NFM Works: Robin Sowards, NFM VP

NewFacultyMlogo copyOne of a series highlighting what our Officers and Board Members are up to when you’re not looking.USW_int-ltd_col_2in_R

Robin Sowards, Ph.D., NFM Vice President

RobinIn addition to being an adjunct lecturer who teaches English Composition and Linguistics at several Pittsburgh area universities, Robin is also a researcher and organizer for the United Steelworkers, who were chosen by adjuncts at Duquesne University to represent them in their fight for equity. In that capacity and as an NFM officer, Robin speaks to both academic and labor organizations across the country, on organizing adjuncts and unionism. As a member of the Modern Language Association, Robin has been among the many contingent faculty activists helping MLA  increase its attention to the crisis of contingency, along with NFM/F leaders Maria Maisto, Karen Madison, Anne Wiegard, Judy Olson, and Sue Doe.  Robin’s broad range of expertise as an academic, union member, researcher and organizer make him uniquely qualified to represent the interests of adjunct faculty and their students. We feel lucky to have him.

Upcoming: January 2016: “Contingent Faculty Mentoring for Democracy” MLA Annual Convention, Austin, TX.


Opinion: The Battle Ahead

by A. Madjunct

Workers of the WorldIt was pretty hard to celebrate Independence Day this year when churches are being burned in racially motivated hate crimes and the Supreme Court has decided to entertain a case—Friedrichs v. CTA—that has the potential of turning the entire country into a right-to-work corporate hellscape (well, even more than it is already). This threat affects all higher ed faculty organizing. It’s a beast we must fight if we want to restore public education to anything resembling the public good.

At the risk of preaching to the choir, I still must plead the case that it is critical that faculty of all appointment types stop wasting precious time by fighting each other to the benefit of anti-worker fanatics and overreaching administrations everywhere. We all know it’s not fair and that the majority of faculty are trapped by a decimated economy in contingent positions in what feels like a nonsensical and meritless gaslighting experiment. What are we going to do about it? That’s the answer that will define our future as leaders in academia.

Since leaving “the profession” as an adjunct six months ago, I have gleaned one important lesson above all: that the abusive working conditions I experienced affected how I understood the problems associated with higher ed. Although much of this was good fuel for the fire, there were negative consequences as well. By the end of my 14-classes-a-year poverty quest, I was depleted of nearly all love of learning and literature that had first brought me into the classroom. I resented my FTTT colleagues, many for good enough reasons, and I pretty much wanted to smash everything around me if I couldn’t find a way to resolve the dissonance.

Now I understand that the battle is much larger than what I was experiencing and that, despite the atrocious inequities on our campuses, all faculty must come together now as colleagues (however violent that collision might be), find a way to solidify, and form a collective front against our many enemies. First, we need to stop misinterpreting each other.

Adjuncts to Tenured: If adjuncts continue to be excluded by their academic peers or judged as lesser-than because they do less research (by necessity, usually), it is not an impartial decision to make, as faculty are being run into the ground, incentivised, and sometimes outright prevented from performing their research. Likewise, claiming that a contingent colleague must be “competitively hired” when that colleague has been performing the job satisfactorily for years only reinforces complacency and adherence to a multi-tiered and artificial divide-and-conquer workplace.

Tenured to Adjuncts: On the other hand, expecting an endangered segment of workers (“professionals”)—however delusional they seem and however good it may feel to see them flogged—to relinquish their earnings or status is equally illogical. No one is going to voluntarily give up benefits when it is neither in their best interest nor an effective way to stop the machine from bulldozing us all. It’s in the best interest of tenured faculty to raise the ground for all faculty because that’s the only way we can sustain and enforce professional pay, academic freedom, and shared governance. If they don’t understand this, they need to be talked to repeatedly. By forming unions, faculty can restore and reinforce professional standards to stop the fast-paced erosion that has nearly torn apart higher ed.

We are (as I was) devotees to the ideals of democratic learning, truth-seeking, and creativity, but we are being prevented from doing our jobs in every way; some of us just happen to feel it now more than others, though the recent slaughter in Wisconsin is unavoidably alarming to even the most steadfast academic corporatization deniers. FTTT faculty are steadily seeing their place in academia chipped away and their lines absorbed without consequence.

