activity using, and I quote “any Government property (including office space or computers.”  This means, if you have a complaint, you can’t even email me (a union rep) from the office, or use the school email to do so.  We also couldn’t meet with you on campus.

You say this is unconstitutional, and a violation of our first amendment rights.  Well, now that’s determined by the Supreme Court, whose immediately future justices will be chosen by none other than our Union-hating President Trump.

If there has never been a time for adjuncts, teachers, public employees, and workers in general to not stand up and resist and resist loudly, this is it.

Here’s a first step to take, but it’s not enough.

Adjuncts need to publicly rally on all Campuses to speak our cause and the cause of workers in general. For those of you on other campuses, mass Spring action  is not only called for, it’s essential.

Adjunct Action Day At Southwestern College and in the San Diego Community College District is Wednesday, February 22nd.  You can bet this will be part of the discussion.

Geoff Johnson

A Good Adjunct

Fighting Labor Contingency: Getting Teacher Unions to Work with the Larger Labor Community

Good Adjuncts,

As I more or less said in an earlier post, if the fight to address the issue of adjunctification is ever going to get anywhere, we have to realize and act upon the fact that adjunctification has been going on in earnest in all aspects of the economy under the terms like “labor contingency,” and the “independent contracting” of the “gig economy”.  In that post, I pointed out how this was the discussion you needed to have with your students.

But that’s just the beginning of it.

Teachers’ unions and traditional labor unions need to get on the same page in addressing the issue, and really, adjuncts are the true link between the two.

For those of you needing a little background into the history of labor and teachers’ unions in this country, the history of such unions takes two strains.

One strain was that, as with the rise of the labor movement in general, it was younger women, who suffering from poor salaries, working conditions, and a general lack of respect, formed teachers’ unions which tended to act more or less like traditional labor unions, by going out on strike, forcing negotiations, etc.  Such teachers’ unions in turn identified themselves with the larger labor struggle, and were part of a larger labor movement to improve the lot of all workers.  Much of this contributed to a period of increasing economic equality between the years 1930-1970, and has come to be known as “The Great Compression.”

Another strain was that teachers’ groups, in some cases led by management, formed educational associations which over time morphed into teachers’ unions.  While these groups would in turn fight for their members’ salaries and benefits, they generally took a more conciliatory tone with management, and more or less distanced themselves from traditional labor.  This became more prominent from the Mid-70’s onward (note the interesting parallel to the start of adjunctification in earnest).  From the 1970’s onward, America on the whole has experienced an increasing economic inequity which author and journalist Timothy Noah has referred to as “The Great Divergence.”

I write this not to put blame for income inequity at the feet of these teachers’ unions so much as to say that these unions’ lack of working in consort with the larger labor community has not only lessened their own power, but the power of unions and workers in general to resist the forces which favor the consolidation of wealth into fewer hands at the expense of a larger social contract with the general public.

As I said before, I am active within two different local teachers’ unions.  One is very rooted in social activism.  Part of this is driven by the fact that they are an older, more-urban and multi-school district. Their membership is larger, has more resources, and has a significant number of members with a social activist mindset.  This union has greater links to the social activist tradition of the first strain.

This union is very active in the local AFL-CIO labor Council.  It strongly supports the labor actions of the AFL-CIO affiliates, and in turn is able to garner general labor support for not only education-friendly candidates, but for a wide variety of labor and social progressive issues.  In this respect, they are seen not only as a labor union, but as a community force.  On the adjunct level, they have, despite some issues, one of the best adjunct priority re-hire policies in the state, and provide adjuncts working over a 50% load full-insurance benefits or the adjunct and his/her dependents, including discounted vision, dental, and chiropractic care.  They also have provided paid office hours for over 10 years.

The other is a single-school district which is some 50 years younger, with many of its faculty being more middle to upper middle class in spite of its being in a more exclusively Latino community.  It is more affiliated with the second strain of teacher unionism, yet is coming more to the realization of this strain’s shortcomings.

