To Have a Real Adjunct Walkout: Not Impossible, but Work Needs to be Done

Good Adjuncts

By reading my last post, some readers may assume that I don’t believe a real adjunct walkout could or should happen.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

My point regarding Adjunct Walkout Day in my last entry was that it is both simplistic and defeatist to assume one can simply pull off a walkout without considering all that would be involved.

Unlike the Women’s marches which “benefited” from the fact that just a day earlier, the most divisive, bigoted and bombastic politician in recent memory was assuming the highest office in the land despite losing the popular vote by 2.9 million votes,  adjunct actions are limited by the fact that adjunctification is largely treated as the dirty little secret of academia, with the workforce highly marginalized, and under the constant threat of loss of employment for even minor infractions.  Further, there are so many forms of adjuntification/contingency that it can at time be that adjunct/contingent groups fighting for change can find themselves at cross purposes.

Another point to make is that the Women’s march is literally the start of a broad-based movement, which will in time face challenges from division, to marginalization, to a loss of enthusiasm, etc.

That said, the Women’s March should serve as an inspiration for adjunct to think in terms of mass action.

To achieve a mass walkout of adjuncts, even on a local scale, there must be a both a common sense of alienation coupled with an equally strong sense of moral outrage.  I think to an extent, this is there, but there isn’t this common sense of what to do.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, adjuncts are fearful of reprisals from loss of employment to punitive scheduling, to even a simple reprimand.  As so many adjuncts are effectively just “hanging on” in terms of income because these reprisals could lead to the loss of their homes, impacting not just themselves, but their families.

Further, because unions can’t legally call for or advocate strikes unless they have exhausted negotiations with a particular management group and not only declared impasse, but held a strike vote in which the majority of the membership authorized a strike, the union cannot protect workers who participate in a walkout, nor can it officially call for one.

But this doesn’t mean a walkout couldn’t happen.

Here’s when any adjunct who might be thinking of a walkout needs to read their contact carefully.

Most adjuncts have, as a part of their language, a sick leave policy granting them time away from work.  In many cases, the taking of sick leave, if for a very short period of time, does not require a doctor’s note.  This effectively means that you could leave or miss work without reprisal (with the assumption that you’re sick).

Imagine, if you will, a day in which even 50% of an adjunct teaching force suddenly got ill.

On January 11th, 2016, frustrated with the dilapidated conditions of the facilities they were teaching in school teachers in the Detroit Public System staged a sickout which garnered national attention.  This action was followed up by a sick-out in early May which ultimately resulted in pay guarantees for its teachers.

Perhaps what the adjunct/contingent nation needs to do is consider this as an option.

But saying this and doing it are two different things.  Some things to consider:

1)  There has to be buy-in: There is, at any school, or district, a dedicated core of individuals who are willing to take the risk, and after them perhaps double the number who will talk a good game, or show interest, but then not act, and often, both groups combined, at best, represent only 10% of the adjunct faculty.  To get larger participation, there needs to be either a greater sense of outrage or injustice, and perhaps more importantly, a sense that by doing the action it will actually accomplish something.

2) There needs to be a specific goal: What is the objective of a walkout going to be?  It has to be more than “see how powerful adjuncts are,” or an abstract call for “adjunct justice”.  There needs to be a clear sense of objectives that can be realized, like pressure on considering specific legislation, or certain policies.  If it’s a national sickout, then it should focus a specific national issue, like unemployment benefits, healthcare, the WEP provision, etc.  If it’s a state level sickout, it needs to be connected to a state level issue, like funding for office hours, or equity pay, but this said…

3) There need to be allies among students, politicians, and the general public:  Given the current lack of awareness among students of who or what adjunct/contingent faculty really are, and how adjunct/contingent working conditions hinder student success, there’s a considerable amount of awareness raising that needs to go on.  Personally, I’ve seen awareness and consciousness rise among students, but not enough so that there is widespread concern among student groups.  There has to come a day when you can ask students in a given class, “Do you know what an adjunct is?” and have more than 50% of the class actually know and have a strong opinion about it.  Again, this gets back to the fact that adjunct/contingent faculty by and large avoid explaining who they are to their students.  As people in the business of attacking ignorance, it’s so ironic how many adjuncts contribute to it when it comes to the fact of being adjunct.

