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

Chop from the Top

by Lydia Field Snow

Recently I’ve been talking to a fellow adjunct organizer, Andy Davis in California, who teaches at Cal Poly Pomona in the Interdisciplinary General Education program. He and I are involved in collaborating with a group of artist activists designing projects that capitalize on the power of the arts to change minds and hearts for Campus Equity Week 2017. Its theme captures our need to both conceal and reveal our complex identities as members of the precarious academic workforce: mAsk4campusEquity.

Andy and I are heading up the Historical Re-enactment and Other Performance/Performing Arts and we have been have been brainstorming 2-3 hours a week about the connection that Halloween in 2017 will also be the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting his revolutionary 95 Theses on the door of Wittenberg Cathedral. It was a campus protest because Luther was teaching at the University of Wittenberg as an “ordinary lecturer” and posting his theses on the door of the cathedral was a standard method of engaging in a scholarly debate. As Andy has so eloquently stated, “There are distinct parallels between the corruptions that were taking place in Luther’s time and what is taking place today. Both systems supported an increasingly remote administrative elite through the exploitation of true believers.”

Well, last week I was particularly down when he called. Not only did my mother in law pass away at 93 after a long struggle that involved my husband bearing the weight of all of her financial and healthcare decisions from long distance, we also as a family lost our dear beagle after 13 years. The previous week I deduced, after 6 years of consistent summer work, that I was not going to be invited back to my summer job as camp counselor at Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development, this on top of having 20% of my remaining adjunct salary cut through the end of the semester through Northeastern Illinois University’s “Furlough Plan.”

Then I was emailed by my union that there was going to be a press conference where the students were going to talk about their student jobs being cut over the break and how Governor Rauner’s budget fiasco was harming Northeastern Illinois University’s students because of the mandatory furlough of 1,100 faculty and staff. They implored as many faculty to show up as possible. At first I was furious  at the college’s administration. Even in my sad state, it doesn’t take a whole lot of intellect to see that the ones being hurt by the pay cut are the faculty and staff. Let’s stop calling it a furlough because, unlike last year when the union was able to bargain that we actually take those furlough days, the administration made the unilateral choice to shut down over Spring Break. So what difference does that make if you’re still expected to teach at the same time for the same number of students? Adding insult to injury, the union thinks the press is more concerned about the students losing their jobs for a week and being hired back again than they are about part-time faculty who won’t be able to feed their families, or about staff who won’t be able to afford to pay their rent, heat, and electricity bills?

Anyway, Andy and I talked and he helped me make sense out of it. “Well of course that’s crazy. What can you do that will make adjuncts more visible?” I suggested, “How about make a sign that says Chop from the Top?” And he said, “Chop from the top, don’t kill the tree!” So in my grief-stricken state I went to Office Depot and bought a big piece of poster board and some enormous sharpies. I am just about the least artistically inclined person visually, but that night I did my best to create my sign, changing it to “Chop from the top, not from the Tree,”—(I think upside down and I’m not even sure it makes sense, but artists have that prerogative.)—I found photos of the Tree of Life, which was my mother-in-law’s favorite sculpture, on the internet; she had one in the living room that I often stared at over dinner, and I brought it in under my arm the next morning before the demonstration, hiding it behind my cabinet in my shared office space.

When I got to the demonstration, there were few people there and it was cold, and I had forgotten my gloves. I held up my sign on the steps of the Classroom Building and several students came up to me and smiled, “Oh I love that sign! Thanks so much for coming.” My fellow union members looked away in shock and horror when they saw me and my sign and I just kept thinking, Andy thinks it’s ok; I am just going to hang out here with my sign. Photographers came up to me later and photographed me. I held it up for over an hour despite a frozen shoulder injury I’ve been coping with due to grading papers for 2 years now. I have no idea how I did it.

And then the students started speaking. I can’t tell you how moving it was to hear the Northeastern students speaking about what our university means to them. And they didn’t stop with just the ability to go to college and be the first one in their family to graduate, or the undocumented immigrants that bravely graduate and have found work here in Chicago, but also talked about the other challenges they face. Working and going to school and taking care of sick family members, not having transportation and getting to work or school late. The mental health issues they face dealing with all of this stress. One young man bravely said, “I am here to tell you I suffer from depression, and yes, I am going to graduate and it’s important to talk about mental illness. Governor Rauner is not only hurting public higher education but social services for the mentally ill. We are fighting for our right to not only get educated, but to live, to be in community and support one another. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the social worker that supported me and convinced me to apply to college.”

