Comments for May Day Rally at San Diego Mesa College: Adjuncts, Academic Freedom, and the Corporatization of Higher Education

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.

Resist injustice.

Resist hate.

Embrace love.




Gnawed or Odd? What is NAWD/AAD?

Gnawed or Odd?

Adjuncts are gnawed by hungry ghosts. And the situation is quite odd.

What is NAWD? Or AAD?

What is an adjunct?

It is important to remember how this day came to be recognized as a day to advocate for a kind of economic justice we might call adjunct justice. Last year, a nameless adjunct from the Bay area writing on social media posed the question: what if adjuncts walked out? The question went viral on adjunct social media. My version of the question is: What if 75% of the faculty walked out or just disappeared? What if students showed up for class with not teacher? What would students do? It is worth picturing the campus without 75% of the faculty.

So, what is an adjunct?

An adjunct is a scholar, a professor, who devoted years of her life to earning advanced degrees, accruing 40, 50, 100 thousand dollars of student debt, in order to serve higher education, in order to pass on knowledge to students and draw genius out of students.

An adjunct is a professor who looks like a full-time professor, who teaches like a full-time professor, and, from a student’s point-of-view is indistinguishable from a full-time professor, that is, until the student tries to find her professor’s office, or tries to locate her professor next year when she needs a letter of recommendation, or when she finds her professor in a cubicle and is startled to find her idea of her professor diminished.

An adjunct professor is paid half the wages of a full-time professor, has less, or in some places, no benefits, and is defined as “non-essential.” But how can 75% of the faculty be non-essential? Besides students, who is more essential to education than faculty?

Contrary to the popular image, and this is, perhaps, the most important point, most adjuncts do not want to be adjuncts. Most adjuncts want to be full-time so they can devote themselves, heart and soul, to a particular institution, to a particular body of students, to receive just compensation, which is to say, since adjuncts are indistinguishable from full-timers, they should be paid at the same rate, and receive the same benefits.

What to do?

First, we faculty, full-timers and adjuncts, need to recognize the situation for what it is. Campus and department cultures are different everywhere, but some things are the same. As far as the adjunct crisis, which I see as the core of the crisis of higher education, adjuncts are invisible. Oh yes, we are appreciated. But really, what are we to do with this appreciation? Does anyone offering appreciation think that’s what we want? Respect would be more like it, but, I think, we would take Just wages, although we deserve full-time employment and everything that comes with it: an office, benefits, investment of the college as an essential member.

What I’m trying to say is that anyone, faculty, administrator, student, who thinks that the current way of doing things is acceptable, and that adjuncts just need “appreciation” or that adjuncts are content to be part-time, non-essential, at will employees, needs to change his mind.

What I’m trying to say is we need a radical paradigm shift. Such a thing begins in the minds of individuals and spreads out into the actions of individuals. You need to change your attitudes and we need to begin to demand the change that would make adjuncts full-time employees. That’s what most of us really want. That’s real adjunct Justice.

Inequality for All in America’s Higher Education System

Originally published on the San Diego Free Press:

By Jim Miller with Ian Duckles

Last week I had the pleasure of seeing Thomas Piketty speak on economic inequality at UCSD. In his talk, Piketty hit on the central themes of his seminal work, Capital in the Twenty-First Century: how our current level of economic inequality is now back to where it was before the “great compression” of the mid-twentieth century when union density, progressive taxation, and educational policies helped produce the high point of the American middle class. He underlined how there is no economic benefit to our current level of excessive inequality and that it is the product not of any “natural” function of the free market economy, but rather several decades of wrong-headed ideology, destructive politics, and bad policy. During the question and answer session following his presentation, a well-heeled older gentleman prefaced his question about why the “lower 50 percent” don’t just vote out the bad policies with, “this audience, we’re all the top 10%,” which drew a few laughs from people, many of whom were likely debt-ridden students, teaching assistants, campus workers, and lecturers whose income doesn’t come close to landing them in that realm. That there may have been a ragtag group of professors and students from lowly City College in attendance was not even in the speaker’s imagination. I couldn’t help but think how UCSD is a perfect microcosm of the macroeconomic inequality that Piketty was talking about and that the class-blind commenter was a perfect manifestation of the very elite ideology that serves to enforce our deep level of inequality. But of course, it’s not just at UCSD where this is an issue but across the entire landscape of American higher education, where what used to be one of the most solid middle-class professions in the country is in the process of being hollowed out, bit by bit. Coincidentally, October 26th through the 29th happens to be Campus Equity Week, a twice-a-year action designed to bring attention to this very problem. Thus, I will leave the rest of my column to Dr. Ian Duckles, my adjunct colleague in the San Diego Community College District, to further illuminate this issue.

