Adjuncts, Families, and Relationships: What Gets Lost

Good Adjuncts,
It’s time to reach beyond ourselves, and acknowledge who gets hurt as much, if sometimes, not more than ourselves by adjunctification: our families, our loved ones, our friends, and by our absence, our communities.
Yes, we work long hours for little pay and with minimal job security and benefits—that much is a sad given, but rarely do I see any of us as activists or even colleagues talk openly about what these conditions have on other significant people in our lives.
In no particular order…
I think about my son, who from the age of two had the experience of not seeing me in the morning when he woke up, or not seeing me when he went to bed, often for days at a time. With stacks of papers to grade and living in a cramped two-bedroom apartment with no office, I often saw coffee shop barristas more than I saw him. Weekends were often little better, for though I could give up that half day, either in the morning or the evening, there was that other half of the day I would miss. This continued on into his early school years, and teaching in the evenings, I almost never made it to parents’ night, the multi-cultural fair, the PTA, and so I assume, that when the parents who did have the time were there, they must have assumed I was one of those apathetic, self-interested parents.
Some years ago, I was at a meeting when a school board candidate said, as a pitch to get people to vote for him, “I know that for a good number of teachers out there, they like having that time to watch a ball game with their boy. . .” I don’t have the time to do this, and in fact, I have not watched an entire sporting event on television since before I became an adjunct. I perhaps don’t miss it, and I’m not sure my son, who is not into sports, doesn’t either. But honestly, I never had the time, or if I did, I needed it to bond or be with my family.
My son is now 17 and soon to be an adult. It’s as if I spent a blur of years teaching primarily young adults and now my son is one of them, and in another blur of years, he’ll be beyond that and gone.
I think about my wife. When we met and married in Japan (no she’s not Japanese, but she is Asian) I was making a comfortable living working as a teacher in Japan. Coming back to America, we envisioned a middle-class existence with evenings, weekends, a home in a safe neighborhood, and vacations. What we got was housing insecurity and her at home alone for long stretches because of daycare issues and no friends or family support. Once, while with my son on a rare trip to Del Mar with my son, she got asked who she was a nanny for. Later, ironically, once we were able to secure daycare, she did work as a nanny, a party-caterer, and as an office sandwich lady. It was a fine use of the Psychology degree she earned with distinction, and yet no other employer seemed to find use for.
Now my wife works as a post-partum doula, which means she works, like an adjunct, on a contingency basis, doing almost exclusively night shifts, sometimes for consecutive nights over the span of several weeks, which means that for us as a couple, in that I’m working all day, we sometimes are like two ships passing in the night. The stress and work conditions have contributed to her contraction of type-two diabetes, which thankfully, because I have health insurance through one of my jobs, she is able to receive treatment.
You don’t live these lifestyles without struggles not simply in finance, but in communication, emotional connection, intimacy, etc… Even as I write, I feel guilty for not giving her the time while I’m doing this.
I think about my late mother, who lived alone in a rural community in Western Montana, who pained over my inability to come visit, saw me as a workaholic when I all I was trying to do was maintain a job so I wouldn’t get fired, or as it is more politely worded, “fail to receive an assignment.” She felt alienated by and resented my absence. When she finally slipped into a coma and died, I had not spoken to her in a month. Neither of us had the chance to say goodbye.
I think about my father, a conservative man who also resides in rural Montana, resentful of the government and who views public educators as a menace. To engage in any discussion beyond the weather or daily life means to step into a chasm of perceptions so vast in difference that it’s hard to have any discussion at all. I feel from him no empathy for my work conditions, and no respect or understanding for the Southern California community in which I live. We share no real discussions, and have a limited relationship which can best be summed up by the statement: “You’re my blood kin and so I love you, but by this much.” We have not talked in months.
I think about my friends. On the one hand, there are my more affluent friends who invite us over to their spacious houses in their more affluent neighborhoods. At times my wife and I have tried to invite them over to our apartment, or later, our condo, both about 1100 square feet in size, and have been embarrassed by the sharp contrast. Once I invited such a friend to sit down on my 10-year-old used couch only to have him hit his head against the windowsill behind it because the space was so cramped. After a while, they politely suggested coming to events at their place because they have the space for it. At times when we can get them to let us treat, it’s at a restaurant away from our house and neighborhood.
On the other hand, there are my other friends who happen to be adjuncts themselves. Our schedules are often so crazy and variegated that if we do get together, it’s often for just a few hours at lunch, or the movies, and then, during Summer, Winter, or Spring breaks. If this is just a get together among friends without family, this can bring resentment from my wife and son, who understandably ask, “You are gone from us so much. Why don’t you have time for us?”
I think also about my community. Now I’m a union activist, and as a social unionist, I am involved with community-based groups like the CPI, the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice, etc., and I go to Community College Board Meetings. However, I’m not involved with my Condo Association Board, and I don’t go to the local neighborhood association meetings. I periodically meet with my local state legislator Shirley Webber on union issues, but I think she’d be surprised to know that I live in her neighborhood, grade papers at the Malcolm X Library,eat often at Jaoquin’s just off of Euclid and Imperial in Southeast San Diego, know Huffman’s Barbeque and Bonnie Jean’s Soul Food Café, and had a son doing Summer SAT prep courses at the Bayview Baptist Church.
Being an adjunct is sometimes like being in a weird community of one’s own, a kind of bond made by a love of teaching and a resignation to financial and professional struggle: “Yes, you’re screwed, I’m screwed, and likely our families, and maybe even our students are screwed, but hey, I’ve got another stack to grade, and just think, only four more weeks ‘til the end of the semester…”
Now my good adjuncts, I’m thinking about you. When you think about speaking up and speaking out, consider those with you, those behind, and those who you have sometimes had to leave behind. This fight against adjuntification is not simply a fight for what we lose or are denied, but for those closest to us who are denied our better selves.
Live well and love,
Geoff Johnson
A father, husband, friend, community member, and Good Adjunct

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On “Part-Time Faculty Leadership Institutes”

Good Adjuncts,

I am writing this essay at the mild urging of long-time adjunct activist, Vanessa Vaille.

As time drifts into the middle of summer, for those adjuncts who have neither scored a class or been financially compelled to do so, the US Higher Ed system as well entered into that time period that the vast majority of adjuncts know of as the “unemployment zone.”  For many of us, it is that time when you usually watch your dollars carefully, and if you’re lucky, survive on unemployment checks, and if you’re not, hope that you can get by without selling plasma or the what not, which I had to do as a graduate teaching assistant at SDSU one summer (and guess what?  I was working 40 hours a week as a custodian but my paycheck was deferred until mid-August).

As both an adjunct and union activist, I can’t say my summer thus far has been entirely free of work.  There is still the matter of last minutes grievances that show up when adjuncts suddenly find that their teaching assignments for the Fall have been messed with, or not given at all.  The recent passage of SB 1379 (Priority Rehire Rights for Adjuncts) has meant working with management to make sure they’re in compliance with the law before the July 14th deadline.  There is prepping for upcoming negotiations, campus equity week planning, membership drives (yes, over the summer!) and planning for future membership drives.  There’s consulting with lobbyists about things like getting extra money from the legislature for adjunct office hours (we did in California to the tune of five million dollars), and paid maternity leave for female teachers that doesn’t come out of their sick pay….

This is maybe about half of what I have had to work on this Summer, including class prep for the Fall.

I tell you to give you some context to my reaction when a recent email thread went out on the CPFA website regarding a “2017 Summer Part-time Faculty Leadership Institute” running form August 3rd-5th” in Orange County.  The concern, expressed by longtime adjunct warrior John Martin (and this is meant in the most positive sense of the term—thanks for your hard work John!) was if anyone is going.  John’s concern, from what I surmise, is wanting to have people at that summit to make sure that somehow the message gets out to CCC Chancellor Ortiz Oakley, and likely those people connected with the California Community College League (Badmin, Inc.), as well as those faculty perhaps a little too close to the afore-mentioned groups and the new, yet-to-been-seen-if-improved ACCJC, that:

  • As regards “leadership,” until the adjunct condition is properly addressed, the California Community College System is not really showing very much of it.

