It’s About All of Us: Tell Your Students What You Are

I’m posting the latest  from mixinminao (Geoff Johnson) because he is having some technical difficulties with his computer. Here is the hardest working activist in America’s latest post:

Most of you reading this are serious adjunct/contingent activists who are all too aware of how damaging adjunct working conditions are to your life economically, physically, emotionally, psychically. . . and I could go on.  You may also be aware of how it hurts students, the institution, and contract/full-time employees as well.  You may also be aware that people have written about this at length and that in the face of it, movement on much of the issue has been, with but a few exceptions, glacial at best.

Part of this is because every time we broach the issue on our campuses during activist events like Campus Equity Week or Adjunct Action Day, we spend more time having to tell students what an adjunct is, than being able to get students to actively work towards the reduction of adjunct instruction, and the betterment of adjunct working conditions.

At the beginning of every term, I ask the students in my classes on the first day how many of them know what an “adjunct” (what I choose to call myself) is.  Because of the heightened activism on my local campuses, I will now be lucky if I can get three or more students out of a class of 30 who can tell me; and I, unlike 90% of my colleagues actually ask my students about the term.  Most teachers, maybe think that to ask and answer such a question is “whining.”  What this effectively means is that these adjunct instructors have decided that these work conditions, as injurious as they are to not only to the students, the institution, and society, are really about themselves.  In other words, these adjuncts internalize their exploitation and put on the “brave face” to make their teaching appear “seamless” in quality comparison with the full-time instructor.  It’s as if students shouldn’t know that, unlike the full-time instructor:

  1. You have other jobs to go to, which significantly limits your students’ access to you.
  2. You may teach more classes than a full-timer out of necessity, meaning:
  3. You will need more time to return graded work with fewer comments
  4. You may appear harried or even disorganized when you come into class
  5. You teach at multiple sites, so:
  6. You may not be fully aware of the outside institutional resources for students
  7. Know enough about other instructors to recommend to motivated students
  8. Be fully aware of what is taught in prerequisite or follow-up classes

The fact of the matter is that it is and should be our job to inform students of these realities. Contrary to what many may believe, it’s not as if students are going to flee from your classes in droves.  Many students are tied to your classes because of their own tight schedules, and because so many of us teach at peak times with classes that are already impacted.  Many students have no choice but to take your classes, so do the right thing, tell them, prepare them.  Make it clear that you will do your best to provide that student with a quality education, but that the institution creates barriers and limits generally unseen, but nonetheless there.

At the same time, there is another problem, and many instructors particularly at the community college level can attest to this: many of our students are themselves working effectively as adjunct or contingent labor.  Even when students are informed about the adjunct situation, many of them will feel to a degree more resentful than sympathetic, and when one starts talking to students about this, it’s easy to understand why.

Few if any students have the stable, 40 hour-week-job (and if they’re students, it’s often better they don’t).  The bigger problem though is that many work at jobs for which full-time or stable employment is not an option.  In order to avoid having to provide insurance for their employees, or in some cases, to simply keep them “hungry for hours,” businesses will purposefully under-employ students who are also underpaid with respect to being able to cover basic needs.  Further, these jobs will lack any kind of security.  Even at better businesses which will provide an elite few workers full-time employment and benefits, there is a sort of two-tier-ification going on in which the vast majority will work the part-time, underpaid, no benefit job (sound familiar adjuncts?)

For some students, the jobs they work aren’t even jobs, but rather “gigs”.  All hail the rise of the “independent contractor” who works for outfits like Uber and Lyft.  These ‘contractors” are our students, and they quite often get paid worse than us and treated even more shabbily.

Now I can hear some adjuncts say, “…but they’re students,” and/or “these are transitional jobs.”  To them I say, “You need to talk to your students.”  Many of them have been doing this for years, and many may finish with degrees and still find themselves doing such work for a time. I would also say you need to look at the world beyond yourself.  The term “starving students” used to be more of a figurative than literal statement.  Recent reports show that up to 10% of students in the CSU or California State University system are homeless.  This is the largest four-year system in the country, with over 300,000 students.  We’re talking about 30,000 people with lives and aspirations and families in just one state school system.  And I’m not including the one in five have food security issues.

And yes, there are homeless adjuncts in California, but 30,000?  Do one in five California adjuncts have food security issues?

To reach these students, we need to ask for more than understanding.  We need to show empathy, and we need to show that we care about their lives, not just as students in our classrooms, but as people, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, and the very future of our nation.

And this all ties back to labor contingency.  A main contributor to the problems associated with the record income and wealth inequity in this country is that labor contingency which we all know too well in academia is exploding in the general workforce.  In a recent report given on the NPR program Marketplace, it was stated that up to 35% of the nation’s workforce is contingent labor with it expected to rise to 65-70% in the coming decades if unabated.  When people wonder why, in spite of falling employment wages have not risen, here’s one of their answers as to why.

In some respects, I would argue that labor contingency is potentially as serious and destabilizing a force as global warming.  Funny, but if people actually thought of it in those terms, would we have to waste our time as activists telling students “what an adjunct is”?

In short you need to make your students SEE your situation, and you need to SEE theirs.  To truly make any progress on the adjunct/contingent front, we need to do it from the beginning.  See this task for what it is: a moral, social, and yes a PROFESSIONAL obligation.

 

 

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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

AB 1010: A Good Bill, If You Can Actually Get It Properly Passed

Good Adjuncts:

In addition to the battle for paid adjunct office hours, part-time equity pay, and more full-time positions, perhaps the greatest concern has been over the issue of job security.

Understand that being an adjunct doesn’t simply mean being part-time, it means being considered an instructor being used, or rather hired, only as needed, with that notion of “needed” being not simply defined by the ups and downs of state budgets, but the whims and personalities of schedulers and administrators, from college presidents to department heads.

This of course is primarily an economic concern for adjuncts, who as a result must live their lives on a three-to-six month basis, even after teaching twenty or more years.  An entire career can collapse in either a quarter or a semester.

Now, to the rare non-teacher who might read this blog, you might be saying to yourself:  “So what? If I have a bad job performance review, or show up to work drunk, or insult my boss, I can get fired, so do I really have job security?”

Well, to be fair, no one does, or should have the kind of job security that allows them to be a crappy worker, and no, unions aren’t about protecting crappy workers. In fact, I get really pissed off when I perceive of an instructor failing to do their job, either because they ignore the needs of students, demean them, or are simply lazy.  They make my job harder.

What unions are about is making sure that you don’t get fired when you are in fact doing your job, or that you don’t get fired off the mere accusation, without substantial proof, that you are doing your job badly.

Even if you’re a non-union worker, I assume that if you were doing your job, and your boss came up to one day, and said, “your fired”, and when you asked why, he/she simply said, “my prerogative,” you would feel it unjust, even if it is legal for him/her to do so.

The thing is, many adjuncts at colleges where there are no-hire rights face the above scenario.  I have heard of adjuncts being told that they would not be rehired because they simply disagreed with or challenged a senior colleagues’ opinion and not necessarily in a confrontational manner or even public forum, but in a private conversation.  Other times, no reason at all will be given.

What maybe adds a little icing on the cake to such injustice is when the adjunct in question may have good evaluations, and seniority over another adjunct who is retained.  Some of these fired (or should I simply say, “left off the schedule”) adjuncts get the pleasure of later learning that their class will be taught be a shiny new adjunct with no previous teaching experience.

In fact, older adjuncts (those north of 50 years of age and 20 years experience) can be a popular target.

