Open Letter to the President and Board Chair of the University of California System

As usual, Seth hits it right on the nose. Firing graduate students who have been left no choice but to strike ignores the problem and is merely punitive. It’s a huge failure on the part of administration.

Here comes trouble

I just sent this letter to President Napolitano and Board Chair Perez.

***

President Napolitano and Chairman Perez:

I’m a faculty member in Pennsylvania who has been following the situation at UCSC (and now Davis and Santa Barbara). Yesterday, news broke of the termination of 54 graduate workers because of their participation in the strike.

The union I belong to, APSCUF, sent you a statement on Thursday in which we pointed out, among other things, that firing striking graduate students accomplishes nothing useful. It doesn’t get the work they’ve been withholding done any faster. It doesn’t make housing more affordable for the people you hire in their places. It serves no purpose whatsoever except to be punitive. Worse, you’re punishing people whose concerns you’ve agreed with but refused to redress, and firing them seems like an effort to erase the problem rather than fix it.

I can assure you, having participated…

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An Award to Propel Action: The Delphi Project Offers a $15K Incentive to Inspire and Support Reform of Contingent Faculty Working Conditions

A Q&A with Adrianna Kezar, director of the The Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success, about the newly launched Delphi Award

(Disclosure:  NFM president Maria Maisto served on the Delphi Award Advisory Board)


New Faculty Majority (NFM): You have been working for a long time — at least ten years — informing, persuading, warning, and encouraging higher education leaders to take the contingent faculty crisis seriously. NFM has been gratified to work with you. Like us, you point out that contingent faculty employment practices harm the educational mission of colleges and universities. You’ve taken the lead in exploring what accreditors can do, what administrators should do, and what trustees can do. You’ve highlighted contingent faculty voices and leadership. So: what exactly is this new Delphi Award and what is its purpose?

Adrianna Kezar (AK): Thanks to NFM and its members for their on-going support! This annual award recognizes an exemplary policy, practice, or program that supports student learning by improving working conditions for contingent faculty. It comes with $15,000 to invest in development and sustainability of that policy, practice, or program. The background of this award is that I have been striving to find a way to both accelerate work to better support contingent faculty and garner examples that would help propel more action. Whether I am speaking to unions, faculty, administrators, or staff on campus, they all ask me for examples of good work — changed policies and practices — but it has been hard to get people to submit examples of that work to me to highlight (there is an area on the Delphi website for this).

Through an award, the Delphi Project can promote and inspire work that provides good models for others. These models can be used in union bargaining, for faculty mobilization or administrative action. I also hope the attention that awards receive will help provide visibility for this kind of work and propel more action.

NFM:  Some people might not think an award can do very much, or might only support and recognize administrators. Our members really see that change comes from the bottom up. How would you respond to people who might be cynical or fearful that this award will not actually support contingent faculty?

AK:  I completely understand the fear and cynicism, which is why we have tried to build requirements into the award criteria that we think will mitigate the risk of the award being ineffective or of rewarding the wrong entities. For example, criterion #5 (“Evidence that the program, policy, or practice has been designed in collaboration with the faculty that the program, policy, or practice is aimed at”) would disqualify unions or institutions that do not involve contingent faculty in developing their policies and strategies. Similarly, look at #7: “Evidence that the program, policy, or practice is being institutionalized and will be sustained. Evidence may entail inclusion in strategic plans, stated leadership commitment, fundraising and development aimed at supporting the practice. If it has existed for over a year, how did it survive after the first year of implementation? How has it improved or altered to ensure its sustainability?” This criterion aims to make sure that whatever we recognize is not something that just happens once or that would be totally dependent on a sympathetic administrator or union leader.

And I agree, most of my studies have shown that change comes [from the] bottom up. I have written extensively on grassroots change and social movements. This is really how I see the world.  I also know from this research that grassroots efforts can be fragile and can be supported and institutionalized through awards like this. An award can legitimize and make changes more permanent, especially when it comes with financial support. It is based on my research about sustaining grassroots changes that this award idea came from.

NFM: How does this award support contingent faculty in particular?

AK:  First, as I noted above, the award is aimed at encouraging and providing better working conditions for contingent faculty — salary, benefits, orientation, professional development, promotion and advancement, etc. Second, the award recognizes whoever is conducting the work, whether they are unions, faculty senates, independent faculty groups, staff, administrators, or student groups, and stipulates that the work must have meaningful contingent faculty input. Third, the award can provide monetary support directly to contingent faculty efforts and get visibility on their campus for their good work. We hope the award will lead to long-term improvement and even significant reform of contingent faculty working conditions.

NFM: Who can apply?

AK:  Anyone who is working to improve the policies, practices and programs that support contingent faculty. This is an award to recognize any set of individuals or groups that support change but in particular faculty leaders and champions working on campuses to improve the work of contingent faculty.

NFM:   Where are you promoting this award?

AK:  Throughout higher ed. I have reached out to higher education organizations and to all the unions to send information to their membership to encourage people to apply. I am also reaching out to advocacy groups like NFM to help disseminate information and encourage applications. The National Center for [the Study of] Collective Bargaining in Higher Education put the award in its January newsletter and will announce the award at its April conference. Disciplinary organizations should promote it as well.

NFM: Who will select the winners?

AK:  Delphi project staff, some members of the Association of American Colleges & Universities, which has been our partner organization, and a few members of our advisory board. We are ensuring contingent faculty are on the selection committee.

NFM:  Why the focus on faculty models that “support student learning”?

