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!

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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!

Adminstrators’ Low Regard of Adjuncts and Their Students

I don’t know whether to call this an “adjunct moment”, or rather a simply an incidence of educational neglect and mixed up priorities, but at any rate, it’s not one of those “happy” moments.

As an English adjunct at one of the institutions I teach at, I am afforded the benefit of an office I share with at least 20+ other adjuncts in fields ranging from English and Art History to Psychology and Sociology.  It’s not a bad office as adjunct offices go. Most adjuncts don’t have any space at other campuses.   The office has a number of partitioned spaces, a small conference room, and two computers for adjunct use.

It also has a printer, and well…this is the issue.

The college has a longstanding fear teachers wasting resources, which, more plainly put, means “they make too many photocopies for their classes.”  No teacher on campus, whether contract (full-timer or adjunct) has access to a copy machine unless they’re willing to put 20 cents per copy into a library copying machine.  This means submitting copies to the campus reprographic center which demands 24 hours advance notice on any order.

I teach English, and, as any English teacher will tell you, often there are either those moments of inspiration when you see something in a magazine, newspaper, or an article on the internet that you want to use at the last minute, or because, as an adjunct teaching at multiple institutions, you may have simply forgotten to place a last-minute order.

As repro isn’t about to do last-minute orders, this means either going to Kinko’s Fed Ex and sometimes dropping over 20 dollars on copies for a class, or trying to print it out on the adjunct office computer.  Needless to say, most adjuncts head for option #2.   This means the printer, and hence its toner, gets used a lot, and will in fact eventually run out.

Because the school is ever diligent to save money on instruction, (but not necessarily on flashy activities like conferences, which I’ll get to later) anything needed by an instructor, down to a paperclip, must be requisitioned at the school supply room, down to even pencils, staples, and paperclips.  Toners, especially ones for 10+ year old Hewlett Packard hand-me-down printer from the Business office that our office uses, have a special category all to themselves.  Not only do you need to submit a form to get one, but because it’s a “big” ticket item (costing over 30 dollars), both the Dean and Department Chair need to be notified.  Then, because it’s a “special item”, they don’t keep one in stock, and then special order it from a supplier who will usually take a week to deliver it, despite this college is located in the middle of San Diego, California.

The whole process usually takes about two weeks if you’re diligent and apparently have nothing better to do that walk halfway across campus to submit the request then later pick up and install the toner yourself, and email both the Dean and Department Chair.

Unfortunately, the only warning sign one is given when the toner is running out is when the printer stops working, usually when a teacher is time pressed and in the middle of doing a print job.  This is to say nothing of the next two weeks where you either tell all your students to get the material off blackboard, or do the equivalent of that Old Testament practice of making bricks without straw.

Remember that 30 dollars I mentioned before?   At my college this is also your limit for copy orders submitted to repro.  About a month ago, I made an order for 80 copies of 16-page document I did not have an electronic copy of for two of my classes containing approximately 40 students each.  Several days after submitting the order, my assistant chair asked me, slightly annoyed, “why are you making such a large order of copies”?

This week, the school’s newspaper reported that the Associated Student Government spent over 16,000 dollars for a relatively small group of students to stay overnight a high-end seaside resort not 20 miles away from campus, and enjoy relatively lavish meals as part of a leadership conference.

I guess they must be grooming them to be administrators.

My takeaway from all this is that the administrators at my institution care very much about putting out a strong public face using their elite students, but really don’t care that much about meeting the needs of the average students, or at least students taught by adjunct instructors.

And you know what? I’m still waiting for the toner cartridge.

Geoff Johnson, a “good” adjunct.

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.

When Students Have No Advisors

When Student Have No Advisors (2013)

 

I have been teaching for nearly 10 years at San Diego Mesa College in the English Department. I enjoy teaching, and I am thoroughly committed to students and to the mission of improving both their personal English skills and their ability to function in the world with others.  I have often taken initiative to create community outreach programs. One program I created and ran for 4 years was a service learning writing project focused on community outreach to help align the curriculums between local high schools and community colleges.

