Spent much of today reading and writing about strike experiences with APSCUF siblings on Facebook. This piece was in an email, and it’s said so beautifully that I wanted to share it with ever…
As I continue to advocate on behalf of mental health, neurodiversity, and gender equality in other aspects of my personal and professional life, I become more aware of the overlap with my adjunct a…
Something just a little too true in almost every blended union:
“…the general membership (by which I mean US, the rank and file) is lagging behind in terms of coming to grips with the fact that our adjunct faculty are just as much a part of the bargaining unit, and thus the union, as any tenured/tenure-track (T/TT) faculty member is.”
Read more here: (7) Seth Kahn
On Thursday, June 16th, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) announced it had reached a tentative contract with CUNY management, and the following evening it released a summary of the contract’s details. By Wednesday, June 22nd, the “memorandum of agreement” providing the contract’s full details started to circulate, although as of this writing that memorandum hadn’t been officially distributed to the PSC’s membership at large. And on Thursday, June 23rd, the PSC’s Delegate Assembly voted to endorse the tentative contract by 111-11. It will now be sent to the union membership for ratification, in which all of us—higher education officers (HEOs), tenured and full-time faculty, CUNY Language Immersion Program (CLIP) and CUNY Start instructors, graduate employees, and adjuncts, the group of workers the Adjunct Project was created by the Doctoral Students’ Council to serve 22 years ago—will be able to vote for or against it.
As the coordinators of the Adjunct Project, we recognize that many members of the bargaining unit are grateful just to have a tentative contract after six years without one, and we’re ourselves grateful for the work of so many people not just to reach this point but to amplify adjunct and graduate-employee concerns throughout this process. We recognize that there may be aspects of this tentative contract that are agreeable to some or many, and that the contract overall may be perceived, as one common reaction has it, as “better than nothing.” We also understand that, in the midst of austerity, the fight back from the threatened $485-million funding cut by the state—a fabricated crisis—and from management’s initial 6% economic offer are not just immediate victories but important steps in the continuing struggle against austerity as an ongoing political economic project. Indeed, we look forward to participating in this struggle with even greater resolve going forward.
Nevertheless, and mindful of both the Adjunct Project’s and the Doctoral Students’ Council’s endorsements of striking as the only means to achieve a genuinely fair contract, we are advocating a “NO” vote on the tentative contract because it fails adjuncts, who teach approximately two-thirds of CUNY courses, by maintaining our unsustainably low wages and insecure employment status while increasing the disparity between our pay and employment status and that of full-time faculty. Moreover, the tentative contract fails all workers in the bargaining unit by its overall concessions to the state and management. We offer the following specifics:
(1) In providing across-the-board wage increases, the tentative contract further increases the pay disparity between full-time and part-time faculty. In order to decrease this pay gap—and achieve the “movement toward adjunct salary parity” the PSC called for as its third contract demand—adjuncts need to receive “equity pay” in the form of substantial raises over and above across-the-board wage increases. Under the terms of the tentative contract, the across-the-board pay increase of 10.41% (with compounding) will provide an adjunct lecturer at the bottom of the pay scale with $300+ more per course by the end of the contract ($3,222 [rounded], compared to the present $2,918 for a 15-week course). This keeps adjunct pay at an unfathomably low rate in spite of the fact that the Adjunct Project—and the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor, the Doctoral Students’ Council, and the Modern Language Association—call for a minimum of $7,000 per course, while the PSC’s First Fridays adjunct group endorsed a $5,000 minimum (a minimum the PSC itself has endorsed via its support for the National Mobilization for Equity). By comparison, a full professor at the lowest rung of the pay scale will receive an additional $7,000+ per year by the end of the contract ($68,803 currently, versus $75,975 under the proposed contract).
(2) The signing bonuses reinforce this pay disparity. Full-time faculty and staff will receive a $1000 signing bonus, to be pro-rated for part-timers. However, adjuncts who are paid for just 45 hours of work per three-credit course while actually working many multiples of that amount will receive only a minimal signing bonus—and most of us won’t qualify for the designated adjunct bonus given the high bar set for obtaining it. Meanwhile, graduate employees will only receive $750 or $500 depending on what appointment they have (graduate assistant A, B, or C, or graduate assistant D, respectively).
(3) Instead of equity pay for adjuncts, the PSC conceded to management’s demand for what might be termed “elite pay,” or the up-to-15% raises that “select faculty and staff” will be able to receive under this contract beyond the upper limit of the pay schedule. This concession not only considerably widens the pay disparity at the top end: it also shows that additional money can be found for targeted wage increases.
(4) Although the three-year appointments for adjuncts are being hailed as a breakthrough by some, the details prove otherwise. First, the three-year appointments are only a pilot program, fully contingent upon management’s approval to continue them beyond the initial five-year trial period. Second, management reserves the right to appoint adjuncts to the three-year terms on the basis of the “fiscal and programmatic needs of the department and/or the college” (provision #4 in the relevant section of the memorandum of agreement), which means even under the pilot program, adjuncts will be appointed at management’s discretion, just as we are now. Third, the appointments will not apply to the majority of adjuncts, who won’t meet the requirement of teaching six credits a semester in the same department for 10 continuous semesters. Further, since most of us will not qualify for the appointments, the appointments create yet another tier of employment status within the faculty ranks. Finally, the three-year appointments, which will require a “tenure-lite” review triannually, are a far cry from the “Certificate of Continuous Employment” the PSC listed as its 22nd demand, in which adjuncts, after teaching a minimum of 12 contact hours for one department in five of the previous seven years, would undergo a single review and then could only be terminated for just cause. Instead, a seniority system, for which the First Fridays group and others lobbied, would be the best job protection short of tenure.
(5) The 9/6 rule will remain, which limits adjuncts to teaching nine credits at one campus and six credits at another. Many of us lobbied for either an outright end to this policy—a PSC rule that ostensibly limits our exploitation—or its significant relaxation, so that we could have more control over our teaching schedules (say, by centralizing our teaching at one campus, thus increasing and solidifying our presence there while cutting down or eliminating travel time between campuses). Again, as adjuncts and graduate student workers, we should and must be paid more, but until we achieve parity, we should be able to work more and have more choice about where we work.
(6) The 10.41% across the board wage increase is less than the rate of inflation (12%) since the last wage increase went into effect in 2009, and is considerably less than the cost-of-living increase in the New York City area over that same period (above 20%, according to various estimates).
(7) Ultimately, incrementalism will not end either the two-tier system of faculty labor at CUNY nor the austerity program of New York State and CUNY management. Indeed, austerity can only be defeated by following through on the strike authorization and taking other bold, imaginative, committed, collective action.
Thus we’re left with no option but to vote “NO” on this contract, an obligation we share with fellow adjuncts, graduate student workers, and all those who recognize that our union is only as strong as the most exploited among us. Voting “NO” also makes it clear to our bargaining team and to CUNY management that “better than nothing” isn’t good enough—not after six years without a raise, and not at a moment when we’re more organized and ready to fight than ever. Finally, voting “NO” means not giving up on the strike that we campaigned for and authorized with a 92% majority, and which remains the most powerful tool at our disposal to secure a contract worthy of our labor. We’ve waited too long and fought too hard to accept this contract. By refusing to accept it—by refusing to wait for another endless round of negotiations on the next contract—we also refuse to accept the worsening status quo. We know in our working hearts, minds, and bodies what we need to do, and we look forward to a vigorous discussion about it after we say “NO!”
With love and solidarity,
The Adjunct Project coordinators
For a “Yes” vote recommendation, see “Proposed Contract: From the Perspective of Seven Graduate Assistants.”
This post originally appeared on the CUNY Adjunct Project blog. Republished here by request.
by Lydia Field Snow
After reading Sherry Linkon’s brilliant piece “Working-Class Academics and Working-Class Studies: Still Far from Home?” published by the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, the floodwaters of connections opened up in my own mind about what has been a source of conflicting ideas and emotions wracking my brain lately. This paragraph struck home particularly:
Indeed, changes in higher education have made the problems worse, as too many working-class academics find themselves caught in part-time or short-term teaching jobs, unable to break through the class barriers that seem to preserve most tenure-line jobs for people from professional class backgrounds. We also see the class hierarchies of higher education in the struggle of state universities to survive continuing budget cuts and attacks on tenure, even as elite private schools compete to see who can raise tuition the most while keeping acceptance rates the lowest. Far from being resolved, class divisions in higher education have gotten worse, despite the more visible presence of academics from the working class and efforts to increase and deepen attention to class in both the curriculum and research.
For the past year, Northeastern Illinois University—where I teach as an adjunct—has been operating without a budget. Recently a stop-gap measure procured some short-term funding for the state universities, and the union president sent out several different emails about how the paychecks of members of UPI 4100 would be calculated. These furlough and sacrifice days may continue into the fall if the budget is not passed by the Illinois legislature in the next week or so. “Following this email will be a series of specific emails with formulas for each employee group. You can use the formula for your group to calculate and confirm your total salary reduction for spring 2016, and the amounts and dates of specific pay periods impacted.”
Who are the members of the University Professionals of Illinois 4100 at NEIU? They are Instructors, (Non-tenure-track faculty), Academic Resource Professionals (Non-tenure-track library faculty), Teaching Professionals (Tenure-track faculty), Academic Support Professionals, and Resource Professionals (Tenured/tenure-track library faculty). Each of these groups had a different complex formula that was agreed on by the union and the administration for salary reductions in the spring of 2016.
Due to low enrollment, one of my classes was cut in December, so I went from teaching four classes to three. The decrease in classes actually provided me with a huge advantage because, the 20% cut in pay I would have faced now did not apply; instead I was actually paid for my part-time work and I had time to pick up another job elsewhere to make up for the missing pay. My own take on this is that it’s probably illegal to take furlough days from an employee that is hired for only a 4½ month contract, but I could be wrong, so don’t quote me on that one. Maybe they were afraid of the ramifications from the part-time faculty themselves losing 20% of a paltry sum? Who knows? Many part-time faculty called or emailed me petrified that their already 50% load would be cut by another 20% pay cut. So for once, the adjuncts were the lucky ones. The thing is adjuncts always have a plan B. If not in the works, it is always in the backs of our heads working towards a solution. We have problem-solved our way through this terribly contingent professional life, and we think on our feet and job search and network in a way most academics cannot even begin to imagine.
It was probably the lowest morale I’ve ever experienced in any job in my life. For the last six weeks of the semester, the university handed a 20% pay cut to every working person part- or full-time working, from department chair to civil service and custodial staff. There was a palpable silence in the hallways. Tenured faculty office doors with furlough day signs on them entreating students to call their state representatives, empty classrooms, bathrooms with alternative cleaning schedules posted, and students who stared at me while I lectured, not asking questions or engaging or even texting, just looking at me with this gaze that cut through my energy and focus like a sharp stone.
I did my best. I showed up. I taught my classes and I let students talk about it in class. I didn’t entreat them to get on university sponsored buses to go down to demonstrations in Springfield or even to call their state representatives. I did provide time during class to talk about it, and a litany of grievances came up.
“I just want to go to school. I still have to get through all the same material and I have fewer lectures, fewer advisors and tutors available. This one physics class I’m taking is impossible to begin with and the professor hasn’t shown up for over a week. I’m trying to save money on daycare so I can transfer to a more expensive school. Why are we responsible for saving our own university? Isn’t paying tuition enough of a sacrifice? I haven’t even gotten my financial aid because of this mess. Will they really close this place down because I can’t afford to go anywhere else? I’m just going to drop out, I don’t need this pressure, it’s way too much as it is.”
One day I noticed a slow tear going down the face of a young freshman while we were talking. She caught my eye and quickly she brushed it aside. I can’t really adequately describe what it was like to see the shocked faces of my students during those terrible weeks.
There are several issues here, and I don’t know the answers to any of them, but I do know that the elite academic universities are inundated with applications, and they are looking for working class kids just like the ones in my classroom from disadvantaged neighborhoods and tough inner city high schools: highly motivated, super smart, and ready to succeed in any academic environment. The point is they don’t want to go to Harvard or the University of Chicago. They want to study in their neighborhood and live at home and help take care of their elderly grandmother who needs to be driven to chemo every week. Or they have two young children that they have in the daycare center at the university, and waited to get them in for two years before they even started taking teaching certification courses. Most work twenty to thirty hours a week at least; for many, part of that money is being sent to families in Syria, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Korea, Hungary, Poland, Pakistan, Sudan, Puerto Rico, Mexico—the list goes on. Some of them are sent ahead of their families to get educated and then bring their parents when they can find work and a place that will house them.
There is a fundamental misunderstanding about class in higher education. I used to think that if I could motivate my two sons to be absolutely brilliant, athletic, and musically or artistically talented they would get into one of those elite schools. After all my father and mother both graduated from Harvard—my sister did too. Hell, my grandfather even graduated from Harvard. I was hoping my boys would be the fourth generation to attend. I dragged them to soccer practices, track meets, piano lessons, we spent more money on all those after school activities rather than groceries, and I bartered too for them as well. I gave voice lessons in exchange for piano lessons; I taught music classes at a community music school so my son could take cello lessons there and be on a scholarship. And then it hit me. Somewhere during my older son’s junior year, I knew he wasn’t going to Harvard, Princeton, Yale, or any of those Ivy League schools.
