This article from Guernica, by Rachel Riederer, lays out the whole picture of the adjunctification machine, locating the phenomenon within the larger societal shift towards a temporary, disposable workforce which, in higher eduction, has resulted in two separate classes, the privileged tenure-track and the precariat adjunct. She describes the human cost to both professors and students. Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions. When adjuncts are exploited and oppressed, when their pay is so dismal that they can’t afford to pay for their student loans and they live paycheck to paycheck, how can they be expected to offer students an equal educational opportunity? Who will answer her piercing question: “If teaching is a supplementary rather than essential part of college, why go?” https://www.guernicamag.com/features/the-teaching-class/
The story of most career academics is the story of the adjunctification of higher education. Most college professors are adjuncts. The percentage of faculty at SDCCD, 70% adjuncts, is typical nationally. We got to this point by accepting the narrative of fiscal austerity. Decades ago, when we could have acted with more power, we didn’t. The decline in tenured faculty almost imperceptibly continues. The legions of adjuncts, who do most of the work of higher education, are, as Noam Chomsky notes, the precariat, “living a precarious existence.” When we’re all precariat, what then? If you have a conscience, pay attention.
Adjunctification is a machine. To halt the human destruction this machine causes, we need the power of conscience.
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”–Upton Sinclair
To local, state and national tenured and tenure-track faculty everywhere who want justice (and I know this means you):
Before you allow resentment to define your response to adjunct resistance to an unjust order, I appeal to each of you to bring forward your best Self and rise above your resentment. Some things, perhaps hard things, need to be said.
One reason for adjunct dissent within the union is that tenured faculty, through no intentions of their own, but as a result of being part of a two-tiered class system, which existed before they came along, benefit from the exploitation and oppression of adjuncts. It’s just a fact. Let us consider it together, dispassionately.
Adjuncts are frustrated because most are in a dead-end situation. Highly educated, deeply indebted, exploited for their commitment to the public good, adjuncts feel betrayed. This is the human cost of the erosion of tenure-track positions aptly named adjunctification. Adjunctification is the first step in the scheme to privatize higher education. And this stage of the scheme is fast nearing completion.
One thing that seems to happen in the breakdown of communication between adjuncts and tenured/tenure-track faculty is the resentment that is bred by the competition between so many for the rare chance to win the lottery and escape the adjunct ranks. Sometimes, the frustration adjuncts feel erupts as resentment against the lucky one in a hundred who got the tenure-track spot for which any of the many were eminently qualified. Sometimes, it’s the lucky one who feels like he must be hated by the unlucky for his luck and so reads envy into all the comments and actions of the unlucky adjuncts. No matter who projects it, or if it is mutual, there is tension between adjuncts and tenure-track.
The fact is that the class privilege of tenure is invisible and so therefore unnoticed. Well, not exactly. Tenure-track faculty have offices, adjuncts do not. Tenure-track faculty have their own computers, adjuncts do not. Even when adjuncts have benefits, like the ones we have at AFT Local 1931, they aren’t quite as equal as those of tenure-track faculty.
But the more significant privileges are not so readily visible. The institution sees tenure-track faculty as essential, for instance, and sees adjuncts, by definition, as non-essential. It doesn’t matter if actually we are essential. And telling us we are essential rings hollow, just as it does when a tenured faculty member sings, “I once was an adjunct.” Actually, even if it may salve your conscience, when you say these things, it ultimately serves to maintain the status quo exploitation. It’s reminiscent of Freire’s “false charity.” It doesn’t help. Only “happy adjuncts” want to hear it.
Tenure-track faculty have the privilege of financial security that comes with a contract, with being defined as essential. This security, and those of you who have endured very much time in the adjunct ranks know this, is life-changing for an adjunct. It would change the quality of your life: you would have the security of providing well for your family; you would have the security of paying bills and having money left over; you would have the security of paying off your student loan. Most importantly, perhaps, you would have the academic freedom that comes with being defined as essential, and therefore, greater freedom to challenge students to grow and learn.
The financial insecurity of adjuncts has an adverse effect on students’ education. Because of our professional commitment, we deliver the best education possible, but the truth is that we are hampered by having to navigate freeways and multiple campus protocols, constantly adjust curriculum for different student populations, and struggle against the distraction of never having enough money, of living paycheck to paycheck.