AK:  A couple of reasons. Everyone agrees faculty should be supported properly, but what that means has been the object of debate. Faculty activists have rightly been declaring for decades that faculty working conditions are student learning conditions, so this award will give applicants an opportunity to show explicitly how this is the case. By requiring applicants to think about and explain how their policies or ideas both support contingent faculty and enhance student learning, common ground can be built to continue developing and supporting these discussions and initiatives. This focus on student learning is an acknowledgement that institutions have failed both faculty and students when they do not provide an adequate environment for faculty to conduct their work. This needs to be exposed and visible and the award can help to do that as well

NFM:  So how do people learn more?

AK:  Our website lists all the details about applying. June 1, 2018 is the deadline for the first award, but it will be given annually. We look forward to receiving applications and nominations from NFM members!

Redux: Contingency is Still Worse

NFM Board member Seth Kahn reiterates the obvious. We can’t say it enough, apparently.

Here comes trouble

In July 2014, I wrote a piece called The Worst Thing About Contingency is Contingency, which concluded:

[T]he pressure on tenure-track faculty simply isn’t comparable to the stress on contingent faculty whose jobs may shrink or disappear without notice or explanation; whose benefits, if there are any at all, are often tied to their teaching loads in such a way that losing a course could cost them much more than simply the lost salary (which already sucks)…. [T]hat risk is not as prominent for some contingent faculty as for others, but it’s never not there. Pre-tenured faculty at most institutions can, I realize, lose their positions in the first two or three years without cause, the risk of which is horrifically stressful, but even then–during the academic year, they’re guaranteed full-time work, full-time benefits, and full-time pay.

As long as contingent faculty jobs can be changed or taken away for…

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The Dark Side of Free Education

There’s been a lot of buzz in the last week about New York State’s new promise to offer free tuition at its state (State University of New York-SUNY) and New York City (City University of New York-CUNY) systems, most of it excited and positive. Bernie Sanders got on board. Everyone in my Facebook feed, including most of the educators I know, is excited. I’ve seen the same reaction to Stanford’s decision, and the plans elsewhere for free community college as well.

Frankly, I hate it.

Don’t get me wrong: I think tuition for all students should be free (though that’s not exactly how this plan works). Education is not a privilege, it’s a right, and an investment in the future good of any civilization or society. It’s criminal that we load students down with debt just to get something that’s required for them to even begin to “get ahead” in life (and many of them still can’t do that because of the structure of our economy). I applaud any school that can make this happen—except if they do it on the backs of adjuncts. Here’s what I mean, from Inside Higher Ed‘s summary of the new annual salary survey:

Released today, AAUP’s annual survey finds that … the average total pay for part-time faculty members at a single institution was $20,508. Average pay for part-time faculty members teaching on a per-section basis only (excluding professors teaching part-time during phased retirement, for example) was $7,066, with serious limitations to the data…. Dunietz, of AAUP, emphasized that the statistic is “not meant to indicate an average pay per course,” but rather the average salaries of those part-time faculty that are paid on a per-course basis. “Some of these faculty may teach two or three courses, and the data that we have doesn’t differentiate between cost per course,” he added.

The “part-time” designation is also highly misleading. Many of those part-time professors are part-time at several institutions, due to course caps that keep them from teaching a full load at any one school, so no one gets stuck with their insurance and benefits costs. They are, in fact, often teaching anywhere from 5 to 12 classes, in person and online. Meanwhile, according to the same AAUP survey, college presidents are now making 3.5 to 4 times as much as full professors at research institutions.

Regarding CUNY and SUNY “salaries,” Lynne Turner, of the CUNY Adjunct Project, notes,

The starting compensation for CUNY adjuncts is a meager $3200 per 3-credit course, whereas at both Rutgers in N[ew] J[ersey] and the University of Connecticut systems equivalent adjunct pay per course hovers at around $5000 to start—and they are organizing for more. The CUNY Adjunct Project where I am a coordinator and many others are pressing for a real campaign for a livable compensation of $7000 per course—but it won’t happen unless we stop being complicit with the silence rendering invisible CUNY’s poverty level adjunct compensation.

At CUNY and SUNY, adjuncts teach approximately 60% of the courses. This means that a majority proportion of faculty is making about $20K/year, cobbling together a career from the scraps dropped from the high table of the CUNY chancellor and his $18K/month apartment or the SUNY chancellor’s $200K pay raise. NFM and others have written over and over again about how “Adjunct working conditions are our students’ learning conditions.” Because of lack of institutional and financial support, contingent faculty are less able to take risks in either the classroom or their own research, try innovative new teaching strategies, or mentor students. Despite their lack of support and job protection, adjunct faculty still manage to do extraordinary work, sacrificing unpaid labor for both their discipline and their students and winning both teaching and research awards. As one commenter on the compensation story said,

At my C[ommunity] C[ollege], two adjuncts won “part-time teacher of the year” and had published three books and five journal articles between them. The next semester they both lost their classes due “bumping” by a new TT faculty member. Adjuncts have zero academic freedom, yet these two managed to be of great benefit to the students, students who pointlessly protested the non-rehires to our governing board. There is NO other profession in which there is almost zero correlation between performance and compensation.

So what are CUNY and SUNY students getting for free? Overworked, underpaid, exploited adjuncts with no job security or academic freedom, mostly, especially in those crucial core courses of their first two years. This is not a good deal for anyone.

But I’m most disturbed by the number of educators, both full time and adjunct, who are cheering it on. Why is this okay? Sure, it sounds, on the surface, like a great deal for students, but if you’re an adjunct it’s at your own expense. Why are you not asking when we’re going to start supporting and paying the workers who do the actual educating living wages, as part and parcel of helping our students succeed? When one group is exploited to advantage another, there’s nothing good about that, nothing fair, nothing right, and nothing sustainable. And if you approve of it, you’re part of the problem.

Stop cheering. Get up and demand better for all of us, students and faculty. Chop from the top, as my friend Lydia says, if that’s what it takes to make it happen.

–Lee Kottner