Tenure and shared governance are being eroded without meaningful remedy or replacement model and contingent faculty live in various degrees of job insecurity, intellectual and financial exploitation, and poverty. We are in debt up to our scratch-resistant lenses, and the banksters are still collecting, still garnishing our wages and tax returns regardless of whether there’s any blood in the turnips. Meanwhile, there is no force of justice ready to swoop down from the sky and restore order for us. We have to do it for ourselves by building strong, powerful unions.

It really is up to us to rescue ourselves and actively organize, to do the actual work it takes to fight back and win.

A. Madjunct served as an adjunct troublemaker in the Southwest. Currently she works for a union in the Pacific Northwest and writes solely as an individual.

NFM Works: Marisa Allison Wins ASA’s Robert Dentler Award

Marisa Allison

Marisa Allison

We’re proud to announce that our own Marisa Allison has won the American Sociological Association’s Robert Dentler Award for Outstanding Student Achievement in public sociology. This award honors dedication and exceptional academic/activist work, and she was honored for her ongoing work on contingent faculty issues. This award is a recognition of her commitment to applied sociology for the “betterment of the human condition.”

Marisa first joined New Faculty Majority in 2012 as a volunteer, and later became an official staff member of the NFM Foundation Research Department, helping us with surveys and reports, responding to researchers interested in our work, and helping activists on campuses to design and administer surveys of their adjunct colleagues. She has been instrumental in conceiving and developing our Women and Contingency Project, which focuses on the particular ramifications for women students and faculty of the contingent academic employment system.

Marisa’s work with NFM has both informed and been informed by her project at George Mason University helping to design and implement one of the most comprehensive studies ever produce of adjunct faculty working conditions on a single campus, “Indispensable But Invisible.” She has been uniquely qualified to lead this effort. She has a broad comprehension of the national and international scope of contingent employment in and outside of academia, and has expertly connected her work to this context.

We’re pleased and excited about Marisa’s award, and proud that she’s part of our organization. Congratulations, Marisa!

-Maria Maisto

COCAL Updates

COCAL logo smallby Joe Berry

COCAL is the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor, a nearly 20 year old network of contingent activists and their organizations that does a conference (now tri national – USA, CAN, MEX) every other year, usually in August. It also sponsors a listserv, called ADJ-L, and has an International Advisory Committee and a website and Facebook page


1. A Teaching moment: will Sacramento school college accreditors (ACCJC)?


1. Precarious work dominates higher education in Ireland.

2. Precarious faculty in Australia need more security.

3. UK faculty open letter about deterioration of conditions for teachers and students in higher ed there.


1. Job opening, Data Center, Oakland, CA, Director of community driven research.

2. Happy 80th Birthday, NLRA.

3. Lessons of a megalomaniac college president (Gordon Gee of Ohio State.)

4. From comp lit to adjuncts’ champion, the odyssey of Maria Maisto (this is the one of the articles originally commissioned for AAUP mag, Academe, and which was then rejected at the last minute after being fully edited by Academe.

5. Instructors scarce at KY St.

6. Community organizing jobs in NYC and here; and here; and here; and here; and here; and here; and the NY Hotel Trades council also seeks organizers.

7. Park Point U (Pittsburgh, PA) lays off 32 workers, with no word to new adjunct union. Could this be retaliation for having the temerity to organize?

8. NLRB rules that USPS violated law when signing privatization deal with Staples without negotiations with American Postal Workers Union.

9. For SF Bay Area readers: Fighting the Just in Time Professor: a Report from  the Bay Area Metro Organizing Strategy. Part of the month-long celebration of LaborFest.   Sat. July 18, Oakland, CA.  2:00 – 3:30 PM (Free), Niebyl-Proctor Marxist Library – 6501 Telegraph Ave., Oakland

The dirty secret about higher education is that about two thirds of the faculty are part-time or full-time temporary adjunct professors hired by the class or semester. In the past few years, adjuncts have been organizing, striking and unionizing in record numbers. Many of them are using a new strategy known as the Metro Organizing Strategy, which organizes across a geographic region rather than campus by campus, where non faculty is included. Join a critical discussion about these organizing campaigns.

Robert Ovetz, Ph.D. is a migrant mindworker of academia who teaches at three Bay Area colleges and universities. He writes about the changing division of academic labor and strategies for resistance.

Jessica Beard is a lecturer in English and Critical Theory at San Francisco State University and the San Francisco Art Institute. She teaches in the METRO program at SFSU–a joint effort by CCSF and SFSU for first generation college students of color in the Bay Area.

Jessica Lawless was an adjunct professor in the arts and humanities for 9 years. Organizer with SEIU local 1021’s Adjunct Action campaign.

Gifford Hartman has worked in adult education for over two decades, mostly in literacy and English as a Second Language (ESL). He also participates in Labor History events, writing and talking about the history of class struggle. In 2008, he was part of a 4-day strike at a non-profit ESL school in San Francisco.

For more info:

10. Union (TNG-CWA) victory at SF Bay Area for-profit ESL school, the multi-national St Giles:

Hey guys,

Good news for you all. Today our vote was held, and with a vote of 76% we now have a UNION!!! Thank you both so much for all your support. You guys really got the wheels turning for us, and we wouldn’t be here without your support.Thanks again!


11. “The Teaching Class,” an essay well worth your time, about us. Too bad it has nothing to say about how to change stuff, like organizing.

12. Adjunct Commuter Weekly, new publication about to launch. Donate to help and subscribe.

13. New report on the Georgetown U unionization effort.

14. Scott Walker’s budget undermines all public education, from Bob Peterson, former Milwaukee teachers union president.

15. The Arne Duncan era has not been good for students: Diane Ravitch.

16. Contingent faculty are not working in the minors.

17. New book of interest: Academic Repression: Reflections from the -industrial complex.

NOTE: As noted previously, your COCAL UPDATES editor (Joe Berry) and his spouse/partner/colleague Helena Worthen, are going to teach labor studies in Viet Nam for the fall 2015 Semester. We would like to take some gifts related to the union/workers movement in the US to give to folks there. We are leaving from CA August 14. If any of you would like to have us take union or other movement hats, T-shirts or similar union gifts to VN from your organization as a gesture of solidarity for their labor movement and as a gesture of support for us, please send them to us at 21 San Mateo Road, Berkeley, CA 94707 so that we receive it by August 13, 2015. Unions in Viet Nam are grappling with how to deal with the influx of foreign (capitalist) direct investment there and the need to build local unions that can effectively fight for workers in this new context. Thanks in advance for your assistance.

What To Do If…Your Colleague Brags About Getting Hired When You Didn’t

Adjunct Army-RCBIn this column, we bring you the anonymous, ripped-from-the-headines, er, -Facebook lament of many an adjunct passed over for a tenure track position despite years of faithful service–and our equally anonymous advice from the Adjunct Army who’ve been there.

Q: If a fellow adjunct were, hypothetically, tooting her own horn about how she was recently hired somewhere you have served dutifully with heart, mind, body, and spirit for over 20 years — and she seems in her own mind to be “favored” — besides feeling depressed, what might you do? Hypothetically.

A: Many of the fortunate may not realize how painful it is for adjuncts to have this happen, and bragging about it only rubs salt in the wounds. So if you’re the lucky one, how about using your newfound privilege to advocate for those in the position you managed to escape? Whatever you do, please do not transform overnight into a tenuresplaining jerk.

If you’re on the other end of this crappy stick, here are some suggestions from the Adjunct Army:

  1. Break everything in sight. No exaggeration.
  2. Hate her with everything you have, and acknowledge that it is perfectly reasonable to hate her, and that it is OK to hate her.
  3. let the hate flow The Emperor approves of this strategy.
  4. Laugh. Given enough rope…
  5. Write about it. Interrogate the issues & find a place for it on-line–a blog or webzine friendly to adjuncts where you can spread the word. (Majority Rule waving here! Hellooo!)

All joking aside (and we’re not sure the Adjunct Army is entirely joking), NFM’s fearless leader Maria Maisto responds with this advice:

Did you apply for the same job? Do you have the same or more qualifications? Is it for a job teaching classes you already teach or have taught successfully? If yes to all, I’d be talking to an attorney about a possible age discrimination suit. There have been a number of lawsuits using this tactic, at Wilbur Wright College, Clark College, and Harold Washington College, and this may be one way individual adjuncts can beat the “stale Ph.D.” objection.

But the advice to the newly hired is just as important. Just be (silently) thankful, and stand up for your colleagues. And remember that tenure ain’t that much of a protection anymore.

-Lee Kottner

We Hurt Our Bargaining Position by Devaluing Lower-Division Teaching

Seth Kahn (NFMF Board member) makes a couple of important points about academic labor, devaluing teaching and the two-tier system over on his own blog, Here Comes Trouble.

Here comes trouble

On Facebook this morning, this piece from SEIU’s Faculty Forward site. It says a lot that needs saying aloud about labor problems particularly at for-profit institutions, and I encourage you to read it if you have any interest at all in academic labor equity.

One line, though, convinced me that I need to take yet another shot at an argument I’ve been making here and there for years now, but apparently not well enough. Author Wanda Evans-Brewer says:

Course offerings barely reflect my level of expertise, yet I accept them because I need the work, and my students need a teacher.

I see this a lot–faculty who are disgruntled with lower-division teaching assignments when their training and expertise clearly qualify them to teach upper-level and graduate students too. But we know that all too often, non-tenure-track faculty teach mostly if not exclusively general education courses, and feel like their…

View original post 335 more words

COCAL Updates

COCAL logo smallby Joe Berry
21 San Mateo Road,
Berkeley, CA 94707

COCAL is the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor, a nearly 20 year old network of contingent activists and their organizations that does a conference (now tri national – USA, CAN, MEX) every other year, usually in August. It also sponsors a listserv, called ADJ-L, and has an International Advisory Committee and a website and Facebook page

NOTE: As noted previously, your COCAL UPDATES editor (Joe Berry) and his spouse/partner/colleague Helena Worthen, are going to teach labor studies in Viet Nam for the fall 2015 Semester. We would like to take some gifts related to the union/workers movement in the US to give to folks there. We are leaving from CA August 14. If any of you would like to have us take union or other movement hats, T-shirts or similar union gifts to VN from your organization as a gesture of solidarity for their labor movement and as a gesture of support for us, please send them to us at the address above so that we receive it by August 13, 2015. Unions in Viet Nam are grappling with how to deal with the influx of foreign (capitalist) direct investment there and the need to build local unions that can effectively fight for workers in this new context. Thanks in advance for your assistance.

1. Accreditor, ACCJC, unfair and rife with conflict.


1. Education International report: EDU businesses pose threat to education.

2. Academics unhappy in Ireland.


1. More on Friedrichs v CTA (agency fee case in CA).

2. The pernicious effect of corporate influence.

3. Tuition rollback in WA.

4. More true stories on Precaricorps, “I used to be an adjunct …” and check others stories there too.

5. Campus diversity efforts ignore widest gulf – class.

6. All faculty deserve academic freedom, not just the few with tenure.

7. Right to work means right to freeload

…and is an attack on free speech.

8. Adjuncting is the kiss of death (Actually there is some real research on this. In the book “Contingent Work“, <>  the chapter “Working for piece rates and accumulating deficits” Kathleen Barker and Kathleen Christainsen, eds.. It clearly showed, through blind survey research of hiring officers, that more than 2-3 years as a a contingent becomes detriment, not “experience”.)

9. Another company converts workers from 1099 contractors to full employees.

10. MA adjuncts to get sick leave benefits.

11. National adjunct labor action

12. As a CUNY adjunct I make less in my career than my colleague Paul Krugman makes in a year

13. IL Valley CC adjuncts.

14. With new overtime rule, Obama may have given 5 million people a raise.

15. Keene State College (NH) unionizing.

16. On the 80th birthday of the Wagner Act (NLRA) is it time lessen the burden on this law?

17. Interesting piece on Social Security and the offsets some of us in 13 states suffer if we also get a state pension. Of especial interest in CA, but also elsewhere and the basis of why this perhaps should be a national issue. The author is also an officer in the new AFT national contingent faculty caucus. She originally wrote this for the CPFA list serve (CA Part-time Faculty Assoc.) , which is a group advocating for PT faculty in the CA community colleges (where all pters are contingent and nearly all FTers are tenured or tenure track).

Dear List,

I was stunned to visit the social security office yesterday and learn that “because of” my tiny $790 CalStrs monthly pension, my tiny $890 social security check would be cut in half (to around $450), in accordance with the Windfall Elimination Provision).

Yes, that is correct, my retirement just went down from a dogfood level of  $1720 a month (plus supplemental of $350 for 5 years) to a nutri-loaf  level of somewhere around $1220 a  month (plus supplemental of $350 for five years) .  For those of you unfamiliar with nutri-loaf–private prisons use nutri-loaf as a disciplinary tactic: curse a guard who taunts  you,  and you get a week of nutri loaf (sawdust, vitamins and protein powder). It costs about 28 cents a serving and meets federal nutrition guidelines ). Presto! They “save” money on food under cover of a “disciplinary” technique that they are permitted by law to use.

Had I stayed in social security, my retirement would be somewhere around $1900-2200 per month!  If I die young (that is under 72), the Calstrs route is still slightly better, because of my “overwork” –that is working  at three districts, for about an extra .5 FTE load, for around 8 years. If not, the $413 loss ($5000 a year)  will begin to erode the benefits of the marginally more “generous” Callstrs system, after age 75.

Yes, that is right, I just lost, as one of the lowest wage workers in the United States, an additional $413/month for life! (the maximum amount a social security benefit can be reduced as an “offset” for my “windfall” of about $1220 a month from Calstrs (for 5 years) and  $860 thereafter.

Though there is no way (that I can think of)  to prepare, game, or to offset this “offset”, I thought I might warn others nearing retirement of how it works!  No one told me, in all the years that I have asked about  the effect of the WEP, in general, and in fact I was counseled to “not worry”–that it would be a very small loss.  Well, folks.  It is time to worry! the WEP constitutes a 24% loss to one of the lowest retirement benefis of any worker in America, for those CA CC PT faculty who have not taught in the CC system their entire working lives!

Here’s the details:  if you do not have 30 years of “significant” employment you will get an offset of your social security check ( the table goes from a modest offset that will leave you with 90% of your “deserved” SS benefits down to only 40%).  I had only 17 or 18 years of significant employment, because a number of years of my work as a higher education faculty were “under” the significant threshold, and six years I was unemployed and raising children.

Women (or any parent) who takes any years off their work-life for family duties, or are underemployed in states where adjuncts routinely earn “under” what the SS office considers significant, will virtually all trigger a social security reduction.  Women are thus (no surprise there)  the big losers in this scheme, that was enacted in the  1990s  (coinciding with the steepest rise of the adjunct numbers)  and meant to rein in  those trying to boost their pensions by working two tracks.

Here is a sample of “significant’ employment thresholds: 1991 is $9,900.   2000 it was $14,175.

In the United States at large, the average earnings of PTF, even those working the equivalent of a FT load, were typically just under the “significant earnings” threshold, or some years, just above.

Who will this effect:  Any Part-time Faculty  who is relying on social security for part of their retirement–ie anyone who worked 1-30 years in another job, other than the California CC system, and expects –has been expecting– to receive their modest social security check!  The offsets are shocking and even the SS employee  looking at my numbers was apologetic and a bit  perplexed.  He kept saying: you were a college teacher for 26 years????. My partner, a lawyer who worked for the NY controllers office and worked with the pension system there before his retirement, and who accompanied me to the visit, was absolutely astonished.  He kept saying, but this is so unfair!  Are you sure?

Again: Below 20  years of “significant” earnings, the worker can only keep 40% of their social security check (or a maximum of $413 in 2015–adjusted yearly).   27 years of “significant employment” permits you to keep 75% of your calculated SS benefits!, 25 years of significant employment allows you to keep 65%  and it goes down (the SS benefit that is not “offset”  by a reduction) precipitously.  With 20 years of “significant’ earnings for which you paid into social security system,  you either loose 60% of your SS benefits or the maximum ($413 in 2015).

