Have a consciousness raising, satirical, ironic, laughing, not crying, carnivalesque Campus Equity Week!
87% adjuncts at San Diego Mesa College and growing…
Here is the text of the speech I gave to kick off a week of Campus Equity Week 2017 events at San Diego Mesa College.
Adjunctification and Corporatization: How Students Became Consumers and Professors Became Precarious
“The mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itself.”
In 1837, Ralph Waldo Emerson gave a speech, “The American Scholar,” in which he made this comment. His words represent a resistance to the idea that education should be utilitarian, a notion rooted in anti-intellectualism. Emerson saw the mind as a creative force in the universe that could aspire to ideals such as the ones enshrined in the Constitution: Justice, Peace, and Compassion, for instance. Emerson saw the pursuit of these lofty aims as the appropriate aims of the American Scholar. The scholar, in seeking to know himself and his world, elevates the entire community. Emerson’s words speak to us today as we face the corporatization of higher education.
What is adjunctification? It is an ungainly and disquieting word, a neologism that is necessary to name a process that would otherwise be seen, and, regrettably, increasingly is seen, as business as usual in higher education. I use this idiom, “business as usual,” to heighten the connection between adjunctification and the paradigmatic ideology that higher education is a business, or, more precisely, a corporation, which brings me to the other unwieldy word in the title: “corporatization.”
These words, adjunctification and corporatization, together name the decades long process that has institutionalized in higher education the ideological assumptions that the student is a customer, education is a commodity, and the aim of higher education institutions is to maximize profit and minimize cost while delivering an easily consumable product: to achieve, in corporate rhetoric, “efficiency.” This is the opposite of what the aim of higher education should be and the implications of this failure of imagination for democracy, the failure to aim high, to aspire beyond the wrongheaded notion that a student is a customer, are dire.
Corporatism is the ideology that all social relations are explainable through market relations. One of the conclusions which follows from this ideology is that market value, the “bottom line,” is ultimate. The corporatization of higher education has been the applying of the idea by legislators and administrators that public higher education should be run like a business. This is a problem because higher education as a public good is not and cannot be a business. The two are mutually exclusive, except within the faulty logic of corporatization ideology. A business sells a product and needs to balance the cost of production with profit, or the business will fail. Higher education is the public institution which, and this is the brief version, is entrusted with old knowledge, new knowledge, and with ways of making knowledge, of leading students to transform information into knowledge through critical thinking. It offers students not only knowledge of the world and the world of ideas, but also an opportunity to grow as individuals and mature into the best possible versions of themselves as free-thinking citizens, ready to participate in fulfilling the promise of democracy in America as well as fulfilling the promise of their lives. Higher education is a public good, not because it prepares students for the workforce, although it does this, but because college students, by reaching deep within to meet the challenge of learning, discover talents and skills they may not have otherwise known they have, which they then bring to the democratic community. If higher education fails, community fails. And when community fails, we have injustice and hate.
Economist Guy Standing, in his groundbreaking 2010 book, The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class, explains that the term “precariat,” a combination of “precarious” and the Marxist term “proletariat,” also known as the “working class,” is a new word necessary to describe contemporary labor conditions. Today, according to Standing, the proletariat has been replaced by the precariat. The proletariat had unions and job security; the precariat is an “independent contractor” and has job insecurity. To achieve maximum “efficiency,” it is necessary to have maximum “flexibility” of labor. What is the most flexible labor? One that is temporary, disposable, and exploitable. Sounds like an adjunct. The aim of corporate ideology is to make the laborer precarious, insecure and fearful, and easy to manage.
What is an adjunct professor? A member of the precariat of higher education. An adjunct is, by definition, non-essential and disposable to the mission of higher education. Roughly 75% of community college professors nationwide are adjunct: part-time, temporary. Yet, this description is a lie. Typically, adjunct faculty are rehired over and over, for many years. Why? Because they are, obviously, essential to the mission of the college. To describe them as temporary and non-essential is absurd. At Mesa College, 85% of faculty are adjunct. That means only 15% of faculty are full-time. If you are a student looking for your professor, chances are she will not have her own office, or even be on the same campus.