Soon I was standing there with my enormous sign and tears were streaming down my face. These are my students and this is why I am here after 11 years as an adjunct. It was so powerful to hear the strength in their voices, the tremendous hope they have for the future. It was like I was staring into the face of love and yet standing outside it at the same time. Of course Andy and I had talked about the definition of the word adjunct the day before: “a thing added to something else as a supplementary rather than an essential part.” Everyone else was hugging each other, the union members were passing out fliers that only spoke about Rauner and the budget impasse, not about the impending 20% pay cut for their members. But there was Andy’s voice in my ear, Luther wanted to debate the administration. He didn’t give up. We need to be heard. And in the end I learned something that day. I learned that the students’ voices are more powerful. They are more powerful because they are our future. But it’s important to talk truthfully about things too. Not every move has to be about publicity or gaining the public’s approval, or getting attention on Twitter. It’s important to be visible as adjuncts and to not let them bury us under the rug as “inconsequential.” We are the face of higher education. We are the reason these beautiful students are graduating because we teach most of the classes and we are the ones who are facing so many similar battles economically and psychologically. When we finally do combine forces we will be unstoppable.

 

 

 

 

 

A Day Without a (Contingent) Woman

New Faculty Majority endorses A Day Without A Woman and the International Women’s Strike of March 8, 2017.

Slightly more than half of all contingent faculty are women, and women constitute the clear majority of contingent faculty in “feminized” fields in the humanities.  Women of color are underrepresented in the faculty as a whole, but overrepresented in the contingent ranks.  For us at New Faculty Majority, these statistics are reason enough to support the International Women’s Strike, in all of its forms.

Recognizing that the precariousness of adjunct and contingent faculty working conditions makes it risky for many women to participate, we encourage allies, especially tenured women allies, to stand up for their precarious colleagues and we encourage all to wear red in solidarity.

Red, we point out, is traditionally associated with the labor movement. It is also an apt color for adjunct and contingent faculty and especially for those who are women.  The Scarlet A is an unofficial symbol of the feminization and the exploitation of adjunct and contingent faculty, those who are doing the work at the heart of the mission of higher education and who are sacrificing the most for their students and colleagues.

We encourage all of our colleagues and supporters to learn more about the working conditions of adjunct and contingent faculty and to work with us to demand and to work for equal pay for equal work, workplace dignity, and a re-dedication to the women faculty and students without whom colleges and universities would cease to function.

NFM’s Women and Contingency Project

Addressing the Scarlet A: Adjuncts and the Academy

The New Enemies List

Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.

–George Orwelltexasvigilantes

Remember Richard Nixon’s enemies list? How paranoid and absurd that sounded? Remember CoIntelPro? How not absurd and dangerous that was? That craziness is starting again in the wake of the Trump election, not just with the threat of registering Muslims, but also aimed specifically at professors. Not long after the election, fliers were distributed at Texas State University  that read, “Now that our man Trump is elected and Republicans own both the Senate and the House—time to organize tar & feather vigilante squads and go arrest and torture those deviant university leaders spouting off all this diversity garbage.” At least two Jewish professors have received hate messages.

Helping to spur this hatred on, and making its targets easy pickings, is the new Professor Watchlist, developed by 22-year-old conservative Charlie Kirk, who defines its mission as “expos[ing] and document[ing] college professors who discriminate against conservative students, promote anti-American values, and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” Kirk is the new wunderkind of the conservative witch-hunters. Funded by his organization Turning Point USA, the watchlist is an echo of an earlier site, NoIndoctrination.org, itself a now-defunct offshoot of Campus Watch, whose mission was “monitoring Middle East studies on campus.”

The complaints listed are mostly of the “you made us learn something we didn’t want to, or do something we didn’t want to, or expressed an opinion we didn’t like” type that one often hears from students when we challenge them to look outside their current beliefs. Many explanations of “ideology” and “indoctrination” are taken out of context. Many complaints are about professors’ personal lives, most about women and people of color — what organizations they gave money to, their activities outside of class, their Twitter accounts. The complaints are all personally submitted by students and substantiated by what the site calls “a variety of news organizations.” In reality, these are largely anything but mainstream, credible news organizations: CampusReform.org, DiscovertheNetworks.org, theCollegeFix.com, Project Veritas, PJMedia, and so on.

While it’s true that some of our colleagues have done and said some ethically questionable things, there is an enormous difference between, say, Holocaust denial, Sandy Hook conspiracy theories, and sexual harassment and both free speech and pedagogy. That difference is what this website fails to distinguish. What may look questionable or weird when reported by a disgruntled student, may, in fact make sense in the context of the class or lesson plan—whether the student reporting it is able to see it or not. That’s part of the learning process. Karen Roothaan parodies the problem perfectly: “Watch that Professor M.T. Pockets! He is always telling his students about his miniature little paycheck and his lack of health benefits. He even gets them feeling sorry for him and they bring him old clothes and other useful items. He is basically a proto-communist.”

The new site may seem like nothing more than an annoying version of Rate My Professor without the chili peppers, but it’s far more dangerous. It’s undoubtedly no coincidence that the site’s “featured professors” are often women and people of color. There are previous parallels in the 1930s targeting the founders of AAUP itself, which grappled with similar issues of “Americanism” in public thought. As Rebecca Schuman points out, even though Kirk insists there is no call to action here,

I also have to wonder whether the intentions of his watch list make a difference—and whether this is a bell that can be unrung. It doesn’t matter if the site wasn’t meant as a No-Goodnik Intellectual Kill List one day after Richard Spencer and his Jungen screeched Heil Trump. Intentionally or not, the Professor Watchlist, simply by being a self-styled watch list, has aligned itself with the ugly, frightening new political status quo.

The very existence of a list of “targets” is all too tempting for the unstable in a nation that has campus carry laws.

asimov-antiintellectualismWhat also makes a site like this dangerous is the chilling effect it has on teaching and academic freedom, especially on adjuncts. Learning is a messy, awkward, sometimes painful process that students often resist with every fiber of their being, either because they think they already know what they need to know, or because of the emotional consequences of being challenged to provide evidence for their arguments or to acknowledge the validity of others’ arguments, or to realize that their arguments have real world consequences. Our primary job as teachers is, we all know, not simply to fill students’ heads with facts, but to help them learn to think, and to grow emotionally and academically, to see the world with an analytical eye, and to sort out their own convictions. That often means challenging those (quite often) received ideas they carry around when we first meet them. Not uncommonly, that leads to some interesting “discussions” in class that may offend or upset students. But booting students out of their comfort zones is part of our job. If we are not supported in doing that, we risk giving our students less of an educational experience than they deserve, and failing them, and the country.

Henry Giroux, in a Facebook post in which he shares the recent Inside Higher Ed article on Professor Watchlist, calls this resurgent atmosphere of anti-intellectualism “Orwell’s academic dystopia.”

The notion that these self-appointed apostles of political purity confer the title of anti-American on views they disagree with makes visible how ignorance and repression feed each other. What they don’t realize is that they are an updated version of the darkest replicas of the secret police and censors that were indispensable to authoritarian regimes reaching from Pinochet to the interrogation chambers of the former East German Stasi. The only thing being exposed here is a climate that has been ushered in with the election of Donald Trump that trades on a culture of fear, hatred, censorship, and bigotry. Shared fears hold it together along with a culture infused with the toxic registers of political fundamentalism and ideological rigidity. This type of trolling constitutes a fundamental condition of the alt-right, which is the creation of a white public sphere based on the destruction of all those others nominated to be impure, worthy of suppression, deemed pathological, and eventually subject to exclusion, imprisonment, or worse.

Though it may seem like a small, juvenile website, it marks the next step in a dangerous trend that began before Trump was elected and has only been emboldened by that election now. The interpretation of ideas students don’t like as “un-American” or “too radical” is the real problem here. Who gets to decide what an “American” idea is? Or define what’s radical and what’s not, and from what point of view? The benchmarks for such evaluations are hardly fixed or easily defined. It’s highly ironic that this watchlist, focused as it is on one particular ideology, completely overlooks the fact that contingency is a far bigger threat to academic freedom across the political spectrum than a handful of professors in classrooms. After all, conservatives are less likely to have representation and academic freedom on campus because of contingent employment than because of the presence of liberals or leftists on campus; students are just as likely to find themselves offended by conservatives as by liberals, and coming under the same scrutiny by fiscally conservative administrations. Conservatives aren’t any cheaper to employ than progressives and that’s all that actually seems to matter right now.