Politicians are not much different, and in fact, a bit worse.  Since the Reagan administration, teachers have been one of America’s favorite whipping horses as to the ills of American society, and the college professor is still by and large perceived as some sort of upper-middle class elite who drives a nice sensible car and looks down on less-educated Americans.  Further, we’re “impractical,” “we don’t know the “real world.” On the other hand, when it is acknowledged that many of us are financially struggling and live with employment insecurity, we are told by these same politicians, that it’s simply the market economy (even though many of us have full and overflowing classes), or that if we don’t like it, we should just quit, as if the 50+ year-old adjunct with an advanced degree is some sort of versatile property that can pick up a job a will.  Further, this is not a Republican or Democrat thing.  In fact, some Democrats have been even worse in their embrace of the Corporatization of Public Education. They often call for “school choice,” “charter school,” or speak of free Public Higher Ed (itself a worthy goal) but not a lick about improving the working conditions of the people who deliver that education.  There are politicians who do get it, like California State Assemblyman Jose Medina, but we need to bring these people up, and some of us need to run for office ourselves.

Adjunct and Contingents, as for the general public, how many of you talk about the work and salary conditions you experience among friends and neighbors?  By the way, when was the last time you saw an adjunct represented on TV or in a movie, and moreover, was there any mention of their lack of income, job security, or how students were affected by this?  News stories on NPR, MSNBC, or the Nightly News aren’t going to be enough.  We have to create a culture and have a presence in media where by our situation is known.

4) We need full-time allies who will stand with us: An adjunct walkout can work if full-time support is there, but we need to have support that is significant.  Maybe they need to walk out with us, or stand up to administrators who will seek to sanction by simply leaving us off the schedule the following semester. It would also be nice if they weren’t afraid of us “taking over,” which is something I hear more often than I would like.  I will say this, unless a concerted effort is made to de-incentivize the hiring of adjunct/contingent faculty, the tenure system will collapse, and for any adjunct foolish enough to think this would be a good thing, think again: it would effectively mean an end to academic freedom.  Then you can face the risk of getting fired without cause, or for showing your student a film about income inequality or racism that they’re not down with.  Adjuncts need to fight and stand for full-time positions, but at the same time full-timers need to realize that pay and benefit equity for adjuncts is the price for protecting tenure.

5) Any kind of sickout has to be a mass movement of leaders in smaller groups or cells, not something directed by a singular group of activists: As I already stated, union leaders by and large have their hands tied in calling for or directing such actions.  Even smaller activist organizations with visible leadership need to be aware that without mass support and protection, they face retaliation, which is fine if they’re willing to carry the costs of losing their jobs or careers, and subsequently labeled a martyr or symbol for the cause. Some people can do this, and we can applaud them for their sacrifice.  For others, mass action can provide both the support and anonymity to act.  The idea of a sickout can be spread through word of mouth, and when consensus is realized then people can act.

6) We need the support of those adjuncts who can’t, for whatever reason, join the sickout, and we need to support them: Any kind of strong labor action is a scary thing.  For many adjunct/contingents living from paycheck-to-paycheck, and even then not making it, such an action is frightening.  Some adjuncts feel bound to their students (though a sickout can very much be a teachable moment).  These are our brothers and sisters, and they can stand with us, speaking out as to why have chosen to act.  They can share in the communication of  our grievances and our demands for redress.  If we know that they understand our actions and stand with us otherwise, then we must embrace them.

And there you have it. This is what it’s going to take to have the walkout/sickout/whatever .  I personally don’t see it happening in the immediate future, but then again, I didn’t think I would see millions of people in the street the day after Trump’s inauguration.

I for one would love to be pleasantly surprised, but I’m just one person, and by writing this, I am excusing myself from leading this, but not from potentially participating.

For any adjunct/contingent who’s read this, I have now put the onus of leading or participating in such action upon you. It’s time for you to talk, and act, and plan.

Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct

National Adjunct Action Day is 2/24/2016 (For Us)

Good Adjuncts:

For those of you who follow this blog, you know that, at least in California, myself and John Hoskins, along with many others in San Diego, were heavily involved with events regarding National Adjunct Action Day (I also referred to it as the “whatever”) last year.  We put a lot of effort not only in the planning of events (there were six separate rallies in San Diego County alone).

