The Narrative of the Martyr in the Age of Adjunctification and the Decline of the Humanities

 

A Cry for Help?!

Martyr me! Martyr me!

Put me on a cross!

Send me to the trailer park (The English Village*),

Put me in an abandoned chem lab!

Anyplace!

I’ll work for free!

I’ll read papers ‘til my eyes bleed!

I’ll make the same comments on every paper!

Some will be positive!

I’ll turn papers into data and run them through the scantron machine!

I’ll teach comp online!

Restrooms for "English Village"

Restrooms for “The English Village”

Martyr me! Martyr me!

Put me on a cross!

Put me on a cross!

For student learning outcomes,

Martyr me!

 

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The “English Village”

*The “English Village” is the new name given to a collection of  old trailer-classrooms formerly named the “T-buildings:” “T” for temporary. Unlike authentic English villages, like in England, this one does not have a pub.

On this campus, as on many other campuses, new buildings have been going up non-stop for over a decade. As state of the art LEED certified buildings, swank, sexy structures, with water-friendly landscaping, go up for all non-humanities disciplines, the English department gets trailers with faulty cooling systems that cool to a certain temperature, then heat to a certain temperature in a perpetual cycle that never ends. This, even with the best efforts of a hard working, sympathetic dean. In contrast, there’s a new math and science building that’s huge and domineering; there’s a social sciences building that’s real sexy; coming soon are a new student center and bookstore as well as (no kidding) an “Exercise Science” building (a state of the art gym). I’ve been informed, by one who knows, that these last two buildings do not have any classrooms.

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Sexy New Exercise Science building

It is true that the first new structure was the School of Humanities building; yet, it is also the one with the fewest classrooms that is supposed to house the English department (right, the biggest department on campus, with the greatest need for classrooms) as well as all the other languages and humanities’ disciplines. English classes largely are taught in the English Village trailers  (to be fair, these have been made “smart”) as well as abandoned, slated-to-be-demolished chemistry buildings. And other random places. This, to me, signals the adjunctification of the humanities; perhaps especially English as a discipline that is about art rather than the language skills necessary for what novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson has called a “life of economic servitude.” English is the most adjunctified of all disciplines. Not only are most introductory and transfer level English courses taught by adjuncts, but they are taught in places that are relics of the 20th century. Or in borrowed spaces of the 21st century.

Abandoned chem lab/compclassroom

Abandoned Chem Lab/Comp Classroom

The abandoned chemistry labs in which we teach English are replete with gas hookups and emergency eye-wash stations; after all, one never knows what one might read in a freshman comp class. Eye wash stations could be useful.

The humanities have been adjunctified. The other day I overheard a tenured business professor (!) who was running quizzes through a scantron commenting to an adjunct working in a general workroom space (where else is she going to work?) that soon there would be a program to grade papers and so “they” would not even have to grade papers anymore. And, I suppose, students will no longer have to write them, as they hang out at the swanky student center, doing whatever it is  they’ve been instructed to do (not writing).

Swank New Student Center

Swank New Student Center

The faculty mostly has been adjunctified and the humanities have been and are continuing to be diminished in importance. So why are we complicit in the adjunctification of higher education, the institution, the ideal for which we became deeply indebted to serve? It’s been happening for a generation or two; where will it end?

It seems like it will end one day, as has been prophesied by many now for years, as a thing different from what it has been. Rather than an institution that supports the development of knowledge and moral acumen, for most, it  will be job training. In this scenario, there is no “higher” education, except, perhaps, for the wealthy elite. And, as much as we might wish it is not happening, we are indeed passively playing our role in the unfolding of the story of the adjunctification of faculty and the diminishment of the humanities.

The cult of martyrdom, the idea of self-sacrifice that seems to pervade the ranks of teachers from all levels of education, facilitates the adjuctification and corporatization, the transmogrification of colleges into corporate diploma mills. Our attitudes of martyrdom doom us to complicity with our undoing. One of the key ways that faculty have been adjunctified so that now roughly 75% are off the tenure-track is the exploitation of our willingness to sacrifice ourselves, to work for free. We feel noble (a psychological wage) that we are engaged in good work (and it is good work, perhaps even “right work” in the Buddhist sense). But this leads to the rationalization that we must sacrifice, that sacrifice is needed because the philistine legislators do not fund us, that sacrifice is needed because students need so much, that sacrifice makes us good people. Ironically, it gives us a sense of fulfillment. When called on to take action to save ourselves, our common rationalization is we don’t have time: “my focus is on my students.” We embrace our cult of martyrdom.

And college administrators exploit our martyr-hood. Adjuncts work without job security or decent pay. Tenure-track work to keep what they have. We all work because we want to do our best for our students and we see no end to the need for our work. We work u until we drop, whether we’re paid for it or not. Who does not grade all the essays in a timely fashion? The fact that we’re so busy staying up all night working to the point of martyrdom kept us and keeps us from resisting, for instance, the inexorable creep of adjunctification.