The second local has, until recently, not been involved in the larger local labor movement, and, in my opinion, it has, until recently, left them open to the electing of governing board members who have been pushed by local construction and trade groups in concert with a local political machine in which people work their way up the ladder via the governing board.  Some years back, several of the board members, along with some administrators, were indicted and convicted on corruption charges.  At one point, all instructors took a 5% pay cut, there were massive layoffs of adjunct staff, limited movement was made in terms of jobs security, and adjunct support facilities deteriorated. Recent years have seen a significant turnaround, with a slight increase in wages, paid professional development, and the start of a small, paid office hours program, but there is still a long way to go.

Despite the sharp contrasts I draw between these two unions, both face similar challenges, particularly with regard to dealing with adjuncts and with labor contingency in general.  The first is that both teachers’ union are affiliated with larger national unions largely driven by their majority K-12 membership which generally does not have a full understanding of Higher Ed, from its work conditions to its labor force.  As a result, the concerns of Higher Ed are often given lesser priority and attention.   The second is that for the longest time, the main focus of both teachers’ unions is on the preserving of working conditions for the full-time unit members, with no specific or central strategy for addressing the increased use of adjunct labor, pay inequity.  They clearly don’t like adjunctification or pay inequity, but are stymied about what to do, primarily in the face of an anti-increased revenues movement which has gripped America since the late 1970’s.

This mindset however is weakening, due in part to a growing income inequity in the face of a growing economy.  Perhaps the strongest break in this mindset can be seen with the passage of Prop 30 in California in 2012.

Now is the time for adjuncts to step forward, and we need to do this by aligning ourselves with the interests of the larger labor community.  It’s always been there for adjuncts to pursue.  For my own part, I have tried to forge links, through my locals, with the AFL-CIO Labor Council, and involved myself with the labor campaigns like the SEIU’s and UDW’s respective struggles for janitors and home healthcare workers.  I have been actively involved with the “Fight for 15” campaign pointing out, that for all the Higher Ed training adjuncts have, many adjuncts work for similarly low pay with no benefits and tenuous job security. By the way, if you ever go to one of the rallies, you will see people who are far more marginalized than our adjuncts out in force on the street in seas of purple, red, or green shirts chanting boisterously for justice.

It’d be nice to see adjuncts so motivated.

And guess what?  At least at the community college level, many of these workers, or their children, are our students.

Talk to your fellow adjunct and full-time union members about being part of the larger labor community.  Get them to see the larger picture.  If you can’t get your union leadership on board, then go a local labor and social-justice based organization and tell them you want to help.  No, this doesn’t mean giving your life to them, but hey, just holding a sign of support at a rally, or writing a letter to the editor, or inviting a worker to your class to speak of his/her experiences is a start.

Better yet, make organized labor or social justice groups a part of your Camus Equity Week. Invite them to take part.

And adjuncts, on every campus is that janitor, clerical, or classified staff who works alongside you, right down to the older cafeteria worker who has two kids at home and a life you don’t know about.  Ask them about their work conditions and challenges, and generally show you care.

You might find that they will care about you too.

Then, when you speak and agitate for better work conditions for all workers, along with an end to adjunctification, they’ll support you too.

As the old union saying goes “an injury to one is an injury to all.”

Stop the injury, start the healing.  We can be ONE.

Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct

My AB 1690 Advocacy Letter to the California Senate Education Committee Members

Good Adjuncts:

For those of you outside the state of California, a big adjunct issue playing itself out in the chambers of the California Legislature is the push for adjunct job security via AB 1690.  The bill made it past the Senate Education Committee, and now awaits a more uncertain battle in the great legislative graveyard–the Senate Appropriations Committee, where its forerunner AB 1010, died last year. I choose to be optimistic.  if it makes it out of appropriations, it is almost certain to get approved by the floor of the senate, then sit before Governor Jerry Brown.  What will he do? No one is certain, but I’d like to think he’ll sign it,and I’m doing everything I can, along with so many others, to see he has that chance.

This the letter I wrote to the legislative aides of particular senators on the Ed. Committee.  They are often the better people to contact than the senators themselves because they actually have the time to read and process what you say, and communicate this to the senators, who do listen to them.

