Student journalist Shane O’Connell, writing for The Mesa Press, covers Campus Equity Week: “Campus Equity Week Aims to Open Discussion Over Adjuncts”
Here is excellent student journalism from the San Diego City College City Times, by Phoenix Webb:
Campus Equity Week in San Diego 2014: The Message
The following notes were conceived with the intent of addressing a broad community college audience of students, adjunct and tenure-track faculty, and classified staff during the San Diego Campus Equity Week. This attempt to raise awareness of how adjunct issues are everyone’s issues was accompanied by a slideshow presentation.
CEW is a national event started by the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor (COCAL) and participated in by AFT and other organizations. Its purpose is to publicize the exploitation of adjunct faculty, the effects of this exploitation on students, and the corporatization of higher education in general. Legend has it that CEW was inspired by A2K, a CCC-wide labor event organized in Spring 2000 meant to bring attention to statewide legislative issues as well as issues at local sites. CEW is now promoted as a national event bi-annually, but we think that pay equity, student equity, and the many related issues are too important to wait until next year. We have an immediate agenda. We need action now. CEW 2014 in San Diego echoes the spirit of grassroots activism that sparked the first one, way back in 2000/2001. CEW is a protest of the exploitation of adjunct faculty and staff, of rising tuition and student debt, and resistance against the corporatization of higher education.
The Process of the Corporatization of Higher Education
The trends in higher education over the last several decades have been troubling. Chief among them is the decline of tenured faculty. But the pressures to privatize services, the perpetual de-funding, the shift in federal policy towards vocational training at the expense of traditional liberal arts, like philosophy, literature, and social sciences, are also indicative of the adoption of a market ideology by higher education policymakers. The slow and steady, but unremitting application of a corporate business model to higher education, or the corporatization of higher education, began in the 1970s. Over the last four decades, central to the ultimate end of transforming higher education into a for-profit entity has been the adjunctification of the higher education workforce. Correlative with this phenomenon, students have experienced rising tuition, a less stable faculty to serve them, grinding debt, and a contraction of educational opportunity, such as increased pressure to choose a major and penalties for changing majors. Reducing higher education to the function of job training, which seems to be the mission of efforts to corporatize it, penalizes students who want to explore their educational interests, or who just, out of intellectual curiosity, seek knowledge and desire a broad educational experience. This is the brave new world rising we now face: less freedom for students to choose a course of study, less freedom for faculty to teach. And adjunctification is happening not only to faculty and students, but to the classified staff who support the work of faculty. For instance, here at Mesa, the very important service of reprographics has been adjunctified in recent years, seeing its number of full-time employees fall from 30 to 8, replaced by hourly, “adjunct” labor. With student as consumer and faculty as producer, higher education becomes a commodity, sold at the highest price (tuition) the market (students) will bear, produced at the lowest labor cost (exploitation of adjuncts). Today, I want to focus on the adjunctification of faculty.
Over a period of four decades, from 1970 to 2014, the steady decline of tenured faculty and the corresponding rise in reliance on adjuncts has hardly been noticed. This is not to say that, at different times, small numbers of people did not become aware and try to resist. They have. Unfortuantely, these resisters could never get enough of their fellows to pay attention and take the kind of concerted, radical action that is needed to reverse this trend. Time passed. Budgets were cut. With fewer and fewer full-time professors, those that were left always had more work to do.
Adjunctification is not an accident. The increasing reliance on part-time faculty is the result of an ideological takeover of higher education that is not yet finished but which is well underway. By the end of the 1970s, free market ideology began to infiltrate higher education. Accompanied by perpetually decreasing state spending on education (by 13% in CA), which served as a handy justification, the practice of hiring part-time adjuncts to replace retiring tenure-track faculty began. Market ideology, and the corporate takeover that it serves, is not limited to education; rather, what has happened to education is symptomatic of a society-wide corporatization that has been underway for generations now, examples of which include the infamous “outsourcing” and “downsizing” of recent decades. The growing reliance on temporary workers is society-wide. The corporate model of free market ideology demands efficiency, which includes realizing the lowest labor cost. But the decline in tenure-track faculty is not an accident of unfortunate but necessary budget cuts. As Noam Chomsky puts it, the first step of corporatization is to create a “precarious” workforce. 75% of the higher education workforce, adjunct professors, is precarious. Numbers of adjuncts have skyrocketed. Numbers of full-time faculty have not. Numbers of administrators have grown 85%; administrative assistants 240% (Benjamin Ginsberg)
What is An Adjunct?
