An Adjunct by Any Other Name

An Adjunct by Any Other Name

Recently, the Academic Senate at Grossmont College cowered and resisted addressing the exploitation of adjuncts.  Instead, they presented a plan to give adjuncts “academic ranking,” an official title of “professor”.  At first, when I heard the Senate’s announcement, I thought it was a joke because adjuncts are institutionally disenfranchised, but as I read through the documents, I began to see the real significance of the Senate’s proclamation. The ranks are available to adjuncts according to seniority and other criteria as stated here. The  ranks are.

A. Adjunct Professor: Twenty semesters and 2 criteria from a list. (here)

B. Adjunct Associate Professor: Twelve semesters and 1 criterion

C.  Adjunct Assistant Professor:  Eight semesters and 1 criterion

These three ranks are new, but there is a forth rank that exists which is not certified and technically not a rank but should be on the list of statuses.

D. Adjunct Faculty

The Academic Senate states that, “Each person who is awarded academic rank will be accorded the benefits and recognition of rank. A Certificate of Rank, signed by the President of Grossmont College, the President of the Academic Senate and the Chancellor, will be presented to the Adjunct faculty member.”  

It sounds wonderful. I want a rank, too, but what does the rank give me?  At Grossmont College, adjuncts will get a certificate of recognition, but that is it. There are no specific, concrete benefits.  An adjunct receives a signed certificate, period.  There are no pay raises (thus, adjunct marginalization is still prevalent). There are no benefits other than what we might call “psychological wages” to make adjuncts feel better in their mistreatment. The Senate put a band-aid over the corruption, so the festering doesn’t look so bad. Psychological wages do not put food on the table.

I don’t blame the Senate. I know that there are pressures not to be strong on principles, I’ve met and conversed with many of the members and they also swim in the same currents of the dehumanization of higher education.  The Senate, after all, has to face the administration, which treats faculty as they would silly children. It is hard to act on principle when doing so is not inline with the “business first” mantra that trickles down from boardrooms of business, government, and governing boards.

This business first model has turned the Senate into placating advisors to the growing administration, who in turn wave their staffs and says yay or nay to the Senate’s recommendations and who are gainfully rewarded with business kudos while students languish under languishing professors. We are seeing the slow decay of shared governance in Academia and one of the signs is a weakened Senate that cannot publically declare that faculty marginalization is student exploitation. Why doesn’t the Academic Senate stand up? Perhaps, fear is a good answer? To state the truth that we cannot have the best possible education for our students if we abuse the majority faculty who are on the frontline of the educational experience is, perhaps, too offensive or disagreeable for those who sing the mantra of business first. It is not like the intuitional business model is eager to treat this large group of professors equitably; it is not economically prudent in the business model of college governance, a model where sports bring in more and gets more than the academics that produce higher functioning citizens and labor for our society.

The University of Illinois Chicago had a faculty strike a few weeks ago on this principle. Other Academic Senates, if they are worried about the success and credibility of their educational programs must recognize, stand up, and clearly state to the administrations that good academic institutions cannot continue to damage the students’ learning by giving students low wage, disenfranchised instructors who are harried with the stress of contingency, poverty, and multiple employers to pay the bills, all of which distract the majority of instructors from doing their best for the students, the college, and the community.  If the Senate would lead, we all will stand up to the bullying and perhaps regain the awareness that education is not business.  The faculty at UIC are our brothers and sisters in the fight for justice for our friends, family, and children. Academic senates around the country can look at UIC and see a strong academic senate, a senate that is really focused on the best possible academic environment for students, a senate that stands on principle.

I understand that there are some good intentions coming from the Grossmont College Academic Senate. Perhaps, they heard the adjuncts’ voices that are calling for dignity? Perhaps, the Senate at Grossmont thought that Academic Rank would give adjuncts that overdue dignity?  Someone might call it maverick that the Grossmont Academic Senate gives a title to adjuncts as “professors” rather than just “faculty.”

However, it seems apparent that the dignity is quite superficial.  Did they really think that adjuncts would say, “Yay, now I am an Adjunct Assistant Professor” and not in the next breath think aloud that, “I am still not able to pay the bills,” or “That doesn’t change the fact that I must find another two or three jobs outside of Grossmont to pay rent,” or “I am still excluded from full acceptance and participation on campus?”

Sadly, many adjuncts who have served for 20, 30, and more years will not be eligible for Academic Rank because they do not have one of the criterion that will give them a title, even though they have been rehired 60 times.  Also, many veteran adjuncts will find no need for a title because to the students, the community, and in their own minds they have been “professors” for a very long time already and are reliable and effective professors even without an arbitrary official title. Further, a title will mean nothing to a good number of adjuncts who are content only with part-time teaching.

I want to think that there is something good about adjunct ranking and I can see that it may have the effect that an adjunct can apply for a position at this or another institution and remark that they do have “a rank.” Younger adjuncts will line up to distinguish themselves in job hunting. Sure, I can see it now, an adjunct will indeed use it with some ultra limited effectiveness to help them land a full-time job. I am sure, shortly, there will be adjuncts boasting of their rank in their competition for limited (statistically improbable) full–time positions.  We may hear, “At Grossmont College, I gained the rank of ‘Adjunct Assistant Professor’” with an air of superiority over other adjuncts who don’t have titles, over adjuncts with more experience and better credentials.

Obviously, Grossmont College administrators will boast about their “decorated” adjuncts to the media, the accreditation boards, and other oversight committees.  They will say, “Of the total adjuncts that we have here at Grossmont College,  30% are Adjunct Professors, 10% are Adjunct Associate Professors, and 3% are Adjunct Assistant Professors,” with a ringing crescendo,  “a testament to the high quality of instructors we have on campus.”  We should all be curious about what happens to the other 57% of adjuncts who are not decorated with a rank. We should also ask, what does rank mean when an adjunct is an Adjunct Professor, but a full timer is an Assistant Professor (lower ranked)?

To be fair, another positive is that getting a title might help with gaining some personal pride and a feeling that the district respects you as an adjunct faculty member. An adjunct will receive the official title and they can hold their heads up knowing that when a student calls them professor it is real and not some painful and shameful reminder that they are living a lie.  However, the other 57 percent will still be pained and shamed by the fact that they do the same things and have the same credentials as a professors, but are living the oxymoronic existence in a non-professorial professorship career. An equivalent analogy is hard to find because when someone performs the duties of an office, they have the title of that office. We never call the individual preforming the duties of a president a clerk. There is no real justification to call those who profess, adjuncts, and new rankings are merely missing the point of the problem with adjunctification.

The ranks will also affect the psychological well-being of those lacking ranks, revealing further to them their tenuous professional existence, degrading further the adjunct’s ability to perform their job. I can see many disenfranchised adjuncts feeling even more disenfranchised as they watch some adjuncts (more privileged adjuncts) attain rank while they, the less privileged are occupied by their divisive loyalties to various campuses.  They are the 57%, the new untouchables below Adjunct Professors. What will we call the non ranked adjuncts?

Providing academic rank will help many adjuncts escape living an oxymoronic existence. Many adjuncts with rank will think, “I am not ‘just’ an adjunct, I am an ‘Adjunct Associate Professor.’”  And, many might think, “The district will surely appreciate that I have accomplished this distinction and I bet they’re having some feelings of loyalty towards me.” (Don’t forget to cross your fingers and ignore that you are abused! Forget that you are paid a third of a full-time faculty member for the same work done, the same hours of teaching and grading for that third. Forget that you are relegated to less than full-time in the part-time limbo with no honest paths for advancement into full-time status other than though an insufficient, immoral, and unjust number of job openings in the state and country.)

I try to be patient and understanding, so I want to think that this push to give academic rank was well thought out and was set with good intentions, but I am far too critical to be gullible in the face of the facts that the ranks do not actually do anything to extend equity to the majority faculty on campus. Adjuncts receive inadequate wages; they lack job security, and are underrepresented in shared governance, in academic senates, in the unions, and in the departments. They are the silenced majority on campuses scattered to the winds, and where they fall, no one cares.

With ranking, the institution gains doubly from adjuncts and exploits them further.  First, the institution pays adjuncts nearly a 1/3rd of a full-time faculty member for the same work done, and now, with ranking, they will gain more hours of service from adjuncts without having to pay them.  Many adjuncts will scramble to attain a certificate signed by the Senate, President, and Chancellor in the hopes that they will win the lottery of a full-time position, a position that adjuncts don’t realize is statistically improbable to attain.

Truthfully, an adjunct is an adjunct, and all adjuncts by any other name remain exploited and disenfranchised.  Adjunctification is a major injustice to the adjuncts, the students, and our communities. We don’t have to go far in critical thinking to see that it is unwise to diminish the quality of our academics with a majority of part-time faculty.

What the titles will do is differentiate adjuncts from one another based on years of service and whether the adjunct has had the freedom (privileged leisure) to gain extra experiences like publishing, serving on committees, serving an educational programs etc.

Academic rank for adjuncts prejudicially favors adjuncts who are single, adjuncts with no children, adjuncts who are not the breadwinners with dependents, adjuncts that are working only in one college because their spouse covers the bills, and adjuncts that have well paid professional side practices.  Certification of Adjunct Academic Rank will occur more for the economically privileged members of the exploited group, those that have leisure to volunteer their time to attain the titled rank.

If we want to have a ranking system for adjuncts, then at least some avenues toward pay raises and job security in full-time employment would legitimize the ranking a bit better, but to give rank without real compensation is to give a title only, like “putting lipstick on a pig.” It is merely beautifying the ugly truth with a false impression, with the impression that you have better adjuncts because some have enough privilege to work for free to gain a title and a false sense of superiority.  Academic rank should equal full-time employment. It should not be an empty certificate signed by disingenuous administrators who ignore the exploitative business model. As stands, it looks like a pat on the back and a boot to the rump.

Academic Rank for adjuncts entices us to go against our conscience. It entices us to sacrifice our families, our dignity, and the dignity of our brother and sister adjuncts everywhere with lipstick to cover the swine.  Academic Senates everywhere must stand up and act justly and on principle by speaking the truth, the truth that adjunct working conditions are student-learning conditions.

“A Good Adjunct”

John D. Rall

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Psychological Wages: No One Becomes a College Professor to Get Poor

Since our actual wages are so inadequate, we adjuncts rely on psychological wages.

A part of our psychological wages, common to all college faculty, tenured (and tenure-track) and adjunct, indeed, to all teachers, is the fulfillment we receive from working with students: when a student learns, a teacher is fulfilled.  Sharing knowledge, teaching skills, drawing out a student’s potential are rewards for which there is no monetary equivalent. We don’t teach so we can get rich or because it’s easy money; we teach because it increases the meaning in our lives as well as in the lives of our students, and in the world at large.

Another part of the psychological wages adjuncts collect, along with tenured professors, is the joy of being scholars.  Reading and writing about our subjects is a passion.  Scholarship, as well as teaching, is a calling for us. Whether we teach at an institution where “publish or perish” is still a mantra or one where the primary mission is teaching, we attend conferences, give presentations, publish, read and study. We receive such personal gratification as professionals that we sometimes don’t find it necessary to draw a line between personal time and professional time. Between semesters, we read books and essays about education, and we have great teaching ideas while on a run.

And there is the psychological wage of belief in the myth that, if you are a “good adjunct,” if you demonstrate your excellence, you will be rewarded, in time, with that coveted tenure-track position. Adjuncts rely heavily on this myth. Never mind that the demonstration of excellence shades into your willingness to be exploited, and does little to ensure reward. At least some tenured share in the belief in this myth as well, as it explains why they are in the place of privilege.

Adjuncts don’t just enjoy these wages, though, especially the “good adjunct” wage; we rely on them because, without these wages, the impoverishing actual wages that shape the quality of our lives would suck out our souls.

We adjuncts depend on these psychological wages to get us through not only the day but also the “lean times.” Conversely, the financial struggle adjuncts endure, from meeting rent to paying bills, to paying for the unexpected, is a psychological burden that threatens body and soul.  For many, to ensure that there is enough food for the children, every check is budgeted carefully to last until the next. When extra cash is needed, the credit card comes out, or friends and family get phone calls. The end of every month is “lean.”  Winter and summer are “lean.” For adjuncts, the “lean time” is always near.

We pretend psychological wages are sufficient, although they are not.  The pretence that our wages do not impoverish us leads some to delude themselves with rationalizations. To explain poverty wages, a common rationalization I hear from adjuncts is, “I didn’t become a college professor to get rich.”  This rationalization creates a rose-colored lens through which some view their oppression as a “personal choice.”   The idea that one chooses to be an adjunct, except in rare situations, deftly transforms the burden of financial struggle into willing self-sacrifice, and the oppressed become those noble martyrs who sacrifice themselves for the good of the community.  Of course, no one becomes a college professor to “get rich.”  No one becomes a college professor to get poor either.

The truth is psychological wages for many adjuncts become part of a web of rationalizations that keeps us from recognizing our exploitation for what it is. We take the psychological wages and endure the burden. We lie to ourselves.

Psychological wages contribute to the illusion of “separate but equal” and the higher education meritocracy, thereby maintaining higher education’s caste system and adjuncts’ indenture. It is true that tenured and adjunct have the same professional interests, if not the same professional opportunities. Economically, however, adjuncts definitely are unequal.

We need to recognize that adjunct wages are inadequate. If we lived in an idyllic ivory tower where monetary wages were disdained, psychological wages would be enough.  Perhaps, there wouldn’t even be psychological wages, only a common sense of higher purpose. But the actual economic circumstances which define our lives are not idyllic. They are merciless.

We carry the burden, the shame, of being adjunct, which, finally, is the inability to earn a decent living and support our families.  Across America, many adjuncts are struggling to gain guaranteed unemployment compensation, since we are unemployed periodically and repeatedly as a matter of course. Speaking as one who “enjoys” this “benefit,” filing for unemployment, counting on it year after year, becomes a burden as much as a benefit.  It’s never enough.  You hate it. But, you are thankful for the pittance.  Even with healthcare and priority re-hire rights, not having enough money to pay for the needs of your family weighs you down.

Additionally, we carry the burden of the huge student loan debt we incurred paying for the privilege to earn our advanced degrees, so we could serve in the maintenance of civilization.  Adjuncts’ student loan debt is a great irony.  The irony gets thick when students are encouraged to attend our classes and “achieve success,” which of course means attaining the ability to make a decent living, an economic privilege denied adjuncts, who are expected to lead these students to “success.”

It is the burden of fear, however, which keeps many adjuncts from facing the structural conditions of their oppression as well as from speaking out about these conditions. Among many other things, adjuncts fear offending tenured colleagues, retaliation from administrators, cancelled classes, and not one day arriving at tenure. The most insidious fear though, as Maria Maisto of New Faculty Majority has noted in “Adjuncts, Class, and Fear,” is deep, “unspoken” and “fraught with complexities.” She points out that this fear comes from the “tension” between adjuncts’ “nominal professional status” and their “actual workplace conditions.”  As Maisto so perceptively claims, it is fear rooted in status and identity. This deep fear leads to denial.

This denial is one of the biggest barriers to achieving adjunct justice. Both tenured and adjuncts indulge in denying the oppressive conditions of exploitation which adjuncts live and teach under. We need to stop accepting psychological wages as a trade-off for poverty wages.

Social media is viral with the personal and institutional costs of the crisis of adjunctification. The mainstream media is beginning to cover adjunctification. A growing number of adjuncts (and some tenured faculty) are rejecting psychological wages and demanding justice. Yet, I suspect that this number is still a minority of the majority faculty. More of us, all of us, need to recognize the insidious class system that has colonized our souls as well as our profession. Personally, locally, as well as nationally, we need to face and resist our exploitation and oppression.

None of us ever aspired to be adjunct, tentatively connectied to the institution, but, rather, we aspired to be a fully vested, integral part of the institution. The institution owes us the respect of financial security, at least. This means adequate pay that reflects our professional status and allows us to live with the personal security and dignity of the middle-class enjoyed by our few tenured colleagues.

Adjunct Labor Discussion with Noam Chomsky

Tonight (3/4/14) at 5:30 (check time) a web-discussion with Noam Chomsky is taking place in the realms of Facebook through Hangtime.com

America’s foremost public intellectual, Noam Chomsky, will be joining us via Skype for a discussion on the state of part-time labor in higher education. All adjuncts and allies are welcome!!

Hosted by: Adjunct Faculty Association  of the United Steel Workers union.

http://www.hangtime.com/events/adjunct-labor-discussion-with-noam-chomsky/497714317008067

Powerlessness in the Face of Heartlessness

It is now the end of Week 10 of the 16-week semester and I am reflecting on last year’s crisis and wondering if it will happen again this year. My Union representative has assured me that the problem has been taken care of, but I am afraid that a similar disaster will occur. Perhaps, I don’t understand how the union could solve the problem so easily since adjuncts are not really part of the bargaining agreement process.

Although the union has assured me, that the same financial fiasco that most adjunct faculty fell victim to last spring will not occur this spring, I am still a bit unnerved and filled with trepidation.  Last Spring the majority faculty on my campus were hit with a financial crisis. Many faculty members, a majority in my district, were ill informed and unprepared for the impact of a change in the number of pay warrants.

A week before the Spring 2013 semester at the three campuses of the San Diego Community College District, a few adjuncts receive a clear message that their expectations of a pay warrant on the 10th of February was false and that the 1st pay warrant for Spring Semester would be March 10th.