I’m not suggesting that we do less good work, that we fail to serve students justly. But unless we can come to the realization that our sense of martyrdom, especially the martyrdom of adjuncts, is leaving us open to exploitation by (b)adminsitration that wants to finish the story and corporatize higher education completely, we will become the future corporation of higher education, public or not. Adjuncts will be sacrificed, replaced by massive online courses taught by the few faculty (of some description) left. And students will not be served. Nor will democracy in an age of perpetual media white noise.

The martyr syndrome is not the only cultural narrative that accommodates the exploitation of faculty. The no money lie contributes. So does the tenure is a cushy job for life narrative. And freeway flyers are just plain busy, scrambling for the next meal, trying to survive the crisis. But the cult of the martyr is within us.

How do we exorcise this demon, the cult of the martyr, that is within us?

Update fall 2016:

This fall semester, I was assigned a room in an abandoned physics building (a decent room, relatively speaking), but, in a summertime room boondoggle involving a secretary and a lifeguard, the room was reassigned to the lifeguard instructor, who needed the room for the days when it rains in drought-ridden San Diego and his class can’t meet at the pool. Meanwhile, my class was moved to an adjacent, smaller, and pedagogically unsound room (for composition), without any consultation with the English department assistant chair, who is responsible for room assignment. He is not pleased. What will happen? I don’t know.

In Unity: A Strong, Active Union and Equal Pay for Adjuncts

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The adjunct crisis is the higher education crisis. In other words, the eclipse of the humanities by STEM, the prevalence of administrative and accreditation scandals, and the specter of “accountability” coming to higher education, are all the result of adjunctification. We are not prepared to resist the onslaught of privatization.

There is a division within our union ranks not of our own design, which we do not clearly see. And this is troubling. We are divided. Our union is divided. As long as we accept that the interests of adjuncts and contract faculty are different, as long as we conceive of them as distinct bargaining groups, we will perpetuate this division, this two-tiered system. It is not an accident, I think, that tenure has been under attack in the courts recently, at just this point, a perfect storm. It is not an accident that the ACCJC tried to shut down CCSF, the largest California community college full of adjuncts who are paid on an equity scale, as part of a scheme, I am convinced, to privatize the entire system. But ACCJC failed, in part, because of the unity of local 2121. I am also convinced that much of the solidarity of that local comes from the equity pay. It is one thing to recognize that adjuncts are essential; it’s another to be that recognition and establish equal pay. I realize there are plans to get funding from the governor, and that other plans have repeatedly been killed in one of the appropriation’s committees. But these don’t seem to be working. When will elected representatives see the light? When will the governor be so generous? Which governor will be so generous? How many drops in the bucket before it’s full?

We did not design this two-tiered system, but we perpetuate it in numerous ways. One way we perpetuate the ongoing exploitation of 75% of faculty is the unquestioned acceptance of the system. I am aware, of course, having participated now for a couple of years in a campaign to petition California’s Governor Jerry Brown to fund equal pay categorical items in the state budget, as well as efforts to publicize the adjunctification of higher education which have been nationwide even, that we are, in this way, “questioning” the system, and trying to change it. Personally, I’m not sure what else we could do at the state level than what we are already doing. Probably, there is more that we could do at the state level. But my opinion is that we could do more at the local and personal levels. And increased activism and participation might just trickle up to the state level.

For one thing, locally, we can participate more fully in AFT sponsored Campus Equity Week (CEW) and National Adjunct Walkout Day (NAWD) events. Rather than a ragtag group of adjuncts trying to pull off major events, which has been the case in our recent efforts at Local 1931, we could have the whole force of our union, tenure-track, adjuncts, classified, each of us contributing in some small or large way to the cause, which is, after all, resistance to the corporatization of higher education. We could take these nationally recognized days of protest seriously as some of the most important events of the year for our union. We could have a show of numbers, of full-timer and part-timer political action, staging multiple events across campuses: teach-ins, rallies, poetry readings. guerrilla theater, music, movies, pizza. We could engage students in protest.

Another thing we could do at the personal level is to realize that the two-tiered system is the first part of the “management” strategy to “divide and conquer.” We are divided, clearly. Will we see the “conquer” stage before it happens? Was the ACCJC plot to privatize, effectively, CCSF an attempt to begin the stage of conquering?

In our last round of negotiations, because of our unique Resource Allocation Formula, which gives the union a prescribed portion of state funding, we were able to provide adjuncts with an 8% raise, while full-timers took only a 5% raise. This was in the right spirit, but I’m not sure if we can really count on ever achieving equal pay if we only gain 3% each round. We need more.

We need a plan to establish equal pay for adjunct faculty, with a timeline. The plan can and should be multi-pronged, focused on state-level efforts as well as local efforts. In order to make a plan, I think we will need a paradigmatic shift in the way we see ourselves If the interest of full-time faculty is to save higher education as a public good, including tenure as well as a wide-ranging curriculum, equal pay for adjuncts is the first step toward a strong union of financially secure members. Financial security would empower adjuncts to get off the freeway and focus more on activism; it would invigorate our union.

The adjunctification of higher education is not an accident of market forces. It is an intentional, ideological scheme to render a public good a private luxury. We must see resistance to adjunctification as our most important battle if we hope to reclaim the promise of higher education in America. To have real unity, we need real equality. Adjuncts need equal pay.

Gnawed or Odd? What is NAWD/AAD?

Gnawed or Odd?

Adjuncts are gnawed by hungry ghosts. And the situation is quite odd.

What is NAWD? Or AAD?

What is an adjunct?

It is important to remember how this day came to be recognized as a day to advocate for a kind of economic justice we might call adjunct justice. Last year, a nameless adjunct from the Bay area writing on social media posed the question: what if adjuncts walked out? The question went viral on adjunct social media. My version of the question is: What if 75% of the faculty walked out or just disappeared? What if students showed up for class with not teacher? What would students do? It is worth picturing the campus without 75% of the faculty.

So, what is an adjunct?

An adjunct is a scholar, a professor, who devoted years of her life to earning advanced degrees, accruing 40, 50, 100 thousand dollars of student debt, in order to serve higher education, in order to pass on knowledge to students and draw genius out of students.

An adjunct is a professor who looks like a full-time professor, who teaches like a full-time professor, and, from a student’s point-of-view is indistinguishable from a full-time professor, that is, until the student tries to find her professor’s office, or tries to locate her professor next year when she needs a letter of recommendation, or when she finds her professor in a cubicle and is startled to find her idea of her professor diminished.

An adjunct professor is paid half the wages of a full-time professor, has less, or in some places, no benefits, and is defined as “non-essential.” But how can 75% of the faculty be non-essential? Besides students, who is more essential to education than faculty?

Contrary to the popular image, and this is, perhaps, the most important point, most adjuncts do not want to be adjuncts. Most adjuncts want to be full-time so they can devote themselves, heart and soul, to a particular institution, to a particular body of students, to receive just compensation, which is to say, since adjuncts are indistinguishable from full-timers, they should be paid at the same rate, and receive the same benefits.

What to do?

First, we faculty, full-timers and adjuncts, need to recognize the situation for what it is. Campus and department cultures are different everywhere, but some things are the same. As far as the adjunct crisis, which I see as the core of the crisis of higher education, adjuncts are invisible. Oh yes, we are appreciated. But really, what are we to do with this appreciation? Does anyone offering appreciation think that’s what we want? Respect would be more like it, but, I think, we would take Just wages, although we deserve full-time employment and everything that comes with it: an office, benefits, investment of the college as an essential member.

What I’m trying to say is that anyone, faculty, administrator, student, who thinks that the current way of doing things is acceptable, and that adjuncts just need “appreciation” or that adjuncts are content to be part-time, non-essential, at will employees, needs to change his mind.

What I’m trying to say is we need a radical paradigm shift. Such a thing begins in the minds of individuals and spreads out into the actions of individuals. You need to change your attitudes and we need to begin to demand the change that would make adjuncts full-time employees. That’s what most of us really want. That’s real adjunct Justice.

What Students Can Do to Help Adjuncts

On last February 25, National Adjunct Walkout Day (NAWD) or whatever you want to call it, adjuncts took various actions across the country to resist the adjunctification of higher education. There were protests, rallies, and even marches. In San Diego, AFT local 1931 staged several rolling rallies with speakers, including the celebrated Joe Berry, and a number of local members as well as students. At the Mesa College rally, I emceed, and Jim Mahler, our local as well as AFTCCC president, spoke, as did the school president, Pam Luster. Several students and professors took the open mic to speak.

Students were shocked, and in general had no idea. The one question, however, they repeated was “What can we do?”
Students, here’s a few things you can do:
1. Be informed. The root is the ideology of neoliberalism, which includes the belief that public austerity is the way the public good should be funded. In other words, not funded. This could be the end of public higher education in America, which, in the modern world of mass information and the potential for mass manipulation of public opnion, would be the end of the American experiment in democracy. Imagine if there were no institution of which thousands of sties exist across the nation offereing the opportunity for knowledge and critical thought. There is no other institutional source of critical thought in America. Adjunctificaton is the first step in ending higher education as a public good.
2. Inform others. Tell your parents, your peers, your neighbors, warn your communities. The neoliberal assault on higher education has a darker side. Take the Koch brothers for example. They are trying to buy higher education outright and then prohibit the free exchange of ideas. Even if we attribute blind faith in ideology to most neoliberal policymakers, there are many more, like the Koch brothers, who want not just to make colleges and universities profit centers, but want to make them neoliberal and right wing propaganda centers. Think about what that means.
3. Take action. Adjuncts and our allies are fighting back. Take various actions, directed towards legislative solutions, as well as spreading the word. Be part of the resistance. When asked to write letters, do it. When rallies happen, show up. Speak. Organize, formally and informally. Join and make change happen.

Truly, we professors and students are in this together. In the most basic sense, we are education. Without either of us, there would not be education. Yet, we are the ones who are being exploited, 75% of faculty, grossly underpaid, many without benefits, who work out of a sense of commitment to the common good, students, whose educational opportunities are being reduced to job preparation and who must assume a life-diminishing, perhaps soul-crushing debt in order to work as an indentured employee.

I don’t know what will be happening across the nation this NAWD. Whatever does (and AFT local 1931 will be holding rally at San Diego Mesa College), it will be a small step only in the struggle. But, unless we can mount a resistance of adjuncts, students, and full-time faculty unified, working together, we will be hard pressed to resist the corporatization of higher education, and the loss by degree of meaningful life that will follow.

 

How I Woke Up and Realized I Was Adjunct: An Adjunct Narrative from the Age of Neoliberalism

I am, by neoliberal, administrative definition, non-essential. How did I get here, to this dark and hopeless dead end, to the outer deck of this sinking ship?

It took more than fifteen years, but I finally woke up and realized that I’m trying to win the lottery. I have the proverbial snowball’s chance in Hell of getting a tenured position. I have been adjunctified. I am adjunct. Disposable.

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A number of benchmark moments tell the story.

It took fifteen years for me to realize the absurdity of the situation because in spite of what now seems like obvious signs that tenure in higher education is fast eroding, and with it the quality of academic life, I was optimistic. My optimism had grown out of the success of my graduate career and from the influence of the general notion prevalent in America, and central to a neoliberal society, that, if you work hard, and do a good job, you will be rewarded.

I began my college career with the utilitarian notion, a fundamental principle of neoliberalism, that the goal of earning a degree was to get a well-paying job. When, as a senior in high school, I was poring over the career information provided by the guidance counselor, I was looking for the kind of job at which I could make a lot of money. Not get rich money, but a career that would provide for me a solid middle class lifestyle. I do not remember that this was especially encouraged, but making a decision about what to major in when I got to college based on potential salary wasn’t discouraged either. It should have been.

Waking, as an undergraduate, as if from a dream

But I woke up. After a few years in a kind of haze, not really enjoying my classes, I became the most serious student alive and made up my mind to pursue a graduate degree in English. As an undergraduate, I tried a huge array of majors before realizing that I was squandering an opportunity and that I might not get a second chance. In the last year and a half of this period, I finally settled on and earned a journalism degree, and began to envision myself as a writer. So how, in the following years, did I first get sidetracked from this aspiration?

8th grade intimations of an awakening

Like many who were or should have been English majors, reading and writing have always come naturally to me. By the time I was in the eighth grade, I had announced my desire to become a writer. My parents quickly informed me that since I wouldn’t be able to earn a living that way, I should choose something more practical, and besides I still had to go to high school anyway. And then college. Because they had a deep respect for education, they suggested that I become a teacher. But, of course, they never thought I would be an adjunct.

Awakening to a calling (or, a fateful turn)

In the liminal period between my undergraduate and graduate years, I attended a community college (coincidently, the one at which I now teach most of my classes). As the voracious post-baccalaureate student whose intellectual hunger could not be quenched, I made the most of this brief experience. Fatefully, it is where I decided my future path: I would be a community college professor, a more financially stable option than trying to earn a living as a journalist (or so I thought). I wanted to write and I wanted to learn, and I wanted to earn a living for it; where better to find the life of the mind than as a college professor? Little did I realize then, or even after I had earned my master’s degree, that in the world of neoliberal corporate education, college professors were no longer considered essential. The full realization of how non-essential would not become apparent to me for many years.

After some unexpected twists and life-events (every life has them, no?) I finally arrived at graduate school. Two years later, I completed my master’s thesis, opted out of the doctorate (I had enough debt!; still do) and began my life as an adjunct community college professor. And it was so easy to get started! I was first hired sight unseen, recommended by the university from the erstwhile GTA cum university adjunct pool during a new president’s strategic outsourcing of developmental English classes to community colleges. Around the same time, I published a chapter from my master’s thesis, and, so I imagined, was on my way.

A slipping into slumber

And so I became a freeway flyer. And I said, “I’ll write when I have tenure!” And so I became deluded, and stopped writing so I could teach a full-time load for part-time pay.

And the years rolled by. I taught my ass off; one semester I taught at four sites. I designed challenging curriculum, I said yes to all assignments, I developed my craft. So I worked on a book only as an afterthought, only between semesters, only after all the papers were graded. At first, in my delusion, I thought, “I will be a good adjunct, and in my time, I will be rewarded with tenure.” Unlike the common adjunct experience at most schools, the English department at this one school, where I have taught for fifteen years, noticed and appreciated their adjuncts. Well, perhaps “appreciated” is not quite the right word. Is it possible to be appreciated and exploited at the same time? At any rate, I was received with applause and all looked bright. Why did I need to get too involved in trying to change things? I just needed to work hard, demonstrate my excellence, and stay optimistic. Although full-time positions had been denied to some long-term adjuncts, who obviously had earned such position, I would be different. I did not yet realize that I was living in the age of the adjunctification of higher education, in which the neoliberal ideology of market fundamentalism was becoming increasingly the barely questioned status quo in higher education employment proactices.