I put this letter out here to show you good adjuncts what constructive steps you can truly take to get the change we all need.  See the letter below the sign out

Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct

 

To Whom it May Concern:

My name is Geoffery Johnson, and I am writing to you in support of AB 1690, which addresses job security for part-time, temporary instructors (adjuncts) at California Community Colleges.

I am a member of the California Federation of Teachers Part-Time Committee. In addition, I am the direct representative for adjunct instructors at San Diego Mesa College and Southwestern College in Chula Vista, directly representing some 1300, adjuncts, and, as a part of the San Diego Community College District’s AFT Guild, involved in representing some 2,800 to 3,000 adjuncts.  I also sit on the evaluations Committee at Southwestern College and have been a five-time academic senator at San Diego Mesa College, having sat briefly on its Student learning outcomes Committee.

I emphasize this only to make it clear that beyond simply being an adjunct, I have a larger awareness of the impact of working conditions on adjuncts, and its impact on student learning and success.

As you may be aware, 70% of California Community College instructors are classified as “temporary” employees, or more commonly known as “adjuncts” who are employed from term-to-term on a contingency basis, or simply as need demands.   The term “adjunct” itself implies that such instructors are “ancillary,” or “non-essential,” when in truth these instructors are often responsible for the majority of instruction at given community college.  They may be “adjunct” in name, but clearly essential to the community college system.

One of the greatest challenges to such instructors is that most of these instructors, even when classes are available, have no sense that, even if they do exemplary work in the classroom, they can reasonably expect to be rehired.  At many colleges, instructor can simply be fired without cause, or as it is politely put, not offered a class assignment for the following term.

On a personal level, for these instructors, many of whom teach at multiple campuses working as self-called “full-time part-timers,” it means a life lived where one can rarely plan out beyond six months in advance.  With regard to the California community college system, it has meant high faculty turnover, stressed faculty, and significantly impacted instruction, particularly as the system aspires to the notion of ‘student equity.”  In some colleges, the annual turnover rate for adjuncts is over 25% of the entire adjunct faculty.  With such turnover, such colleges lose the long term institutional knowledge and the value of veteran teaching needed to provide educational integrity.

AB 1690, if passed, will provide adjuncts who have taught successfully for six semesters with rehire rights.  Moreover, it will establish rehire priority on a seniority basis, consistent with how full-time public educators are treated.  Furthermore, it will provide those instructors who might stumble in their work a one-semester improvement plan of great benefit to incoming instructors who might struggle to find their footing initially, but who then become great adjuncts and sometime, even better full-time instructors.

Some argue against such a bill, claiming that it takes away an administrator’s flexibility to schedule classes, but in a number of colleges have negotiated similar rehire policies and administrators were still able to schedule classes. I point to the present rehire policy in the San Diego Community College District, which has been working successfully for close to ten years.

Another argument made is that AB1690 would prevent local unions from negotiating better rehire rights, but AB1690 only sets a minimum base, and one far better than what many districts have been able to negotiate.

One might also note that in terms of student success, the San Diego Community College District has a higher Student Completion/Success rate than Southwestern, and a number of studies have linked greater access to instructors with institutional knowledge to higher student Completion/success rates.

In truth, what a lack of rehire rights creates, beyond the afore-mentioned problems, is the potential for nepotism and unchecked discrimination, which is not what California aspires to. In fact, just in terms of union grievances submitted by adjuncts over rehire-related issues in the San Diego District is relatively small, and much smaller for the 2100+ adjuncts in the district, compared with the 760 adjuncts in the Southwestern district where the rehire policy has no seniority clause and only a vague statement on “consistency of assignment.”

A final argument made against AB 1690 is that it will cost money in order for lists to be made for scheduling.  This is in fact untrue. The San Diego Community College District accrued no additional costs as a result of having a similar rehire rights policy.  Rehire lists are kept by Deans and schedulers, like Department Chairs, who in many cases already have this data.  The reporting of this data would be no different than the district reporting when adjuncts have reached certain steps or columns when their pay is determined.

The passage of AB1690 will not end adjunct instructors being hired on an “as needed” basis, but it will provide adjuncts with the notion that under reasonable conditions, they can expect to keep teaching when they do a good job, and that these good adjuncts will be available to help students achieve their goals.