 

  • Whether we call ourselves, Adjuncts or Contingent faculty, are not “part-time” or “temporary workers.”

 

  • Adjunct/Contingent faculty, in that we make up over 70-80% of the Community College Faculty, should be defining what leadership is.

By the way, I think these are all worthy goals, and for those adjuncts with the time to take away an additional three days away from their families, in addition the money to fly or drive to Orange County, and pay for an expensive hotel room and endure sitting in drab conference rooms for hours on end, go get them.

But to be clear about this…

  • Ortiz Oakley, the CCLC, the AACJC and the other players at this institute know full well what the situation of so-called “part-timers” is. People like me have spent the last ten months concertedly telling them, and others have been doing this with them for decades.

 

  • To know what these “Institutes” are about, well, let’s just start with that word. I’ve attended a number of “Institutes” for various organizations over the years, and some of them were good, some a complete waste of time. The one thing they had in common is what they weren’t: open dialogue sessions in which all participatory parties had an equal voice.  All of them were conducted by a specific group with a specific agenda: to teach or bring people around to a certain way of thinking or practices to achieve goals which the sponsors of the institute most want to happen.  This is sometimes a good thing, as when a union teaches you how to better negotiate a contract, or an educational conference acquaints you with a new teaching methodology that makes you a more effective educator.

 

  • Any “Institute” which refers to “adjunct/contingent” faculty as “part-timers” neither appreciates how the vast bulk of adjunct/contingent faculty are not “part-time,” nor truly considers them to be the equal of full-time/contract faculty.

The “leadership” angle here, and you don’t really need to work too hard in reading into this, is that it’s a dog whistle to desperate adjuncts:  “Go to this conference and you will be instilled with the ‘leadership’ to help you in those faculty and presidential interviews, and thus cross the threshold into the happy land of full-time employment.”

Well now let’s talk about what this “leadership” usually means:

  • Get involved with your academic senate and become a point person for collecting SLO Data. While you may be paid a pittance, or not at all (remember there’s FLEX and Hurdle credit), you will be thought of well.  You score extra points for publicly shaming other faculty, especially adjuncts, for not turning their SLO data in.  You get even more if you say in spite of the data collection, that it’s not enough, and your institution needs even more, without the prompting of Admin, who actually could care less. And you are a real superstar if you can fight your own faculty union by accusing them of being obstructionist for defending your rights.

 

  • Take it upon yourself to pour hours into training for putting together an online training platform, for again, maybe some, but likely, no pay. Make sure that your class is the absolute “bestest” and then, make sure, after you’ve martyred yourself, that everyone else needs to live up to your sanctimonious standard, or privately indicate to your equally indoctrinated colleagues that those who don’t do what you do are lazy, incompetent, or both, and “deserve” to be adjuncts.

 

  • Now that acceleration has become the next big wave (and to be fair, I’m actually a supporter of it, but with reservations), be sure to become a cheerleader for it, and be sure to have ready and pat answer to knock your concerned colleagues down when they express problems or concerns they’re finding when they see increasing numbers of students struggling in their classes. Be sure to insinuate that they must not be doing things right, or that they’re simply anachronistic.

 

  • Emphasize how you’re all about diversity (as if other adjunct/contingent faculty haven’t been working on this for years, and have never read Angela Davis, Jeff Andrade, Tim Wise, Bell Hooks, etc…). Assume that because there’s a lack of pigment in their skin, that they aren’t a minority, don’t have a minority spouse or mixed race child, never had an incarcerated parent, must have grown up in some white upper-middle class fairy tale, never experienced racism, live in some white enclave, only teach dead white male material, and from a “traditional” academic perspective.

I suppose I could go on, but you get the idea.

In a certain sense, if going to one of these “leadership institutes” did in fact result in a full-time job for an adjunct, I’d say every adjunct should go, but it won’t, because the fill-time/contract hiring process will still remain the Byzantine and alienating process that it is.