The slow but unrelenting erosion of tenure-track positions continued. Tenured faculty retired. Adjuncts were hired to replace them. More years passed. Then, word came from the district office that the English department had received funding to fill a tenured position, and I received an interview. Just as I had expected! But no second interview.

Somewhere, under the surface of my conscious mind, a quiet, little voice asked: “what just happened? OK, look closer, something is wrong here.” But before I could look more closely, another, louder, cheerful voice cried, “But wait! Here comes the AFT FACE campaign! Surely, in a few years this campaign will be successful and adjuncts will get justice.” So I optimistically and foolishly imagined. Then, the bubble economy burst and FACE went blank. Hiring freezes were the order of the day. And more years rolled by.

Awakening to adjunctification

The ideology of the market that seeks to commodify all and everything defines me as non-essential and makes me a precarious worker. Some tell me that I chose my fate and that if I don’t like my wages I should find another job.

But I see that what I do is important for the maintenance of civilization. If higher education continues to devolve into corporate job training, our democracy will disappear, eventually. Without the ability to think and communicate clearly, without the humanistic values that enter into society through a liberal arts higher education, without the deep understanding of science available in college, in thirty years (or so) when the climate destabilization beast really gets angry, Hell will break loose. Ah! The rough beast slouching towards the Ivory Tower! The widening gyre! The sinking ship!

I am defined as non-essential, I am serially unemployed, financially challenged, but I know that I’m needed because I have been called back and given a “tentative agreement” over thirty times. I know I make a difference because students tell me. The value of my contribution is not contingent or non-essential but my status and pay is. The adjunct me is different from what should have been the full-time me only in that he gets less than half the pay. At the very least, I deserve to be paid as well as if I were full-time.

Tenure looks like a dying sacred cow. I’m not sure I even want it anymore. But I am going to demand equal pay. The impact of my talent and energy has been enormous. I have earned the right to be paid on the same schedule as someone who has been tenured for fifteen years. Indeed, I had the right from the beginning. Now I’m calling for it. I am now seeking justice.

NAWD Impressions: A Report From the Rally at San Diego Mesa College

NAWD at Mesa College was a consciousness raising event. 150 or so (maybe 200) students and professors showed up on a sunny San Diego day, at possibly the warmest location on campus, at noon, in direct sunlight, to hear and speak about the adjunct crisis in higher education. I emceed. Keynote speaker Jim Mahler, president of AFT local 1931 and of CFT CCC, outlined the general parameters of the adjunct crisis and made an appeal to support the AFT’s current campaign to fund unfunded budget items in the governor’s budget proposal that would increase adjunct pay (not that much, but might as well get it if we can) and create more full-time positions. Even the college president, Pam Luster, spoke. Most  importantly, students and adjuncts spoke.

At the open mic, adjuncts shared stories of exploitation and made statements of love for the profession. We made confessions. We had a 33 year veteran and a rookie, with one year professing under her belt, both speak out. Several adjuncts spoke of poverty conditions, of years of commitment, of the meaningful life of teaching. And one or two tenured professors spoke, one quite powerfully pointing out that getting on the tenure-track is sheer luck and that his wife, an adjunct, makes 1/3 what he does for the same work. But Students were amazing. Really, more than anything else, this event raised the consciousness of the dozen or more students who spoke about their favorite adjunct professors, about their shock at the conditions of exploitation their favorites lived in, about their support for equal pay for adjuncts and for reversing adjunctification. From the mic and from the crowd, students called out “how can we help?”

This moment of national consciousness raising, of media coverage from NPR and Democracy Now!, reflected at Mesa today in the engagement with students, is a moment in which we should act. We can inform students and marshall a force that has effected long-reaching change. Adjunct working conditions are student learning conditions: the adjunct crisis is a student crisis.

NAWD in San Diego was a success. Now the task will be to keep this energy alive and use it to make radical change.  The question is: how do we organize students?

The revolution has  begun. Long live the revolution!

NAWD Action Item: Show This to Your Students

Use this video of Stacy Patton, one of the few journalists covering one of the most important stories of our time, the adjunctification of higher education, as part of your NAWD actions. Show it to students. Show it to other faculty (especially, perhaps, tenured ones). Patton describes what amounts to a lost generation of scholars, “stuck” because they have had the great misfortune of having studied and committed to serving society at a time when the ideology of capitalist exploitation was ascendent.

Patton’s brief comments expose the human cost of adjunctification. The implementation of the corporate model in higher eduction has been happening for a couple of generations. That’s hundreds of thousands of scholar-teachers whose contributions to society have been marginalized and stifled by exploitive and impoverishing labor conditions. Of course, the adjunctification of higher education is just part of the creation of precariat labor across society.

It is important that we communicate to students how they, like us, are caught in the precarious workforce bind. Many of us have student loans we can’t pay because of low wages; likewise, our students are headed this way as well. It does not have to be so. We need to radicalize students as well as ourselves, to resist the neoliberal assault on higher education.

