The Year in Adjuncts

National Adjunct Walkout Day protesterThe Chronicle, inexplicably, has totally ignored adjuncts in its list of influential movers and shakers for 2015. But as Henry Giroux tells us,

The actions of teachers, workers, student protesters, and others have been crucial in drawing public attention to the constellation of forces that are pushing the United States and other neoliberal-driven countries into what Hannah Arendt called “dark times”or [what] might be described as an increasingly authoritarian public realm that constitutes a clear and present danger to democracy. …What role higher education will play in both educating and mobilizing students is a crucial issue that will determine whether a new revolutionary ideal can take hold in order to address the ideals of democracy and its future.

Adjuncts everywhere have been rising to this challenge, and it’s been an extraordinary year for us in activism. After years of grassroots organizing, Facebook plotting, job actions large and small, and concerted publicity campaigns across the country, our situation and how it affects students is now firmly part of the national anti-austerity, pro-labor, anti-neoliberalism conversation. Keep up the good work! To keep you going and just so you know you’re not alone, here’s what’s been happening on the Adjunct Front in 2015, and some of the people who’ve been making it happen.

TL;DR: Dang, we did a lot this year! Unions joined; groups organized; solidarity exercised; real actual walkouts and strikes; contract gains made; papers and books published; presentations made; coalitions built; research done; policies advocated; petitions started, signed, and delivered; general troublemaking by badass troublemakers. Well done, everyone! Tell us more in the comments.


Union thug

You bet we are.

Here a union, there a union, everywhere a union. At least twenty-five new unions for adjunct/contingent faculty this year alone. Wow. This year must have been some kind of record breaker for adjunct organizing with AFT, AAUP, NEA, SEIU, UAW, and USW. Big and small groups of adjuncts got in on the act: Well’s College, just before Christmas; NYU’s engineering adjuncts; Hamline; Brandeis; Emerson College (LA campus); University of Chicago; Temple University; St. Louis CC; Barnard College; Point Park; Kishwaukee College; Community College of Allegheny County; Trinity Washington University; Sienna College; Ithaca College; Cayuga CC adjuncts won their own union; Boston University and part-time lecturers at BU’s Center for English Language and Orientation Programs (2nd unit); Robert Morris University; Northwestern Michigan College; Bentley University; full-time, non-tenure-track arts and sciences faculty members at Tufts University (a second unit at Tufts);  Washington University; Otis College of Art and Design; Dominican University of California; and St. Mary’s College. Did I miss anybody? Sound off in the comments.


solidarity umbrella fishWith or without unions, adjuncts are doin’ it for themselves. Columbia and UW-Madison TAs are still protesting working conditions, despite the NLRB ruling against graduate students unionizing. This is where organizing comes into its own and allies can play a crucial role. Unions are not the only answer to bad working conditions. Many workers outside education, from retail and fast food workers to car wash employees and exotic dancers, have formed non-union associations with the same unified power that unions offer, but without the administrative structure or dues. Within higher ed, for instance, Cornell grad students have formed a union that remains unrecognized by the university, but which still plans on fighting for improved working conditions, a tactic that may also work in Right To Work states like Florida. Speaking of union-hostile states, the South Florida Part Time Faculty Association and Ohio Part-time Faculty Association continue to grow in strength and numbers and to support organizing across their respective states, thanks to the efforts of activists like Cathy Burns, Alice Wujciak and H.E. Whitney, of Adjunct World Comics, in Florida and David Wilder, Andrew Bonthius, and Keisha Davenport in Ohio. Other labor-challenged states that are seeing undeterred organizing efforts are North Carolina and Georgia, including Duke University, University of North Carolina, Georgia State, and historically black colleges and universities Clark Atlanta University and Fort Valley State University. In states like this, solidarity is the key. If we all belong to some kind of organization, whatever it is, we are powerful—and protected by our numbers. Meanwhile, Duquesne and Loyola University adjuncts continue to fight the good fight against Badmin who are trying to deny them the right to organize under a religious exemption, which seems less and less likely to fly, given the current NLRB attitude. In another act of solidarity, full-time tenured allies at Eastern Illinois delayed their own pay raises to save 29 adjunct positions in their blended union.