I would further add, that if the Chancellor and company were really interested in pushing their brand of leadership to the masses, they also wouldn’t do it on one weekend in the middle of Summer and place a financial burden on people who can least afford it.  Every campus would have an adjunct/contingent leadership program which ran year-round and was put together by adjunct/contingents in cooperation with contract faculty, classified staff, students, community members, and administration.

So, as you can guess, I won’t be going to the “2017 Part-Time Faculty Leadership Institute.”

But I won’t be missing it.

A Good Adjunct (not a “Part-Timer”)

Geoff Johnson

On Solidarity: My May Day Address to Mesa College

Today I’ve been asked to speak to you about solidarity.  For those who don’t know the meaning of the term, it refers to the support within a group, carrying with it the basic premise of “we’re all in this together.”  It is perhaps the most quintessentially American of ideas, as reflected in the first national motto adopted by the 13 colonies in 1782, “e plurbis unum”–the one out of many.

In our nation’s history, it has been solidarity that has helped us prosper, and by contrast, it is either when we have lost that notion of solidarity, or have chosen not to extend it to others, out of fear, prejudice, or a general lack of empathy, that we have created our greatest conflicts, sufferings, cruelties–from slavery and sexism, to racism and exploitation.

We have only risen above these self-made obstacles through the embrace of empathy, and so it is, if we as a society of many aspire to be prosperous, not simply in economic terms, but in terms of community and general well-being, we continue to do so, for this is what can make America great.

But to speak of solidarity in such general and abstract terms is too easy. True enough, it is easy among friends and those with whom we readily and easily identify that solidarity is found.  But the fact of the matter is that in a nation of many which, at its best, necessarily allows for and cultivates diversity, it becomes all too easy in hard times to find differences rather than seek commonalities, to harbor resentments rather than seek opportunities, and embrace fear and anxiety over camaraderie.

Today I’m going to take you on a trip and you might be surprised where it starts, but I hope you’ll be happy where it ends.  Two years ago, when my mother passed, I returned to her home of Deer Lodge, Montana, a town of perhaps 2000 people which has quite frankly, seen better days.  Over half a century ago, the community was thriving, in part due to the Butte Mine once known as the “Richest Hill on Earth.”  This, along with a local strong farming and ranching industry made up of independent farmers, and a timber industry further West, meant strong revenues. The Deer Lodge area was itself the home of Montana’s institutions, from its state mental and alcoholism hospitals, to the state prison itself. It was at the state alcoholism hospital that my mother found sobriety, which ultimately saved her life, free of charge. Five years later she returned to the hospital as a counselor and brought thousands to sobriety, saving their lives, and their families. Along with the miners, all of these workers, my mother included, had good union jobs, and were paid living wages with benefits.  Deer Lodge itself, while a small town, boasted many restaurants, several dry goods stores, furniture stores, auto dealerships, etc.

Now, the auto dealership and most of the restaurants are gone, what clothing stores there are now are thrift shops.  As younger people have left the area, Deer Lodge’s main street is blessed with several struggling antique shops whose stock is from the estate states of the older folks who’ve passed on.  The people who’ve stayed on are a hardy people of sorts, committed to a community that grew and nurtured them in better times.  As I was there, clearing my mother’s estate, I actually got asked, by one of the antique store owners, if I had thought of staying on.  I didn’t, but even if I had, the opportunities are not there.

In the early 1980’s Butte’s mines played out, so some degree of economic collapse was inevitable, but this didn’t explain away cuts by the Reagan administration to federal farm programs which put out one out of six farmers in Montana out of business, most of them independents, while larger corporate entities moved in.  It also didn’t explain why, in spite of increased revenues from coal and oil extraction, that monies for Montana’s institutions were cut, leading to the closure of both the state mental and alcoholism hospitals, with patients deferred to underfunded community outpatient programs, or private vendors where patients would now increasingly be forced to pay out of pocket.  It also doesn’t explain how, when Montana built a new prison again in Deer Lodge and even took in prisoners from out of state, that its prison guards, who risk their lives daily, would be paid the lowest wage of any prison guards in the US–a wage which barely sustains even a single guard, let alone one with a family.

Clearly, at the level the federal and state government, there has been this loss of empathy, but where did that come from?

Now this may surprise you, but part of it came from us.

