Geoff Johnson, AFT-ACC president, published this editorial in the San Diego Union Tribune. The system of staffing college faculty, which relies on the exploitation of a majority of faculty who are employed, as Geoff notes, part-time and semester to semester, is broken. If it is not repaired by ending the process of adjunctification, by hiring adjunct faculty full-time, on long-term contracts, and for equal pay, higher education, especially at community colleges, will continue to be reduced to making good workers, not good citizens. People, get your heads out of the sand, wake up and resist! Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions. What kind of education do we want to provide for our citizens? Why can’t California, and the nation, do the right thing?
Hello, My name is Geoff Johnson, President of the American Federation of Teachers Adjunct Contingent Caucus Today, October 25th marks the first day of Campus Equity Week 2021, and I carry this message:
First, to all adjunct and contingent faculty, a shout out of appreciation for your hard work as teachers, parents, and caregivers in what has been a time of unprecedented struggle. It is in this time that we, who represent the majority of higher ed faculty in this country, have, out of base necessity, rallied to meet adversity and provide the needed buttress of our labor to support the larger system of US higher education. We not only undertook the creation of online remote and distance education platforms on short notice, but did so often with limited, or conversely, extensive but unpaid training. And in contrast to many of our tenure-track faculty, we had to do separate and repeated trainings for each of our institutions, some of us teaching class loads in excess of what our tenure-track faculty endured. It was not without a sacrifice and cost that is still being given and paid.
And now to both these faculty and a larger audience, as COVID rates are tentatively appearing to subside, many Americans speak of a return to normalcy, and this extends to our colleges and universities.
But as adjunct/contingent faculty truly know, the real impacts of COVID on their ability to work, live, and function are, in many ways, yet to be fully realized. For them, a contagion of precarity, one which became pandemic before even the outbreak of COVID, continues and worsens.
US higher ed is experiencing system wide declines in enrollments, meaning a loss of work for adjunct/contingent faculty, and with it, a loss of access to what little if any healthcare benefits they may have had. These same faculty, in many states, get to experience the double blow of not only being unemployed, but because of poor language regarding “reasonable assurance,” are also denied unemployment benefits. For public institutions whose funding is tied to enrollment, the inevitable crash in funding will lead to further class cuts, not only costing adjunct/contingent faculty work, but disenfranchising students, particularly BIPOC and lower income students, whose institutions of learning are most impacted. This is further reinforced by a US Congress’s failure to fund free or even affordable public higher education. Equally troubling is the significant reduction in additional aid to Historic Black Colleges and Universities.
Yet sadly, even with this needed funding, adjunct/contingent precarity would remain in place, in that the larger inequity in US higher ed, and US Culture would remain.
In an equitable system of higher education, all instructors, on the basis of experience and education, would be paid equally or proportionate to the work they do, simply in that students themselves do not distinguish between a professor as an adjunct, contingent, or tenure-track faculty member, let alone understand the distinction. They would also have access to the same or proportionate healthcare and retirement benefits, and would be allowed and encouraged to participate in curricular development, shared governance, and other institutional matters. Further, they would after a proscribed time with satisfactory evaluations, enjoy an equal degree of job security to the fullest extent enrollment would allow it, and if in the event of loss of work, be afforded unemployment benefits.
Instead US higher ed, to save costs, pays adjunct/contingent faculty a fraction of what tenure-track make for the same work, sets workload limits within institutions and districts largely to avoid paying healthcare and retirement benefits, or simply denies these benefits altogether. They are more often than not further barred or discouraged from participating in curricular development, shared governance, and other institutional matters, and when there is exception to this, usually not compensated. Finally, as adjunct/contingent faculty work is defined as “temporary” in nature, many states will deny unemployment benefits. Ironically, many of these “temporary” faculty have been hired and fired on a term-by-term basis for decades, paying into a system from which they will never collect.
The fractional treatment of these faculty, who in contrast to tenure-track faculty are, in larger proportion women or ethnic minorities, points to an even deeper systemic inequity born out of America’s darkest impulses. As such, it not only harms the lives of these faculty and their families, but their students, the US higher ed system, and America as a whole.
Much of this inequity is permitted to exist by the willful ignorance, or insincere rhetoric, of politicians and policymakers who acknowledge but then defer from the problem, and by a media uninterested in discussing the mass scale of the problem, and connecting the problem to its causes, let alone entertaining solutions.
In spite of the recent Congress’s shortcoming regarding High Ed funding, it has the means, and with little relative cost, to at least end the ignorance and neglect.
The US Government, empowered by congressional action, can and should conduct a full study of Adjunct/Contingent pay and work inequity in US higher ed either through the Departments of Labor or Education, and publish those results. Following that, the Congress needs to then make the true effort to truly create a necessary and equitable US higher ed system as suggested above–one which, as a place of equity, can also be a place of promise, and a place for a better America.
From Geoff Johnson, President, AFT Adjunct/Contingent Caucus
I send his note with some urgency regarding AFTACC’s request for testimonials regarding adjunct/contingent and the need for unemployment insurance. The AFTACC needs more and we need them soon.
According to recent data processed by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center show that nationwide, enrollment was down by 600,000 this past Spring compared to a year ago, with a national decline in community college enrollment of 9.5%. This loss of enrollment has necessarily resulted in the loss of work and income for thousands adjunct/contingent faculty nationwide.
While colleges and universities are reopening, many students, either wary of return, or more often facing the tremendous financial and personal challenges created by the COVID Epidemic, are either foregoing or delaying enrollment.
Further, many Public Higher Ed systems, who receive funding based on enrollment, have already seen stretched budgets slashed.
This, in short, means the high levels of adjunct/contingent unemployment will not go away in the Fall, or the immediate future.
Many of these unemployed adjunct/contingents have struggled to hang on by the grace of unemployment insurance provided through their states. This is because these states have recognized that adjunct/contingent faculty, hired on a term-by-term basis, contingent upon enrollment, do not have “reasonable assurance” of being rehired.
However, many states interpret “reasonable assurance” differently, leaving adjunct/contingent faculty with no access to desperately needed unemployment insurance.
The solution to this issue is the US Department of Labor to change its language regarding “reasonable assurance,” thus making it possible for all unemployed adjunct/contingent faculty to receive needed unemployment relief.
This would also aid current adjunct/contingent in those states that grant them benefits, in that often the difference between state and Federal guidelines complicates the process, resulting in a denial of benefits.
THE AFTACC is seeking adjunct/contingent testimonials it will in turn pass on to other major union and advocacy groups, such as the American Federation of Teachers which will meet with the Department of Labor to lobby for this needed change. We are asking adjunct/contingent faculty, whether in states which current give unemployment benefits or not, to send us any of the following:
1) How unemployment has impacted you and how unemployment benefits, if you do not receive them, would impact your life
2) How unemployment has impacted your life, and how unemployment benefits, if you receive them, helps you.
3) How applying for unemployment benefits has been a personal and emotional struggle.
4) If you’re a local union leader or adjunct/activist shares the effects of unemployment on your adjunct/faculty.
We (AFTACC) will only pass on the names of adjuncts or their locals by request. I myself am currently unemployed and thankfully receiving benefits. I know the pain and the shame. Our request is meant only to advocate, empower, and uplift.
Please email your testimonials to mixiniminao@gmailcom.
Here is a letter to Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez in support of AB 375, an assembly bill before the California legislature. The bill would increase the percentage of hours for which an adjunct can be employed in one district to 80 to 85% which, of curse, would improve education at community colleges almost instantly. Please print this letter, alter it as appropriate, put your name on it, and send it by US mail to Assemblywoman LauraGonzalez.
Recently, I was contacted about a research study Dr. Emily Heying, College of Saint Benedict/St. John’s University, is conducting on food insecurity on college campuses, especially among adjuncts and students. For decades, a key part of the dismantling of higher education, which has been escalating lately, has been the transformation of faculty from vast majority tenure-track status to vast majority “precariat’ status. Massive debt burden, food and housing insecurity, health insecurity, along with diminishing career expectations, all have been common experiences among adjuncts.
And although I am restrained in my expectations, with a First Lady who knows what a community college looks like from the inside, and other tantalizing possibilities, we might be on the cusp of changes that could have profound impact on the lives of 75% of college faculty. This is a good moment for a new study on the lives of adjuncts.