The dictionary definces adjunct as “non-essential,” which implies that those so designated are not necessary, and if they didn’t show up for work, no one would notice. Would students notice if their professor did not show up? Although “contingent” is more accurate, since adjuncts are employed from semester to semester, and their employment is conditional on student enrollment, it still does not accurately describe the role of adjunct professors. Part-time, too, is problematic; most adjuncts work part-time at more than one place, sometimes teaching more than a full-time load. These adjuncts are, perhaps, better named “full-time-part-timers” as they work at multiple locations. The accuracy of this term is ironic, since it is purportedly a term invented by human resources personnel to describe the legions of freeway flyers racing from campus to campus to cobble together a full-time equivalent load of classes and earn about half as much as their full-time colleagues for doing pretty much the same work in order to make enough money to survive and support their families. They arrive “just in time” for class, “just in time” for the last minute assignment. No doubt, they are often paid “just in time” as well. Satire is important to the oppressed intellectual. Most adjuncts, according to a recent AFT survey, want a full-time position. Who doesn’t want a secure job, with one employer, and the financial security to plan a life?
Adjuncts are misnamed. Although some adjuncts are satisfied with being adjunct, most are not. Most are career academics who have devoted their lives to the public good of education. Without them, higher education would disintegrate. Most adjuncts always intended to be academics, to teach, or research, as experts in their field of expertise. Chances are, these are people whose passion is teaching. They are professionals dedicated to sharing knowledge with students, to contributing to the public good, to making the world a better place. These dedicated professionals devote most of their life to gaining, maintaining, and teaching their subject matter. This is what they do; it is who they are.
What Adjuncts Do
Adjuncts teach most college students. 75% of higher education faculty are adjuncts. If you define the core work of faculty as teaching, we do the same work as the 25% of tenure track, full-time faculty: prepare syllabi, plan lessons, evaluate student work, counsel students, develop curriculum, answer emails. Even though adjuncts aren’t required to do committee work, attend department meetings, or participate in shared governance, we often do. Besides these tasks, though, the work of developing, preparing and delivering lessons, and of evaluating and responding to student work, and of counseling students, interacting with students in multifarious ways, the work of teaching, is exactly the same. Except of course, in order to make a fraction of what their full-time colleagues make for the same work, they must work at 2 or 3 sites, navigate multiple campus cultures, and interact with multiple student populations. Increasingly, this is the life of an adjunct, the highest career status that can be aspired to by those who end up on the “adjunct track.”
Adjunctification Hurts Adjuncts
Being adjunct is not easy. Obviously, the process of adjunctifictaion that has been happening in higher education now for decades hurts adjuncts. Most adjuncts begin their careers expecting to be adjunct for a few years, to “pay dues,” and then be rewarded with a full-time tenure-track position. Once upon a time, perhaps, there was some truth to this; candidates were funneled into the system from graduate programs, and most could count on heading for the tenure-track. But that was way back in the mid 20th century. Today, as the process of adjunctification continues and we head towards that future when, if trends continue, the percent of tenure-track faculty will be less than 10%, with every passing year, the prospect of garnering that full-time position fades. Not only do aging adjuncts face dim prospects (recent court cases suggest ageism in higher education is a factor), but newly minted adjuncts also face diminished opportunities. It is difficult to talk about being adjunct. It is easier to ignore it. Adjuncts, strangely, often seem invisible, not that they can’t be seen, but that they are not seen. Sometimes, full-time faculty don’t want to look, sometimes they just don’t have time. Students have no idea. To them, professors are professors.