Consider that over the last 30 years, while much of rural and industrial America’s economy foundered, the economies of the coasts prospered. Consider, that as we grew more sensitive to the culture differences around us, we allowed, if not encouraged the media, to characterize the people in these declining communities as anachronistic at best, or racist Neanderthals at worst, and simply chose to see their communities’ demise as inevitable.  By contrast, they were fed a media-driven image of us as decadent, self-indulgent, permissive, sanctimonious, and ultimately alien to their existence.

Consider a Montana Prison guard I talked to, who spoke to me of her day-to-day economic struggles.  In spite of her struggles, and her clear sense that she was being exploited, her main anger was directed at the ACLU for the defending the right of a Satan worshipper to have a cross removed from the prison chapel.  The issues of faith and religious freedom aside, to me, it seemed clear that what had happened is that in the midst of all this suffering, the issue with the cross was a kind of final indignity, and one far easier to respond to than the evil really facing her.  To fight for better wages in a struggling community against the mighty and abstract power of the state was something that seemed a bridge too far. Couple this with a media in which she exists only as caricature, if at all, and you’ll know why she, as did the majority of rural working class Montanans, voted for a man who promised a wall.

I tell you this because, for whatever you may think, if you want a society that embraces solidarity, it’s not about what you make others do–it’s what you do yourself.  You need to find the solidarity with those who you do not see and do not and hear before you can expect them to find solidarity with you.

Now you’re not in Montana, you’re in San Diego, and so perhaps before you take that trip, you might want to start with embracing solidarity at home.  Look around you and think of your community.

As a teacher, this is what I need to consider: The student who works two or three jobs, sometimes the night before class, often at companies that could afford to pay him or her better.  I need to think about the mother in my class whose son, having Asperberger’s syndrome, has had an episode at school which means she suddenly needs to leave. I need to also think about student who has left Mexico, having lost his/her father to a drug war fueled by the American demand.  And when I see how they struggle, I think of how these students, as workers, need better wages, and as parents, how they need more special ed. programs, and how as immigrants coming from dangers I cannot imagine, need understanding. What success can I have as a teacher if I, not  having enough appreciation of their struggles with an assignment, call them out for being lazy, undisciplined, or unfocused? How dare I.

As students, you should consider the people Ive mentioned to you are your classmates, or that some of what I’ve mentioned applies to you.  You should also consider that perhaps that custodian, lab tech, or librarian you see or encounter are often being asked to take on greater work duties as other employees leave and their positions are not rehired. It may explain the unclean corner, the sometimes terseness even when they try to do their best, and not without economic struggles of their own.  You should also consider that your teacher is more than likely an adjunct, and in many cases they rush from job to job on pay so low that nationwide one on four are on some kind of government assistance.  They might not be so quick with papers, so available for conferences, but they endeavor to do their best, and hope that when their children go to community college, as my son will next year, they won’t become overwhelmed with balancing work and school.

As community members, we should all consider that the struggles we face are not overcome by the embrace of policies which serve only to enrich those who already have great wealth at the expense of all workers, or the cutting of programs that help children learn and parents to gain the skills necessary to support them, or the targeting and exclusion of people based on fear.  To embrace such policies is to accept that the common state of society is to be one of alienation and anxiety.

The better way is to see the common interest in a life not driven by desperation and resentment, but by security and opportunity.  It is harkening to a solidarity that has been in the past, can become a solidarity of the present, and remain a solidarity forever.

Start now, start now, rise up and change the equation.

May Day Comments at San Diego Mesa College

One of several speakers at the Mesa College May Day rally 2017, on a beautiful day in San Diego, here I am speaking to about 100-150 faculty and students about “Adjuncts, Academic Freedom, and the Corporatization of Higher Education.” The video starts a few seconds late. My first words were “Happy May Day. Resist hate. Resist injustice” The text is in my previous post.