Sincerely,

Geoffery Johnson

Adjunct Rep San Diego Mesa College, (AFT 1931)

Executive Adjunct Rep Southwestern College (SCEA/CTA/NEA)

Member, California Federation of Teachers Part-Time Committee

Member, AFT National Part-Time Caucus

Crossing the Divide: The Converstation that Adjunct and Full-time Faculty Need to Have

Good Adjuncts:

In our great battle against the exploitation we experience, perhaps our biggest challenge is reaching across what I will refer to her as “the big divide,” or the differences in perception between full-time and adjunct/contingent faculty.

What exactly are these differences in perception? Well, first of all, let me say what they generally aren’t on the whole.

Some of the angrier of adjuncts (and by the way, it’s OK to be angry, but  I would advise it’s better to be angry and strategic), will conclude that most full-timers operate with the assumption that they are full-timers because they are simply “the best” and deserving of the privileges of higher salary, job security, and good benefits.

On the other hand, full-timers will conclude that adjuncts are “simply mad because they couldn’t get a full-time job,” can never be satisfied, and either don’t or can’t appreciate the additional outside-of-the-classroom duties and responsibilities that come with the full-time job.

The number of full-timers who I have met who wholly and openly subscribe to the above view I can count on one hand.  Conversely, the number of adjuncts who I would say wholly fit the aforementioned full-time perception is also in the single digits.

Why is it out there? It’s because adjuncts and full-timers don’t talk to each other nearly enough.

With regard to the adjunct issue, the biggest sense I have is that nearly all full-timers agree that the system is unfair, exploitative, and none of them would like to return to working as an adjunct.  Many of them are truly pained over the fact that they work alongside people who are every bit as qualified as they are, and sometimes even more so.  The hiring process, with all its byzantine twists and turns, is something they take seriously, but they feel frustrated by the fact it produces only a few full-timers, and that it’s not narrowing the diversity gap. They despair of the institution filling the gaps in the loss of full-time positions with increasing numbers of adjunct and contingent jobs.  At the same time, in part because of the loss of full time instructors, and because of the corporate creep of results-based learning based on largely  abstract and numerical data, many full-timers are feeling extremely harried and overburdened, and feel that if they’re going to be forced to endure this nonsense, then at least they should be fairly compensated for it.  Many like and highly respect their adjunct colleagues.

As for adjuncts, yeah, there are people angry about not getting a full-time job, but the bigger problem is that the overall lack of pay has created enormous strains on their life from basic living health.  Further, they are angry because even when they do good work, or even work in unpaid, outside-of-the-classroom capacities, there’s no guarantee they will even have a job the following semester, let alone even getting closer to that coveted full-time position.  Often they feel further tweaked when they’re hit up in evaluations for not always being up to speed with the latest teaching trends and technology, despite the fact they have no time or money.  That said, adjuncts do care deeply about their departments (even the ones who don’t show up to the department meetings which are often scheduled which they are least convenient to adjuncts).  They like to see their students and the program succeed, and will just as be inclined to talk about curricular development and student progress as they will bitch about the sorry nature of their jobs.  Many would love to sit and do (where possible), sit on committees.  Many also like their full-time colleagues.

OK, now that said, here’s where the real divide is.  Most full-timers, while acknowledging that full-timers are underpaid and work under bad conditions, feel that the essential task to solving the problem is to create more full-time  positions, and reduce adjunct labor to preferably around 25% of instruction.  This sort of thinking operates around the notion that an adjunct is an incomplete worker used to deal provide instruction in the face of a paucity in funding.  In other words, the solution is to “make the adjunct whole” by converting them to a full-time position.

As for adjuncts in general, the view, as you may know, is very different.  Adjuncts know that there is no magic fairy that’s going to float down from the sky and supply the billions of dollars it would take to create the tens of thousands of full-time faculty jobs to realize the dream of 75/25 full-time/adjunct instruction.  The fact of the matter is, even under the best of conditions, the realization of more full-time jobs will be slow and steady, and then only if budgeting priorities and the general will of the people will call for it.  This still means, in many cases, up to 200+adjuncts applying for one full-time job.