The contradiction between the occupational prestige that goes with being a college professor and the impoverished economic status of being an adjunct, a temp worker, is depressing. It is sometimes an uncomfortable social situation when I am asked what I do. I reply: I’m a college professor. And so I am. If that is as far as it goes, all is well. However, if I must explain that I am an adjunct, and have been for fifteen years, it gives the impression that I’m not good enough to be a full-time professor, and then I have to explain why my wages are so low. In stark contrast to the public perception of college professors as solidly middle-class, most of us have a precarious financial status. The Coalitions on the Academic Workforce describes the disparity between adjunct earnings and full-time earnings as “staggering.”
Financial insecurity is a fact of life for most adjuncts. It renders you powerless to resist corporatization.
Adjunctification Hurts Students
Adjunctification hurts students. Students deserve faculty who are not stressed from financial destitution, who do not have to work at multiple locations just to make ends meet, who are part of the institution they are paying more for all the time. They deserve a professor with an office who can devote his professional time to one campus, one student population, one campus culture. Adjuncts cannot be readily available: they do not have offices, are not listed on registers, and often must travel from campus to campus, staying in one location only long enough to hold class. Outside of class, students have difficulty finding their professors. Good luck finding your old adjunct professor so he can write you a letter of recommendation. Numerous studies have catalogued the negative effects on students of reliance on adjunct faculty, including lower retention rates, graduation rates, and transfer rates: http://www.uscrossier.org/pullias/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Delphi-NTTF_Annotated-Research-Summary_WebPDF.pdf
Students are increasingly feeling the effects of the corporatization of higher education, especially at community colleges, where they must develop “educational plans” that limit their opportunities to satisfy intellectual curiosity. If they veer from their “plan,” they lose financial aid. What is the corporate plan? It is to change intellectually curious students into docile, precarious workers who unquestioningly do what they are told. Adjunctification hurts students because adjunct faculty do not have the academic freedom to help students explore their intellectual worlds, or learn to think critically and question the status quo.
Adjunctification Hurts Full-time Faculty
Last, but not least, adjunctification hurts full-time faculty. The workload of full-time faculty is increasing. The burden of committee work and shared governance falls on full-time faculty more and more heavily. Fewer full-time faculty means fewer workers to perform tenure review and the ever-increasing task of adjunct evaluation, fewer to perform accreditation preparation, or program review. And I heard that deans are requiring greater participation on committees. Obviously. Faculty everywhere lack time to engage important issues and are pushed to work well over the hours for which they are paid. Here we have an example of the application of efficiency: get the most labor out of the fewest laborers. Of course, in many cases, adjuncts contribute a lot. Without adjunct contributions in the English department here, I don’t see how the work would get done. Unpaid contributions of labor, performed out of a sense of professional dedication…
Academic freedom also is threatened by adjunctification. The academic freedom of professors to teach what and how their expertise directs them is challenged. Adjuncts have no power to resist. As “at will” employees who don’t need to be fired, just not rehired next semester, they are not in a position to resist corporate reform. The ranks of full-time professors are getting thin; their collective power is decreasing all the time, and being replaced by adjuncts’ powerlessness. Full-time faculty are so busy, they do not have time to engage fully in shared governance. Part of the trend in higher education includes less hared governance, more administrative decisions. According to Larry Gerber of Auburn University and the AAUP: “Shared governance is eroding due to the rise of adjunct faculty employment and an increasingly corporate style of management – both of which threaten the entire U.S. system.”
Providing adjuncts with equal pay for equal work, as is evidenced by the privatizing ACCJC’s attack of City College of San Francisco, whose AFT local 2121 negotiated 85% parity pay for their adjuncts, pisses off the corporatizers because it empowers the workforce, relieving them somewhat from the status of precarity. However, equal pay is a stopgap measure, needed to empower resistance, but only the first step to reversing adjunctification, which is what we need if we are to save the future of higher education.
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!
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/
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 (%)
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!
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/
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.
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
Before reading (or singing) please remember to be your best Self.
“The Song of the Tenured”
I once was an adjunct,
And now I am not,
But I feel your pain,
The adjunct lot.
Your cries of dismay, though
Loud, I cannot
Allow them to mar
The joy of my song,
I once was an adjunct,
And now I am not.
Remember: your best Self.