Comments for May Day Rally at San Diego Mesa College: Adjuncts, Academic Freedom, and the Corporatization of Higher Education

Adjuncts, Academic Freedom, and the Corporatization of Higher Education

Corporatization is the ideology that all social relations are explainable through market relations. One of the conclusions which follows from this ideology is that market value, the “bottom line,” is ultimate. The corporatization of higher education has been the applying of the idea that public higher education should be run like a business. This is a problem because higher education is not and cannot be a business. The two are mutually exclusive, except within the faulty logic of corporatization. A business sells a product and needs to balance the cost of production with profit, or the business will fail. Higher education is the public institution which, and this is the brief version, is entrusted with old knowledge, new knowledge, and with ways of making knowledge. It offers students not only knowledge of the world and the world of ideas, but also an opportunity to grow as individuals and mature into the best possible versions of themselves as free-thinking citizens, ready to participate in fulfilling the promise of democracy as well as fulfilling the promise of their lives. Higher education is a public good, not because it prepares students for the workforce, although it does this, but because college students, by reaching deep within to meet the challenge of learning, discover talents and skills they may not have otherwise known they have, which they then bring to the democratic community. If higher education fails, community fails. And when community fails, we have injustice and hate.

Critiquing the corporatization of higher education is not a new thing; many have written about it at least since the ‘90s, but, given the current political climate, it never has been more important to talk about it. The first step in the implementation of a corporatization ideology is to make working conditions precarious, that is, to make workers insecure, easier to exploit, and to weaken or destroy workers’ unions. In higher education, this first step in the process has been adjunctification, a way to end tenure by not hiring professors for tenure-track positions, and to over-rely on part-time professors. The over-reliance on adjuncts has been increasing now for decades. Today, 75% of college faculty are part-time adjuncts, the reverse of what was once intended. I often describe adjunctification as tenure leaving by the back door. No one sees it going, and then it’s gone. Everyone wonders where it went. And with it goes academic freedom, because tenure is the only real protection for academic freedom. Today, only 25% of faculty have tenure and secure academic freedom. We are getting precariously close to not having tenure or full-time faculty.

Union protection of academic freedom depends largely on union protection of tenure. Adjunctification, to be clear, is the effective end of tenure. Adjuncts don’t have tenure and so lack academic freedom. Even when adjuncts belong to a union that is active in protecting academic freedom, like ours, adjuncts’ academic freedom is not equal to tenured academic freedom. Since adjuncts are hired only for one semester, and they must receive a new contract each semester; their academic freedom depends on the commitment to academic freedom of those who have the power to not rehire them. In other words, adjuncts don’t possess academic freedom, at least not full and secure academic freedom.

Faculty academic freedom is student academic freedom, just like faculty working conditions are student learning conditions. The oppressive nature of being adjunct oppresses the adjunct and her students. For instance, students do not have equal access to adjunct professors who have no official, long-term relationship with the institution, in whom the institution has not fully invested. Nevertheless, enduring the unequal working conditions, adjuncts, most of whom would prefer a full-time position, do most of the teaching in higher education, and do it well. But the conditions in which they labor to maintain the quality of higher education for students are oppressive. Most have more than one job, but make half what they would make if they had one full-time job. This is unjust. The idea that the market value is the ultimate value of labor dictates that the cost of labor should be as low as possible. This shortchanges both faculty and students.

In a few weeks, adjuncts, the 75% majority of faculty, will be unemployed, not on summer break like full-time faculty, but jobless. This is what precarious working conditions look like. We are obviously needed because we are hired again and again. Many people, when they understand the situation, ask, why don’t they just hire you full-time? Good question. No one has a good answer. But we could start with equal pay for equal work.

What would be best for students?

The answer is not Betsy DeVos, the new education secretary, who specifically took aim at adjuncts in comments she made to students attending the Conservative Political Action Conference: “The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think. They say that if you voted for Donald Trump, you’re a threat to the university community.” I don’t know any faculty who said exactly that. She exhorted the students to “fight against the education establishment.” She was calling, in other words, for an attack on academic freedom. Adjuncts, 75% of the higher education faculty, precarious, underpaid, serially unemployed, are named because she realizes that if the majority can be intimidated, the tenured minority, who have an empowered position within the institution, will be weakened. The new regime in Washington, with a corporatization-oriented cabinet, will seek to use this weak link to undermine academic freedom further and to make academic laborers even more precarious. We cannot let that happen. Faculty, adjuncts and tenured, need to stand together with students as community to resist the corporatization of higher education, to resist injustice, to resist hate.