I received the message and was shocked that I would not have the much-needed funds to feed my family and pay rent. I was shocked too because I wrongly assumed that because for the past 2 years we were receiving 10 pay warrants a year that we would receive 10 warrants this year.  In my shock and utter indignation at the easy manipulation of my subsistence by the district, I emailed my union president and asked why adjunct faculty were to receive only 4 pay warrants this Spring. The AFT president in a short, curt reply said that it was a contract thing from 10 years ago (thus, nothing can be done). I had signed the contract for hire in 2004. Admittedly, I am at fault for the financial crisis because I did not read carefully enough Appendix –IX 2 that states that the number of pay warrants was dependent on when the semester begins. It says that if a semester starts after the 25th, then 4 warrants will be given with the 1st to come on the 10th of the month after the 1st month of class.

So, the consequence of this contract rule is that adjunct faculty work from Jan 28th to March 10th without a pay warrant.  Six weeks of labor without a sign of pay is abusive in most other fields and illegal in the state of California, but the practice is perfectly acceptable when it comes to a work force like Adjunct Professors.  What is really painful is that Adjuncts do not receive pay for the interim between semesters, so many adjuncts are really going from January 10th to March 10th without a paycheck even though they are working. What professional goes 2 months without pay? Some of you might scream, “Get into a new line of work!”  I too scream this in my thoughts. It is no wonder that the profession of teaching is a profession that our society generally tells us to avoid.  I love teaching, but I do not love the economic abuse the profession faces.

I am reminded of the emails that spread through the district that were generally ignored by administration. One instructor had sent out bills before she realized that there was no money in her bank. Other adjunct professors slid further into debt to pay their rent and to buy groceries over the 48+ days of no pay.

Pain was dispersed generally and widely across the majority faculty at the three campuses and the union gave no sign that it was going to take up the issue or help get some emergency relief. We are usually reminded that the Union can get us food stamps or emergency funding for rent. But, a loan from the union is debt too.

I can understand some thoughtful onlookers of this situation saying to themselves that,  “since it was in the contract, adjuncts have no one to blame but themselves for the financial pain. Adjunct professors should have known that their contract allowed for their pay warrants to move from 8 or 9 or 10 warrants a year depending on when the semester starts.”  I can understand that the onus is on adjunct professors, but what I can’t understand is how the district can morally, ethically, or legally withhold pay from work done for 48 days. Or how the union could have agreed to this type of pay manipulation by the administration for its majority members.

Here-in lies the problem. Adjunct professors have very little power in the bargaining agreements. The fact that Adjuncts have not had a say in whether they would like to receive 10 pay warrants rather than 8 warrants points to the fact that their interests have not been fully represented by the union.  This is wrong.  While the AFT 1931 can be credited with providing one of the best packages available for Adjunct faculty (i.e. health insurance & priority assignment), there still remains a great amount of misrepresentation.  What Adjunct faculty want is parity, they want to work, work hard, and to not be exploited, yet exploitation is apparent and the union is making little headway in changing the ethics of San Diego Community College District’s business model. The business model of SDCCD allows for an unethical exploitation of the majority of its employees through unrepresented negotiation.

In the meantime, many adjuncts have lost savings or incurred debt as a result of the delayed pay warrants.  Others simply ignore the issue and turn their heads with a refrain suggesting that it is the status quo for adjunct faculty.  In conversations with adjunct faculty about the pay warrant manipulations, it was suggested that the administration pay some kind of compensation. A retainer fee ought to be part of the time period where adjuncts are not being paid for class hours. In the months of December, January, June, July, and August there ought to be a price that the colleges pay to keep Adjunct faculty afloat in the periods between semesters so that the faculty can put their energies to their profession and not to the dire economic situation that the business model of education has placed the majority of faculty into. A retention fee is a minimum of decency to offer the faculty that keep the institution moving in its success. Without quality faculty, the institution fades into obscurity as a valuable resource for the well being of the community. I refuse to let this happen.

Who cares?

This is the question of the hour. I truly want to who cares about the fact that our education system is seriously in shambles. Who cares that we are producing citizens without the skills necessary to participate effectively both in a modern democracy and in the job markets of the future? Who cares that high school teachers face more demands from the administration than from parents themselves or that our education system is moving towards govermental authoritarianism? Who cares that higher education has a number of crises forecasting the demise of the humanistic agenda that has been the task of higher learning since the time of Socrates? Who cares that our health and prosperity is sliding toward chronic disease and poverty? In the face of  heartlessness, we seem to be powerless.