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.
With regard to Trump and his educational agenda, there is no clearer symbol of where he wants to go with education than his Secretary of Education pick, Betsy DeVos. Some of you out there have probably received emails from various groups asking you to contact your senators and to tell them to oppose DeVos’s appointment.
But many of you don’t know just how bad a pick she is, or its impact on adjunct/contingent faculty, particularly those who work at public institutions.
First, unlike the students we see in the public system, DeVos was born into tremendous wealth, her father Edgar Prince having been an industrialist who founded the Prince Corporation, an auto parts supplier. She later married Richard Marvin “Dick” DeVos Jr., heir to the Amway fortune. She herself is the product of private Christian Schools, and has never been a student at a public institution. Further, she has no direct experience in public education, either as a teacher, administrator, or even a school board trustee. Ironically, in spite of her elite, privileged, and ideologically narrow upbringing , she asserts of her educational activism that she has been “a fighter for the grassroots.”
Her real claim to fame within the Republican Party is that she has been a tireless party advocate, and more importantly, a heavy fundraiser.
As a self-styled educational reformer, DeVos is a champion of school choice, and favors the use of public funds in the form of school vouchers to allow children to attend public school. Her real motivation for this position is likely driven by her Christian faith.
As for her “success” in achieving educational reform, her record is less that exemplary. Detroit’s charter school system, for which she was in large part responsible, was, in the words of Douglas Harris, a Brookings Institution Fellow and Founding Director of the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, even acknowledged by educational reformers as “the biggest school reform disaster in the country.” As for her specific actions regarding the Detroit Charter School system, Harris further wrote:
She devised Detroit’s system to run like the Wild West. It’s hardly a surprise that the system, which has almost no oversight, has failed. Schools there can do poorly and still continue to enroll students. Also, after more than a decade of Ms. DeVos’s getting her way on a host of statewide education policies, Michigan has the dubious distinction of being one of five states with declining reading scores.
Perhaps more troubling, especially for those of us in Higher Ed, and particularly adjunct/contingent faculty, is her notion of the US Public Education System as a “dead end,” and, in a thinly-veiled argument for both school choice and the view of public schooling as “an industry,” stated:
As long as education remains a closed system, we will never see the education equivalents of … Facebook, Amazon . . . Wikipedia, or Uber.
Perhaps then, DeVos feels the US education system should aspire to allowing fake information like Facebook, working its employees to death like Amazon, creating reference material from open and questionable sources like Wikipedia, or reducing the entire educational workforce to independent contractors (that’s right, just like adjunct/contingent faculty) like Uber.
Finally. For those of you who care about academic freedom, consider this, Besty DeVos, in describing her motivation for school reform stated:
Our desire is to be in that Shephelah, and to confront the culture in which we all live today in ways that will continue to help advance God’s Kingdom, but not to stay in our own faith territory.
I suppose some could find comfort in the words “outside our own faith territory” except when thinking of what she has said further in this regard:
It goes back to what I mentioned, the concept of really being active in the Shephelah of our culture — to impact our culture in ways that are not the traditional funding the- Christian-organization route, but that really may have greater Kingdom gain in the long run by changing the way we approach things — in this case, the system of education in the country
Shephelah, for those unfamiliar with the term, is a plot of land the Israelites fought over with the Philistines, and the desire to have the land was that he/she who controlled it, would in turn control the people. Another way to think of such thinking is to know it as “Dominionism” which can loosely be defined as the belief that one needs to create a nation governed by Christians based on their interpretation of Biblical Law.
For those Philistines among us, DeVos’s quest for Shephelah should be a cause of grave concern.
As confirmation hearings are soon upon us, it is urgent that you act to oppose the DeVos nomination, that is, if you value Public Education, Worker Rights, and Academic Freedom; DeVos is clearly a threat to all of the above.
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.
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:
I am, by neoliberal, administrative definition, non-essential. How did I get here, to this dark and hopeless dead end, to the outer deck of this sinking ship?
It took more than fifteen years, but I finally woke up and realized that I’m trying to win the lottery. I have the proverbial snowball’s chance in Hell of getting a tenured position. I have been adjunctified. I am adjunct. Disposable.
A number of benchmark moments tell the story.
It took fifteen years for me to realize the absurdity of the situation because in spite of what now seems like obvious signs that tenure in higher education is fast eroding, and with it the quality of academic life, I was optimistic. My optimism had grown out of the success of my graduate career and from the influence of the general notion prevalent in America, and central to a neoliberal society, that, if you work hard, and do a good job, you will be rewarded.
I began my college career with the utilitarian notion, a fundamental principle of neoliberalism, that the goal of earning a degree was to get a well-paying job. When, as a senior in high school, I was poring over the career information provided by the guidance counselor, I was looking for the kind of job at which I could make a lot of money. Not get rich money, but a career that would provide for me a solid middle class lifestyle. I do not remember that this was especially encouraged, but making a decision about what to major in when I got to college based on potential salary wasn’t discouraged either. It should have been.
Waking, as an undergraduate, as if from a dream
But I woke up. After a few years in a kind of haze, not really enjoying my classes, I became the most serious student alive and made up my mind to pursue a graduate degree in English. As an undergraduate, I tried a huge array of majors before realizing that I was squandering an opportunity and that I might not get a second chance. In the last year and a half of this period, I finally settled on and earned a journalism degree, and began to envision myself as a writer. So how, in the following years, did I first get sidetracked from this aspiration?
8th grade intimations of an awakening
Like many who were or should have been English majors, reading and writing have always come naturally to me. By the time I was in the eighth grade, I had announced my desire to become a writer. My parents quickly informed me that since I wouldn’t be able to earn a living that way, I should choose something more practical, and besides I still had to go to high school anyway. And then college. Because they had a deep respect for education, they suggested that I become a teacher. But, of course, they never thought I would be an adjunct.
Awakening to a calling (or, a fateful turn)
In the liminal period between my undergraduate and graduate years, I attended a community college (coincidently, the one at which I now teach most of my classes). As the voracious post-baccalaureate student whose intellectual hunger could not be quenched, I made the most of this brief experience. Fatefully, it is where I decided my future path: I would be a community college professor, a more financially stable option than trying to earn a living as a journalist (or so I thought). I wanted to write and I wanted to learn, and I wanted to earn a living for it; where better to find the life of the mind than as a college professor? Little did I realize then, or even after I had earned my master’s degree, that in the world of neoliberal corporate education, college professors were no longer considered essential. The full realization of how non-essential would not become apparent to me for many years.
After some unexpected twists and life-events (every life has them, no?) I finally arrived at graduate school. Two years later, I completed my master’s thesis, opted out of the doctorate (I had enough debt!; still do) and began my life as an adjunct community college professor. And it was so easy to get started! I was first hired sight unseen, recommended by the university from the erstwhile GTA cum university adjunct pool during a new president’s strategic outsourcing of developmental English classes to community colleges. Around the same time, I published a chapter from my master’s thesis, and, so I imagined, was on my way.
A slipping into slumber
And so I became a freeway flyer. And I said, “I’ll write when I have tenure!” And so I became deluded, and stopped writing so I could teach a full-time load for part-time pay.
And the years rolled by. I taught my ass off; one semester I taught at four sites. I designed challenging curriculum, I said yes to all assignments, I developed my craft. So I worked on a book only as an afterthought, only between semesters, only after all the papers were graded. At first, in my delusion, I thought, “I will be a good adjunct, and in my time, I will be rewarded with tenure.” Unlike the common adjunct experience at most schools, the English department at this one school, where I have taught for fifteen years, noticed and appreciated their adjuncts. Well, perhaps “appreciated” is not quite the right word. Is it possible to be appreciated and exploited at the same time? At any rate, I was received with applause and all looked bright. Why did I need to get too involved in trying to change things? I just needed to work hard, demonstrate my excellence, and stay optimistic. Although full-time positions had been denied to some long-term adjuncts, who obviously had earned such position, I would be different. I did not yet realize that I was living in the age of the adjunctification of higher education, in which the neoliberal ideology of market fundamentalism was becoming increasingly the barely questioned status quo in higher education employment proactices.
The slow but unrelenting erosion of tenure-track positions continued. Tenured faculty retired. Adjuncts were hired to replace them. More years passed. Then, word came from the district office that the English department had received funding to fill a tenured position, and I received an interview. Just as I had expected! But no second interview.
Somewhere, under the surface of my conscious mind, a quiet, little voice asked: “what just happened? OK, look closer, something is wrong here.” But before I could look more closely, another, louder, cheerful voice cried, “But wait! Here comes the AFT FACE campaign! Surely, in a few years this campaign will be successful and adjuncts will get justice.” So I optimistically and foolishly imagined. Then, the bubble economy burst and FACE went blank. Hiring freezes were the order of the day. And more years rolled by.
Awakening to adjunctification
The ideology of the market that seeks to commodify all and everything defines me as non-essential and makes me a precarious worker. Some tell me that I chose my fate and that if I don’t like my wages I should find another job.
But I see that what I do is important for the maintenance of civilization. If higher education continues to devolve into corporate job training, our democracy will disappear, eventually. Without the ability to think and communicate clearly, without the humanistic values that enter into society through a liberal arts higher education, without the deep understanding of science available in college, in thirty years (or so) when the climate destabilization beast really gets angry, Hell will break loose. Ah! The rough beast slouching towards the Ivory Tower! The widening gyre! The sinking ship!
I am defined as non-essential, I am serially unemployed, financially challenged, but I know that I’m needed because I have been called back and given a “tentative agreement” over thirty times. I know I make a difference because students tell me. The value of my contribution is not contingent or non-essential but my status and pay is. The adjunct me is different from what should have been the full-time me only in that he gets less than half the pay. At the very least, I deserve to be paid as well as if I were full-time.
Tenure looks like a dying sacred cow. I’m not sure I even want it anymore. But I am going to demand equal pay. The impact of my talent and energy has been enormous. I have earned the right to be paid on the same schedule as someone who has been tenured for fifteen years. Indeed, I had the right from the beginning. Now I’m calling for it. I am now seeking justice.
Student journalist Shane O’Connell, writing for The Mesa Press, covers Campus Equity Week: “Campus Equity Week Aims to Open Discussion Over Adjuncts”
I haven’t reblogged anything for quite some time, but this piece is timely and resonates with most of what I have written about the need for tenured faculty to recognize that higher education is near death and the crisis we face is an adjunct crisis because tenured faculty are becoming adjuncts. It is happening not because there isn’t enough funding but because tenured faculty, and adjunct faculty (the greatest number of whom suffer from some kind of complacency, even if it is just that they don’t have the time), are not resisting forcefully enough, a condition which has been ongoing for decades. Will we rise up, achieve true solidarity (beginning with equal pay for adjuncts), and muster the power of the full professoriate, tenured and adjunct?
Pancoast makes a number of cogent points here:
Time for the Professoriate to Lead the Way
by William Trent Pancoast
It’s about time for working folks to stand up for themselves. Walmart workers haven’t been able to get it done. The old line unions are still reeling from the ongoing attacks begun by Reagan and continued by the right wing.
It looks to me like it should happen on our college campuses, and it should for starters be about adjunct instructors having a chance to make a living wage with benefits. That will require that tenured faculty support adjuncts. Much of the bargaining success of the United Auto Workers resulted from skilled and unskilled (high wage and low wage) belonging to the same union. Tenured faculty, making $50,000-$175,000 annual pay with health care and retirement, and adjuncts, making piecework of roughly $400 to $1000 per credit hour taught with no benefits, must join together. They need to form…
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