Let us celebrate May Day, and recognize the contributions of workers to the economy and to society. After all, we are the majority.

Resist injustice.

Resist hate.

Embrace love.

Peace.

 

 

May Day 2017: A Post from the Past to Get in the Mood

The neoliberal agenda is upon us. Of course, it arrived early in higher education. It looks like adjunctification, the “dirty little secret” that we are all complicit in hiding, which not only shortchanges students, but, most significantly, fragments faculty unity at perhaps the worst time in living memory. If, and many say when, fair share dues are lost, teacher union voices will be stifled.

This is not an accident. The neoliberal playbook calls for disempowering the worker in the name of efficiency, and this process begins with job insecurity. In higher education, this has happened by replacing tenure-track positions with adjunct positions. Community college faculty, especially, have been adjunctified. The overt corporate takeover of the nation, fast becoming normalized, what I  refer to as administration #45, is poised to charge ahead with policies intended to end public higher education as a common good.

Resistance on May Day is a beginning. Now, more than ever, we need to prioritize resistance to adjunctification. It is the linchpin in the Neoliberal strategy to undercut union power and be free to privatize and pillage the institution, by producing citizens who think critically, that is most a threat to its agenda.

Here, in recognition of May Day actions everywhere, is a post I wrote for May Day in 2014.

NAWD at Mesa College 2017

NAWD at San Diego Mesa College this year had an expansive theme. The college president, a board member, and the president of the academic senate all spoke to adjunctification as well as the need to protect DACA students, and resist the hate emanating from the insane clown presidency. The intrepid Geoff Johnson kicked off the event, pointing out the ongoing human cost of the exploitation of adjunct faculty, emphasizing the cost to students, that 60% of adjuncts are women, and that many adjuncts live impoverished lives. Students were engaged and informed. The fight goes on.

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Geoff Johnson, AFT Adjunct rep and vice president of AFT national Adjunct Caucus, starting off the 2017 NAWD/AAD rally at Mesa.

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

National Adjunct “Walkout” Day 3.0 : The Spring of Our Discontent and the Need for a Year-round Adjunct/Contingent Campaign

I am writing this post to stress that now, as an anti-intellectual and anti-education political environment awaits us, the need for Spring Adjunct/Contingent Action is more important than ever.

Up until the events of February 25th, 2015, with the proposed, yet more modestly realized National Adjunct Walkout Day (there were protests, rallies, teach-ins, but few if any walkouts), Spring actions protesting adjunct labor conditions were few and far between, and usually only coming to protest class cuts and adjunct firings that were more often than not a foregone conclusion. (I took place in such actions as a Grad Student in the early 1990’s).

National Adjunct Walkout Day in part changed adjunct/contingent activism in the Spring in that it led to a smattering of actions nationwide, not as a reaction to an immediate Higher Ed misdecision by either Administrators or politicians, but rather, to draw attention to the growing creep of adjunctification, and with it, the weakening of the nation’s  Higher Ed system, and financial and emotional impoverishment of so-called “part-time” Higher Ed faculty who represent a commanding majority of Higher Ed. faculty in general.

By 2016, only a smattering of schools marked the event, although other institutions called for Spring adjunct actions in later months such as March and April.  This year, in 2017, it’s unclear who will participate in actions in conjunction with what now being called by some “Adjunct Action Day.”

In the San Diego Area, actions are currently being made to mark the event with rallies and other events on Wednesday, Feb. 22nd, commemorating the fourth Wednesday in February when the event first took place.

I . The Fading Past, but the Present Reality

For many hopeful of some mass workout stoppage which supposedly would show America how the US Higher Ed system would be brought to a crushing halt in a “Day without Adjuncts,”  2015’s National Adjunct Walkout Day was a failure, and those who did lesser actions were simply sellouts.

The event was in no way a failure, unless you were deluded enough to believe, after watching  Newsies or Norma Rae too many times, that mass worker actions can be achieved with Hollywood ease.  The event brought together both adjuncts who were and weren’t union members, and who were from competing organizations to speak with more or less a single message: that adjunctification and the exploitive practices associated with it must go.  In states such as California, where groups like CTA and CFT were able to rally around increasing categorical funding to increase full-time instruction, it meant tens of millions of dollars for more full-time positions (approx. 63 million dollars in California at alone).  In addition, it also marked the start of a two-year campaign to guarantee priority rehire rights for California Community College Adjuncts, resulting in the passage of bills AB1690 and SB1379.

The follow-up event,  Adjunct Action Day of 2016 in part launched the petition campaign to get an Extension of Prop 30 (a Provision passed in 2012 which now accounts for 15% of community college funding).  The rallies in the San Diego Community District helped lead the local union (AFT 1931) chapter to collecting more petition signatures than any other AFT chapter in the state.  Similar actions at Southwestern College in Chula Vista resulted in their collection of the 2nd highest total of signatures in the Southern California region for CTA chapters, unheard of when K-12 chapters usually outpace Community College chapters in signature gathering by multiples.

What’s more important is this—the Prop 30 Extension had struggled to get the sufficient numbers to be on the ballot. The actions of Adjunct Action Day, particularly with regard to the San Diego and Southwestern Community College Districts, helped put its numbers over the top, and thus saved 15% of the Community College budget, and 1000’s of adjunct jobs.

In spite of the national political climate, activists here are forging ahead, with things such paid maternity leave for adjuncts, increasing funding for office hours, and so on.

As for the national picture, the threats against DACA recipients, immigrants, Muslims, and the LGBT community, along with a clearly anti-union administration, will hurt adjuncts first and foremost among Higher Ed faculty.

We do not have the luxury to lull ourselves back into apathy;  we must act now as, with regard to the incoming Trump administration, it is the Spring of our discontent.

II.  Campus Equity Week is a Great Start, but It’s not Enough, and Needs to Be part of an Annual, not a Biennial Plan.

In 2000, the Coalition for Contingent Academic Labor or COCAL established a biennial event called “Campus Equity Week,” which set during the last week in October, was specifically to be week during which various actvities from rallies to teach-ins would take place to bring light to the plight of adjunct/contingent faculty. Over the years, various adjunct groups and faculty unions have held events in conjunction with the week.

Speifically, the San Diego and Southwetern Community College faculty unions placed a renewed focus on these events, doing them on an annual basis sarting from 2014.  Because the Coummunity Colleges have a two-year system, and because we work with student groups with high rates of turnover, it is more conducive for us to do these events on a annual basis to establish institutional knowledge of the week. While adjunct issues are still a main focus of the week, we have branched out the events of the week to address issues such as student poverty, school corporitization, and the expanding creep of labor contingency throughout the economic system.  By doing this, we get more invovlement with students, classified staff, administrators, and governing board members/trustees.

We use the issues raised during this week to set up campaigns for potential legislative or petition/letter-writing campaigns, which come to fruition in the Spring.

And understand, Spring action should be just that-action.  Too often I have heard about such events been scheduled and being reduced to Adjunct “Appreciation” Days.  These events are not about “appreciation,” (i.e. providing five-dollar pizzas from Cesar Cesar for an adjunct “dinner”). They’re about challenging adjunctification, and standing up for ourselves.

Without an institutionalized Spring event like an Adjunct Action Day or whatever you, my adjuncts, can come up with, launching many of these campaigns becomes more challenging, and this is why activities like an Adjunct Action Day are essential. Legislatures form legislation and make budgets in late Winter/early Spring.  To not have an event until later means you’re being reactive rather than proactive.

That said, because of the vast differences in calendars and issues from not only state-to-state, but system-to-system, and school-to-school, adjunct/contingents at their respective institutions need to schedule Spring actions when it’s best for them. The bigger point is you need to do something.

In closing, know this–we are facing real threats to our working conditions and occupational mission, and there are models out there for successful adjunct organizing.  It is not the time for depression, self-pity, or apathy, but action.

“Once unto the breach” my good adjuncts.

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