Maybe more importantly, what it means is that adjuncts and their vast numbers aren’t going away any time soon.  Sure, most adjuncts want a full-time job, and they also want to win the lottery.

Adjuncts want full-timers to realize that they have more than wishes-they have immediate needs, and the most glaring is better, and dare we say it, equal pay.  In fairness, equal pay is almost the same pipe dream, but a steady movement towards that goal by incrementally increasing adjunct pay in relation to full-time pay is doable, as is adding, slowly but surely more full-time positions.

In other words, adjuncts, at least reasonably thinking ones, see it not as a case of either/or (full-time positions/equity pay), but both/and.

This is not immediately easy for many full-timers to fully accept for a number of reasons.  To them, the immediate challenge to their own work conditions is the lack of full-time colleagues, which hurts everything from their workload, to their union numbers, to control over their lives.  They want more pay for what they clearly see as more work, and its understandable.  At the same time however, to increase adjuncts wages so that they are more equitable to full-time pay means having to get the money from somewhere, and this is where the real challenge comes.

I know, I know, I hear my adjunct legions screaming, “Who cares about what they want? To pay us equitably, even if this means lesser pay for full-timers, is simply correcting a past wrong.” Perhaps, but good luck selling that idea, and if you were a full-timer, with the increased pressures you’re facing, would you buy it? I also know that some of you may argue that it would simply be a matter of adjuncts overtaking their locals. In both my locals, adjuncts far outnumber full-timers, but from what I’ve seen, there’s no imminent possibility of that happening, nor is it likely it would actually make things better.

The way equity pay has to be sold is that it needs to be combined with the increase of full-time jobs, and it has to create avenues where adjuncts (who are paid) can step into outside-of-the-classroom roles that were exclusively reserved for full-timers.  The workload on full-time faculty needs to be eased. Equity pay should also, for the most part, be driven by statewide funding measures rather than forcing unions into fighting among their members.  This is where adjuncts and full-timers alike need to come together and sell equity as for the good of learning environment, students, and the community as a whole.

This doesn’t mean that local unions should singly address equity in their own contracts. The state needs to help and lead the way. It was after all, at least in California, the state legislature that created adjuncts, not local community colleges.

This is where adjunct-full-time conversations need to lead.  How does it start? I would suggest at first, one-on-one, and it’s going to take time, listening as well as speaking, and holding our adjuncts breaths at moments.  We can do this, and quite honestly, we must.

Geoff Johnson,

A “Good” Adjunct

 

 

 

 

Adjunct Engagement Via the General Membership Meeting, or Rather, the Lack Thereof

Good Adjuncts:

Having sat on the executive councils of two different wall-to-wall (adjunct/full-time) locals affiliated with two different national unions, one of the most glaringly obvious things that I see happen, and it’s perhaps the one thing that most “radicalizes” adjuncts to the extent that they no longer see their union as a tool for change, is how adjuncts, or adjunct issues become “compartmentalized.”

Perhaps an easy way to understand this is as follows.  You are an adjunct concerned about a vast array of issues which, to be honest, really makes you angry, like, “Why am I paid so much less than my full-time colleague, why do I have poor or no job security, and why do I get no benefits? ” You then take it upon yourself to go to a union meeting, expecting to get answers and hearing some kind of plan or active strategy.

When you get to the meeting though, what you hear instead are minutes, financial reports, perhaps a reference to negotiations, or some sort of union issue that seems far removed to the adjunct.  Then there may or may not be the discussion of political action which seems only tangentially connected to the issue of adjuncts, like a call for a support for hotel, grocery, or healthcare workers.  Often after that, and usually at the end of said meeting, there will be the “adjunct” or “part-time” report which, if given, may simply refer to an upcoming unemployment workshop.  And with that, the adjunct leaves, and we may be lucky if they come to another meeting.

