Five Trends to Watch in Higher Ed in 2016

We’ve done the year-end round-up, and now it’s time for the 2016 projections. All the education pundits have their own pet trends for the year, but no one, it seems, is paying attention to where the core action is. You can’t have higher education without educators, and 75% of us are now contingent, disposable, and/or roundly ignored in faculty senates even if we’re tenured. Much of mainstream media that covers education still acts like educators, especially adjuncts, are peripheral to education. The focus is on student protests (and not about student debt, either), new administrators, sexual assault (a worthy focus, agreed), and moaning about the cost of college—but not where all that money is going, or where it’s clearly not, which is to academic salaries. We’re offering our own analysis of what to keep an eye on in the coming year.

  1. educate-agitate-organizeAdjuncts and the wave of faculty unionization. Oddly enough, none of the year-end roundups or projections for the new year that I’ve read so far have mentioned the massive wave of academic labor organization (see the previous post for a run-down) and what it means for colleges and universities across the country. Two significant developments in this field might give adjuncts more clout than we’ve had before. One is the upcoming verdict in the Friedrichs case, which, in the case of blended unions, makes the dues-paying membership of adjuncts imperative for the survival of unions formerly dominated by full-time tenured members. It also makes an active membership in exclusively adjunct unions all the more necessary. The other development is the new attitude of the DOL toward higher ed faculty unions, especially those at religious-affiliated institutions. Fight it as they may, colleges like Duquesne and Loyola are likely to be on the losing end of opposition to the unionization of their adjunct faculty. No matter how many they fail to rehire or convert to full-time, the writing is on the wall: we want better pay, more security and more tenure-track lines. CUNY and Cal State have showed that at least some of us are willing to strike to get what we want. Tenured faculty are going to need to ally themselves with adjuncts to regain the power they are losing and have already lost to shape curriculum and university mission. There’s more and more pushback against Right to Work legislation, but there’s no reason not to organize whether you have a legal right to collective bargaining or striking or not.
  2. Adjuncts and the forgiveness of student debt. Many adjuncts are not just educators Used to have dreamsbut student loan debtors themselves. Many of us had to take out enormous loans to pay for our education, believing that we would be heading for secure, decently paid jobs on the attainment of our advanced degrees (thanks, advisors; please stop lying to your graduate students just to keep your programs alive). Many of us were TAs and didn’t always get tuition
    remission for our labor (the department giveth, and the bursar taketh away). Now we’re saddled with an even more enormous debt than most of our students will be, thanks to the out-of-control increases in tuition, coupled with the decrease in number and value of grants and scholarships for advanced degrees and shift of emphasis to loans. In 2014, Senator Dick Durbin introduced a bill to expand the Federal public service loan forgiveness program (which already demands at least 10 years of on-time payments from debtors) to include adjunct professors. This bill is still pending and needs some modification to provide any reasonable kind of relief for adjuncts whose average income is $23K, which puts us squarely in the 51% of the population making less than $31K/year, a crime in itself  (see #5). Any modification of it could only benefit other students who are now graduating as indentured servants to their loans.
  3. Adjuncts and the Department of Labor. Remember that 11K+ signature petition to the DOL to get them to look into the hiring and wage conditions of adjunct faculty? That was just an attention-getter to ping former professor David Weil; as a matter of fact we’re going to be having some longer and deeper conversations with him about how labor regulations treat faculty. Next up: crafting some new rules and legislation that don’t let white collar higher ed “knowledge workers” fall between the cracks on overtime, salary, and unemployment under the FLSA.
  4. studens first, faculty lastAdjuncts and the quality of higher education. Apparently, the government is worried enough about the quality of higher ed to start imposing the kind of quantitative metrics on it that it has imposed on K-12 with standardized testing and reporting.  Supported by organizations like The American Association of State Colleges and Universities, Higher Ed for Higher Standards, and the Collaborative for Student Success, the buzz words student completion, student success, performance based funding are creeping over from K-12 to shape higher ed policy. A careful look at most of these organizations shows they are supported by corporate sponsors and college presidents and chancellors, many from the world of business or not lifetime educators themselves, who are shifting the emphasis of higher education away from the education of good citizens to the education of good (compliant) workers. The adjunctification of the university is part of this plan, as is the silencing, dissolving or diminished standing of faculty senates as they represent fewer and fewer tenured faculty. Others are starting to realize this too. Parents, students, and educator driven affinity groups such as the Badass Teachers Association are our allies and we need to continue to embrace them and get the word out. It’s not metrics that are going to save higher ed; it’s educators doing what we have always done: making education better from within.
  5. Adjuncts and the intersectionality of the struggle. The year end wrap-ups in higher Stop criminalizing my studentseducation are full of handwringing about on-campus student protests: Black Lives Matter, protests about how sexual assaults are handled, divesting from the prison system, protesting tuition hikes, boycotting Israel, taking down Cecil Rhodes’ statue at Oxford—those students are sure getting uppity. Adjuncts need to take a cue from our students and get our butts out on the picket lines. We’re largely female, often people of color, overwhelming poor ourselves (unless we’re lucky enough to have a partner who supports us in a more lucrative profession) and we’ve got just as much to be pissed about as our students (see above). The struggles of our students are often just another manifestation of our own struggles based in the widening inequity gap and the corporatization of, well, everything. We’re natural allies.

If last year is any indication, this is going to be another busy year for adjuncts. We’re gaining momentum and making changes. Join us.


One thought on “Five Trends to Watch in Higher Ed in 2016

  1. Although a slightly right wing comment here, while being however, in strong support of this article, my comment is this: ” Wouldn’t life be a whole lot easier and less frustrating for both teacher and student body if the monetary issues that bind all of us (working/living to pay debt, or being forced into the workplace because of student debt/loan pressures), were no longer? In other words, the teacher was not working for the monetary return of doing their job, but rather out of passion, and the student could graduate debt-free, able to focus on degree position rather than being forced into a job out of debt obligations! RESPECTFULLY, PLEASE READ SAID COMMENT ONE MORE TIME IF NECESSARY! This is very real…very possible, and yours truly (following 18 years of research) is desperately wishing he had some form of platform or influence in society to bring this solution (You Can Win in Life) to the table; a Kiss Principle simple, self-funding resolve, with the potential to place society into the Age of Equality – – everybody wins – nobody being left behind, as it is clearly not the case today.” Happy 2016 folks!


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