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.
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.
A Good Adjunct
Since Trump won in November, I knew we (adjunct/contingents) were screwed, but to get at the full degree of just where things would go, it took me to see the latest proposal being pushed out there regarding Trump and federal employees to get the full searing sense of what the outcome might look like.
Understand, that it was a given that Trump, whose own record with unions is deplorable at best, would not only seek to put an end to public employee union agency fees ala the Friedrichs case that was halted with the death of Antonin Scalia last year, but, in a nod to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, will seek out National “Right-to-Work” Legislation.
It is also clear, in his railing against “regulations,” that on-the-job worker protections will be seriously rolled back.
But what Trump is truly after is the very notion of worker’s rights, or anything that has to do remotely with the notion of collective bargaining.
Just introduced, the “Promote Accountability and Government Efficiency” Act (H.R. 6278), and sponsored by Todd Rokita (Republican, Indiana 4th District), seeks to do the following, and here I quote for the AFL-CIO Action Network:
- Completely change the federal pay system, and prohibits all pay raises — including annual pay raises — unless you get a 4 or 5 out of 5 performance rating.
- Make all new federal workers “at will,” meaning they can be fired without explanation.
- Allow immediate suspension for current workers for performance or conduct and only ten days for appeal.
- Eliminate official time, so that union representatives can no longer work to protect your pay, your benefits or your job during the work day.
Read the bill for yourself
In case you don’t get it, the passage of such a bill would have trickle down effects. If you can make all federal workers “at will” employees, why not all public employees, and in particular teachers?
Consider that the first provision effectively ends the concept of a COLA, or cost-of-living allowance, so as things get more expensive, your salary may not rise, unless you toady well, or are like that shiny new penny to your evaluator or administrator.
With the second provision, say goodbye to not only tenure, but ultimately the push for priority re-hire rights for Adjunct-Contingent faculty. And understand, this is not just a job issue. Tenure was created to serve as a protection which is at the heart of Higher Education: Academic Freedom.
Imagine, while you’re on vacation over the Summer being told you’re terminated, only to find out you missed the appeal window, because you were unaware. Further, consider that if, even at a single institution, there were just 10-20 cases in a given term, your grievance team would likely be overwhelmed, especially considering they couldn’t do any union work during the day.
And by the way adjuncts, over the past few years dealing with grievance, I’ve seen a number of these cases, as many administrators like to use the “Summer exit plan” to get rid of what they deem as “pesky adjuncts.” They have and will be coming after you.
Number four on the list is effectively a union killer. If you read the bill, it calls for the prohibition of any union activity using, and I quote “any Government property (including office space or computers.” This means, if you have a complaint, you can’t even email me (a union rep) from the office, or use the school email to do so. We also couldn’t meet with you on campus.
You say this is unconstitutional, and a violation of our first amendment rights. Well, now that’s determined by the Supreme Court, whose immediately future justices will be chosen by none other than our Union-hating President Trump.
If there has never been a time for adjuncts, teachers, public employees, and workers in general to not stand up and resist and resist loudly, this is it.
Here’s a first step to take, but it’s not enough.
Adjuncts need to publicly rally on all Campuses to speak our cause and the cause of workers in general. For those of you on other campuses, mass Spring action is not only called for, it’s essential.
Adjunct Action Day At Southwestern College and in the San Diego Community College District is Wednesday, February 22nd. You can bet this will be part of the discussion.
A Good Adjunct
A Cry for Help?!
Martyr me! Martyr me!
Put me on a cross!
Send me to the trailer park (The English Village*),
Put me in an abandoned chem lab!
I’ll work for free!
I’ll read papers ‘til my eyes bleed!
I’ll make the same comments on every paper!
Some will be positive!
I’ll turn papers into data and run them through the scantron machine!
I’ll teach comp online!
Martyr me! Martyr me!
Put me on a cross!
Put me on a cross!
For student learning outcomes,
*The “English Village” is the new name given to a collection of old trailer-classrooms formerly named the “T-buildings:” “T” for temporary. Unlike authentic English villages, like in England, this one does not have a pub.