In fairness to the local unions, much of the stuff on a meeting agenda is what unions must deal with as they involve the whole body.  Further, just walking into a single meeting without some sort of context to what the union has been/is dealing with is going to leave anyone, adjunct or no, confused.  Additionally, these calls for the support of outside groups are critical down the road for the their reciprocal support of local governing board candidates, state legislators, and propositions/and initiatives which can affect institutional funding and state policy positively, and generally, the bigger the local, the more they need to “play the game.”

Further, there are also macro-issues tied to accreditation, program review, resource allocation, planning, tenure review, etc. which affect the campus as a whole, and will affect adjuncts, but not with an immediacy that many adjuncts will see.

For example, many adjuncts were angry about all the attention being given in one of my locals to the accreditation fight at the City College of San Francisco.  I had to tell them that one of the reasons that City College was under assault was the accrediting board’s assertion that it paid its adjuncts too much, which was 85% of full-time pay, making it one of the most equitable institutions in the country with regard to adjunct pay.

In this regard, particularly if the other issues appear to be more immanent, the adjunct report will get de-prioritized.

But really, there are some problems here.  As an adjunct rep, I am the one, in at least one of the locals, giving the dreaded “adjunct report.”  Now I don’t know how many other people giving reports get “spoken to” after meetings, but I on occasion do.  Sometimes, it’s generally “meant well,” but I’ll get old things like, “you don’t want to sound too angry,” or “make sure that you’re inclusive,” and I could go on.

Thing that gets me about this is that often I’m in the process of trying to talk people up into taking action, for things like Campus Equity Week, Adjunct Action Day, Union Membership Drives, Signature Campaigns, for Letters to Politicians , etc.  Because these items require a high degree of participation and buy-in, in addition to being time sensitive, it’s more or less necessary that one is passionate.  And by the way, not once have I ever in a general meeting called out full-timers, though I have profusely thanked them on occasion for their support.  (And to be fair on this point, sometimes I’ve gotten more help from full-timers than adjuncts on these issues, adjuncts). There’s sort of this sense I get at times that when I speak, I have to be watchful for the “there he goes again . . .” look, or this unspoken suspicion that I’m suddenly going to go off on full-time faculty.

The statement that really gets me, (and it is never said to me, but is apparently said by other full-timers who will in turn talk to full-timers who talk to me) is the whine, “Why do we have to talk so much about part-time issues?”

Hmmm, I don’t know.  Your local’s membership is 70%+ adjunct.  Whenever there’s a loss of funding, full-timers are worried about whether or not they’ll take a salary cut or lose their COLA.  They might even see their class cuts go up.  For adjuncts at that point, the central concern is this—“Am I going to have a job next semester?”  Oh, and there’s also that pay disparity and general job security thing, and the fact that, despite strong adjunct opposition to it, such that it can be expressed, they keep hiring fewer full-timers and more part-timers.

The fact of the matter is you don’t talk about it enough, or more importantly, don’t consider adjunctifcation for what it really is—an existential threat to tenure, full-time employment, the labor movement, and the middle class.

But now I’m going to say something a bit shocking, and seemingly contradictory.  The general meeting is never going to be, in and of itself, an effective tool for engaging adjuncts.

Most adjuncts, because of the precarious nature of their work, can’t make these meetings in the first place.  Second of all, the few adjuncts who do show up to meetings have a very limited understanding  of how unions, particularly teachers’ unions, have to operate in dealing with management and the general public.  Too many have this notion that if you just get together and demand something in force you’re going to get it, like in the movie Norma Rae.  Third, adjuncts are angry at what are often wide varieties of slights, and as people who are every bit as smart and inquisitive as the full-time colleagues, they have ideas and questions as to why certain things have or haven’t been done (and too often they have to no affect, or simply can’t be done, but the adjunct doesn’t know this, or know why).

With regard to all three of these points, adjunct engagement needs to be better shaped to meet adjuncts if adjuncts are ever going to get more involved in helping themselves.

First, outside of the general meetings, there need to be times when adjuncts can simply hook up with other members of union leadership, and no, not just the adjunct rep.  If you were to substitute white and black for full-time/part-time and applied that model, just how do you suppose that would come off?