Planning these events was not simply about having a few meetings, pulling out a card table, getting a microphone and making a poster.  It involved 1) looking at specific actionable items, 2) securing facilities and equipment (which will take several weeks of advance planning, 3) arranging for higher profile speakers, 4) Coordinating with students and outside labor/social justice groups, 5) putting together literature, 6) Publicizing the event, 7) Organizing adjuncts and students to work tables, 8) Presenting before college governing boards, and trust me, I could go on.

We started planning for this year’s events on 2/26/2015, which is approximately one day after National Adjunct Action Day, which was 2/25/2015.

In keeping with the idea that this was a “day of action,” I stated on this blog that we were looking for marking National Adjunct Day on Wednesday, Feb. 24th, 2015 which would be the fourth Wednesday in February, effectively commemorating National Adjunct Day. We of course imagined that there would be various activities leading up to the day, but weren’t looking at designating this as a week.

The reason for this is that both the CTA and CFT, the two major unions in California, already have “Campus Equity Week” which runs during the last week in October.  In fairness, while this used to be a biannual event, it is now in fact an annual event, and works well for us in terms of pressuring the state legislature, which controls our funding, and in addition, help us “rally the troops” for Election Day the following week.

After running a week of these events, as we did in San Diego, we can’t really run another full week of events because we end up appearing redundant and burning out some activists.

The idea of a “day of action” is to concentrate our efforts into a series of mass actions which will have the most impact, and perhaps draw media attention.

In the San Diego and Southwestern Community College Districts, the first day of instruction for the Spring Term is February 1st.  To effectively arrange facilities and organize our actions requires at least three weeks, and while some prior planning can be done, it’s extremely hard to organize during the break except at the basic planning stage because so many people “check out” during break.

Recently, a group I assume that is affiliated with Brandeis University  put out on social media that a National Adjunct Week of Action would be taking place from Feb. 15th-20th.   It would have been nice if they had actually talked with people like myself, who actually organize this stuff, because I would have them that we had prior plans, and that the timeline doesn’t work for us.  In addition, to what I stated before, Feb 12th -15th is actually a four-day holiday weekend in our districts, which is another problem in itself.

By the way, I spent a bit of time on the net looking for discussions of a National Adjunct Action Day for 2016 in November right after Campus Equity Week.  I saw nothing, so we assumed that we had to act, and we have.

To the people planning events on the 15th-20th, I’m glad you’re doing something and I sincerely wish you well, but I’m telling my good adjuncts in the San Diego area we’re looking at Wednesday Feb. 24th.

If we truly want to take the National Adjunct “Whatever” a unifying and effective event, then after this year’s activities, let’s have all the main groups coordinate and lest come up with a time window that works for everybody.  I am happy to be reached through the blog, or via my email, which is mixinminao@gmail.com.

However, I will say this, if you feel the need to speak to, and act out on adjunct issues, don’t let it being a specific day stop you—get out there and do something whenever.  The adjunct nation needs you!

Sincerely,

Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct

My Opening Speech at the Southwestern Rally

Let’s hear it for the students here today.

Let’s hear it for the full-time faculty here today.

Let’s hear it for the administrators here today.

Let’s hear it for the governing board members here today.

Let’s hear it for the staff here today.

Let’s hear it for the adjuncts here today.

You know, nothing in my wildest dreams told me 20, 10, or even five years ago that I would be here doing this today.

And I have mixed feelings about it.  Thinking back on my life, I never saw myself as what I have become-an adjunct instructor.  From my early 20’s, I knew I wanted to teach in higher ed., and I knew that above all things I wanted to be a teacher.

I still love being a teacher, and I love even teaching at multiple schools, but I don’t love being an adjunct.

For me at times, being an adjunct has meant waiting desperately each semester for a class assignment, having a car or a Trader Joe’s bag for an office, buying clothes from thrift shops and off Craig’s List, buying food for my kid through the WIC program, or sometimes even having to stand outside a Social Services Clinic cradling my sick child in my arms because I couldn’t afford insurance.

For me, being an adjunct at times means having to tear away from the time I can devote to a student, being bound to somewhere else, where students, often just as needy will also be denied access at times.

Being an adjunct also means being in an ever-growing class of transient instructors, who when the rare full-time position comes open, will join in the competition for the job like wild dogs fighting for table scraps, with perhaps one or two people being lucky enough to win the lottery of full-time job out of up to 230 applicants.

Being an adjunct means standing beside my full-time colleagues, unable to fully take part in tasks like program review, or fully understand department culture, or the big picture, because I am wed to my other campuses, and just as much as the car to which I drive to them.