On this campus, as on many other campuses, new buildings have been going up non-stop for over a decade. As state of the art LEED certified buildings, swank, sexy structures, with water-friendly landscaping, go up for all non-humanities disciplines, the English department gets trailers with faulty cooling systems that cool to a certain temperature, then heat to a certain temperature in a perpetual cycle that never ends. This, even with the best efforts of a hard working, sympathetic dean. In contrast, there’s a new math and science building that’s huge and domineering; there’s a social sciences building that’s real sexy; coming soon are a new student center and bookstore as well as (no kidding) an “Exercise Science” building (a state of the art gym). I’ve been informed, by one who knows, that these last two buildings do not have any classrooms.
It is true that the first new structure was the School of Humanities building; yet, it is also the one with the fewest classrooms that is supposed to house the English department (right, the biggest department on campus, with the greatest need for classrooms) as well as all the other languages and humanities’ disciplines. English classes largely are taught in the English Village trailers (to be fair, these have been made “smart”) as well as abandoned, slated-to-be-demolished chemistry buildings. And other random places. This, to me, signals the adjunctification of the humanities; perhaps especially English as a discipline that is about art rather than the language skills necessary for what novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson has called a “life of economic servitude.” English is the most adjunctified of all disciplines. Not only are most introductory and transfer level English courses taught by adjuncts, but they are taught in places that are relics of the 20th century. Or in borrowed spaces of the 21st century.
The abandoned chemistry labs in which we teach English are replete with gas hookups and emergency eye-wash stations; after all, one never knows what one might read in a freshman comp class. Eye wash stations could be useful.
The humanities have been adjunctified. The other day I overheard a tenured business professor (!) who was running quizzes through a scantron commenting to an adjunct working in a general workroom space (where else is she going to work?) that soon there would be a program to grade papers and so “they” would not even have to grade papers anymore. And, I suppose, students will no longer have to write them, as they hang out at the swanky student center, doing whatever it is they’ve been instructed to do (not writing).
The faculty mostly has been adjunctified and the humanities have been and are continuing to be diminished in importance. So why are we complicit in the adjunctification of higher education, the institution, the ideal for which we became deeply indebted to serve? It’s been happening for a generation or two; where will it end?
It seems like it will end one day, as has been prophesied by many now for years, as a thing different from what it has been. Rather than an institution that supports the development of knowledge and moral acumen, for most, it will be job training. In this scenario, there is no “higher” education, except, perhaps, for the wealthy elite. And, as much as we might wish it is not happening, we are indeed passively playing our role in the unfolding of the story of the adjunctification of faculty and the diminishment of the humanities.
The cult of martyrdom, the idea of self-sacrifice that seems to pervade the ranks of teachers from all levels of education, facilitates the adjuctification and corporatization, the transmogrification of colleges into corporate diploma mills. Our attitudes of martyrdom doom us to complicity with our undoing. One of the key ways that faculty have been adjunctified so that now roughly 75% are off the tenure-track is the exploitation of our willingness to sacrifice ourselves, to work for free. We feel noble (a psychological wage) that we are engaged in good work (and it is good work, perhaps even “right work” in the Buddhist sense). But this leads to the rationalization that we must sacrifice, that sacrifice is needed because the philistine legislators do not fund us, that sacrifice is needed because students need so much, that sacrifice makes us good people. Ironically, it gives us a sense of fulfillment. When called on to take action to save ourselves, our common rationalization is we don’t have time: “my focus is on my students.” We embrace our cult of martyrdom.
And college administrators exploit our martyr-hood. Adjuncts work without job security or decent pay. Tenure-track work to keep what they have. We all work because we want to do our best for our students and we see no end to the need for our work. We work u until we drop, whether we’re paid for it or not. Who does not grade all the essays in a timely fashion? The fact that we’re so busy staying up all night working to the point of martyrdom kept us and keeps us from resisting, for instance, the inexorable creep of adjunctification.
I’m not suggesting that we do less good work, that we fail to serve students justly. But unless we can come to the realization that our sense of martyrdom, especially the martyrdom of adjuncts, is leaving us open to exploitation by (b)adminsitration that wants to finish the story and corporatize higher education completely, we will become the future corporation of higher education, public or not. Adjuncts will be sacrificed, replaced by massive online courses taught by the few faculty (of some description) left. And students will not be served. Nor will democracy in an age of perpetual media white noise.
The martyr syndrome is not the only cultural narrative that accommodates the exploitation of faculty. The no money lie contributes. So does the tenure is a cushy job for life narrative. And freeway flyers are just plain busy, scrambling for the next meal, trying to survive the crisis. But the cult of the martyr is within us.
How do we exorcise this demon, the cult of the martyr, that is within us?
Update fall 2016:
This fall semester, I was assigned a room in an abandoned physics building (a decent room, relatively speaking), but, in a summertime room boondoggle involving a secretary and a lifeguard, the room was reassigned to the lifeguard instructor, who needed the room for the days when it rains in drought-ridden San Diego and his class can’t meet at the pool. Meanwhile, my class was moved to an adjacent, smaller, and pedagogically unsound room (for composition), without any consultation with the English department assistant chair, who is responsible for room assignment. He is not pleased. What will happen? I don’t know.
I’m posting the latest from mixinminao (Geoff Johnson) because he is having some technical difficulties with his computer. Here is the hardest working activist in America’s latest post:
Most of you reading this are serious adjunct/contingent activists who are all too aware of how damaging adjunct working conditions are to your life economically, physically, emotionally, psychically. . . and I could go on. You may also be aware of how it hurts students, the institution, and contract/full-time employees as well. You may also be aware that people have written about this at length and that in the face of it, movement on much of the issue has been, with but a few exceptions, glacial at best.
Part of this is because every time we broach the issue on our campuses during activist events like Campus Equity Week or Adjunct Action Day, we spend more time having to tell students what an adjunct is, than being able to get students to actively work towards the reduction of adjunct instruction, and the betterment of adjunct working conditions.
At the beginning of every term, I ask the students in my classes on the first day how many of them know what an “adjunct” (what I choose to call myself) is. Because of the heightened activism on my local campuses, I will now be lucky if I can get three or more students out of a class of 30 who can tell me; and I, unlike 90% of my colleagues actually ask my students about the term. Most teachers, maybe think that to ask and answer such a question is “whining.” What this effectively means is that these adjunct instructors have decided that these work conditions, as injurious as they are to not only to the students, the institution, and society, are really about themselves. In other words, these adjuncts internalize their exploitation and put on the “brave face” to make their teaching appear “seamless” in quality comparison with the full-time instructor. It’s as if students shouldn’t know that, unlike the full-time instructor:
- You have other jobs to go to, which significantly limits your students’ access to you.
- You may teach more classes than a full-timer out of necessity, meaning:
- You will need more time to return graded work with fewer comments
- You may appear harried or even disorganized when you come into class
- You teach at multiple sites, so:
- You may not be fully aware of the outside institutional resources for students
- Know enough about other instructors to recommend to motivated students
- Be fully aware of what is taught in prerequisite or follow-up classes
The fact of the matter is that it is and should be our job to inform students of these realities. Contrary to what many may believe, it’s not as if students are going to flee from your classes in droves. Many students are tied to your classes because of their own tight schedules, and because so many of us teach at peak times with classes that are already impacted. Many students have no choice but to take your classes, so do the right thing, tell them, prepare them. Make it clear that you will do your best to provide that student with a quality education, but that the institution creates barriers and limits generally unseen, but nonetheless there.
At the same time, there is another problem, and many instructors particularly at the community college level can attest to this: many of our students are themselves working effectively as adjunct or contingent labor. Even when students are informed about the adjunct situation, many of them will feel to a degree more resentful than sympathetic, and when one starts talking to students about this, it’s easy to understand why.
Few if any students have the stable, 40 hour-week-job (and if they’re students, it’s often better they don’t). The bigger problem though is that many work at jobs for which full-time or stable employment is not an option. In order to avoid having to provide insurance for their employees, or in some cases, to simply keep them “hungry for hours,” businesses will purposefully under-employ students who are also underpaid with respect to being able to cover basic needs. Further, these jobs will lack any kind of security. Even at better businesses which will provide an elite few workers full-time employment and benefits, there is a sort of two-tier-ification going on in which the vast majority will work the part-time, underpaid, no benefit job (sound familiar adjuncts?)
For some students, the jobs they work aren’t even jobs, but rather “gigs”. All hail the rise of the “independent contractor” who works for outfits like Uber and Lyft. These ‘contractors” are our students, and they quite often get paid worse than us and treated even more shabbily.
Now I can hear some adjuncts say, “…but they’re students,” and/or “these are transitional jobs.” To them I say, “You need to talk to your students.” Many of them have been doing this for years, and many may finish with degrees and still find themselves doing such work for a time. I would also say you need to look at the world beyond yourself. The term “starving students” used to be more of a figurative than literal statement. Recent reports show that up to 10% of students in the CSU or California State University system are homeless. This is the largest four-year system in the country, with over 300,000 students. We’re talking about 30,000 people with lives and aspirations and families in just one state school system. And I’m not including the one in five have food security issues.
And yes, there are homeless adjuncts in California, but 30,000? Do one in five California adjuncts have food security issues?
To reach these students, we need to ask for more than understanding. We need to show empathy, and we need to show that we care about their lives, not just as students in our classrooms, but as people, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, and the very future of our nation.
And this all ties back to labor contingency. A main contributor to the problems associated with the record income and wealth inequity in this country is that labor contingency which we all know too well in academia is exploding in the general workforce. In a recent report given on the NPR program Marketplace, it was stated that up to 35% of the nation’s workforce is contingent labor with it expected to rise to 65-70% in the coming decades if unabated. When people wonder why, in spite of falling employment wages have not risen, here’s one of their answers as to why.
In some respects, I would argue that labor contingency is potentially as serious and destabilizing a force as global warming. Funny, but if people actually thought of it in those terms, would we have to waste our time as activists telling students “what an adjunct is”?
In short you need to make your students SEE your situation, and you need to SEE theirs. To truly make any progress on the adjunct/contingent front, we need to do it from the beginning. See this task for what it is: a moral, social, and yes a PROFESSIONAL obligation.
The adjunct crisis is the higher education crisis. In other words, the eclipse of the humanities by STEM, the prevalence of administrative and accreditation scandals, and the specter of “accountability” coming to higher education, are all the result of adjunctification. We are not prepared to resist the onslaught of privatization.
There is a division within our union ranks not of our own design, which we do not clearly see. And this is troubling. We are divided. Our union is divided. As long as we accept that the interests of adjuncts and contract faculty are different, as long as we conceive of them as distinct bargaining groups, we will perpetuate this division, this two-tiered system. It is not an accident, I think, that tenure has been under attack in the courts recently, at just this point, a perfect storm. It is not an accident that the ACCJC tried to shut down CCSF, the largest California community college full of adjuncts who are paid on an equity scale, as part of a scheme, I am convinced, to privatize the entire system. But ACCJC failed, in part, because of the unity of local 2121. I am also convinced that much of the solidarity of that local comes from the equity pay. It is one thing to recognize that adjuncts are essential; it’s another to be that recognition and establish equal pay. I realize there are plans to get funding from the governor, and that other plans have repeatedly been killed in one of the appropriation’s committees. But these don’t seem to be working. When will elected representatives see the light? When will the governor be so generous? Which governor will be so generous? How many drops in the bucket before it’s full?
We did not design this two-tiered system, but we perpetuate it in numerous ways. One way we perpetuate the ongoing exploitation of 75% of faculty is the unquestioned acceptance of the system. I am aware, of course, having participated now for a couple of years in a campaign to petition California’s Governor Jerry Brown to fund equal pay categorical items in the state budget, as well as efforts to publicize the adjunctification of higher education which have been nationwide even, that we are, in this way, “questioning” the system, and trying to change it. Personally, I’m not sure what else we could do at the state level than what we are already doing. Probably, there is more that we could do at the state level. But my opinion is that we could do more at the local and personal levels. And increased activism and participation might just trickle up to the state level.
For one thing, locally, we can participate more fully in AFT sponsored Campus Equity Week (CEW) and National Adjunct Walkout Day (NAWD) events. Rather than a ragtag group of adjuncts trying to pull off major events, which has been the case in our recent efforts at Local 1931, we could have the whole force of our union, tenure-track, adjuncts, classified, each of us contributing in some small or large way to the cause, which is, after all, resistance to the corporatization of higher education. We could take these nationally recognized days of protest seriously as some of the most important events of the year for our union. We could have a show of numbers, of full-timer and part-timer political action, staging multiple events across campuses: teach-ins, rallies, poetry readings. guerrilla theater, music, movies, pizza. We could engage students in protest.