NAWD map

Fantastic map by Hector Valtierra

We started off the year with the Occupy-like National Adjunct Walkout Day, which Seattle University, for one, blew up all over Badmin. Here’s a great post-game wrap-up from Robert Craig Baum. And just look at that map. Mighty mighty! (Let’s keep up the pressure!) Rock Valley CC faculty struck for better wages and reduced health care costs. University of Toronto‘s TAs struck in March and finally agreed to arbitration. Boston’s Northeastern University adjuncts are threatening to walk out, with full-timer’s support. Two of the largest higher ed unions that include adjuncts, Cal State and City University of New York‘s AFT-affiliated Professional Staff Congress are taking strike votes and organizing strike training as I write this. Our K-12 colleagues in Chicago are striking too. Educators of all stripes are fed up and are using strikes to show our determination to make a change, whether they’re “legal” or not (and who says those anti-strike laws are legal or moral, when all we have is our labor to bargain with?). Then, after the union formation and the strike comes the hard part:


Tufts may have set the bar last year with a floor (!) of $7300/course, but the momentum is continuing. Hamline just won 20-30% pay increases over the course of their new contract and right of first refusal. Vermont’s St. Michael’s College gains 10% in the first year of the contract for all adjuncts teaching credit bearing courses and the right to bargain for more in the second year. Whittier College adjuncts bargained a $400/credit raise to bring them to $1550/credit and made gains also in job security and professional development funds. More benefits at Boston’s Lesley University,  and elsewhere too: adjunct faculty on two-year appointments won employer contributions for retire­ment plans; Maine Community College System adjuncts beat back an attempt to have their course assignments reduced to evade employer responsibility under the Affordable Care Act and codified it in their contract; NYU grad students won a 4 percent raise this year for fully funded teaching assistants and a “landmark” family health care benefit; Saint Mary’s College of California added a clause to the contract that will change the way the college responds to requests for verification that someone is without employment, to help them qualify for unemployment benefits.


11,000+ adjuncts and allies signed the 2014 petition to David Weil at the Department of Labor to investigate hiring practices and pay in higher ed. NFM’s Maria Maisto hand-delivered the petition signatures and 200 pages of comments to Weil’s people this year, and we’ve received a response confirming the importance of adjunct organizing and focused advocacy. NFM obliged with comments on proposed overtime revisions that educate policymakers about how adjuncts regularly fall through the cracks in the fissured academic workplace. The next step is to help craft new legislation changing the status of educators under the Fair Labor Standards Act (more on this in another post). Still active:



movemount1Adjunct unions have been working collaboratively now more than ever, and we should recognize that. The DOL coalition NFM initiated that is focused on unemployment is keeping the pressure on DOL to help ensure adjuncts are eligible for unemployment benefits, and our Women and Contingency Project is being built slowly but surely and has been energized by the resolution (PDF) pushed through by contingent activists like Gwen Beetham at the National Women’s Studies Association. NFM also launched the National Arts Project in part to help highlight the “doubly contingent” nature of working as an adjunct and as an artist. During Campus Equity week (see below), NFM also hosted a Congressional briefing entitled “Strategies for Overcoming Inequality in Higher Education: Supporting Adjunct Faculty and Their Students” with Marisa Allison, Judy Olson, Bonnie Halloran, Matt Williams, and David Wilder (more on this later, too). Over at the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success, Adrianna Kezar has been steadily forging new ways of problem-solving for faculty and other higher ed constituencies who care about student learning and the integrity of faculty work.  The report “The Professoriate Reconsidered: A Study of New Faculty Models” came out in October and was the result of a focused survey of faculty, administrators, accreditors, and trustees.  It suggests that the tide has quietly but definitely turned away from acceptance of contingency as an acceptable model.


If there’s one thing adjuncts and our allies know how to do, it’s write and talk. And boy did we. Here’s a selection of essential reads and data for weaponization. Marcia Newfield, Joe Berry, and Polina Kroik edited a special issue of The Journal of Labor and Society, “Contingent Academic Labor: The Way Forward,” (PDFs); see especially Robert Ovetz’s “Migrant Mindworkers and the New Division of Academic Labor” (PDF).  The journal First Amendment Studies published University of Arkansas prof. Stephen A. Smith‘s “Contingent Faculty and Academic Freedom” (PDF), the only full-time faculty ally at UArk to publicly support contingents. Matt Debenham took to Buzzfeed with a brave and appalling “I’m An Adjunct Who Also Works In A Grocery Storeconfession. Adjunct Prof. Jennie Shanker spoke at the Shanker Institute’s colloquium “The Emergence of the ‘Precariat’: What Does The Loss of Stable Well-Compensated Employment Mean For Education?” (video here) alongside Barbara Ehrenreich, MLA Pres. Rosemary Feal, and NYU Prof. Andrew Ross; another media project, The Adjunct Commuter, caught NPR’s eye recently, with its tales of Northeast corridor commuter hell. Debra Leigh Scott and her partner Chris Labree are wrapping up interviews for the film, ‘Junct: The Trashing of Higher Ed in AmericaOther hopeful signs for higher ed: influential books like Michael Berube and Jennifer Ruth‘s The Humanities, Higher Education, and Academic Freedom, which offers a concrete, if controversial, proposal for ending the adjunct crisis and James Keenan, SJ’s University Ethics, which argues that contingent academic employment is the first and most egregious symptom of ethical misconduct in the world of higher education.  (P.S., Teaching Poor is still in the works too. Send me stuff!)


cropped-CEW2015FAV-21To coincide with Campus Equity Week this year, Brave New Films‘ released the short film Professors in Poverty, which NFM consulted on and debuted at a Congressional briefing (see above) on contingent faculty. COCAL, NEA, SEIU, UUP, PSEA, and WEAC all sponsored on the national level. Special shoutout to many of locals who pitched in too. Adjuncts and allies are continuing to pressure NEIU to stop cancelling classes for the sake of both students and faculty. Columbia College P-T Faculty voted no confidence in their administration. NFM‘s survey gave us some numbers to throw back across the many bargaining tables we’ll be sitting at. Adjunct charity PrecariCorps‘ started to offer small emergency funds to desperate adjuncts and, in the very necessity for its existence, should shame every administration everywhere. Which is why a UUP report on part-time/contingent faculty recommends at least $5700 per 3-credit course and, amazingly, SUNY Albany’s Provost agrees. SEIU took a page from Fight for $15 and did UUP one better, asking for $15K/class for adjuncts nationwide. Shout out to the AFT 2121 activists who led the fight to shut down the CCSF accreditor. The MLA Subconference, organized by graduate students and contingent faculty, broke out at the 2014 MLA convention in Chicago with a concurrent program “Resisting Vulnerable Times” and is now in its third subversive year, tackling “Non-Negotiable Sites of Struggle” in Vancouver in 2015 and just getting ready for Between the Public and Its Privates” in Austin next week. Although the MLA Democracy movement has been around for quite a while, the problem of contingency has breathed some new life into it in the last year or so. Newly elected contingent faculty/allies in MLA leadership include NFM’s Robin Sowards who will be serving on the Forum Executive Committee for Higher Education and the Profession on Part-Time and Contingent Faculty Issues along with Maria Grewe from NY and Virginia Cooper from Montana. Outgoing committee Chair Maria Maisto will be succeeded by former adjunct and ongoing ally Lee Skallerup Bessette. There’s been progress in other disciplinary associations also: the 4C’s is working on a Position Statement on Contingent Faculty Working Conditions, which is hoping to wrap up revisions in January for approval by the executive committee; the OAH also just released a statement in support of unionizing, and the AAA and the ASA have formed contingent labor-focused committees or are starting to have contingent focused sessions at their conferences, something MLA pioneered.


credit hour(In the best sense of the word, of course.) The following are only a tiny sample of the many truly badass activists working for contingent faculty. If you know of others, please add them in the comments. Too many of us are unsung and underappreciated. If you’re in any of the Facebook adjunct groups, many of these names will be familiar, and I offer them here in no particular order.

In a real vote of confidence from the union, three contingent faculty have been appointed to UUP’s new contract negotiations team, one more than the number of contingent team members who served during the previous round of negotiations: Doug Cody, an adjunct professor of Chemistry at SUNY Farmingdale; Beth WIlson, a full-time lecturer in Art History and chapter president at SUNY New Paltz; and Anne Wiegard, a full-time lecturer in English at SUNY Cortland (and NFMF Board Chair). Wilson and Wiegard were also re-elected in May to seats on the UUP statewide executive board, along with Lori Nash, a part-time faculty member at SUNY Oswego who teaches Philosophy. Bradley Russell has been inspiring the St. Rose agitators to make life very uncomfortable for Badmin. Shoutout to former adjunct now SEIU organizers Adam Overton in LA, Jessica Lawless in the Bay Area, Tiffany Kraft in Portland, and Miranda Merklein in Seattle; current adjunct Carrie Matthews of UW Faculty Forward; and Teresa Mack-Piccone who led that charge for SEIU in Upstate New York and is kicking ass organizing nurses in California now. Beth McGarry is shit stirring/­organizing/­troublemaking in Florida and on Facebook’s Adjunct Professors United group. Robin Vander Ven took her college to court and won (more on that soon). Lydia Field Snow keeps the pressure on administrators about class cancellations and community relations with NEIU and ass-kicking protest songs. Brianne Bolin, Joe Fruscione, and Kat Jacobsen form the unholy trinity of PrecariCorps (see above); both Bri and Joe have also told their stories in national media. Andrew Robinson (@AndrewR_Physics) and Kate Weber (@k8simply) have also been fearless NTT voices on Twitter.

And a personal shoutout to my NFM colleagues, who I know for a fact have been working their butts off this year. (Again, people, this is only folks and actions I know of/was told about. Please add what and who you know in the comments. Everybody deserves some recognition for a truly ass-kicking year.)

In short, adjuncts and our allies across the country are kicking some serious ass and taking names. There is strength in a union, success in solidarity. If we all stick together, we can change higher ed and make better lives for ourselves and our students, and put Badmin back in their role of supporting educators instead of running the show. Have we won yet? Not by a long shot. But we are becoming a force to be reckoned with. Take note, tenured colleagues. You can lead, follow, or get out of our way. Here we come!

(And if you like what you see of NFM‘s work, please donate/become a member to support our work.)

–Lee Kottner


Update from Northeastern Illinois University:

Some of you may wonder what in the world happened to Take Back NEIU?  It’s been a long quiet semester and the atmosphere has been more like a circus than a university. Gone are the protests, the petitions, the sign making parties. Instead we have groups of school children playing scavenger hunts interrupting classes to identify sites on their maps. I guess if Northeastern can’t be a university at least it can be a field trip destination. Instead of eating in peace in the cafeteria we have loud music, comedians, dancing and karaoke contests. The college newspaper “The Independent” looks more like a glossy brochure written by the PR department of an advertising agency. Every department has been taken over by Academic Affairs: Public Relations, Student Activities, and now even the union appear to be aligned with the current administration. The provost is a special guest invited to the end of the semester Holiday Party and will be delivering a speech in an effort to save the MAP grants that Governor Rauner is threatening to destroy.  Meanwhile the new dorm is almost finished and gleams in the sun filled with luxury apartments.

Read more here.