San Diego Campus Equity Week 2014: The Message

Campus Equity Week in San Diego 2014: The Message

The following notes were conceived with the intent of addressing a broad community college audience of students, adjunct and tenure-track faculty, and classified staff during the San Diego Campus Equity Week. This attempt to raise awareness of how adjunct issues are everyone’s issues was accompanied by a slideshow presentation. 

CEW is a national event started by the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor (COCAL) and participated in by AFT and other organizations. Its purpose is to publicize the exploitation of adjunct faculty, the effects of this exploitation on students, and the corporatization of higher education in general. Legend has it that CEW was inspired by A2K, a CCC-wide labor event organized in Spring 2000 meant to bring attention to statewide legislative issues as well as issues at local sites. CEW is now promoted as a national event bi-annually, but we think that pay equity, student equity, and the many related issues are too important to wait until next year. We have an immediate agenda. We need action now. CEW in San Diego 2014 echoes the spirit of grassroots activism that sparked the first one, way back in 2000/2001. CEW is a protest of the exploitation of adjunct faculty and staff, of rising tuition and student debt and a resistance against the corporatization of higher education.

The Process of the Corporatization of Higher Education

The trends in higher education over the last several decades have been troubling. Chief among them is the decline of tenured faculty. But the pressures to privatize services, the perpetual de-funding, the shift in federal policy towards vocational training at the expense of traditional liberal arts, like philosophy, literature and social sciences, are also indicative of the adoption of a market ideology by higher education policymakers. The slow and steady, but unremitting application of a corporate business model to higher education, or the corporatization of higher education, began in the 1970s. Over the last four decades, central to the ultimate end of transforming higher education into a for-profit entity, has been the adjunctification of the higher education workforce. Correlative with this phenomenon, students have experienced rising tuition, a less stable faculty to serve them, grinding debt, and a contraction of educational opportunity, such as increased pressure to choose a major and penalties for changing majors. Reducing higher education to the function of job training, which seems to be the mission of efforts to corporatize it, penalizes students who want to explore their educational interests, or who just, out of intellectual curiosity, seek knowledge and desire a broad educational experience. This is the brave new world rising we now face: less freedom for students to choose a course of study, less freedom for faculty to teach. And adjunctification is happening not only to faculty and students, but to the classified staff who support the work of faculty. For instance, here at Mesa, the very important service of reprographics has been adjunctified, in recent years seeing its number of full-time employees fall from 30 to 8, being replaced by hourly, “adjunct” labor. With student as consumer and faculty as producer, higher education becomes a commodity, sold at the highest price (tuition) the market (students) will bear, produced at the lowest labor cost (exploitation of adjuncts). Today, I want to focus on the adjunctification of faculty.

Adjunctification

Over a period of four decades, from 1970 to 2014, the steady decline of tenured faculty and the corresponding rise in reliance on adjuncts has hardly been noticed. This is not to say that, at different times, small numbers of people did not become aware and try to resist. They have. Unfortuantely, these resisters could never get enough of their fellows to pay attention and take the kind of concerted, radical action that is needed to reverse this trend. Time passed. Budgets were cut. With fewer and fewer full-time professors, those that were left always had more work to do.

Adjunctification is not an accident. The increasing reliance on part-time faculty is the result of an ideological takeover of higher education that is not yet finished but which is well underway. By the end of the 1970s, free market ideology began to infiltrate higher education. Accompanied by perpetually decreasing state spending on education (by 13% in CA), which served as a handy justification, the practice of hiring part-time adjuncts to replace retiring tenure-track faculty began. Market ideology, and the corporate takeover that it serves, is not limited to education; rather, what has happened to education is symptomatic of a society-wide corporatization that has been underway for generations now, examples of which include the infamous “outsourcing” and “downsizing” of recent decades. The growing reliance on temporary workers is society-wide. The corporate model of free market ideology demands efficiency, which includes realizing the lowest labor cost. But the decline in tenure-track faculty is not an accident of unfortunate but necessary budget cuts. As Noam Chomsky puts it, the first step of corporatization is to create a “precarious” workforce. 75% of the higher education workforce, adjunct professors, is precarious. Numbers of adjuncts have skyrocketed. Numbers of full-time faculty have not. Numbers of administrators have grown 85%; administrative assistants 240% (Benjamin Ginsberg)

What is An Adjunct?

The dictionary definces adjunct as “non-essential,” which implies that those so designated are not necessary, and if they didn’t show up for work, no one would notice. Would students notice if their professor did not show up? Although “contingent” is more accurate, since adjuncts are employed from semester to semester, and their employment is conditional on student enrollment, it still does not accurately describe the role of adjunct professors. Part-time, too, is problematic; most adjuncts work part-time at more than one place, sometimes teaching more than a full-time load. These adjuncts are, perhaps, better named “full-time-part-timers” as they work at multiple locations. The accuracy of this term is ironic, since it is purportedly a term invented by human resources personnel to describe the legions of freeway flyers racing from campus to campus to cobble together a full-time equivalent load of classes and earn about half as much as their full-time colleagues for doing pretty much the same work in order to make enough money to survive and support their families. They arrive “just in time” for class, “just in time” for the last minute assignment. No doubt, they are often paid “just in time” as well. Satire is important to the oppressed intellectual. Most adjuncts, according to a recent AFT survey, want a full-time position. Who doesn’t want a secure job, for one employer, and the financial security to plan a life?