Another thing we could do at the personal level is to realize that the two-tiered system is the first part of the “management” strategy to “divide and conquer.” We are divided, clearly. Will we see the “conquer” stage before it happens? Was the ACCJC plot to privatize, effectively, CCSF an attempt to begin the stage of conquering?
In our last round of negotiations, because of our unique Resource Allocation Formula, which gives the union a prescribed portion of state funding, we were able to provide adjuncts with an 8% raise, while full-timers took only a 5% raise. This was in the right spirit, but I’m not sure if we can really count on ever achieving equal pay if we only gain 3% each round. We need more.
We need a plan to establish equal pay for adjunct faculty, with a timeline. The plan can and should be multi-pronged, focused on state-level efforts as well as local efforts. In order to make a plan, I think we will need a paradigmatic shift in the way we see ourselves If the interest of full-time faculty is to save higher education as a public good, including tenure as well as a wide-ranging curriculum, equal pay for adjuncts is the first step toward a strong union of financially secure members. Financial security would empower adjuncts to get off the freeway and focus more on activism; it would invigorate our union.
The adjunctification of higher education is not an accident of market forces. It is an intentional, ideological scheme to render a public good a private luxury. We must see resistance to adjunctification as our most important battle if we hope to reclaim the promise of higher education in America. To have real unity, we need real equality. Adjuncts need equal pay.
Gnawed or Odd?
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.
On last February 25, National Adjunct Walkout Day (NAWD) or whatever you want to call it, adjuncts took various actions across the country to resist the adjunctification of higher education. There were protests, rallies, and even marches. In San Diego, AFT local 1931 staged several rolling rallies with speakers, including the celebrated Joe Berry, and a number of local members as well as students. At the Mesa College rally, I emceed, and Jim Mahler, our local as well as AFTCCC president, spoke, as did the school president, Pam Luster. Several students and professors took the open mic to speak.
Students were shocked, and in general had no idea. The one question, however, they repeated was “What can we do?”
Students, here’s a few things you can do:
1. Be informed. The root is the ideology of neoliberalism, which includes the belief that public austerity is the way the public good should be funded. In other words, not funded. This could be the end of public higher education in America, which, in the modern world of mass information and the potential for mass manipulation of public opnion, would be the end of the American experiment in democracy. Imagine if there were no institution of which thousands of sties exist across the nation offereing the opportunity for knowledge and critical thought. There is no other institutional source of critical thought in America. Adjunctificaton is the first step in ending higher education as a public good.
2. Inform others. Tell your parents, your peers, your neighbors, warn your communities. The neoliberal assault on higher education has a darker side. Take the Koch brothers for example. They are trying to buy higher education outright and then prohibit the free exchange of ideas. Even if we attribute blind faith in ideology to most neoliberal policymakers, there are many more, like the Koch brothers, who want not just to make colleges and universities profit centers, but want to make them neoliberal and right wing propaganda centers. Think about what that means.
3. Take action. Adjuncts and our allies are fighting back. Take various actions, directed towards legislative solutions, as well as spreading the word. Be part of the resistance. When asked to write letters, do it. When rallies happen, show up. Speak. Organize, formally and informally. Join and make change happen.
Truly, we professors and students are in this together. In the most basic sense, we are education. Without either of us, there would not be education. Yet, we are the ones who are being exploited, 75% of faculty, grossly underpaid, many without benefits, who work out of a sense of commitment to the common good, students, whose educational opportunities are being reduced to job preparation and who must assume a life-diminishing, perhaps soul-crushing debt in order to work as an indentured employee.
I don’t know what will be happening across the nation this NAWD. Whatever does (and AFT local 1931 will be holding rally at San Diego Mesa College), it will be a small step only in the struggle. But, unless we can mount a resistance of adjuncts, students, and full-time faculty unified, working together, we will be hard pressed to resist the corporatization of higher education, and the loss by degree of meaningful life that will follow.
Here is the schedule for Campus Equity Week 2015 events at Mesa College: