It’s About All of Us: Tell Your Students What You Are

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:

  1. You have other jobs to go to, which significantly limits your students’ access to you.
  2. You may teach more classes than a full-timer out of necessity, meaning:
  3. You will need more time to return graded work with fewer comments
  4. You may appear harried or even disorganized when you come into class
  5. You teach at multiple sites, so:
  6. You may not be fully aware of the outside institutional resources for students
  7. Know enough about other instructors to recommend to motivated students
  8. 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.

 

 

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San Diego Campus Equity Week 2014: The Message

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.

Adjunctification

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.”

Equal Pay for Equal Work

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.

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!

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 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

What’s in a Title? Are New Titles for Adjuncts Just Lipstick on a Pig?

See John Rall’s article: “An Adjunct by Any Other Name”.

DailyHistory

At least I have a new title. At least I can get new business cards.

Sara Jerde has an article at the Chronicle of Higher Education describing university efforts to mollify adjuncts at their schools by giving them new titles.  To make adjunct positions more palatable, universities are now playing the title game.  Schools such as Grossmont College in California have created new adjunct titles.  Instead of just being an “adjunct,” contingent faculty start as adjunct assistant professor and they can work up to an adjunct associate professor or even an adjunct professor.

Do these new titles mean anything to the contingent faculty at Grossmont or was it simply slapping lipstick on a pig?  The new titles do not give contingent faculty better salaries or benefits.  In other words, it is the classic “new title, more work, no extra pay” game that has been played for years in the private sector.  You may not be able to…

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Equal Pay for Adjuncts: What is May Day For?

Equal Pay for Equal Work: What is May Day For?

Imagine working at one job for fifteen years and then spending three days filling out an extraordinarily rigorous (read: ponderous and obtuse) application (last time I completed one, I clocked myself at about 60 hours) so that you could have the outside chance of being hired to work the job that you already work. If you win the hiring lottery, you are paid fully; if you lose, you are paid about half or less of what the winners are paid.

Does that sound reasonable? Does it sound like justice?

This is a common scenario for most college faculty, adjuncts who are committed to one (or more) institution(s) and who, whenever there is enough funding for one or two tenure-track positions, get to “compete” with hundreds of applicants from all over the world, as search committees spin the lottery wheel.

And, no, it isn’t reasonable to expect someone who already does a job, and has been relied on to do this job for many years, and has been deemed excellent by all measurements, to go through this process, the effect of which, perhaps inadvertently, but nevertheless, is to maintain two-tiers of employees, one tenured, the other adjunct, who essentially do the same work, but whose pay by comparison is excessively unequal.

This situation can end if we do one thing: pay all college faculty on one pay schedule: equal pay for equal work. Pay parity.

The objection that tenured faculty do more work is specious. Seriously, one reason some do so much committee work is that there aren’t enough tenure-track faculty. More to the point, what is the most valuable part of faculty work-time? Is it teaching? Do you spend any more time teaching than I? Many adjuncts, hustling about to make enough to survive, easily spend more time on teaching tasks than many tenure-track faculty (And I ‘m pointing this out only as a fact. I make no judgment). Forty hours a week is the expected workload for tenured and tenure-track faculty. Adjuncts often work more than forty hours a week because they teach at two or more institutions, even more than a full-time load, to make only a portion of a full-time wage.

Tenured faculty, please do not be offended; rise above an egocentric response. Adjuncts (most, anyway) do not think this situation is the fault of tenured faculty. But it is a fact that tenured faculty enjoy privileges which adjuncts do not, and which adjuncts deserve. No one expects tenured faculty to give up their privileges (maybe only a few perks). Of course tenured faculty have earned this privilege; but then so have adjunct faculty.

In the San Diego Community College district, adjuncts have things that most adjuncts across the nation do not. Most do not have rehire rights, health benefits, office space with computers, or unemployment compensation rights. At my primary site, adjuncts who teach in the English department are fortunate: tenured faculty in the department invite them to meetings of all sorts, let them vote on most issues, and encourage them to pitch in as much as they wish. I often tell people that if you are so unfortunate as to find  yourself an adjunct professor in the early 21st century this English department is one of the best places to be in the universe.

But still, my pay for teaching six classes is about 40% what it would be if I were paid on the same schedule as full-time faculty. My expertise, my skill, my commitment is equal. My pay should be equal.

Nationally, contingent academic workers, or adjuncts, are organizing and mobilizing for justice. The national media is beginning to cover the exploitation of adjuncts on a regular basis. The New Faculty Majority has organized and is advocating for justice.  The AFT, FACCC, AAUP, and other faculty organizations are talking about the exploitation of adjuncts. It is time for unions to walk the walk. Since adjuncts are the majority everywhere, unions should prioritize adjuncts’  interests. No more across the board pay raises until there is pay parity. No more advocating for tenure-track funding until there is pay parity. The adjunct crisis is the crisis of higher education, tenured faculty, adjunct faculty, students, and staff. This is the moment for us to stand together and to demand equal pay for adjuncts, to demand one pay schedule for all college faculty.

May Day, the annual, global celebration of  economic and social justice for workers, should be about the justice of equal pay for adjuncts. And we should have both.