Most adjuncts are career academics who have devoted their lives to the public good of higher education. Without them, higher education would disintegrate. Most adjuncts always intended to be academics, to teach, or research, or perform as experts in their field of expertise. Chances are these are people whose passion is teaching. They are professionals dedicated to teaching, to making the world a better place. These dedicated professionals devote most of their lives to gaining, maintaining, and teaching their subject matter. This is what they do; it is who they are. It is a calling.
This is bad for students. Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions. The precarious nature of being adjunct oppresses the adjunct and her students. It makes her education precarious. For instance, students do not have equal access to adjunct professors who have no official, long-term relationship with the institution, in whom the institution has not fully invested. Nevertheless, enduring the unequal working conditions, adjuncts, most of whom would prefer a full-time position, most of whom would be full-time except for the dominant corporate ideology, do most of the teaching in higher education, and do it well. Their qualifications are equal, their labor is equal, their commitment is equal. But the conditions in which they labor to maintain the quality of higher education for students are unequal. Most have more than one job, but earn half what they would make if they had one full-time job. This is unjust. How is this situation equal access for students? You can’t say that it is.
The idea that the ultimate value of labor is determined by market “forces” dictates that the cost of labor should be as low as possible. Adjunctification is the making of academic labor cost as low as possible. The result for faculty is financial insecurity and the powerlessness that goes with precarity. The business model shortchanges both faculty and students. Students are not only shortchanged because they are denied access to full-time faculty; the business model also requires that students focus their study on a vocational plan. The purpose of a commodified education becomes training students to be good corporate workers as opposed to students seeking knowledge, who study in the liberal arts, which tends to liberate. Most of the traditional subjects of a liberal arts education, including math, science, and the humanities, seem to have no practical value in this paradigm. Of course, if value is cast as utilitarian, then the liberal arts doesn’t. Science perhaps, but only if it is connected to a technological development that leads to profit. But if the value of higher education is cast as what makes students able to fulfill the potential of their lives, then the deep, reflective thinking that is required to master language, math, and science, to think philosophically, to know the diverse nature of American culture, and global culture, is what higher education should be about, that is, fostering the growth of minds. In contrast, the commodification of higher education turns the mind into readily consumable fast food.
The question that remains is what do we do about this? First, we must begin by seeing that the student is not a consumer and that faculty, most of whom are precariat, need to be empowered to provide students with the learning opportunities they need to aspire to fulfill their potential. Empowering faculty will require a radical idea, one which now does not exist as a political goal, except in name. We want to fund more full-time positions. But in the current model, there will never be enough money allocated to accomplish this goal of 75% of courses taught by full-time faculty. To accomplish this will require a radical paradigm shift.
Higher education operating under the limits of a business model offers a one-dimensional paradigm. Humans, like students and faculty, are multi-dimensional beings. When market values replace public values, education is cast as a commodity, and self-interest is held as the highest good in a super-competitive, economically defined world, individual and societal potential is diminished. Faculty are underpaid because ideas are undervalued. We need a paradigm shift. We need liberation from the business model. We need to aim higher.
UCSD students made this video for a sociology course. This is the kind of work students can do to resist the adjunctification and corporatization of higher education. Students and faculty must unite in resistance.
I am one of the adjuncts interviewed.
Adjuncts, Academic Freedom, and the Corporatization of Higher Education
Corporatization is the ideology that all social relations are explainable through market relations. One of the conclusions which follows from this ideology is that market value, the “bottom line,” is ultimate. The corporatization of higher education has been the applying of the idea that public higher education should be run like a business. This is a problem because higher education is not and cannot be a business. The two are mutually exclusive, except within the faulty logic of corporatization. A business sells a product and needs to balance the cost of production with profit, or the business will fail. Higher education is the public institution which, and this is the brief version, is entrusted with old knowledge, new knowledge, and with ways of making knowledge. It offers students not only knowledge of the world and the world of ideas, but also an opportunity to grow as individuals and mature into the best possible versions of themselves as free-thinking citizens, ready to participate in fulfilling the promise of democracy as well as fulfilling the promise of their lives. Higher education is a public good, not because it prepares students for the workforce, although it does this, but because college students, by reaching deep within to meet the challenge of learning, discover talents and skills they may not have otherwise known they have, which they then bring to the democratic community. If higher education fails, community fails. And when community fails, we have injustice and hate.
Critiquing the corporatization of higher education is not a new thing; many have written about it at least since the ‘90s, but, given the current political climate, it never has been more important to talk about it. The first step in the implementation of a corporatization ideology is to make working conditions precarious, that is, to make workers insecure, easier to exploit, and to weaken or destroy workers’ unions. In higher education, this first step in the process has been adjunctification, a way to end tenure by not hiring professors for tenure-track positions, and to over-rely on part-time professors. The over-reliance on adjuncts has been increasing now for decades. Today, 75% of college faculty are part-time adjuncts, the reverse of what was once intended. I often describe adjunctification as tenure leaving by the back door. No one sees it going, and then it’s gone. Everyone wonders where it went. And with it goes academic freedom, because tenure is the only real protection for academic freedom. Today, only 25% of faculty have tenure and secure academic freedom. We are getting precariously close to not having tenure or full-time faculty.
Union protection of academic freedom depends largely on union protection of tenure. Adjunctification, to be clear, is the effective end of tenure. Adjuncts don’t have tenure and so lack academic freedom. Even when adjuncts belong to a union that is active in protecting academic freedom, like ours, adjuncts’ academic freedom is not equal to tenured academic freedom. Since adjuncts are hired only for one semester, and they must receive a new contract each semester; their academic freedom depends on the commitment to academic freedom of those who have the power to not rehire them. In other words, adjuncts don’t possess academic freedom, at least not full and secure academic freedom.
Faculty academic freedom is student academic freedom, just like faculty working conditions are student learning conditions. The oppressive nature of being adjunct oppresses the adjunct and her students. For instance, students do not have equal access to adjunct professors who have no official, long-term relationship with the institution, in whom the institution has not fully invested. Nevertheless, enduring the unequal working conditions, adjuncts, most of whom would prefer a full-time position, do most of the teaching in higher education, and do it well. But the conditions in which they labor to maintain the quality of higher education for students are oppressive. Most have more than one job, but make half what they would make if they had one full-time job. This is unjust. The idea that the market value is the ultimate value of labor dictates that the cost of labor should be as low as possible. This shortchanges both faculty and students.
In a few weeks, adjuncts, the 75% majority of faculty, will be unemployed, not on summer break like full-time faculty, but jobless. This is what precarious working conditions look like. We are obviously needed because we are hired again and again. Many people, when they understand the situation, ask, why don’t they just hire you full-time? Good question. No one has a good answer. But we could start with equal pay for equal work.
What would be best for students?
The answer is not Betsy DeVos, the new education secretary, who specifically took aim at adjuncts in comments she made to students attending the Conservative Political Action Conference: “The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think. They say that if you voted for Donald Trump, you’re a threat to the university community.” I don’t know any faculty who said exactly that. She exhorted the students to “fight against the education establishment.” She was calling, in other words, for an attack on academic freedom. Adjuncts, 75% of the higher education faculty, precarious, underpaid, serially unemployed, are named because she realizes that if the majority can be intimidated, the tenured minority, who have an empowered position within the institution, will be weakened. The new regime in Washington, with a corporatization-oriented cabinet, will seek to use this weak link to undermine academic freedom further and to make academic laborers even more precarious. We cannot let that happen. Faculty, adjuncts and tenured, need to stand together with students as community to resist the corporatization of higher education, to resist injustice, to resist hate.
Let us celebrate May Day, and recognize the contributions of workers to the economy and to society. After all, we are the majority.
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:
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.