Adjuncts are misnamed. Although some adjuncts are satisfied with being adjunct, most are not. Most are career academics who have devoted their lives to the public good of education. Without them, higher education would disintegrate. Most adjuncts always intended to be academics, to teach, or research, as experts in their field of expertise. Chances are, these are people whose passion is teaching. They are professionals dedicated to sharing knowledge with students, to contributing to the public good, to making the world a better place. These dedicated professionals devote most of their life to gaining, maintaining and teaching their expert knowledge. This is what they do; it is who they are.

What Adjuncts Do

Adjuncts teach most of the students of higher education. 75% of higher education faculty are adjuncts. If you define the core work of faculty as teaching, we do the same work as the 25% of tenure track, full-time faculty: prepare syllabi, plan lessons, evaluate student work, counsel students, develop curriculum, answer emails. Even though adjuncts aren’t required to do committee work, attend department meetings, or participate in shared governance, we often do. Besides these tasks, though, the work of developing, preparing and delivering lessons, and of evaluating and responding to student work, and of counseling students, interacting with students in multifarious ways, the work of teaching, is exactly the same. Except of course, in order to make a fraction of what their full-time colleagues make for the same work, they must work at 2 or 3 sites, navigate multiple campus cultures, and interact with multiple student populations. Increasingly, this is the life of an adjunct, the highest career status that can be aspired to by those who end up on the “adjunct track.”

Adjunctification Hurts Adjuncts

Being adjunct is not easy. Obviously, the process of adjunctifictaion that has been happening in higher education now for decades hurts adjuncts. Most adjuncts begin their careers expecting to be adjunct for a few years, to “pay dues,” and then be rewarded with a full-time tenure-track position. Once upon a time, perhaps, there was some truth to this; candidates were funneled into the system from graduate programs, and most could count on heading for the tenure-track. But that was way back in the mid 20th century. Today, as the process of adjunctification continues and we head towards that future when, if trends continue, the percent of tenure-track faculty will be less than 10%, with every passing year, the prospect of garnering that full-time position fades. Not only do aging adjuncts face dim prospects (recent court cases suggest ageism in higher education is a factor), but newly minted adjuncts also face diminished opportunities. It is difficult to talk about being adjunct. It is easier to ignore it. Adjuncts, strangely, often seem invisible, not that they can’t be seen, but that they are not seen. Sometimes, full-time faculty don’t want to look, sometimes they just don’t have time. Students have no idea. To them, professors are professors.

The contradiction between the occupational prestige that goes with being a college professor and the impoverished economic status of being an adjunct, a temp worker, is depressing. It is sometimes an uncomfortable social situation when I am asked what I do. I reply: I’m a college professor. And so I am. If that is as far as it goes, all is well. However, if I must explain that I am an adjunct, and have been for fifteen years, it gives the impression that I’m not good enough to be a full-time professor, and then I have to explain why may wages are so low. In stark contrast to the public perception of college professors as solidly middle-class, most of us have a precarious financial status. According to the Coalitions on the Academic Workforce, the disparity between adjunct earnings and full-time earnings is “staggering.”

Financial insecurity is a fact of life for most adjuncts. It renders you powerless to resist corporatization.

Adjunctification Hurts Students

Adjunctification hurts students. Students deserve faculty who are not stressed from financial destitution, who do not have to work at multiple locations just to make ends meet, who are part of the institution they are paying more for all the time. They deserve a professor with an office who can devote his professional time to one campus, one student population, one campus culture. Adjuncts cannot be readily available: they do not have offices, are not listed on registers, and often must travel from campus to campus, staying in one location only long enough to hold class. Outside of class, students have difficulty finding their professors. Good luck finding your old adjunct professor so he can write you a letter of recommendation. Numerous studies have catalogued the negative effects on students of reliance on adjunct faculty, including lower retention rates, graduation rates and transfer rates: http://www.uscrossier.org/pullias/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Delphi-NTTF_Annotated-Research-Summary_WebPDF.pdf

Students are increasingly feeling the effects of the corporatization of higher education, especially at community colleges, where they must develop “educational plans” that limit their opportunities to satisfy intellectual curiosity. If they veer from their “plan,” they lose financial aid. What is the corporate plan? It is to change intellectually curious students into docile, precarious workers who unquestioningly do what they are told. Adjunctification hurts students because adjunct faculty do not have the academic freedom to help students explore their intellectual worlds, learn to think critically and question the status quo.