Please consider participating in this study by taking the brief survey. I did.
Adjunct faculty and staff are needed for a research study on food insecurity. The study consists of completing a 10 min. anonymous survey and is open to higher education staff and faculty in the US over 18 years old. You’ll be asked about your own food access, perceptions of campus food security among students, demographics, and nature of employment. Upon survey completion, you can provide your email in a separate form to enter a drawing for one of two $25 VISA gift cards. Link: https://forms.gle/JFspgu5Ta4EUoPjs9
The following post is one I received from an adjunct, who, as you will read here, is facing the very issues that this year’s Campus Equity Week campaign has been pointing out. She chooses to remain anonymous, and we respect her wishes.
Campus Equity Week 2020
I am an adjunct counselor at two community colleges. At one of my community colleges where I have been for seven years and have “seniority,” my hours per week have been slashed from 25 to 18 to 14 and now to 7. I usually find out my hours for the semester the Friday before the Monday start date.
This last cut, given with mere days notice, caused me to have to move to a smaller apartment immediately as I could no longer pay my rent. I also can no longer make my ACA payment of 729.00 per month. At this point, I am housing and food insecure, as well as worried about lack of healthcare. I feel that I am one interview away from the respect that I deserve as a faculty member. Going from part – time to full- time would change my world, and yet I know the odds are against it.
I often wonder why the full-time tenured faculty who are in a privileged and untouchable position, don’t reach out to help us in any way. Do they not remember what it was like to be an adjunct, or is it that they just don’t care?
For me, how adjuncts are treated by our respective institutions is unethical and immoral. They say they are concerned with equality and equity, but I remain unconvinced.
Dear Adjunct Faculty or Friends of Adjunct/Contingent Faculty,
In honor of Campus Equity Week, and to raise awareness about the social injustice adjunct/contingent faculty face every day, the California Federation of Teachers Part-time Committee is asking everyone to adopt the hashtag #classcanceled.
Classes get canceled for a variety of reasons like
seniority and bumping rights, at the beginning of the semester.
Sometimes Adjunct faculty have to cancel a class for the day because professors
Run into car accidents, or
other personal emergencies.
COVID-19 has made life challenging for all, but especially for adjunct faculty and their teaching and working conditions. Adjunct faculty are the first to
Lose their income
Spend money out of pocket for teaching supplies and equipment to teach remotely
Pay for their own healthcare/health insurance or neglect their health because they cannot afford it
Fall into poverty
Higher education in California and across the country has failed our adjunct professors. Classes are getting canceled. Higher education is getting canceled. If faculty cannot get healthcare during a covid-19 worldwide crisis, when can they achieve healthcare? How can one of the richest countries in the world look the other way, while faculty are not covered. How can California not provide their most fundamental workers, faculty, who teach the next generation of students, with one of the most basic, fundamental human rights, access and coverage for healthcare.
To raise awareness for these issues we ask that members change their Facebook Frame to the Campus Equity Week Frame. To do this go click to edit your profile picture. One of the options will be “Add Frame”. Once you click add frame a search bar will come up. Search for “Campus Equity Week” and the frame with the red circle that says “Equity for Adjunct Faculty” is the one you want to click on. You can set it to only stay for a week, so after CEW the frame will be removed from your photo.
We also ask that members and locals share their adjunct stories to their social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) using the hashtag #classcanceled. If a member wants to share their story but remain anonymous have them send a private message or email to your local and share the story to your feed without using their name or other identifying markers. Retweet and repost your members’ stories on your feed (but always ask permission first if their pages are private) as well as other stories of members not in your local if you come across them on your feed. You can send stories to Geoff Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org to share on the AFT-ACC (AFT Adjunct/Contingent Caucus) website and the blog “Adjunct Crisis.”
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Here is a short but great list of sources from the Longreads web site each of which takes a deep look at the adjunct crisis faced by higher education. Adjunctification, the normalization of the practice of hiring college professors part-time to teach courses, has been with us decades now, but has worsened every year since sometime in the late 1970’s or so to become the defining but still largely marginalized issue in higher education today.
As it turns out, we potentially (hopefully!) will have an adjunct (although not one whose experience as such, as far as I can tell but certainly not since she has been married to Joe Biden, resembles that of the typical adjunct), Dr. Jill Biden, as first lady of the United States. We have written her a letter. In a recent AFT roundtable, the “Good Adjunct” himself, president of the AFT-ACC, the indefatigable Geoff Johnson posed a question to her about the adjunct crisis. She responded that she would “have to look into it.” Not a response that indicates she is in the trenches, financially speaking, that most adjuncts are in, nor that she is aware of the crisis of adjunctification and how it is at the core of devaluation of higher education.
In this episode of “The Patriot Act,”f Hassan Minhaj does a great job of getting at the real state of college today, from what’s real value is, to why it’s so expensive, and to why students are getting ripped off via adjunctification and corporatism. Essential viewing. Click on the link below:
The numbers are alarming. The US Department of Labor has reported that in just over three months 44 million people, or approximately 28 percent of the US workforce, have filed for unemployment. In addition, according to the National Multifamily Housing Council, over 10% of apartment households have yet to pay their rent in spite of receiving benefits from the CARES Act provisions, which expire at the end of July.
This is an American problem, but moreover, it is a catastrophe for America’s contingent, or “at-will” workers, who comprise approximately 30% of the US Labor force. Among these workers are 1.3 million “part-time,” “adjunct,” or contingent college instructors, representing 75.5% of US faculty. These faculty, hired term-by-term on an “as needed” basis generally work with few to no benefits, and are paid, on the whole, less than half of what the full-time colleagues make. Surveys have shown that even prior to the COVID-19 Epidemic, approximately one of four of these faculty were receiving some form of government assistance.
Though having to take on the literal overnight and often uncompensated training and conversion to remote, or fully online instruction, adjunct/contingent college instructors rose to the challenge, and were able to be paid through their Spring terms. Now that the Summer has arrived, instructors at many institutions of higher learning are facing layoffs which will extend through the Fall as many students, out of either financial need, or lack of comfort with remote learning, will either put off or abandon instruction. In addition, they await an uncertain picture in the Spring of 2021.
Beyond Spring 2021 is even less certain. The revenues collected by state and local governments to support education have sharply dropped, meaning without an influx of funding from other sources, college budgets will be sharply reduced. There will be fewer class offerings, fewer sections, and contingent instructors will lose the income that in many cases just kept them afloat.
The darkest part of this picture is that now in many states, as many adjunct/contingent faculties’ teaching assignments are considered completed, they are not eligible for unemployment benefits. Such presumption and denial is based on a false presumption that the offer of, or even the possibility of an assignment in a subsequent term represents “reasonable assurance” of future or continued employment. The presumption is the result of a false equation between High Education and K-12 teaching. Adjunct/Contingent faculty are not guaranteed work in the next term because their employment is based on enrollment, which unlike the K-12 system, fluctuates greatly. This longstanding practice has contributed to 30% of adjunct-contingent faculty living at or below the poverty line.
Some states, such as California, have recognized that the nature of adjunct/contingent teaching in Higher Ed means teaching from term-to-term, with no reasonable assurance of future employment, and as such, this enables these instructors and their families access to benefits which are often the one thing keeping them from absolute destitution.
The United States Department of Labor needs to recognize and acknowledge that adjunct/contingent faculty lack “reasonable assurance” of employment, as discussed in Section 3304(a)(6)(A) of the Federal Unemployment Tax Act. In light of the COVID19 crisis, the loss, not just to these faculty and their families, but to the US Higher Education System will be incalculable and lasting. Further, America’s main vehicle for innovation, economic success, and most of all, societal equity, will be irreparably harmed.
Moreover, the existing extension of unemployment benefits from 27 to 39 weeks needs to be expanded to a full 52 weeks or a year to help adjunct-contingent faculty, adjunct/contingent workers and the unemployed as a whole. Only with the security to pay for food, rent, utilities, and basic living expenses can Americans move ahead.
In closing, this is not an issue or an impending crisis to be addressed later—the time is now. The expiration of CARES Act provisions is but weeks away. The devastation of the COVID19 need not be further amplified by inaction.
The American Federation of Teachers Adjunct/Contingent Faculty Caucus
Geoff Johnson President William Lipkin Vice President