Now to be fair, while it may happen on occasion at my own institutions, I must say it is relatively rare (and I know saying this, I’m probably going to hear from people who got screwed, and I should, because when it happens to you, it sure as hell doesn’t feel “rare”) in comparison with some of the horror stories I’ve heard from other colleges.  Part of the reason it is less frequent is because my institutions do have collective bargaining agreements (union contracts) which contain language regarding rehire rights.

That said, there are certain “holes” in the language regarding either the classes you can be re-hired for, the number of classes you can be guaranteed, seniority, etc…

Usually when adjuncts hear this, they are immediately frustrated and angry, and with good reason, but more often than not, rather than blaming the administrators who exploit these holes, or create them through adversarial bargaining, the blame goes on the unions who “don’t care about adjunct issues”.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are many times when unions could and should do more for adjuncts, or at least do a better job of facilitating the expression of their concerns, and I’ve written on this, but often the most contentious discussion that takes place in negotiations, and the place where admin is most intransigent is over adjunct rehire rights.  I’ve seen entire contract negotiations held up over the issue.  Know that wanting something and even expressing it is never a guarantee you’re going to get it, no matter how hard you yell.

This is what brings me to AB 1010. This is a California Assembly Bill that has recently been introduced by Jose Medina, an Assemblyman out of Riverside which calls for the implementation of a union adjunct rehire rights policy for all community colleges.  Read it here:

http://leginfo.ca.gov/pub/15-16/bill/asm/ab_1001-1050/ab_1010_bill_20150226_introduced.html

When I first heard about the bill, I was a bit apprehensive, mainly because I know, from having looked at rehire rights policies in other contracts, that you need to be very careful with the language you have for such policies, because any vague language which is subject to interpretation can be exploited by management, and either overturned or reinterpreted by an arbitrator if the matter reaches the level of a stage three grievance.

This is often why unions and admin will revisit their rehire policies to “clean up” the previous language.

When you pass something as a bill and put it into law, it’s not so easy to do that.  Look no further than the Obamacare case before the Supreme Court being fought over four words in a 600-page document (“established by the state”).

I was also nervous about the potential loss of seniority and rehire rights in the event an adjunct would have to turn down a particular assignment due to extenuating circumstances, like a schedule conflict with another district.  If you read the bill however, you will find that a adjunct will only lose seniority if they turn down ALL classes offered, and to be fair, you’re never going to get a bill passed that would give protections to turn down classes to one’s liking.

Personally, I like the bill as it is written, and I think if it got passed, as it is presently written, that it would be a great windfall for adjuncts in California.

The key here is, as presently written.  I will tell you now, when various administrators see this bill around the state, they will be none too happy with it.

First of all, the bill allows for adjuncts who have received seniority rights (after six semesters), and have received a less than satisfactory evaluation, to be given a written plan for remediation and then re-evaluated in the next semester.  In effect, adjuncts would be given a second chance if they botch an evaluation.  This, in my opinion is a great idea, but I can tell you from having pushed for this in negotiations is something administrators generally hate, and you can be sure they will speak to it.

Another provision in the bill that administrators will be unhappy with is this:

In cases where a reduction in assignment needs to occur due to
program needs, budget constraints, or more contract faculty hires,
the reduction shall occur first from among those part-time, temporary
faculty members who have not yet qualified to be placed on the
seniority list, and thereafter in reverse seniority order, with the
least senior part-time, temporary faculty member reduced first. Any
rights to a certain workload equivalent shall be maintained for a
period of 18 months. In cases of class cancellation due to low
enrollment, faculty members shall displace faculty members who are
lower than they are on the seniority list.

A similar idea was floated by one of the negotiation teams at one of my colleges and it was a complete non-starter.

Now maybe we’ll all get lucky and every administrator and scheduler in the California Community College System will have either had a sudden change of heart, or simply be drunk, asleep, or stoned as the bill winds its way up to the governor, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Assuming then that we can get this bill past the Assembly and Senate, the next, and biggest hurdle, is…you guessed it, Jerry Brown.  Now Jerry may be down with adjuncts or not, but again, this bill, like the categoricals I mentioned earlier, goes at the heart of the local control issue.  This bill is about effectively taking a part of adjunct hiring policies out of the hands of local districts and putting it in the hands of the state.