Last semester, my students were reading and investigating food issues in the United States. There is overwhelming evidence that our food supply is contributing to the obesity epidemic, rising rates of allergies, and rising rates of diabetes, and that giant corporations are governing the public federal agencies of the USDA and the FDA as well as contributing heavily to lobbying for their advantage over the health of our children. My students researched and debated in class and in their writings about what roles kids, parents, corporations, and the government play in the obesity epidemic. After numerous discussions, the students decided that it would be a good idea to start a club that is focused on food issues to raise awareness and to empower the community through education. They went out and gathered signatures of fellow students who were interested in starting a food sustainability club. It was obvious that it was very popular and the students and myself understood that it would benefit the school, the students, and the larger community of San Diego.

It was impressive to see how motivated and inspired they became. I heard them talk about creating educational workshops that they could create on campus and to take to local grade schools. They spoke of “planting days” on campus and sharing knowledge about how to grow healthy organic produce.  They even thought of finding healthy alternatives to the cafeteria foods that are certifiably unhealthy. After the signatures and the brainstorming, it came time for the students to file the official papers to start the club. As their professor, I was honored that the ideas came from my class and that the students thought that I should be their advisor. I signed the papers and the student leaders of the club in waiting went to file them, and this is where the adjunct moment struck.

One of the highly motivated students leading the charge to start this club returned to my class looking a bit distraught.  I could see confusion and sadness in his expression as he approached me and told me that I could not be his advisor. He seemed to look at me like I was not qualified or that I had misled him. I was sort of taken aback. He proceeded to inform me that the administration does not allow adjunct faculty to be advisors to student clubs.  I thought it strange, and quickly, I was engulfed in the same confusion. I couldn’t understand why an instructor that has been teaching religiously at the institution for nearly 10 years could not serve as an advisor to a student club, a club that would bring value to the campus. Why on earth would the administration not want faculty to be more engaged and invested in the well being of the students, the campus, and the community?

I decided to investigate why adjuncts are barred from advising student clubs by approaching my dean. The dean was curious and had no answer for me, so he told me that he would investigate and get back to me.  Through my Dean I learned that the administration does not want adjunct faculty to be advisors because they do not want to have to compensate them for the time they serve the students. Adjunct instructors cannot have more than a 67% load, and adding time as an advisor is not permitted. I also learned through my dean that the school has had cases where an adjunct gained over 67% and it led to the full time hiring of that adjunct on technical contract grounds. The administration learned their lesson and closed the loophole that allowed adjunct faculty to gain full-time employment.  Thus, the administration, rather than helping students to flourish in leadership roles, finds it more prudent to keep adjunct faculty in their dead-end positions.  I learned that it doesn’t pay to be a good adjunct when trying to do the right thing for the students.

I offered to be an advisor as a volunteer, but the school is highly skeptical of such altruism and does not want to take a chance.  Learning that the school only wants me to be an expendable low paid instructor, I proceeded to do justice for the students and petition full-time faculty to be an advisor to the Food Sustainability Club.  None have stepped forth. The fact is that there are not enough full-timers anymore and full-timers are already stretch too thin with committees and classes that a student club that is highly needed and valuable to the students and the community is dying before it sees a day of life.

What happens when students no longer have advisors? The innovative leadership qualities these students demonstrate are callously circumvented by a unjust business model of education. The students suffer because their energies and intelligences are brushed off as unimportant. The school suffers the loss of prestige as the students no longer represent excellence, and the majority faculty remains powerless to improve their student’s, and their own exploited position. What happens when students don’t have advisors?  Firstly,  it creates a system where students remain passive and unengaged and professors give up on trying to herald a progressive education rounded fully in quality.  I hope that we can all see the negative consequences that come from the adjunctification of our institutions and see the dismantling of avenues for top end quality education. Student clubs are important to students and to all of us and to kill them through adjunctification is an abhorrent assault on our students and communities.

Some have said that you can see how the administration thinks of the students by how they treat their professors.

A Good Adjunct!

John. D. Rall

jrall@sdccd.edu