And being an adjunct has meant making half as much as a full-time colleague of the same experience teaching a 17 hour load while my colleague is only required to do 15.

No, I don’t love being an adjunct, but I’m happy to be here today.

Five years ago, when in the midst of the great recession, and adjuncts were faced with the loss of classes coupled with a 5% pay cut after years of no raises, it wasn’t just that I despaired of being an adjunct, but of the idea that nothing would change.

What I mean by this is that I believed that when economic times got better, and if I survived the recession still employed as teacher, my pay and perhaps some benefits would get slightly better, but that the basic dynamic of living at marginal wages, with marginal job security, and a minimal chance of full-time employment would continue.

Now, maybe it’s not so much that I don’t believe that it could still be the case, but it’s that I’m sick and tired of not speaking out, that I’m happy, especially when I see the opportunity for California to truly begin addressing the “Adjunct Condition”.

This is the “adjunct condition”:

Nationwide, approximately 75 % of college instructors are adjuncts, with only 25% being full-timers.  On many campuses the majority of the curriculum is taught by adjuncts.  Generally these instructors are only paid for classroom hours, not for prepping, grading, researching, professional development, committee work, etc., which often represent anywhere from 60-80% of one’s job.

The “adjunct condition” is also students dealing with a loss of access to their teachers, who will teacher higher than full-time loads at multiple campuses.

Further, it is in some cases, the literal collapse or hollowing out of academic departments, with some departments, while having fully qualified adjuncts more than capable of teaching full-time classes, possessing no full-time faculty.

It is also the ever-revolving door of adjuncts being hired and fired from one place to work at another, which allows for little building of solid departmental goals or consensus.

The “adjunct condition” clearly hurts adjuncts, but it also hurts students.  Student completion rates are declining, and research has established that one of the main causes is the lack of access that students have with their instructors who, as national statistics show, are more often than not adjuncts.

Further, adjuncts are disproportionately used in lower level developing skills and first-year college classes, where often student access to teachers is most needed, yet least provided.

Moreover, the “adjunct condition” hurts the community, as declining completion rates mean fewer trained workers to take jobs that provide growth and advancement, and at the same time, increase a community’s tax base to pay for anything from better parks and schools, to simply better roads.  Second, those students who fail to complete the skills needed for good jobs will often come to need public assistance, or run a higher risk of incarceration, and clearly take more from the community than they are giving back.

If hearing all this makes you angry, then welcome to what an adjunct both feels and understands.

It is the nature of our society to look for villains. Why surely, there must be some clear cause or menace which has perpetrated this wrong.

The fact of the matter is that everyone bears some blame.

Taxpayers for years insisted on lower taxes and stronger law enforcement.  They got what they wanted, or well, sort of—less money for schools and more money for prisons.

Administrators, anxious to offer as many classes as they could, yet keep their budgets in check, increasingly hired adjuncts because they were a lot cheaper and more er. . . flexible.  i.e., easy to get rid of.

Legislators, even when handed electoral mandates like 75% of classes being taught by full-timers, simply chose to, and still choose to waive the law.

Full-timers, often pressed by the own work needs, including the increasing bureaucratic pressures of SLO’s, program review, curriculum development, and various committee work simply tried to keep up with their work.

Adjuncts, willingly accepted to teach classes aware of the poor job security and benefits, most often with the delusion that simply a years of hard work would alone lead them to full-time jobs which either never materialized, or were simply too competitive for all but a lucky few.

But you know what, today is not about anger, or at least not finger-pointing.  It’s about solutions.

In 2012, California passed Proposition 30, which brought needed funds to education, yet despite its passage, much of the debt that California had accrued during the recession had to be addressed, and so in 2013 and 2014, monies to simply save public education were spent.

It is now 2015, the money is there in the budget to affect real change, and change is long overdue.

Change for what you ask?

First let’s give students better access to their teachers.  If after all, schools are all about students, shouldn’t students be better able to access teachers outside the classroom?

It has been estimated that 30 million dollars, not additionally spent, but simply reallocated and specifically targeted to  paid adjunct office hours, could do part of that.

What might better help would be to make pay between adjuncts and full-timers more equal.  This, coupled with office hours will incline adjuncts to work at fewer campuses, and to have the time to not only better consult with students, but to do more thorough prepping, quicker grading turnarounds, and connect better with their campuses.

50 million dollars in adjunct pay parity, again not additionally spent, but simply categorically directed, would bring adjuncts.

Finally, what is most needed, is simply more full-timers.  Many if not most adjuncts, are in fact full-time teachers who cobble together multiple part-time jobs to live tenuously and teach transiently.  If California public really wants to have the best teachers, it should make it possible for the largest numbers of them to singularly devote their energies to one educational institution.

100 million dollars specifically towards the “conversion” (the governor’s office’s own words) of part-time to full-time teachers would change the present part-time to full-time ratio from 75% adjunct and 25% full-time, to 58% Part-time and 42% Full-time.

All told this represents a total of 180 million dollars, not additionally spent, but redirected to meet these needs.

It would be dishonest to say that the categorical allocation of 180 million dollars to address adjunctification would solve adjunctification in and of itself, but it would be a good first step.

There is much to suggest California’s legislature is on board with this, but not Governor Brown, who would rather give it in lump sums to various districts to leave administrators and governing boards to redirect to pretty much everything else but the above three items.

Ironically, Governor Brown is pushing for a high-speed rail project costing tens of billions of dollars, and recently pushed a water bond for billions of dollars.

This is because, as the Governor asserts, he is working towards a long lasting legacy.

What Governor Brown needs to realize is that one’s legacy resides not in physical infrastructure, but in human capital and potential.  One’s legacy resides in the hearts and minds of those that follow you.

The Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu said that the greatest leaders are those who let the people claim success as their own.  Think of how many future students would be able to speak of their own success if they had increased access to a teacher who is both financially stable and feels respected.

My good adjuncts, and you are good for the work and struggle you have endured, my fellow faculty, administrators, governing board members, and staff, who work with us in the common endeavor to abate ignorance and promote potential, and finally, yet first of all, dear students, we need to make the Governor see what’s right, and we need to do it now, for it will not just affect Governor Brown’s legacy, but the ones that we leave for those who follow.

NAWD Action Item #1: Adjuncts, Claim Your Spaces

Good Adjuncts,

If you haven’t taken the document “What is an Adjunct?”and given it to your students, please do so or download it.  To educate is to activate.

But that said, one document alone cannot fully educate or activate.  We need to educate and activate through multiple measures and activities.

And they can and should be thoughtful, insightful.

From now until Feb. 25th I will be posting activities every two or three days that I encourage all adjuncts to take up.  If you have ideas, send them to me in your comments section, and provided they don’t call for anything that involves a violation of the law, hurting oneself or others, or clearly result in a person’s getting fired, I’ll re-post it.

Whether you do these actions or not is up to you and your group. Do what is true to yourself.

Anyway, here’s first my first action item: Adjuncts, claim your spaces.

Adjuncts, too many of you know what it is like to have to do prep work or meet with students when you have limited or no adjunct space, but because you are a good adjunct, you make that time to do prep, or meet with a student.  Ideally, it’s in an adjunct office, but too often, it’s in a cafeteria, a student lounge, outside in the hall way, a courtyard, etc.

Show everyone just exactly where that space is.

First, get yourself a relatively large post-it, or a 3”x 5” notecard and put some scotch tape on one side. On either the non-adhesive side of the post-it, or on the non-tape side of the notecard, write in large and legible letters “ADJUNCT OFFICE SPACE”.  Attach the post-it or card to the nearest table top, door wall, or surface so that it can be clearly seen.

Now naturally, if you’re in a cafeteria or coffee shop, or any kind of high traffic space, it’s going to get removed.  In fact, you want to attach it so that it can be easily removed.  That’s OK, but let someone else remove it.

Later, when you’re back at the same place, put up another card and post-it.

From here on out, it’s simply rinse and repeat.

Over time, a larger audience of post-it and notecard readers and removers are going to understand your reality, and if they’re truly bothered by your message, maybe they will see that a specially designated space for adjuncts to do their jobs would be better than what’s happening now.

For those of you who might want to be a bit more proactive, if one your campus there is an empty office that is not being used, Put up a post-it or card with the question “FUTURE POSSIBLE ADJUNCT SPACE?” Like before, people will take down your card or post-it—simply put another one up.  The admin may in fact find another use for the office, but so what? Getting them to tell you what that office will ultimately be used for and why forces them to be more accountable to you.

Now off to your work  my good adjuncts.  Claim your spaces.

Geoff Johnson

A Good Adjunct