Great, I say, and so should you, but again, this gets to what I discussed in my previous entry–there’s going to need to be a change in the philosophy regarding how education is managed in the state.

Do not believe for a minute good adjuncts that I don’t think we should fight this fight-we not only should, we have to.  But we need to know what we’re up against, and we need to be strategizing to achieve this goal.

Part of this should be to wake up our local elected officials to the realities to local control.  Maybe we need to remind them of the city of Bell, and let them know that on a smaller, yet more widespread scale, a similiar misdirection of educational resources and capriciousness of administrators is alive and well.

Anyway, get out there and fight for AB 1010 to be passed, and with real language that works for adjuncts.

Geoff Johnson

A Good Adjunct

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:

http://www.sdcitytimes.com/news/2014/11/18/the-benefits-of-equality-san-diego-campus-equity-week-seeks-equality-in-pay-for-part-time-and-full-time-instructors/

Palomar College Agrees to Take CFPB Pledge

This fall, I was part of a group of part-time faculty members of AFT 6161 who launched a campaign calling on Palomar College to take the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) pledge to inform employees of their student loan repayment options and help them apply for loan forgiveness. We posted a petition on Coworker.org and circulated it among our colleagues. With the support of the Palomar Faculty Federation’s executive board, we then took the issue to the Faculty Senate and the college president, Robert Deegan.

We are thrilled to report that as a result of our efforts, Palomar College has agreed to become the first community college in the country to take the CFPB pledge! By taking this pledge, Palomar can help build awareness of programs that are available to help those campus staff members with high student loan debt relative to their income. In one such program called Public Service Loan Forgiveness, employees who work for 10 years in public service and make 120 qualifying monthly payments can have any remaining federal student loan debt forgiven.

It’s increasingly critical to get public service organizations (including public school districts, police and fire departments, public hospitals, non-profits, and more ) to take the pledge to help their employees explore these flexible repayment options.  It can often be a difficult process to apply for income-driven loan repayment and forgiveness programs, particularly Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Adjunct faculty in particular face unique challenges, because they are typically defined as part-time employees but not hourly workers, making it difficult to prove that we meet the program’s requirement of working an average of 30 hours per week in public service. But employers can help streamline the application process for their employees by helping them with the paperwork, and the CFPB has developed an “Employer’s Guide to Assisting Employees with Student Loan Repayment” as a resource.

The pledge is critical because many workers who could benefit from these programs are unaware of them. For example, the Income Based Repayment Program has enrolled less than 2 million borrowers, despite estimates that millions more are eligible. And seven million borrowers have defaulted on their student loans, despite the presence of such programs. By following Palomar College’s example, other public service organizations can help their employees and build public awareness of the programs available to help borrowers manage their student loan debt.

To start learning about income-driven loan repayment and loan forgiveness now, check out this webinar: bit.ly/1swFhj9. It will cover how to enroll in various student loan forgiveness plans, how to reduce your monthly student loan payment, and how to share this information in your workplace with your coworkers and employers.

San Diego Campus Equity Week 2014: The Message

Campus Equity Week in San Diego 2014: The Message

The following notes were conceived with the intent of addressing a broad community college audience of students, adjunct and tenure-track faculty, and classified staff during the San Diego Campus Equity Week. This attempt to raise awareness of how adjunct issues are everyone’s issues was accompanied by a slideshow presentation. 

