Equal Pay for Adjuncts: What is May Day For?

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

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

Does that sound reasonable? Does it sound like justice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reversing Adjunctification: Real Adjunct Justice

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” M. L. King

We the professors are complicit in our exploitation.

It is now a commonplace that higher education is in crisis.  Exactly what kind of crisis depends on your agenda.  The implications of California AB 955, as well as the recent California MOOC legislation, indicate that, if your agenda is privatization, you’re getting closer to your goal, despite the rejection of the MOOC initiative and the “dubious” future of AB 955.  The door has been opened more widely for the propaganda narrative of privatization, and I expect to hear more about it soon. In this “business model” narrative, professors are turned into producers, students into consumers, and learning becomes a commodity. If your agenda, on the other hand, is what’s best for students, what’s best for professors or what’s best for the public interest, then the crisis in higher education is first and foremost a crisis of justice.

The longstanding exploitation and marginalization of adjunct faculty is unjust to students. The marginalization of three-fourths of the faculty of higher education distances teacher and student. Adjuncts, “freeway fliers,” in search of a modicum wage, are forced to limit their time at any one campus; when students look for their teachers, they can’t find them. Even when adjuncts make themselves available and, through heroic efforts, provide the instruction and guidance students desire, their efforts are thwarted by an administrative bureaucracy that enforces adjuncts’ temporary and peripheral status, resulting in, for instance, no faculty advisors for new student organizations.

The shameless exploitation of adjuncts’ professional commitment does not serve the public interest. Among other goals, the privatization agenda aims to cut “labor costs,” as if the purpose of public education were to turn a profit. To this end, for decades, retiring tenured faculty members have been replaced by adjuncts until we have a professoriate which is now 75% adjunct. The status of this vast majority of faculty is perpetually tentative and, by definition, non-essential. The public interest in a healthy democracy is not served by a professoriate whose voice and power is thus fragmented and weak, and is therefore less capable of protecting academic freedom or of teaching students to innovate, make art and engage in democracy, three things which are in the public interest.

And, obviously, it is unjust to adjuncts: the exploitation of adjuncts’ commitment to students is bad enough, but the oppression which accompanies it and that so often invades the professional and personal lives of hundreds of thousands of adjuncts who struggle to pay student loans, pay rent, provide for children, and live their lives on an income immensely unjust in proportion to their education and their commitment to public service is the depth of injustice.

Perhaps this crisis of justice began with and is maintained by our inability to see ourselves, or what is happening to us. Because of this lack of clarity, we are capable of ignoring or rationalizing the crisis until it seems that there is no crisis and the crisis then becomes unquestioned business as usual.  How else can we explain the erosion of tenure-track positions over the last thirty years? How can three-fourths of college faculty be adjunct? There are many answers to this question, but our complacency in the face of adjunctification, I think, explains much.  Because the truth is too difficult to face, because the forces that compel us toward corporatization and privatization seem insurmountable, we appear to have accepted adjunctification.  Those who have descried these trends have been largely ignored and, although there has always been resistance, it never truly has been a unified and widespread resistance.

The crisis in higher education is an adjunct crisis, and the exploitation of adjunct is the exploitation of tenured. It is time we wake up and recognize what is happening. It is time we professors, all together, end our complicity with the efforts to adjunctify, corporatize and privatize higher education. At stake is not only a decent and humane life for the majority faculty, but the future of higher education itself.

We must reverse adjunctification; we must ask for more than pay equity for the second-class in a two-tiered system. From ourselves, and from those who are trying to reshape higher education based on free-market ideology, we must demand more.  We must demand the transformation of the system that is being used to dismantle the professoriate.  We must demand the restoration of a tenured majority by transitioning adjunct professors into tenure-track professors.  This would be real adjunct justice.

We, tenured and adjunct professors, must face the truth. Our rationalization is complicity. Our silence is complicity. We must speak our truth. We must speak truth to power. We must demand justice.

John R. Hoskins