It’s not that he isn’t a brilliant kid, but he didn’t care about pleasing teachers or taking classes he wasn’t interested in. He resented the constant pressure to succeed and he didn’t care about going to a university that he’d never seen or felt drawn to attend. He got through all those required science and math classes but just by the skin of his teeth, and the upper level humanities classes were AP driven and required so much written homework that he started to look like a walking zombie. After all, we brought up our boys in Evanston, and all he ever really wanted to do was go to the University of Illinois-Urbana, and that is exactly where he went, and both he and our family went into debt because of it. Now he is teaching English in South Korea so he can hopefully make a dent in those loans. Also he can teach and be paid well, have access to free health care and his own apartment with the rent paid every month, as well as be paid to prep for his classes and work with other well-educated teachers from all over the world.
It’s not a sad story; it’s just real. And of course I blamed myself for not quite pushing him enough, or having a well enough paying job, and my parents for not understanding what it was I was expected to do for my children. It was an impossible job. And I miss him a lot. This is his second year teaching in Korea. Most people I know think it’s romantic that he’s teaching overseas and ask me repeatedly when I will go visit him. Again, this is a class issue. We will not visit; we are trying to pay off his student loans as well as his younger brother’s loans and college tuition. We haven’t taken a vacation in three years. I have several jobs and piece together a living, but it is nowhere near enough to pay off the debt we are in as a family. Luckily my husband has a good job with benefits. Yes, we are middle class and live in a house with a backyard. Things could be a whole lot worse but it’s not okay that my own son can’t find a job here that has decent benefits. Hell, I can’t find a job that has decent benefits, and I’ve been teaching for almost my entire professional career in positions that are contingent and low paying.
I have taught as an adjunct or part-time Music Instructor at Northeastern for ten years now. I have tried in every way possible to do the absolute best job I could to teach my students, and I am devoted to them in a way that I don’t think I can possibly communicate adequately, but I have come to the end of that bottomless adjunct pit of energy and reserve. When I am being asked to entreat my own students to save public education, I really have hit that impenetrable wall of adjunct superpowers. And I am seriously angry that these elite institutions continue to fool what’s left of the middle class of America into thinking that it’s fair to our society to continue to foster this imaginary world of privilege for the elite students who manage to succeed in their institutions.
How many times did I hear or read in the newspapers when my children were growing up, “If you work hard and you give your kid the right tools they will be able to succeed and get a full scholarship at one of these elite institutions!” Every year the Chicago Tribune chooses the most highly successful high school seniors and showcases their talents, brilliance, volunteering and leadership skills with large colored photos. I would read through them imagining my two boys holding their diplomas and letters of acceptances clutched in their hands. The point is, even if they had been able to achieve this, this whole thing sucks for everyone else. Sure, they could have been given special internships, and sent overseas to be in elite groups that studied in London or Paris. But to me success is not about becoming rich or powerful, having more money than you know what to do with and giving it away to let everyone know you’re a hero. The point is now I realize I’m glad they didn’t succeed in that way. What they are doing is making their way in the world on their own terms, in their own way.
I’m waiting for someone to do something about those billions of dollars in endowment these elite universities have and pay no taxes on, and continue to have no intention of sharing with their communities. I’m sick of pretending that the whole thing doesn’t smack of privilege and that the way it’s set up is quite simply killing public higher education.
In an article from Diverse Issues in Higher Education, “Brown University Making Bold Bid to Assure Diversity and Inclusion,” Jamal Eric Watson outlines the radical changes taking place at Brown after student demonstrations in the past year demanding administrative changes to address racism on campus. He begins the piece with the following statement: “Spending $100 million on an ambitious diversity plan over the next decade might seem like a far-fetched idea for most colleges and universities.”
Later he states:
The university has expanded its emergency fund in Campus Life, which is critical for supporting students who may be unable to pay for expenses in the event of a crisis. A new center for first-generation students will open this summer and the university has begun assessing mentoring programs for both faculty and students.
“In total, the Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion Plan outlined a set of more than 50 concrete, achievable actions that will make Brown a more fully diverse and inclusive campus,” says Paxson, adding that many of these initiatives are already underway and university offices are tracking implementation on the Brown website on a month-to-month basis.
The responsibility for effecting change rests with all members of the Brown community. Collectively, we can create an academic community that embodies the social and intellectual diversity of the world, which is essential for allowing us to fulfill our mission of education and discovery. Across campus, we are committed to fulfilling this responsibility.
I think this is an incredible first step. Especially the concrete actions such as: “supporting students who may be unable to pay for expenses in the event of a crisis,” but meanwhile my students are being forced out of college altogether. The state cannot find a way to support its own public universities.
So if you are able to get into Brown or Harvard or Princeton, and then you find yourself supported by these programs and you manage to graduate and move on to law school, or even become the President of the United States, you still move out of your community, right? The students who stay in their neighborhoods and bring their parents over from Pakistan and work as a paralegal, music teacher, communications assistant, accountant, computer programmer, and every day work and buy food, support their communities by supporting the neighborhood schools and going to the neighborhood grocery stores, and listen to music at the neighborhood coffee shops and clubs, or eat at the restaurant around the corner from their apartment—these are the people who make up the fabric of our society. Without public education what will happen to our communities in Kankakee or Englewood?
Class matters because with or without Ivy League colleges and universities, we still need to provide education for everyone. This is how human beings learn to believe and trust in their own individual right to express their unique story. Together with their classmates they share their experiences in class, by playing their instruments in ensembles, dancing in the Talent Show, working on student council, whatever it is they are interested in and feel compelled to explore. I am humbled by my students’ courageous act to move forward, not only because they want to be rich but also because they care about their families and their communities. Until these elite colleges can address how they can help their surrounding communities by paying taxes on their land and assets, by making a concrete effort to include in the conversation everyone in society, not just the smart or successful people, we will not see effective change in our society.
Adjunct faculty all over the world are organizing for better wages, longer contracts, a chance to be a member of their academic department decision-making, and university wide inclusion. Class matters because we have experienced firsthand what it’s like to not make enough money to feed our families, or provide health insurance for our children or even ourselves. Many of us are organizing with the Fight for Fifteen movement and Faculty Forward Network because precarious employees are experiencing this corporate part-time, no benefits model. The corporate higher education model is based on the Ivy League paradigm. It’s painful to bring up these issues with friends and families because they are willing to believe that by “volunteering” and giving back to the community, it somehow makes the whole corrupt system a benign and democratic state. Academics understand class in a way that many others don’t because they have the “big picture” in mind due to conversations about the nature of society as an integral part of their training. But where is their empathy when it comes to the cuts in tenure, lack of resources for their colleagues, and large resources put into football stadiums, expensive dormitories, and over-paid administrators? Why is it so threatening to look at these issues and talk about them in department meetings or in a larger university forum with students? Adjuncts are the most important glue that holds all of the promise for remaking higher education because we are able to connect the dots, to see what is happening to our society. We are being driven out of academia by lack of benefits, poor salaries, contingent posts that quite simply aren’t worth it. And where are we going? We’re organizing, we’re writing, and we’re networking with each other for direct action and change because, when each of us looks into the eyes of the students sitting in our “class,” we understand that class really does matter.
Sumer is icumen in and it’s both a relief and a source of fear for adjuncts. Relief that the semester is over and we can take a breather, fear that we won’t be able to pay the bills and won’t get another class assignment in September. Fear that we are well and truly FUBARed.
It’s also the season when we turn to our own scholarly and activist work in earnest, and that’s what we’ll be doing here. The blog has been a bit dry lately, and that’s going to change now. So if you’ve been sitting on something juicy that you want to get out into the world and think NFM woud be a good place for it, send it along. I’m back in the editor’s chair.
Please read the invitation below from our colleague Gretchen Reevy, contingent faculty member at California State University East Bay. Read about Gretchen’s past work here.
Invitation: Participate in a study about university faculty!
You are invited to participate in a research study on experiences of faculty in higher education, which includes faculty on the tenure-track, non-tenure-track faculty (lecturers, adjunct faculty, etc.), post docs, and graduate students. If you are a graduate student, please complete the survey only if you also teach one or more courses in higher education. “Higher education” refers to colleges or universities which grant two-year, four-year, and higher degrees (e.g, Master’s, PhD, M.D., etc.).
You are being asked to answer survey questions about your employment and working conditions, your attitudes toward your work, and your emotional reactions. Questions will also include demographic information about you, such as age, sex, education level, etc. All survey respondent information will be anonymous. Your participation will take approximately 10-15 minutes.
By taking part in this research study, you may increase our overall knowledge of faculty in higher education and their work. This information may be helpful for professional and other organizations that are interested in improving the working conditions of faculty in higher education. Additionally, by participating in the current study you are aiding in the training of student researchers; two of the four researchers involved in this project are students.
To participate, please visit this link: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1SNx8tO7viEgDJg0OiDlX3S_0h2ugvB_tiih2w7g9faE/viewform?c=0&w=1
If you have any questions, the principal investigator can be reached at: email@example.com
Gretchen Reevy, California State University, East Bay