I hardly need to observe that college faculty, and indeed, public education in general, are under attack. As Randi Weingarten put it about the attack on K-12 public education in a speech last year, we in higher education are, like K-12, under attack by “privatizers and profiteers” who want no less than to privatize every aspects of public education. And make no mistake, we are up against the edge of the cliff. One of the privatizers’ biggest victories has been the erosion of tenure through adjunctification to the precarious point where the number of tenure-track faculty is dwarfed by the legions of adjuncts. Like soil erosion, tenure erosion has happened so gradually that most could ignore it, especially those on the solid ground of tenure. So much has eroded by now that most of us are struggling against a slow landslide. Adjuncts are in the landslide, but the erosion is continually creeping up the hill. Ground that seems firm today eventually will erode. Unless we do something different, the number of tenured faculty will continue to decrease.
In many ways, tenured/tenure-track faculty are caught between the forces of privatization and the consequent oppression of adjuncts. I think it must sometimes be difficult for tenured faculty to fulfill their contractual duties and fully resist privatization. I wonder if they ever lie awake at night and struggle with this dilemma. At any rate, as Paolo Freire observed, one cannot be “neutral” in the struggle against oppression.
To resist privatization, to save higher education, what is our plan? What is our plan to stop the erosion of tenure? Is it the AFT FACE campaign? If it’s “advocating for more full-time positions,” what’s our timetable for reversing the erosion of tenure? And what about those who are clambering in the slow landslide? How many can be saved? How many adjuncts will go over the cliff, chained to their student loans?
If you truly want unity, if you want solidarity in the resistance to privatization, you, my tenured and tenure-track friends, need a new attitude. We need a new strategy. To begin, we need to demand equal pay for adjuncts. Adjuncts’ working conditions are student’s learning conditions; these working conditions are shared by tenured/tenure-track faculty as well, especially when, for instance, they are asked to increase their committee workload. I think the privatizers will work relentlessly to divide us. If we are all too busy with maintaining the system or with survival, we won’t even notice the hum of their machine. Empowering adjuncts with equal pay would not only do right by adjuncts, it is a crucial strategy in the struggle to save higher education. We need a union that makes equality within its ranks the first priority.
I hope not, but, even if it’s still possible, the reversal of tenure erosion may take too long to save many of the adjuncts now in the landslide. Equal pay for equal work, however, would provide a bulwark of support to stanch the slide and strengthen solidarity and resistance. It would be the first, very needed step in reclaiming the promise of higher education.
I appeal to your conscience. Do the right thing and support, no, demand equal pay for your colleagues.
“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”– Frederick Douglass
Before reading (or singing) please remember to be your best Self.
“The Song of the Tenured”
I once was an adjunct,
And now I am not,
But I feel your pain,
The adjunct lot.
Your cries of dismay, though
Loud, I cannot
Allow them to mar
The joy of my song,
I once was an adjunct,
And now I am not.
Remember: your best Self.
It’s time to begin a serious discussion about funding the adjunct revolution. Where will the equality funding come from? Colman McCarthy, in “Adjunct Professors Fight for Crumbs on Campus,” suggests trimming the salaries of top administrators. I agree, but everyone needs to pitch in, including full-time faculty, who need to be willing to use any new state funding for salaries strictly for equal pay for adjuncts. And, why not a special funding proposition? If we can afford new buildings, why not equal pay for the majority of faculty, who actually do the teaching? It’s time to ask the question asked by Florence Reece: which side are you on?
Here is a great analysis and overview of the privatization of higher education by Claire Golsdstene. It reaffirms my sense that lobbying for more full-time positions will never address the historical shift to majority contingent faculty. We, our unions and advocacy in general, need a new vision, one that seeks to transform faculty conditions on a sweeping scale. We need to enfranchise adjunct faculty with economic parity, which is the first step to giving adjuncts the security they need fight the political fight.
The Day After
First, coffee. Then, file for unemployment, the absurd moment, dreaded…a vision of the dead end. How many times have I applied? 40? 50? Who’s counting? It’s just part of the “job.” Once the tentative agreement expires, and I have no reasonable assurance of being rehired, I am unemployed. The shame. It is absurd…I must embrace the absurdity, stifle the nausea and…collect the pittance I am due, which I have earned already. Seemingly, in some meager attempt to compensate for the inequity of my pay (to make it ok?), a California court awarded me and my adjuncts across the state in 1988 the right to file for and receive unemployment wages, once the semester ends and the tentative agreement expires.
Then what? Oh, to work. Final compositions of introductory and advanced students, lengthy, researched tomes, about 5 dozen to evaluate. And calculate and assign a grade for each student. One sent me a paper on Google docs. Some requested that I make comments on their papers. Shall I take odds on how many will return next fall for their comments? How closely should I mark them? What wisdom might I impart to my erstwhile students, at this moment, after the tentative agreement has expired?
Ah, the absurdity. I must embrace it, and take the pittance, for the lean times ahead.
And now, to work.
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
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.
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.
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.