Adjunctification Hurts Full-time Faculty

Last, but not least, adjunctification hurts full-time faculty. The workload of full-time faculty is increasing. The burden of committee work and shared governance falls on full-time faculty more and more heavily. Fewer full-time faculty means fewer workers to perform tenure review and the ever-increasing task of adjunct evaluation, fewer to perform accreditation preparation, or program review. And I heard that deans are requiring greater participation on committees. Obviously. Faculty everywhere lack time to engage important issues and are pushed to work well over the hours for which they are paid. Here we have an example of the application of efficiency: get the most labor out of the fewest laborers. Of course, in many cases, adjuncts contribute a lot. Without adjunct contributions in the English department here, I don’t see how the work would get done. Unpaid contributions of labor, performed out of a sense of professional dedication…

Academic freedom also is threatened by adjunctification. The academic freedom of professors to teach what and how their expertise directs them is challenged. Adjuncts have no power to resist. As “at will” employees who don’t need to be fired, just not rehired next semester, they are not in a position to resist corporate reform. The ranks of full-time professors are getting thin; their collective power is decreasing all the time, and being replaced by adjuncts’ powerlessness. Full-time faculty are so busy, they do not have time to engage fully in shared governance. Part of the trend in higher education includes less hared governance, more administrative decisions. According to Larry Gerber of Auburn U. and AAUP: “Shared governance is eroding due to the rise of adjunct faculty employment and an increasingly corporate style of management – both of which threaten the entire U.S. system.”

Equal Pay for Equal Work

Providing adjuncts with equal pay for equal work, as is evidenced by the privatizing ACCJC’s attack of City College of San Francisco, whose AFT local 2121 negotiated 85% parity pay for their adjuncts, pisses off the corporatizers because it empowers the workforce, removing them from the status of precarity. However, equal pay is a stopgap measure, needed to empower resistance, but only the first step to reversing adjunctification, which is what we need if we are to save the future of higher education.

Resist! Publish the Invisible! A Review (sort of) of The Adjunct Cookbook

I just received my copy of the Front Range Community College chapter of the AAUP’s The Adjunct Cookbook and I think it’s so cool! Only $7.50 (%)

How cool?

In the first few pages: “Make the invisible visible.” A quote from Gandhi!

Adjunct invisibility is one of the big problems. Not only do full-timers fail to “see” adjuncts, we fail to see ourselves…as oppressed, that is. Why? Because to see oneself as oppressed would be to see oneself as a victim, and the stigma against seeing yourself as a victim in America is deep. I was talking to a fellow adjunct whom I just met today about Campus Equity Week at San Diego Mesa College and, when I explained that the event was to publicize the low pay of adjuncts in the district and in San Diego, her response was that healthcare benefits at Mesa made the overall pay the best for adjuncts in the region. While this is probably true (thanks to the AFT), adjunct pay is dismal when compared to full-time pay. It took a minute, but I think I made my fellow adjunct realize that she should demand equal pay. The point I want to make is that we tend to rationalize the best scenario…things could be worse…rather than demand justice,not because we don’t want justice, but because we feel powerless.

And the Gilded Grilled Cheese sounds quite tasty, although i would probably substitute jalapenos…

We are on the frontline of the corporatization of higher education. We are taking the brunt of the attack…we live less-than lives, with less-than careers, and never pay back our student loans.

Another great quote in The Adjunct Cookbook, from Marc Bousquet’s How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation, describes how weak the frontline troops are: “Flexible teachers cannot afford to provide an obstacle to the advancing administrative ideal of an ultimately education-free transfer of cash for course credits.” So, the corporatizers’ plan is working: those who would naturally be the leaders of resistance are disempowered and rendered incapable of resisting because they are trying to cobble together a living and a career professing in a system that exploits their love of teaching and commitment to education. Between the teaching, the flying up and down the freeway, and the having a life thing, who has time or power to resist? The precariat adjunct…

In the words of Chomsky: “It’s a part of a corporate business model designed to reduce labor costs and to increase labor servility.  When universities become corporatized, as has been happening quite systematically over the last generation as part of the general neoliberal assault on the population, their business model means that what matters is the bottom line.” Which is why the administrative line is “no money!” And why education, especially the community college system is defunded.

The “temp” employees of higher education, those upon whose backs the labor cost is lowered, the adjunct, lives as “‘precariat,’ living a precarious existence.”

The Adjunct Cookbook is more than a cookbook; it is adjunct resistance literature. It is way cool. Get your copy today!

The Teaching Class

This article from Guernica, by Rachel Riederer, lays out the whole picture of the adjunctification machine, locating the phenomenon within the larger societal shift towards a temporary, disposable workforce which, in higher eduction, has resulted in two separate classes, the privileged tenure-track and the precariat adjunct. She describes the human cost to both professors and students. Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions. When adjuncts are exploited and oppressed, when their pay is so dismal that they can’t afford to pay for their student loans and they live paycheck to paycheck, how can they be expected to offer students an equal educational opportunity? Who will answer her piercing question: “If teaching is a supplementary rather than essential part of college, why go?” https://www.guernicamag.com/features/the-teaching-class/