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

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.

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!

The benefits of equality – San Diego Campus Equity Week seeks equality in pay for part-time and full-time instructors

Here is excellent student journalism from the San Diego City College City Times, by Phoenix Webb:

http://www.sdcitytimes.com/news/2014/11/18/the-benefits-of-equality-san-diego-campus-equity-week-seeks-equality-in-pay-for-part-time-and-full-time-instructors/

San Diego Campus Equity Week 2014

To bring attention to the sad condition of the professoriate in higher education, that is, the human cost of adjunctification, and to launch a letter writing campaign to the governor of California to demand the funding of categorical line items in the upcoming budget for increased adjunct pay and more full-time positions, a small group of AFT adjuncts (myself included) have organized Campus Equity Week at several San Diego campuses. Even though this is an off-year for Campus Equity Week, we’re still doing it. The pay inequity between part-time and full-time faculty is an affront to justice, and the failure to speak out is hypocrisy and complacency. Equity Week is not the only way to protest, of course, but it seems like a waste to not use it.

Today and tomorrow, at Mesa College, we’ll have literature and lectures. And pizza. Several other campuses will be holding similar events. See the San Diego Campus Equity Week site for details.

If you’re in San Diego, stop by. I’ll be ranting on Tuesday at 1:00 at Mesa in H117. Geoff Johnson the indefatigable miximinao will be raving in LRC435 at 1:00 Monday.

Equal pay for equal work!

Take Action: Record Your Labor

One of the lies that allows for adjuncts to be so grossly underpaid is that we “work” only in the classroom. What a big, fat lie. It is important to publicize the truth: we work as hard as full-timers, and we should be paid as well. We plan lessons, develop curriculum, evaluate student work, hold office hours, attend conferences, attend meetings, do committee work, participate in shared governance, answer emails, read emails, read professional journals, publish and hold down two jobs to get paid half as much as our full-time counterparts (who deserve their pay; so do adjuncts). All efforts to record our work should be supported. Adjunct Action has developed a survey to record and ultimately publish data to demonstrate how much work we do. The information generated by this kind of survey can help us argue for justice: equal pay as well as qualifying for student loan forgiveness, for example.  Take the survey: http://action.seiu.org/page/content/office-hours-2/

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/

Professors on food stamps: The shocking true story of academia in 2014

The story of most career academics is the story of the adjunctification of higher education. Most college professors are adjuncts. The percentage of faculty at SDCCD, 70% adjuncts, is typical nationally. We got to this point by accepting the narrative of fiscal austerity. Decades ago, when we could have acted with more power, we didn’t. The decline in tenured faculty almost imperceptibly continues. The legions of adjuncts, who do most of the work of higher education, are, as Noam Chomsky notes, the precariat, “living a precarious existence.”  When we’re all precariat, what then? If you have a conscience, pay attention.

 

http://www.salon.com/2014/09/21/professors_on_food_stamps_the_shocking_true_story_of_academia_in_2014/?source=newsletter

The Human Cost of Adjunctification and the Need for Equal Pay

Adjunctification is a machine. To halt the human destruction this machine causes, we need the power of conscience.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”–Upton Sinclair

To local, state and national tenured and tenure-track faculty everywhere who want justice (and I know this means you):

Before you allow resentment to define your response to adjunct resistance to an unjust order, I appeal to each of you to bring forward your best Self and rise above your resentment. Some things, perhaps hard things, need to be said.

One reason for adjunct dissent within the union is that tenured faculty, through no intentions of their own, but as a result of being part of a two-tiered class system, which existed before they came along, benefit from the exploitation and oppression of adjuncts. It’s just a fact. Let us consider it together, dispassionately.

Adjuncts are frustrated because most are in a dead-end situation. Highly educated, deeply indebted, exploited for their commitment to the public good, adjuncts feel betrayed. This is the human cost of the erosion of tenure-track positions aptly named adjunctification. Adjunctification is the first step in the scheme to privatize higher education. And this stage of the scheme is fast nearing completion.

One thing that seems to happen in the breakdown of communication between adjuncts and tenured/tenure-track faculty is the resentment that is bred by the competition between so many for the rare chance to win the lottery and escape the adjunct ranks. Sometimes, the frustration adjuncts feel erupts as resentment against the lucky one in a hundred who got the tenure-track spot for which any of the many were eminently qualified. Sometimes, it’s the lucky one who feels like he must be hated by the unlucky for his luck and so reads envy into all the comments and actions of the unlucky adjuncts. No matter who projects it, or if it is mutual, there is tension between adjuncts and tenure-track.