Second, instead of just having adjuncts come to a big meeting, having smaller meet-ups at varying times in different locations would help.  How about coffee and donuts on a Tuesday morning in an adjunct workroom, or at an off-site extension?  How about a brown bag lunch? Hell, couldn’t we just get a full-timer to walk into an adjunct workroom and just hang out and talk for a few minutes about work conditions with no agenda?

Third, create smaller meetings built around one or two items specific to adjunct concerns.  One meeting could simply be educational, like “What’s the negotiation process about?”  Another could be “Adjunct Vent Your Spleen Day,” etc.

Now I will say in closing, that if you adjuncts out there are waiting for full-timers to have his dawn on them and come to you, you will be waiting in futility.  You need to make it happen.  Suggest it, then demand it.  If nothing happens, then educate yourselves and get people among you to go to meetings.  By the way, I’ll still be out there trying to realize each of the three proposals I just made, but I’m one person.

Create the engagement you need and deserve.  It doesn’t happen without you.

Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct

Adjuct Day Action Item: Write a Letter to Governor Brown in Support of AB 1690

Good Adjuncts,

Below is a copy of a letter to Governor Brown in support of AB1690, the adjunct job security bill.  In case you’re unaware of what the bill is proposing, see for yourself.

Over the course of the next few months, this bill will be winding its way through the California legislature.  As it works through its various committees, we will all need to target various legislators to get them to move the bill forward.  we’ll keep you posted.

For now, write to the governor.  It’s better if you write your own letter, but if you can’t, simply copy and paste what we have here and send it along.

Now get to it.

Geoff Johnson

A”Good” Adjunct

 

Governor Jerry Brown

c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173

Sacramento, Ca. 95814

 

Dear Governor Brown:

As you may be aware, 70% of California Community College instructors are classified as “temporary” employees,  more commonly known as “adjuncts,” who are employed from term-to-term on a contingency basis, or simply as need demands.   The term “adjunct” itself implies that such instructors are “ancillary,” or “non-essential,” when in truth these instructors are often responsible for the majority of instruction at given community college. They may be “adjunct” in name, but clearly essential to the community college system.

One of the greatest challenges to such instructors is that most of these instructors, even when classes are available, have no sense that, even if they do exemplary work in the classroom, they can reasonably expect to be rehired. At many colleges, instructor can simply be fired without cause, or as it is politely put, not offered a class assignment for the following term.

On a personal level, for these instructors, many of whom teach at multiple campuses working as self-named “full-time-part-timers,” it means a life lived where they can rarely plan out beyond six months in advance. In one notable case, such an adjunct has worked as a so-called “temporary” worker since 1963. In all, it means dreams deferred for adjuncts and their families. With regard to the California community college system, it has meant high faculty turnover, stressed faculty, and significantly impacted instruction, particularly as the system aspires to the notion of “student equity.” In some colleges, the annual turnover rate for adjuncts is over 25% of the entire adjunct faculty. With such turnover, such colleges lose the long term institutional knowledge and the value of veteran teaching needed to provide educational integrity.

Presently the legislature is considering a bill (AB 1690), which if passed will provide adjuncts who have taught successfully for six semesters with rehire rights. Moreover, it will establish rehire priority on a seniority basis, consistent with how full-time public educators are treated. Furthermore, it will provide those instructors who might stumble in their work a one-semester improvement plan, of great benefit to incoming instructors who might struggle to find their footing initially, but who then become great adjuncts and sometime, even better full-time instructors.

Some argue against such a bill, claiming that it takes away an administrator’s flexibility to schedule classes, but a number of colleges have negotiated similar rehire policies and administrators were still able to schedule classes. Another argument made is that AB1690 would prevent local unions from negotiating better rehire rights, but AB1690 only sets a minimum base, and one far better than what many bargaining units have been able to negotiate. In truth, what a lack of rehire rights creates, beyond the aforementioned problems, is the potential for nepotism and unchecked discrimination, which is not a goal towards which California aspires.

The passage of AB1690 will not end adjunct instructors being hired on an “as needed” basis, but it will provide adjuncts with the notion that under reasonable conditions they can expect to keep teaching when they do a good job, and that these good adjuncts will be available to help students achieve their goals.

Sincerely,

 

Address:

_____________________________

_____________________________