Who this will NOT effect: Those PTF who have been working in the CA CC system for most of their working life.  That means their retirement, whatever it is,  will be  “intact”–that is they will  receive the Calstrs formula retirement, and they will not have any social security check at all–presumably a slightly to moderately better deal than SS!

As far as I can see there is no possible  remedy for this except for me to work a 1.5 load for  3 or 4 more years, past my “full retirement age”–in order to “make up” the $413 loss of SS benefits.

But as we at CPFA and around the state work on raising the “cap” to 85 or 90% (and work on mechanisms to assure a roadmap to full per course/per hour parity at the state level) at least the impoverished elderly  might have the minor benefit of just having to work at one district in their aging years to backfill the “offset” that SS applies!   According to the datamart, the largest group of “over 65” employees in the state system are Temporary Academic  employees, and the largest number of part time faculty are now in the over 50 group–so this retirement indignity will be occasioning a chorus of new outrage in the coming years.

It is gravely unfortunate that we were not ahead of this flush budget year and that we did not spend the last year lobbying to boost our cap or our parity pay.  The WEP provision has the capacity for a great many PTF to loose almost 1/4 of their lifetime retirement benefits.  For a twenty year retirement, that constitutes another $100,000 loss to put on top of the stack of losses  (nationwide, around $1,000,000 loss of pay and $750,000 loss of benefits) throughout our working careers in higher education!

We need to move more forcefully next year to get in place more protections and to educate legislators and our own unions about factors that affect our retirement.  I would think that we would also want to work on an overload cap for FTF, alongside pushing for an increase in the PTF cap to 90%.  Can we work on this sort of legislation this year?

It’s too late for me, but there are somewhere around 7,000-10,000 PTF nearing retirement in the next decade or so, who need to understand the Windfall Elimination Provisions and who need to have the opportunity to try to offset the offset by working more, ideally at one college, for a fair wage.  That is currently not the option at most colleges, and because of the statutory limit on load.

Does anyone know how we can figure out the number of  “nearing retirement PTF” who are relying on SS benefits from previous work as adjuncts in other states or in other sectors in CA?  How would I go about trying to get that data?  Let’s just take the El Chorro folks. Who is expecting to earn SS benefits?

Margaret Hanzimanolis

18. Interesting paper on the history of tenure, given at the AAUP annual meeting/conference in DC in June.

It was good to meet you yesterday. My paper from the panel is attached. Please feel free to share it. I put a note on top to explain that it contains no notes or references.

Since you had expressed interest regarding my book, you can find more information about it here:
Hans-Joerg Tiede, PhD
Professor and Chair of Computer Science
mail: Illinois Wesleyan University
Department of Computer Science
P.O. Box 2900
Bloomington, IL, 61702-2900
phone:  +1 309 556-3666
fax:    +1 309 556-3864

19. New from Notes from the Academic Underground, (Barry Greer) some suggestions for summer reading for radical adjuncts:

The prologue and first 13 chapters are online for “Kill the English Department” at campusreports dot com.  Kindle publication is scheduled for this October.  The soft cover edition will see print shortly thereafter.

Chapters are linked at the top of each page and in the right column should you decide that further reading is necessary.  Each person to correctly identify all literary allusions wins a free soft cover copy of the completed text.

Have a fun summer of deconstruction.

Barry Roberts Greer
barryrobertsgreer dot com
“Notes from the Academic Underground”

20. Union County College (NJ) responds to adjunct complaints.

21. Salon staff to unionize with Writers Guild-East..

22. Culture isn’t free. This article on artists and musicians could apply to contingent academics too.

23. Greek vote on on permanent austerity. This is too important to ignore and it raises the issue of whether we in the US should get to vote directly on a things like TPP(or war for that matter). One of the first victims of austerity all over the world has been education.

24. Ohio U student workers demand a union (AFSCME).

25. Why labor moved left.

26. Protest arrest of Iranian teacher union leader.