Powerlessness in the Face of Heartlessness

It is now the end of Week 10 of the 16-week semester and I am reflecting on last year’s crisis and wondering if it will happen again this year. My Union representative has assured me that the problem has been taken care of, but I am afraid that a similar disaster will occur. Perhaps, I don’t understand how the union could solve the problem so easily since adjuncts are not really part of the bargaining agreement process.

Although the union has assured me, that the same financial fiasco that most adjunct faculty fell victim to last spring will not occur this spring, I am still a bit unnerved and filled with trepidation.  Last Spring the majority faculty on my campus were hit with a financial crisis. Many faculty members, a majority in my district, were ill informed and unprepared for the impact of a change in the number of pay warrants.

A week before the Spring 2013 semester at the three campuses of the San Diego Community College District, a few adjuncts receive a clear message that their expectations of a pay warrant on the 10th of February was false and that the 1st pay warrant for Spring Semester would be March 10th.

I received the message and was shocked that I would not have the much-needed funds to feed my family and pay rent. I was shocked too because I wrongly assumed that because for the past 2 years we were receiving 10 pay warrants a year that we would receive 10 warrants this year.  In my shock and utter indignation at the easy manipulation of my subsistence by the district, I emailed my union president and asked why adjunct faculty were to receive only 4 pay warrants this Spring. The AFT president in a short, curt reply said that it was a contract thing from 10 years ago (thus, nothing can be done). I had signed the contract for hire in 2004. Admittedly, I am at fault for the financial crisis because I did not read carefully enough Appendix –IX 2 that states that the number of pay warrants was dependent on when the semester begins. It says that if a semester starts after the 25th, then 4 warrants will be given with the 1st to come on the 10th of the month after the 1st month of class.

So, the consequence of this contract rule is that adjunct faculty work from Jan 28th to March 10th without a pay warrant.  Six weeks of labor without a sign of pay is abusive in most other fields and illegal in the state of California, but the practice is perfectly acceptable when it comes to a work force like Adjunct Professors.  What is really painful is that Adjuncts do not receive pay for the interim between semesters, so many adjuncts are really going from January 10th to March 10th without a paycheck even though they are working. What professional goes 2 months without pay? Some of you might scream, “Get into a new line of work!”  I too scream this in my thoughts. It is no wonder that the profession of teaching is a profession that our society generally tells us to avoid.  I love teaching, but I do not love the economic abuse the profession faces.

I am reminded of the emails that spread through the district that were generally ignored by administration. One instructor had sent out bills before she realized that there was no money in her bank. Other adjunct professors slid further into debt to pay their rent and to buy groceries over the 48+ days of no pay.

Pain was dispersed generally and widely across the majority faculty at the three campuses and the union gave no sign that it was going to take up the issue or help get some emergency relief. We are usually reminded that the Union can get us food stamps or emergency funding for rent. But, a loan from the union is debt too.

I can understand some thoughtful onlookers of this situation saying to themselves that,  “since it was in the contract, adjuncts have no one to blame but themselves for the financial pain. Adjunct professors should have known that their contract allowed for their pay warrants to move from 8 or 9 or 10 warrants a year depending on when the semester starts.”  I can understand that the onus is on adjunct professors, but what I can’t understand is how the district can morally, ethically, or legally withhold pay from work done for 48 days. Or how the union could have agreed to this type of pay manipulation by the administration for its majority members.

Here-in lies the problem. Adjunct professors have very little power in the bargaining agreements. The fact that Adjuncts have not had a say in whether they would like to receive 10 pay warrants rather than 8 warrants points to the fact that their interests have not been fully represented by the union.  This is wrong.  While the AFT 1931 can be credited with providing one of the best packages available for Adjunct faculty (i.e. health insurance & priority assignment), there still remains a great amount of misrepresentation.  What Adjunct faculty want is parity, they want to work, work hard, and to not be exploited, yet exploitation is apparent and the union is making little headway in changing the ethics of San Diego Community College District’s business model. The business model of SDCCD allows for an unethical exploitation of the majority of its employees through unrepresented negotiation.

In the meantime, many adjuncts have lost savings or incurred debt as a result of the delayed pay warrants.  Others simply ignore the issue and turn their heads with a refrain suggesting that it is the status quo for adjunct faculty.  In conversations with adjunct faculty about the pay warrant manipulations, it was suggested that the administration pay some kind of compensation. A retainer fee ought to be part of the time period where adjuncts are not being paid for class hours. In the months of December, January, June, July, and August there ought to be a price that the colleges pay to keep Adjunct faculty afloat in the periods between semesters so that the faculty can put their energies to their profession and not to the dire economic situation that the business model of education has placed the majority of faculty into. A retention fee is a minimum of decency to offer the faculty that keep the institution moving in its success. Without quality faculty, the institution fades into obscurity as a valuable resource for the well being of the community. I refuse to let this happen.

Who cares?

This is the question of the hour. I truly want to who cares about the fact that our education system is seriously in shambles. Who cares that we are producing citizens without the skills necessary to participate effectively both in a modern democracy and in the job markets of the future? Who cares that high school teachers face more demands from the administration than from parents themselves or that our education system is moving towards govermental authoritarianism? Who cares that higher education has a number of crises forecasting the demise of the humanistic agenda that has been the task of higher learning since the time of Socrates? Who cares that our health and prosperity is sliding toward chronic disease and poverty? In the face of  heartlessness, we seem to be powerless.