Since I first began writing this, the watchlist has grown to include at least two dozen contingent faculty, including graduate teaching assistants. For adjunct faculty, this watchlist creates a deeply chilling climate in corporatized universities that already rely more on student evaluations than peer review to hire and fire their instructors. Because of the precarity of their appointments, contingent faculty are already much more cautious about experimenting pedagogically in the classroom, introducing new material, or even grading appropriately for fear of student complaints. Once contingent faculty appear on this list, a university more interested in “protecting its brand” than in free and open academic inquiry can easily hedge their bets and bypass a potential professor who dares ask hard and uncomfortable questions of both their students and society at large. This, in turn, further chills free speech, open inquiry, and innovation.

So what are the remedies? In the spirit of “the remedy for bad speech is more speech,” the Professor Watchlist Redux (“a website dedicated to satirizing sites that try to squelch academic freedom through intimidation, innuendo, and other sophomoric methods”) is a good start. If you’ve been a reader here, you know how we feel about satire. At the very least, however, we must also demand that all academic administrations uphold and protect the rights of academic free speech. The right to publish such a site may be covered by the First Amendment (where it doesn’t descend into slander or libel or promote violence), but the right to denounce its purpose and content does too. That right needs to be exercised, vigorously, especially in defense of the most vulnerable among us.

revolutionary-act-orwellWe must also call upon college administrations to make thorough and impartial responses to student complaints about instructors, considering the pedagogical context and foundations of each situation. Rutgers University has already failed in this capacity by putting adjunct professor Kevin Allred on leave for complaints about his Twitter account postings. On the strength of a student complaint alone, and the over-reaction of campus police, Allred was subjected by NYPD to an unnecessary and humiliating psychiatric evaluation then placed on leave for tweets no more incendiary (and with actual pedagogical purpose) than anything Donald Trump has said on that medium. Without the assurance of academic freedom from our own institutions, the process of education will be severely curtailed, and molded to reflect the ideology of those in power. Free inquiry and free speech in academe must be protected to help protect it everywhere else.

As colleagues, we must stand up for each other against attempts to silence any of us, no matter where or whom they come from — students, administrators, department heads, fellow academics, outside sources. Now is not the time for silencing or being silent.

–Lee Kottner

mAsk4campusEquity 2017

Campus Equity Week October 26-30, 2015

Campus Equity Week

Do you find yourself missing national Campus Equity Week celebrations this year?

Looking ahead to October of 2017, a grassroots group of contingent artist-activists scattered across the U.S. have been working under the auspices of New Faculty Majority for several months to design a theme that captures our need to both conceal and reveal our complex identities as members of the precarious academic workforce: mAsk4campusEquity.

We are exploring three basic customizable options for unified Campus Equity messaging and activities in 2017 that capitalize on the change-making power of art:

  1. Historical re-enactment of creative social justice protests;
  2. Other modes of performance art such as mock funerals, carnival processions, etc;
  3. Exhibits that illustrate the diversity of our workforce and the issues of contingent employment.

Over the next few months, we hope to

  • build a large network of artist-activists and supporters;
  • partner with a number of organizations related to the arts;
  • engage participants with expertise in various art media from music and performance to photography, sculpture, graphic arts and new media, to flesh out plans for local actions that will resonate across the country.

If you want to join our campaign on the ground floor, please contact Anne Wiegard at anne.wiegard@newfacultymajority.info.

Andy Davis
Natalie Barnes
Jessica Lawless
Kat Jacobsen
Rita Lilly
Jennie Shanker
Lydia Snow
Anne Wiegard

A Friendly Reminder to FTTT Faculty in this season of contract negotiations

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

CUNY Adjunct Project recommends a “No” Vote on new contract

 

 

CUNY Adj ProjOn 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

[Image: “Striking clothing workers parade” via Digital Collections, UIC Library via CC BY-NC-Nd 2.0.]


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.