CEW is a national event started by the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor (COCAL) and participated in by AFT and other organizations. Its purpose is to publicize the exploitation of adjunct faculty, the effects of this exploitation on students, and the corporatization of higher education in general. Legend has it that CEW was inspired by A2K, a CCC-wide labor event organized in Spring 2000 meant to bring attention to statewide legislative issues as well as issues at local sites. CEW is now promoted as a national event bi-annually, but we think that pay equity, student equity, and the many related issues are too important to wait until next year. We have an immediate agenda. We need action now. CEW 2014 in San Diego echoes the spirit of grassroots activism that sparked the first one, way back in 2000/2001. CEW is a protest of the exploitation of adjunct faculty and staff, of rising tuition and student debt, and resistance against the corporatization of higher education.

The Process of the Corporatization of Higher Education

The trends in higher education over the last several decades have been troubling. Chief among them is the decline of tenured faculty. But the pressures to privatize services, the perpetual de-funding, the shift in federal policy towards vocational training at the expense of traditional liberal arts, like philosophy, literature, and social sciences, are also indicative of the adoption of a market ideology by higher education policymakers. The slow and steady, but unremitting application of a corporate business model to higher education, or the corporatization of higher education, began in the 1970s. Over the last four decades, central to the ultimate end of transforming higher education into a for-profit entity has been the adjunctification of the higher education workforce. Correlative with this phenomenon, students have experienced rising tuition, a less stable faculty to serve them, grinding debt, and a contraction of educational opportunity, such as increased pressure to choose a major and penalties for changing majors. Reducing higher education to the function of job training, which seems to be the mission of efforts to corporatize it, penalizes students who want to explore their educational interests, or who just, out of intellectual curiosity, seek knowledge and desire a broad educational experience. This is the brave new world rising we now face: less freedom for students to choose a course of study, less freedom for faculty to teach. And adjunctification is happening not only to faculty and students, but to the classified staff who support the work of faculty. For instance, here at Mesa, the very important service of reprographics has been adjunctified in recent years, seeing its number of full-time employees fall from 30 to 8, replaced by hourly, “adjunct” labor. With student as consumer and faculty as producer, higher education becomes a commodity, sold at the highest price (tuition) the market (students) will bear, produced at the lowest labor cost (exploitation of adjuncts). Today, I want to focus on the adjunctification of faculty.

Adjunctification

Over a period of four decades, from 1970 to 2014, the steady decline of tenured faculty and the corresponding rise in reliance on adjuncts has hardly been noticed. This is not to say that, at different times, small numbers of people did not become aware and try to resist. They have. Unfortuantely, these resisters could never get enough of their fellows to pay attention and take the kind of concerted, radical action that is needed to reverse this trend. Time passed. Budgets were cut. With fewer and fewer full-time professors, those that were left always had more work to do.

Adjunctification is not an accident. The increasing reliance on part-time faculty is the result of an ideological takeover of higher education that is not yet finished but which is well underway. By the end of the 1970s, free market ideology began to infiltrate higher education. Accompanied by perpetually decreasing state spending on education (by 13% in CA), which served as a handy justification, the practice of hiring part-time adjuncts to replace retiring tenure-track faculty began. Market ideology, and the corporate takeover that it serves, is not limited to education; rather, what has happened to education is symptomatic of a society-wide corporatization that has been underway for generations now, examples of which include the infamous “outsourcing” and “downsizing” of recent decades. The growing reliance on temporary workers is society-wide. The corporate model of free market ideology demands efficiency, which includes realizing the lowest labor cost. But the decline in tenure-track faculty is not an accident of unfortunate but necessary budget cuts. As Noam Chomsky puts it, the first step of corporatization is to create a “precarious” workforce. 75% of the higher education workforce, adjunct professors, is precarious. Numbers of adjuncts have skyrocketed. Numbers of full-time faculty have not. Numbers of administrators have grown 85%; administrative assistants 240% (Benjamin Ginsberg)

What is An Adjunct?

The dictionary definces adjunct as “non-essential,” which implies that those so designated are not necessary, and if they didn’t show up for work, no one would notice. Would students notice if their professor did not show up? Although “contingent” is more accurate, since adjuncts are employed from semester to semester, and their employment is conditional on student enrollment, it still does not accurately describe the role of adjunct professors. Part-time, too, is problematic; most adjuncts work part-time at more than one place, sometimes teaching more than a full-time load. These adjuncts are, perhaps, better named “full-time-part-timers” as they work at multiple locations. The accuracy of this term is ironic, since it is purportedly a term invented by human resources personnel to describe the legions of freeway flyers racing from campus to campus to cobble together a full-time equivalent load of classes and earn about half as much as their full-time colleagues for doing pretty much the same work in order to make enough money to survive and support their families. They arrive “just in time” for class, “just in time” for the last minute assignment. No doubt, they are often paid “just in time” as well. Satire is important to the oppressed intellectual. Most adjuncts, according to a recent AFT survey, want a full-time position. Who doesn’t want a secure job, with one employer, and the financial security to plan a life?

Adjuncts are misnamed. Although some adjuncts are satisfied with being adjunct, most are not. Most are career academics who have devoted their lives to the public good of education. Without them, higher education would disintegrate. Most adjuncts always intended to be academics, to teach, or research, as experts in their field of expertise. Chances are, these are people whose passion is teaching. They are professionals dedicated to sharing knowledge with students, to contributing to the public good, to making the world a better place. These dedicated professionals devote most of their life to gaining, maintaining, and teaching their subject matter. This is what they do; it is who they are.

What Adjuncts Do

Adjuncts teach most college students. 75% of higher education faculty are adjuncts. If you define the core work of faculty as teaching, we do the same work as the 25% of tenure track, full-time faculty: prepare syllabi, plan lessons, evaluate student work, counsel students, develop curriculum, answer emails. Even though adjuncts aren’t required to do committee work, attend department meetings, or participate in shared governance, we often do. Besides these tasks, though, the work of developing, preparing and delivering lessons, and of evaluating and responding to student work, and of counseling students, interacting with students in multifarious ways, the work of teaching, is exactly the same. Except of course, in order to make a fraction of what their full-time colleagues make for the same work, they must work at 2 or 3 sites, navigate multiple campus cultures, and interact with multiple student populations. Increasingly, this is the life of an adjunct, the highest career status that can be aspired to by those who end up on the “adjunct track.”

Adjunctification Hurts Adjuncts

Being adjunct is not easy. Obviously, the process of adjunctifictaion that has been happening in higher education now for decades hurts adjuncts. Most adjuncts begin their careers expecting to be adjunct for a few years, to “pay dues,” and then be rewarded with a full-time tenure-track position. Once upon a time, perhaps, there was some truth to this; candidates were funneled into the system from graduate programs, and most could count on heading for the tenure-track. But that was way back in the mid 20th century. Today, as the process of adjunctification continues and we head towards that future when, if trends continue, the percent of tenure-track faculty will be less than 10%, with every passing year, the prospect of garnering that full-time position fades. Not only do aging adjuncts face dim prospects (recent court cases suggest ageism in higher education is a factor), but newly minted adjuncts also face diminished opportunities. It is difficult to talk about being adjunct. It is easier to ignore it. Adjuncts, strangely, often seem invisible, not that they can’t be seen, but that they are not seen. Sometimes, full-time faculty don’t want to look, sometimes they just don’t have time. Students have no idea. To them, professors are professors.

The contradiction between the occupational prestige that goes with being a college professor and the impoverished economic status of being an adjunct, a temp worker, is depressing. It is sometimes an uncomfortable social situation when I am asked what I do. I reply: I’m a college professor. And so I am. If that is as far as it goes, all is well. However, if I must explain that I am an adjunct, and have been for fifteen years, it gives the impression that I’m not good enough to be a full-time professor, and then I have to explain why my wages are so low. In stark contrast to the public perception of college professors as solidly middle-class, most of us have a precarious financial status. The Coalitions on the Academic Workforce describes the disparity between adjunct earnings and full-time earnings as “staggering.”

Financial insecurity is a fact of life for most adjuncts. It renders you powerless to resist corporatization.

Adjunctification Hurts Students

Adjunctification hurts students. Students deserve faculty who are not stressed from financial destitution, who do not have to work at multiple locations just to make ends meet, who are part of the institution they are paying more for all the time. They deserve a professor with an office who can devote his professional time to one campus, one student population, one campus culture. Adjuncts cannot be readily available: they do not have offices, are not listed on registers, and often must travel from campus to campus, staying in one location only long enough to hold class. Outside of class, students have difficulty finding their professors. Good luck finding your old adjunct professor so he can write you a letter of recommendation. Numerous studies have catalogued the negative effects on students of reliance on adjunct faculty, including lower retention rates, graduation rates, and transfer rates: http://www.uscrossier.org/pullias/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Delphi-NTTF_Annotated-Research-Summary_WebPDF.pdf

Students are increasingly feeling the effects of the corporatization of higher education, especially at community colleges, where they must develop “educational plans” that limit their opportunities to satisfy intellectual curiosity. If they veer from their “plan,” they lose financial aid. What is the corporate plan? It is to change intellectually curious students into docile, precarious workers who unquestioningly do what they are told. Adjunctification hurts students because adjunct faculty do not have the academic freedom to help students explore their intellectual worlds, or learn to think critically and question the status quo.

Adjunctification Hurts Full-time Faculty

Last, but not least, adjunctification hurts full-time faculty. The workload of full-time faculty is increasing. The burden of committee work and shared governance falls on full-time faculty more and more heavily. Fewer full-time faculty means fewer workers to perform tenure review and the ever-increasing task of adjunct evaluation, fewer to perform accreditation preparation, or program review. And I heard that deans are requiring greater participation on committees. Obviously. Faculty everywhere lack time to engage important issues and are pushed to work well over the hours for which they are paid. Here we have an example of the application of efficiency: get the most labor out of the fewest laborers. Of course, in many cases, adjuncts contribute a lot. Without adjunct contributions in the English department here, I don’t see how the work would get done. Unpaid contributions of labor, performed out of a sense of professional dedication…

Academic freedom also is threatened by adjunctification. The academic freedom of professors to teach what and how their expertise directs them is challenged. Adjuncts have no power to resist. As “at will” employees who don’t need to be fired, just not rehired next semester, they are not in a position to resist corporate reform. The ranks of full-time professors are getting thin; their collective power is decreasing all the time, and being replaced by adjuncts’ powerlessness. Full-time faculty are so busy, they do not have time to engage fully in shared governance. Part of the trend in higher education includes less hared governance, more administrative decisions. According to Larry Gerber of Auburn University and the AAUP: “Shared governance is eroding due to the rise of adjunct faculty employment and an increasingly corporate style of management – both of which threaten the entire U.S. system.”

Equal Pay for Equal Work

Providing adjuncts with equal pay for equal work, as is evidenced by the privatizing ACCJC’s attack of City College of San Francisco, whose AFT local 2121 negotiated 85% parity pay for their adjuncts, pisses off the corporatizers because it empowers the workforce, relieving  them somewhat from the status of precarity. However, equal pay is a stopgap measure, needed to empower resistance, but only the first step to reversing adjunctification, which is what we need if we are to save the future of higher education.

San Diego Campus Equity Week 2014

To bring attention to the sad condition of the professoriate in higher education, that is, the human cost of adjunctification, and to launch a letter writing campaign to the governor of California to demand the funding of categorical line items in the upcoming budget for increased adjunct pay and more full-time positions, a small group of AFT adjuncts (myself included) have organized Campus Equity Week at several San Diego campuses. Even though this is an off-year for Campus Equity Week, we’re still doing it. The pay inequity between part-time and full-time faculty is an affront to justice, and the failure to speak out is hypocrisy and complacency. Equity Week is not the only way to protest, of course, but it seems like a waste to not use it.

Today and tomorrow, at Mesa College, we’ll have literature and lectures. And pizza. Several other campuses will be holding similar events. See the San Diego Campus Equity Week site for details.

If you’re in San Diego, stop by. I’ll be ranting on Tuesday at 1:00 at Mesa in H117. Geoff Johnson the indefatigable miximinao will be raving in LRC435 at 1:00 Monday.

Equal pay for equal work!

Take Action: Record Your Labor

One of the lies that allows for adjuncts to be so grossly underpaid is that we “work” only in the classroom. What a big, fat lie. It is important to publicize the truth: we work as hard as full-timers, and we should be paid as well. We plan lessons, develop curriculum, evaluate student work, hold office hours, attend conferences, attend meetings, do committee work, participate in shared governance, answer emails, read emails, read professional journals, publish and hold down two jobs to get paid half as much as our full-time counterparts (who deserve their pay; so do adjuncts). All efforts to record our work should be supported. Adjunct Action has developed a survey to record and ultimately publish data to demonstrate how much work we do. The information generated by this kind of survey can help us argue for justice: equal pay as well as qualifying for student loan forgiveness, for example.  Take the survey: http://action.seiu.org/page/content/office-hours-2/

Resist! Publish the Invisible! A Review (sort of) of The Adjunct Cookbook

I just received my copy of the Front Range Community College chapter of the AAUP’s The Adjunct Cookbook and I think it’s so cool! Only $7.50 (%)

How cool?

In the first few pages: “Make the invisible visible.” A quote from Gandhi!

Adjunct invisibility is one of the big problems. Not only do full-timers fail to “see” adjuncts, we fail to see ourselves…as oppressed, that is. Why? Because to see oneself as oppressed would be to see oneself as a victim, and the stigma against seeing yourself as a victim in America is deep. I was talking to a fellow adjunct whom I just met today about Campus Equity Week at San Diego Mesa College and, when I explained that the event was to publicize the low pay of adjuncts in the district and in San Diego, her response was that healthcare benefits at Mesa made the overall pay the best for adjuncts in the region. While this is probably true (thanks to the AFT), adjunct pay is dismal when compared to full-time pay. It took a minute, but I think I made my fellow adjunct realize that she should demand equal pay. The point I want to make is that we tend to rationalize the best scenario…things could be worse…rather than demand justice,not because we don’t want justice, but because we feel powerless.

And the Gilded Grilled Cheese sounds quite tasty, although i would probably substitute jalapenos…

We are on the frontline of the corporatization of higher education. We are taking the brunt of the attack…we live less-than lives, with less-than careers, and never pay back our student loans.

Another great quote in The Adjunct Cookbook, from Marc Bousquet’s How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation, describes how weak the frontline troops are: “Flexible teachers cannot afford to provide an obstacle to the advancing administrative ideal of an ultimately education-free transfer of cash for course credits.” So, the corporatizers’ plan is working: those who would naturally be the leaders of resistance are disempowered and rendered incapable of resisting because they are trying to cobble together a living and a career professing in a system that exploits their love of teaching and commitment to education. Between the teaching, the flying up and down the freeway, and the having a life thing, who has time or power to resist? The precariat adjunct…

In the words of Chomsky: “It’s a part of a corporate business model designed to reduce labor costs and to increase labor servility.  When universities become corporatized, as has been happening quite systematically over the last generation as part of the general neoliberal assault on the population, their business model means that what matters is the bottom line.” Which is why the administrative line is “no money!” And why education, especially the community college system is defunded.

The “temp” employees of higher education, those upon whose backs the labor cost is lowered, the adjunct, lives as “‘precariat,’ living a precarious existence.”

The Adjunct Cookbook is more than a cookbook; it is adjunct resistance literature. It is way cool. Get your copy today!