The fact is that the class privilege of tenure is invisible and so therefore unnoticed. Well, not exactly. Tenure-track faculty have offices, adjuncts do not. Tenure-track faculty have their own computers, adjuncts do not. Even when adjuncts have benefits, like the ones we have at AFT Local 1931, they aren’t quite as equal as those of tenure-track faculty.

But the more significant privileges are not so readily visible. The institution sees tenure-track faculty as essential, for instance, and sees adjuncts, by definition, as non-essential. It doesn’t matter if actually we are essential. And telling us we are essential rings hollow, just as it does when a tenured faculty member sings, “I once was an adjunct.” Actually, even if it may salve your conscience, when you say these things, it ultimately serves to maintain the status quo exploitation. It’s reminiscent of Freire’s “false charity.” It doesn’t help. Only “happy adjuncts” want to hear it.

Tenure-track faculty have the privilege of financial security that comes with a contract, with being defined as essential. This security, and those of you who have endured very much time in the adjunct ranks know this, is life-changing for an adjunct. It would change the quality of your life: you would have the security of providing well for your family; you would have the security of paying bills and having money left over; you would have the security of paying off your student loan. Most importantly, perhaps, you would have the academic freedom that comes with being defined as essential, and therefore, greater freedom to challenge students to grow and learn.

The financial insecurity of adjuncts has an adverse effect on students’ education. Because of our professional commitment, we deliver the best education possible, but the truth is that we are hampered by having to navigate freeways and multiple campus protocols, constantly adjust curriculum for different student populations, and struggle against the distraction of never having enough money, of living paycheck to paycheck.

I hardly need to observe that college faculty, and indeed, public education in general, are under attack. As Randi Weingarten put it about the attack on K-12 public education in a speech last year, we in higher education are, like K-12, under attack by “privatizers and profiteers” who want no less than to privatize every aspects of public education. And make no mistake, we are up against the edge of the cliff. One of the privatizers’ biggest victories has been the erosion of tenure through adjunctification to the precarious point where the number of tenure-track faculty is dwarfed by the legions of adjuncts. Like soil erosion, tenure erosion has happened so gradually that most could ignore it, especially those on the solid ground of tenure. So much has eroded by now that most of us are struggling against a slow landslide. Adjuncts are in the landslide, but the erosion is continually creeping up the hill. Ground that seems firm today eventually will erode. Unless we do something different, the number of tenured faculty will continue to decrease.

In many ways, tenured/tenure-track faculty are caught between the forces of privatization and the consequent oppression of adjuncts. I think it must sometimes be difficult for tenured faculty to fulfill their contractual duties and fully resist privatization. I wonder if they ever lie awake at night and struggle with this dilemma. At any rate, as Paolo Freire observed, one cannot be “neutral” in the struggle against oppression.

To resist privatization, to save higher education, what is our plan? What is our plan to stop the erosion of tenure? Is it the AFT FACE campaign? If it’s “advocating for more full-time positions,” what’s our timetable for reversing the erosion of tenure? And what about those who are clambering in the slow landslide? How many can be saved? How many adjuncts will go over the cliff, chained to their student loans?

If you truly want unity, if you want solidarity in the resistance to privatization, you, my tenured and tenure-track friends, need a new attitude. We need a new strategy. To begin, we need to demand equal pay for adjuncts. Adjuncts’ working conditions are student’s learning conditions; these working conditions are shared by tenured/tenure-track faculty as well, especially when, for instance, they are asked to increase their committee workload.  I think the privatizers will work relentlessly to divide us. If we are all too busy with maintaining the system or with survival, we won’t even notice the hum of their machine. Empowering adjuncts with equal pay would not only do right by adjuncts, it is a crucial strategy in the struggle to save higher education. We need a union that makes equality within its ranks the first priority.

I hope not, but, even if it’s still possible, the reversal of tenure erosion may take too long to save many of the adjuncts now in the landslide. Equal pay for equal work, however, would provide a bulwark of support to stanch the slide and strengthen solidarity and resistance. It would be the first, very needed step in reclaiming the promise of higher education.

I appeal to your conscience. Do the right thing and support, no, demand equal pay for your colleagues.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”– Frederick Douglass