Why Campus Equity Week? Monday is the first day of Campus Equity Week 2015, a biannual event first held around the turn of the millennium to draw attention to and raise awareness about issues confronting what are variously known as “adjuncts,” “contingent faculty” or “part-timers.” Defined in the California Educational Code as “part-time, temporary faculty,” adjuncts were originally intended to be just that: supplements to the full-time faculty to teach classes that wouldn’t support a full-time hire, or to help fill out a schedule and cover for sabbaticals and leaves. If, for example, a college wanted to offer courses in real estate, they wouldn’t necessarily hire a realtor full-time (who probably wouldn’t want to take the pay cut to become a full-time instructor), but instead invite a realtor to teach a class or two per semester. In this way, the college could take advantage of the professional expertise of these individuals without forcing them to quit their day jobs, the very thing that qualifies them to teach in the first place. There is clearly a role for this kind of instructor in the community colleges and schools wouldn’t be able to offer such a diverse list of courses and certificates without the assistance of these kinds of professional, part-time instructors. Unfortunately, the role of these “part-time, temporary faculty” has shifted considerably over the last 40-50 years. During the late 60’s to early 70’s the ratio of adjuncts to full-timers was about 20% to 80%. Today, the numbers have almost completely reversed with adjuncts making up about 75% of the faculty and full-timers making up about 25%. This shift in the make-up of higher education faculty is mirrored in all areas of higher education (community colleges, Cal States, UC’s and even many private colleges), and has some significant, negative impacts. In what follows, I want to explore these negative impacts on the adjuncts themselves, students, and full-timers. Beginning with the adjuncts, this emphasis on hiring part-time faculty has significant, negative consequences for those teaching professionals. These consequences are numerous and wide-ranging, but I will highlight just a few. In addition, because there are so many adjuncts, and these adjuncts live such a diversity of lives, it is difficult to speak for everyone. Instead, I will focus on my personal situation as a window into the broader issues confronting part-time college instructors. Perhaps the most significant impact is that even though I have a Ph.D. and over 10 years of teaching experience, I make significantly less than my full-time counterparts for the same work. As a quick example, I interviewed for but did not get a position at Miramar College back in 2008. Had I been hired, today I would be making an annual salary of $80,000-$90,000 for

Source: Inequality for All in America’s Higher Education System

How I Woke Up and Realized I Was Adjunct: An Adjunct Narrative from the Age of Neoliberalism

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.

NAWD Impressions: A Report From the Rally at San Diego Mesa College

NAWD at Mesa College was a consciousness raising event. 150 or so (maybe 200) students and professors showed up on a sunny San Diego day, at possibly the warmest location on campus, at noon, in direct sunlight, to hear and speak about the adjunct crisis in higher education. I emceed. Keynote speaker Jim Mahler, president of AFT local 1931 and of CFT CCC, outlined the general parameters of the adjunct crisis and made an appeal to support the AFT’s current campaign to fund unfunded budget items in the governor’s budget proposal that would increase adjunct pay (not that much, but might as well get it if we can) and create more full-time positions. Even the college president, Pam Luster, spoke. Most  importantly, students and adjuncts spoke.

At the open mic, adjuncts shared stories of exploitation and made statements of love for the profession. We made confessions. We had a 33 year veteran and a rookie, with one year professing under her belt, both speak out. Several adjuncts spoke of poverty conditions, of years of commitment, of the meaningful life of teaching. And one or two tenured professors spoke, one quite powerfully pointing out that getting on the tenure-track is sheer luck and that his wife, an adjunct, makes 1/3 what he does for the same work. But Students were amazing. Really, more than anything else, this event raised the consciousness of the dozen or more students who spoke about their favorite adjunct professors, about their shock at the conditions of exploitation their favorites lived in, about their support for equal pay for adjuncts and for reversing adjunctification. From the mic and from the crowd, students called out “how can we help?”

This moment of national consciousness raising, of media coverage from NPR and Democracy Now!, reflected at Mesa today in the engagement with students, is a moment in which we should act. We can inform students and marshall a force that has effected long-reaching change. Adjunct working conditions are student learning conditions: the adjunct crisis is a student crisis.

NAWD in San Diego was a success. Now the task will be to keep this energy alive and use it to make radical change.  The question is: how do we organize students?

The revolution has  begun. Long live the revolution!

NAWD Action Item: Show This to Your Students

Use this video of Stacy Patton, one of the few journalists covering one of the most important stories of our time, the adjunctification of higher education, as part of your NAWD actions. Show it to students. Show it to other faculty (especially, perhaps, tenured ones). Patton describes what amounts to a lost generation of scholars, “stuck” because they have had the great misfortune of having studied and committed to serving society at a time when the ideology of capitalist exploitation was ascendent.

Patton’s brief comments expose the human cost of adjunctification. The implementation of the corporate model in higher eduction has been happening for a couple of generations. That’s hundreds of thousands of scholar-teachers whose contributions to society have been marginalized and stifled by exploitive and impoverishing labor conditions. Of course, the adjunctification of higher education is just part of the creation of precariat labor across society.

It is important that we communicate to students how they, like us, are caught in the precarious workforce bind. Many of us have student loans we can’t pay because of low wages; likewise, our students are headed this way as well. It does not have to be so. We need to radicalize students as well as ourselves, to resist the neoliberal assault on higher education.

The benefits of equality – San Diego Campus Equity Week seeks equality in pay for part-time and full-time instructors

Here is excellent student journalism from the San Diego City College City Times, by Phoenix Webb: