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.


Why “Class” Matters

by Lydia Field Snow

Flickr/John Walker

Flickr/John Walker

After reading Sherry Linkon’s brilliant piece “Working-Class Academics and Working-Class Studies: Still Far from Home?” published by the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, the floodwaters of connections opened up in my own mind about what has been a source of conflicting ideas and emotions wracking my brain lately. This paragraph struck home particularly:

Indeed, changes in higher education have made the problems worse, as too many working-class academics find themselves caught in part-time or short-term teaching jobs, unable to break through the class barriers that seem to preserve most tenure-line jobs for people from professional class backgrounds.  We also see the class hierarchies of higher education in the struggle of state universities to survive continuing budget cuts and attacks on tenure, even as elite private schools compete to see who can raise tuition the most while keeping acceptance rates the lowest.  Far from being resolved, class divisions in higher education have gotten worse, despite the more visible presence of academics from the working class and efforts to increase and deepen attention to class in both the curriculum and research.

For the past year, Northeastern Illinois University—where I teach as an adjunct—has been operating without a budget. Recently a stop-gap measure procured some short-term funding for the state universities, and the union president sent out several different emails about how the paychecks of members of UPI 4100 would be calculated. These furlough and sacrifice days may continue into the fall if the budget is not passed by the Illinois legislature in the next week or so. “Following this email will be a series of specific emails with formulas for each employee group. You can use the formula for your group to calculate and confirm your total salary reduction for spring 2016, and the amounts and dates of specific pay periods impacted.”

Who are the members of the University Professionals of Illinois 4100 at NEIU? They are Instructors, (Non-tenure-track faculty), Academic Resource Professionals (Non-tenure-track library faculty), Teaching Professionals (Tenure-track faculty), Academic Support Professionals, and Resource Professionals (Tenured/tenure-track library faculty). Each of these groups had a different complex formula that was agreed on by the union and the administration for salary reductions in the spring of 2016.

Due to low enrollment, one of my classes was cut in December, so I went from teaching four classes to three. The decrease in classes actually provided me with a huge advantage because, the 20% cut in pay I would have faced now did not apply; instead I was actually paid for my part-time work and I had time to pick up another job elsewhere to make up for the missing pay. My own take on this is that it’s probably illegal to take furlough days from an employee that is hired for only a 4½ month contract, but I could be wrong, so don’t quote me on that one. Maybe they were afraid of the ramifications from the part-time faculty themselves losing 20% of a paltry sum? Who knows? Many part-time faculty called or emailed me petrified that their already 50% load would be cut by another 20% pay cut. So for once, the adjuncts were the lucky ones. The thing is adjuncts always have a plan B. If not in the works, it is always in the backs of our heads working towards a solution. We have problem-solved our way through this terribly contingent professional life, and we think on our feet and job search and network in a way most academics cannot even begin to imagine.

It was probably the lowest morale I’ve ever experienced in any job in my life. For the last six weeks of the semester, the university handed a 20% pay cut to every working person part- or full-time working, from department chair to civil service and custodial staff. There was a palpable silence in the hallways. Tenured faculty office doors with furlough day signs on them entreating students to call their state representatives, empty classrooms, bathrooms with alternative cleaning schedules posted, and students who stared at me while I  lectured, not asking questions or engaging or even texting, just looking at me with this gaze that cut through my energy and focus like a sharp stone.

I did my best. I showed up. I taught my classes and I let students talk about it in class. I didn’t entreat them to get on university sponsored buses to go down to demonstrations in Springfield or even to call their state representatives. I did provide time during class to talk about it, and a litany of grievances came up.

“I just want to go to school. I still have to get through all the same material and I have fewer lectures, fewer advisors and tutors available. This one physics class I’m taking is impossible to begin with and the professor hasn’t shown up for over a week. I’m trying to save money on daycare so I can transfer to a more expensive school. Why are we responsible for saving our own university? Isn’t paying tuition enough of a sacrifice? I haven’t even gotten my financial aid because of this mess. Will they really close this place down because I can’t afford to go anywhere else?  I’m just going to drop out, I don’t need this pressure, it’s way too much as it is.”

One day I noticed a slow tear going down the face of a young freshman while we were talking. She caught my eye and quickly she brushed it aside. I can’t really adequately describe what it was like to see the shocked faces of my students during those terrible weeks.

There are several issues here, and I don’t know the answers to any of them, but I do know that the elite academic universities are inundated with applications, and they are looking for working class kids just like the ones in my classroom from disadvantaged neighborhoods and tough inner city high schools: highly motivated, super smart, and ready to succeed in any academic environment. The point is they don’t want to go to Harvard or the University of Chicago. They want to study in their neighborhood and live at home and help take care of their elderly grandmother who needs to be driven to chemo every week. Or they have two young children that they have in the daycare center at the university, and waited to get them in for two years before they even started taking teaching certification courses. Most work twenty to thirty hours a week at least; for many, part of that money is being sent to families in Syria, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Korea, Hungary, Poland, Pakistan, Sudan, Puerto Rico, Mexico—the list goes on. Some of them are sent ahead of their families to get educated and then bring their parents when they can find work and a place that will house them.

There is a fundamental misunderstanding about class in higher education. I used to think that if I could motivate my two sons to be absolutely brilliant, athletic, and musically or artistically talented they would get into one of those elite schools. After all my father and mother both graduated from Harvard—my sister did too. Hell, my grandfather even graduated from Harvard. I was hoping my boys would be the fourth generation to attend. I dragged them to soccer practices, track meets, piano lessons, we spent more money on all those after school activities rather than groceries, and I bartered too for them as well. I gave voice lessons in exchange for piano lessons; I taught music classes at a community music school so my son could take cello lessons there and be on a scholarship. And then it hit me. Somewhere during my older son’s junior year, I knew he wasn’t going to Harvard, Princeton, Yale, or any of those Ivy League schools.

It’s not that he isn’t a brilliant kid, but he didn’t care about pleasing teachers or taking classes he wasn’t interested in. He resented the constant pressure to succeed and he didn’t care about going to a university that he’d never seen or felt drawn to attend. He got through all those required science and math classes but just by the skin of his teeth, and the upper level humanities classes were AP driven and required so much written homework that he started to look like a walking zombie. After all, we brought up our boys in Evanston, and all he ever really wanted to do was go to the University of Illinois-Urbana, and that is exactly where he went, and both he and our family went into debt because of it. Now he is teaching English in South Korea so he can hopefully make a dent in those loans. Also he can teach and be paid well, have access to free health care and his own apartment with the rent paid every month, as well as be paid to prep for his classes and work with other well-educated teachers from all over the world.

It’s not a sad story; it’s just real. And of course I blamed myself for not quite pushing him enough, or having a well enough paying job, and my parents for not understanding what it was I was expected to do for my children. It was an impossible job. And I miss him a lot. This is his second year teaching in Korea.  Most people I know think it’s romantic that he’s teaching overseas and ask me repeatedly when I will go visit him. Again, this is a class issue. We will not visit; we are trying to pay off his student loans as well as his younger brother’s loans and college tuition. We haven’t taken a vacation in three years. I have several jobs and piece together a living, but it is nowhere near enough to pay off the debt we are in as a family. Luckily my husband has a good job with benefits. Yes, we are middle class and live in a house with a backyard. Things could be a whole lot worse but it’s not okay that my own son can’t find a job here that has decent benefits. Hell, I can’t find a job that has decent benefits, and I’ve been teaching for almost my entire professional career in positions that are contingent and low paying.

I have taught as an adjunct or part-time Music Instructor at Northeastern for ten years now. I have tried in every way possible to do the absolute best job I could to teach my students, and I am devoted to them in a way that I don’t think I can possibly communicate adequately, but I have come to the end of that bottomless adjunct pit of energy and reserve. When I am being asked to entreat my own students to save public education, I really have hit that impenetrable wall of adjunct superpowers. And I am seriously angry that these elite institutions continue to fool what’s left of the middle class of America into thinking that it’s fair to our society to continue to foster this imaginary world of privilege for the elite students who manage to succeed in their institutions.

How many times did I hear or read in the newspapers when my children were growing up, “If you work hard and you give your kid the right tools they will be able to succeed and get a full scholarship at one of these elite institutions!” Every year the Chicago Tribune chooses the most highly successful high school seniors and showcases their talents, brilliance, volunteering and leadership skills with large colored photos. I would read through them imagining my two boys holding their diplomas and letters of acceptances clutched in their hands. The point is, even if they had been able to achieve this, this whole thing sucks for everyone else. Sure, they could have been given special internships, and sent overseas to be in elite groups that studied in London or Paris. But to me success is not about becoming rich or powerful, having more money than you know what to do with and giving it away to let everyone know you’re a hero. The point is now I realize I’m glad they didn’t succeed in that way. What they are doing is making their way in the world on their own terms, in their own way.

I’m waiting for someone to do something about those billions of dollars in endowment these elite universities have and pay no taxes on, and continue to have no intention of sharing with their communities. I’m sick of pretending that the whole thing doesn’t smack of privilege and that the way it’s set up is quite simply killing public higher education.

In an article from Diverse Issues in Higher Education, “Brown University Making Bold Bid to Assure Diversity and Inclusion,” Jamal Eric Watson outlines the radical changes taking place at Brown after student demonstrations in the past year demanding administrative changes to address racism on campus. He begins the piece with the following statement: “Spending $100 million on an ambitious diversity plan over the next decade might seem like a far-fetched idea for most colleges and universities.”

Later he states:

The university has expanded its emergency fund in Campus Life, which is critical for supporting students who may be unable to pay for expenses in the event of a crisis. A new center for first-generation students will open this summer and the university has begun assessing mentoring programs for both faculty and students.

“In total, the Pathways to Diversity and Inclusion Plan outlined a set of more than 50 concrete, achievable actions that will make Brown a more fully diverse and inclusive campus,” says Paxson, adding that many of these initiatives are already underway and university offices are tracking implementation on the Brown website on a month-to-month basis.

The responsibility for effecting change rests with all members of the Brown community. Collectively, we can create an academic community that embodies the social and intellectual diversity of the world, which is essential for allowing us to fulfill our mission of education and discovery. Across campus, we are committed to fulfilling this responsibility.

I think this is an incredible first step. Especially the concrete actions such as:  “supporting students who may be unable to pay for expenses in the event of a crisis,” but meanwhile my students are being forced out of college altogether. The state cannot find a way to support its own public universities.

So if you are able to get into Brown or Harvard or Princeton, and then you find yourself supported by these programs and you manage to graduate and move on to law school, or even become the President of the United States, you still move out of your community, right? The students who stay in their neighborhoods and bring their parents over from Pakistan and work as a paralegal, music teacher, communications assistant, accountant, computer programmer, and every day work and buy food, support their communities by supporting the neighborhood schools and going to the neighborhood grocery stores, and listen to music at the neighborhood coffee shops and clubs, or eat at the restaurant around the corner from their apartment—these are the people who make up the fabric of our society. Without public education what will happen to our communities in Kankakee or Englewood?

Class matters because with or without Ivy League colleges and universities, we still need to provide education for everyone. This is how human beings learn to believe and trust in their own individual right to express their unique story. Together with their classmates they share their experiences in class, by playing their instruments in ensembles, dancing in the Talent Show, working on student council, whatever it is they are interested in and feel compelled to explore. I am humbled by my students’ courageous act to move forward, not only because they want to be rich but also because they care about their families and their communities. Until these elite colleges can address how they can help their surrounding communities by paying taxes on their land and assets, by making a concrete effort to include in the conversation everyone in society, not just the smart or successful people, we will not see effective change in our society.

Lydia Snow with UPI

Lydia Snow with UPI

Adjunct faculty all over the world are organizing for better wages, longer contracts, a chance to be a member of their academic department decision-making, and university wide inclusion. Class matters because we have experienced firsthand what it’s like to not make enough money to feed our families, or provide health insurance for our children or even ourselves. Many of us are organizing with the Fight for Fifteen movement and Faculty Forward Network because precarious employees are experiencing this corporate part-time, no benefits model. The corporate higher education model is based on the Ivy League paradigm. It’s painful to bring up these issues with friends and families because they are willing to believe that by “volunteering” and giving back to the community, it somehow makes the whole corrupt system a benign and democratic state. Academics understand class in a way that many others don’t because they have the “big picture” in mind due to conversations about the nature of society as an integral part of their training. But where is their empathy when it comes to the cuts in tenure, lack of resources for their colleagues, and large resources put into football stadiums, expensive dormitories, and over-paid administrators? Why is it so threatening to look at these issues and talk about them in department meetings or in a larger university forum with students? Adjuncts are the most important glue that holds all of the promise for remaking higher education because we are able to connect the dots, to see what is happening to our society. We are being driven out of academia by lack of benefits, poor salaries, contingent posts that quite simply aren’t worth it. And where are we going? We’re organizing, we’re writing, and we’re networking with each other for direct action and change because, when each of us looks into the eyes of the students sitting in our “class,” we understand that class really does matter.


Recommendations for College Presidents

WalSmart U 8-RCBby Extraneous Adjunct and Colleagues

Or, things we’d like Badmin to experience, just so they know what it’s like.

Note: If you, as president, are unaware of and/or unsympathetic to the difficulties the majority of your faculty face in carrying out the mission of the college (which it is your job to support and further), you are unfit to hold your office.

Every College President Should Experience Adjunct Monetary Problems

  • Live only on food stamps for one month of every year. No sneaking into any campus parties and raiding the snack tray either!
    • It’s okay if they sneak into parties, etc. for food, provided someone is there to record it and post a video of a college president sneaking snacks into his/her pockets.
    • Also, at the party, at least 3 people have to ask them what they’re doing there since “only faculty” were invited.
    • They may visit the campus food pantry.
  • Have their paycheck come in late twice a year, so they can understand what so many adjuncts experience on a routine basis.
    • No dipping into savings to survive, either, since adjuncts have no savings.
  • PrintAlso, if they are ill, no fair using insurance that the adjunct would not have. So if it’s life-threatening, hmmm, Margaret Mary says, “Hello, welcome to my nightmare.”
    • If a member of the family is ill, same thing. Get a glimpse of what it feels like to not be able to help your loved ones, even though you have done all the right things—got a good education, are a model employee…. You might as well have not bothered with the perks and benefits that admin says you are worth. And if you don’t like it, why don’t you leave?
    • You could call this experiment The Lord of the Fries since so many adjuncts work fast food or might as well with the pay they get—and these particular adjuncts will be stranded, like we are and remain, on OUR island. Ironically, it is not OUR savagery that they will have to survive but one of their own making.
  • Be required to use personal laptops to connect to the classroom projectors since there are no podium PCs available. Oh and if they have a Mac they need to also carry the adapter.
    • An adapter which they have to pay for, out of pocket, because the institution’s FT faculty all have PCs and have no idea why the department would need to buy an adapter.
  • Have to use their personal cell phone to conduct all business.
    • Be sure to charge for that from the limited cash they are allowed during the time frame so the experience mimics reality. So less for food/gas/etc.
  • Pay $50-$75 monthly for wireless internet access at home so they can respond within 24 hours to all student emails and discussion threads for their online course. An online course for which they are paid no more per credit hour than a regular course, and for which they must sign a contract waiver allowing the institution to retain rights to the course shell. Meaning the institution can replace them at any time with younger, less expensive, or even robot instructors/presidents.
  • Be required to tote around their food and drinks (with igloo ice) for the day since they have no private offices with refrigerators.
  • They must take in at least one roommate for the first year.

Presidents Should have to Experience Life in the Academic Trenches

  • When Penguins flyWork in the tutoring center one day a month so they will know what the students actually are thinking.
  • Presidents and administrators should have to teach one course a semester, and one of the two courses per year needs to be an intro course, so they keep thinking of students as people and faculty as colleagues.
    • or developmental, since they like to complain about retention, or
    • Teach 6 different classes on 4 campuses and spend most of each day driving between them toting everything they need to teach, or
    • Teach an intro course of 100 students each year… without a TA,
      • Preferably in a small classroom with old brown chalkboards, no projector or computer and four desks too few for the students because they lost the equipped classroom they requested months ago to a full-timer whose schedule changed.
    • Or, prep a totally new course only to have it cancelled the day before it’s scheduled to start… without getting paid.
  • Teach in a room where the technology doesn’t work when no one answers the Help Desk phone.
  • Teach an 8:30 am class and pick up copies on their way to class when the copy center opens at 8:30, but the only person who opens the copy center isn’t around. So they’re late for their own class, and then have to teach without their copies.
    • Or pay the student rate of $0.30/page to print the original to make copies from because their home printer is out of ink. But, oh yeah, they need to load in increments of $5.00 to be able to print, so they will perpetually have $4.70 available to print still! Woohoo!
    • Or not be given the code needed to print on campus, so everything must be printed at home.
  • They should have to haul all of their office supplies to work every day and have no secretarial help or support, and be locked out of their offices.
    • And be locked out of their offices and have a 7:30 or 8 am class—so NO ONE is around to help open it up. And if lucky enough to have access to a phone, it’s in the office.
  • They should not be able to reserve a computer lab for their students to work on their research projects, so just have them bring in their personal work to the classroom, but discover the campus wi-fi doesn’t work in their assigned classroom. So they will provide students with access via their own personal hot spot device for internet access on student work days, since cancelling class is not allowed.
  • Explain again to a class of 50+ why there are no comments on their papers (just a rubric attached with numbers circled) because even that took more than 30 hours of time for which they are not compensated. And try to stifle the fact that they are ticked off that they spent that much time on the grading, because they could have been working those 30 hours at a second job, which pays an hourly wage and has (some) benefits, unlike indentured servitude as a part-time instructor. (See Adjunct Monetary Problems, above.)
  • They should have to hold student meetings at the local coffee shop, campus food court, or library.
    • And then get shushed by students for holding conferences in the library despite reserving space with the sympathetic librarians.
    • And be told they MUST hold (uncompensated) office hours.
  • Have BlackBoard update their servers on Sundays—which is deadline day for most online courses—and so commence the blowing up of their email accounts from anxious students on the one weekend day they  decide to take off.

Presidents Should be Required to Experience the Humiliations of Academic Vagabondage

  • The chancellors should refer to presidents as an “administrative vagabond.”

    Adjunct Administrators' Office

    Adjunct Administrators’ Office

  • Presidents should have to submit to the tyranny, incompetence, and ill-humor of at least one imperious and indifferent administrator.
  • Presidents should be forced to attend meetings where they are completely ignored, and be made to come into those meetings on their days off.
    • Or be forbidden from attending meetings and thus have no access to the decision-making processes that directly impact their livelihood.
      • Maybe they could stand beside the closed door—in case they are needed in the meeting.
  • They should hold a single seat representing administration, amidst a proportional shared governance body in which adjuncts hold seats reflecting their numbers—double that of full-timers.
  • They each have to explain over and over—No, I HAVE a terminal degree. YES, I am still an adjunct.
    • Especially when applying for housing or a new emergency credit card to pay for gas to travel from school to school or for food because the creditors can’t verify your income because of the college pay schedule  (see Adjunct Monetary Problems, above).
  • Presidents should also be required to run into their students at inopportune times, such as while in line at Job and Family Services or at the local Free Medical Clinic.
    • Or working as a waiter/waitress on off-hours.
    • Or while dumpster diving! (see Adjunct Monetary Problems, above)
  • They should talk to the larger public about a living wage and health insurance, only to be called a “free-loading libtards” who should get a “real job.”
    • They each should definitely write a blog piece/letter to the editor/article that gets trolled by all the higher ed elite and libertarians.
    • With lots of nasty, insulting memes. because—tenure.
  • The presidents must experience chronic lack of eye contact from admins and FT faculty—to the extent that they begin to question their existence.
    • And must be interrupted when in an actual discussion as if they aren’t even in the room.
  • They should not be allowed to park on campus until they finally do get paid and are “in the system.”
    • But, of course, they must pay to park, and receive a parking pass from an office that is only open 8:00 – 3:00 despite teaching a night class that runs from 7:00 – 10:00 pm.
    • Eliminate the faculty-only parking and combine it with commuter parking, so they have to arrive 30 minutes early to find a place to park.
      • Wait, since when are adjuncts allowed to have cars?
  •  Share an office with 30+ other people that has two ancient computers, one of which no longer can interface with the network, or without a dedicated desk, phone line, or computer and have a maximum of 36 cubic feet to store their stuff.
    • What office? Who gets offices? Make them work from home!
    • Or from the above-mentioned vehicle.
  • When public transit isn’t operating, accommodate students who can’t attend—but when presidents’ cars break down they must take public transit to get there no matter what (even if public transit isn’t accessible in their neighborhoods)
    • Be asked, “Why didn’t you call a cab?” (when they don’t run in suburbia and there’s a huge fee to call one out).
    • Or get to the campus by public transportation—and fight to get a seat on the shuttle (yellow school) bus which runs every half hour!
  • Not be trusted enough to be given a key to to their own classrooms.
  • Have to use their own private cell phone to get security to come open their classroom.

No One’s Brought Up the guillotine?

  • Have to reapply for their job every year, or even semester.Student Reviews-RCB
    • Since it’s a limited “engagement,” to make it real, reapply every other day.
    • And—hey, the paperwork will get lost, too.
  • Have them see the first two emails about adjunct hiring and votes when they are the only one in the department. Then see who responds publicly and know that some comments are “off channel” and directly about them.
  • Have them get pregnant and have to hide it so they don’t get removed from consideration from the next term’s hiring.
    • Or ask them to cover for an adjunct colleague who calls from delivery to tell them that she has all final exams ready for them in a drawer.
  • Perhaps, also, be on notice of a possible cancellation of their  positions up to the day before the first day of the semester
  • Have them go to their union only to be told the contract doesn’t really cover someone in their situation. Even though it’s horribly unfair, there’s not a thing that can be done.
    • And be rejected for partial unemployment when classes get cancelled last minute because of the education clause.
  • The president should have No guarantee of work in the summer. Except for like maybe 10% of college presidents—selected by the most arbitrary and capricious of methods.
    • Or  if they get a job lined up, and a day or two before the course is scheduled to begin, the university offers them the same job for 1/2 the pay due to “low enrollment”—and if they accept the contract reduction, but enrollment goes back up, they are NOT reimbursed for the originally agreed-upon figure.
  • Also: give the presidents a work schedule and pay timeline, then change it 4 or 5 times and at the last possible moment before the semester starts. Then make them teach several classes, even though the books for those classes won’t arrive for several weeks because the instructors were changed at the last minute.
    • Maybe the presidents should also work 2 bartending or serving jobs on top of teaching at several different campuses, so they have no time to do any research to help get a full-time job.
  • If the presidents do force their way into your office (Chair or Dean) to make an absurd request (food, more work, etc), praise their efforts profusely, but tell them that higher-ups (who they do not know and will never meet—make up some names and give them authoritative titles) won’t approve it because “it’s unfair to others” and—laugh as you pull this chestnut out—”budget cuts.”
  • After “our administrators” have worked 6 or 7 semesters, “give” them a two-year temporary fulltime appointment—for which they must work an extra 10%—and assign them to launch a new mentorship program for new adjuncts. As the two-year appointment draws to a close, “our administrator” will be shadowed by a full-time faculty member who, along with other full-timers higher up the food chain, will go on to win a prestigious national award for the program the President started. They will hear about the award in the department newsletter!
    • No golden parachutes or awards of tenure when there’s “no work for them this semester” either.
  • Three days before the semester starts, email the presidents informing them that their services are no longer required, as their positions were absorbed by tenured faculty members. Note that you will keep their information on file if you have need for their services in the future. Be sure to spell their names name wrong in the emails.
    • After enduring a 3-hour panel interview that took place on their schedules on less than 48 hours notice where they then waited 2+ weeks to hear that they got the position in the first place,
    • Offer them a position only after completing an unnecessary 5-week course for no pay on how to teach online.
    • And then write them up if they miss a late submission assignment while grading because they are not current, even though students are given 2 weeks to submit work after deadline.
  • Or  fire them and have campus thugs  police, allow them to get one cardboard box of personal items and escort them promptly from the property.
    • Or at least witness it happening to a colleague so they’ll be sure to be very careful and very quiet.



Ganging up on Adjuncts, Again

So The Atlantic, via a reporter from The Hechinger Report, has decided that “remedial” students “are often faced with the least-qualified instructors.” This is a slam against not only adjuncts, but tenured and tenure-track faculty who teach developmental courses, and as the following letter sent to the editor at The Atlantic outlines, we adjuncts beg to differ:studens first, faculty last

Dear Atlantic Editors and Meredith Kolodner,

We are writing in response to the truly egregious article on “remedial” education in colleges, “Why Remedial College Classes Need Better Teachers.” First of all, you left out a crucial word in the title. It should have been called “Why Remedial College Classes Need Better Supported Teachers.” To say anything else lays the blame at the wrong feet. The corporatization of higher education and the corporate “deformation” of K-12 education have put students in the position of needing much more preparation for college work than ever before and crippled both secondary and post-secondary educators in providing it.

But your claim that students who need the most help are often “faced with the least qualified instructors” is utter bollocks. While it may be true that some community colleges do not demand more than a bachelor’s degree to teach in that subject, that is usually predicated on the teacher being a graduate student in that field. And at a university or four-year college, one must have an advanced degree and teaching experience, unless one is a Teaching Assistant. Even then, TA’s are chosen and supervised carefully, as are new teachers everywhere. But the vast majority of us already have both advanced degrees and teaching experience. There’s nothing “least qualified” about us or our colleagues. Perhaps if Ms. Kolodner had spoken to more of us who are in the trenches, instead of the program directors of training centers, that would have been more evident.

Developmental courses are by far the hardest to teach well, and the fact that faculty who get such weak support are able to do even as well as we do is nearly miraculous. Although blaming teachers for institutional and cultural shortcomings is a popular sport these days, especially in this case, the argument is utterly backwards. If anything, most of us work those minor miracles with next to no support: no offices, no time or place to meet privately with students outside of class, no access to copy machines or computers, no professional development, and very often a syllabus that’s prepackaged and handed down a few days before class, or—worse—no syllabus or books designated at all as we walk into class after our last-minute hiring. Plus, as the article points out, our instructional time is stretched between multiple institutions. To avoid ACA regulations, many colleges deny adjunct faculty the number of classes we need to earn a living wage, so we have no true “home” institution that offers support to us so we can, in turn, support our students.

Worse, adjuncts often are assigned developmental courses because these courses are undesirable to the full-time faculty due to the time commitment required and the high failure rates, which lower their year-end teaching evaluation numbers, as they do for adjuncts (which, in turn allows people like you to assume we are poor teachers). So you have enthusiastic and dedicated adjuncts ready to teach for the first time, wondering what they are doing “wrong” when their students are at the same failure rate as everyone else’s. However, in this case, there is rarely a seasoned, tenured faculty member willing to mentor new adjuncts or glean any information about the classroom experience from them. Perhaps the phrase “this is a tough class to teach” may have been spoken before the semester began. Maybe the adjuncts teach one more semester and quit, or maybe the adjuncts persevere. Either way, there is precious little communication between the people teaching the class and the people choosing the text and creating the curriculum.

Who is responsible for this scenario? Not the adjuncts. But this scenario sums up what is wrong with higher education. There are myriad studies about the short- and long-term costs of employee turnover, yet, here in a sector where success is tied to the future of our society, these costs are wholly ignored because another adjunct, another body with an advanced degree, can easily be found to keep the machine going. This is not in step with the goal of educating. This is in step with the goal of fleecing. The student who is in one of these classes will take it, on average, three times. Either the student will pay for the class three times or maybe financial aid will pay for the class three times. The institution will reap the benefits of being paid three times, probably while having raised tuition and given the administration a hefty raise (while paying the teacher only what one student’s tuition for that course would be), all the while being able to mediate the outcome and choosing not to do so.

The poor state of developmental education exists because someone with administrative power chose not to follow faculty or division recommendations. Instead of providing the best supported teachers for struggling incoming students, we have administration treating students merely as “customers” who will fail and leave their money behind, or repeat courses over and over to leave even more tuition dollars behind (cf. the recent departure of Simon Newman from Mount St. Mary’s). If there is a lack or erosion of standards, it is due to the intrusion of non-teaching administrators into academic, curricular, and pedagogical matters.

Student success is very easily addressed by the following:

1) supported instruction
2) fully funded and staffed instructional services
3) recurrent skill building (versus purely remedial)
4) universal design (e.g., writing across the curriculum)
5) interdisciplinary team-taught courses
6) getting the testing, placement and advising process in order so students are correctly placed. In mathematics especially this is a recurring problem very damaging to students.
7) Fully involving the adjuncts who are doing all this teaching in curriculum updates and design instead of handing them a textbook two hours before class begins and expecting a miracle.
8) Increasing the percentage of full-time professors and distributing classes fairly across all faculty.
9) Ensuring that the professors teaching the most vulnerable students are not themselves vulnerable.

Notably, the solution offered in this article is further dubious, corporate-sponsored training—the same “solution” crippling K-12. Until the corporatization of education at all levels is halted and funding increased across the board for educators, providing them with stable jobs and livable wages, students will continue to get less than they should from all but the most elite institutions. And when their teachers have little support and are often earning what students can make by sticking with their fast-food jobs, to pretend that economic situations will be improved through education is disingenuous.  Teacher and professor working conditions are student learning conditions.


Lee Kottner, M.A.
Adjunct Professor, English, New Jersey City University
AFT Local 1839 Executive Committee Member
New Faculty Majority Board Member

Rebecca G. Agee, M.A.
Adjunct Professor of English
Ivy Tech Community College

Jjenna Hupp Andrews, MFA, Ph.D.
Lecturer II, Art Appreciation & Studio Art – University of Michigan – Flint
Adjunct, Art History & Studio Art – Delta College

Sabrina Alcorn Baron, PhD
Assistant Research Professor of History, Professional Track
University of Maryland

Robert Craig Baum, Ph.D.
Founder and Master Teacher, Wisdom1096
Faculty Fellow, European Graduate School
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Fordham University and St. John’s University

Brianne Bolin, M.A.
Cofounder & Managing Director, PrecariCorps
Adjunct Faculty, Columbia College Chicago, 2005-2016

Shannon LC Cate PhD
Adjunct Instructor, Media and Cinema Studies
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

City Colleges Contingent Labor Organizing Committee
City Colleges of Chicago’s Adjunct Labor Union

Alyssa Colton, PhD English

Lisa Coniglio PhD
Adjunct Biology Instructor

Disposable Adjunct
Adjunct World Comics

Nora Femenia, PhD.,
Florida International University’s Labor Center
Adjunct since 2002, teaching Conflict Resolution Methods
Fulbright Expert in Conflict Resolution

Joseph Fruscione, Ph.D.
Freelance Editor
Cofounder & Communications Director, PrecariCorps
Adjunct Professor, 1999-2014

MG Gainer, PhD
Assistant Professor, non-permanent
Writing Specialist
Lock Haven University of PA

Cristián Gómez Olivares
Assistant Professor
Case Western Reserve University

Jane Harty
Sr. Lecturer
Pacific Lutheran Universit

John R. Hoskins
Adjunct English Professor
San Diego Mesa College
AFT local 1931

Laura PJ Larsen
Parent of an English/Education major, Portland State University
Payer of the college loans and expecting excellent, supported instructors for the cost

Aimee Loiselle
BA, Dartmouth College 1992
MA, University of Vermont 1998
PhD Candidate, University of Connecticut expected 2017
20 years of teaching experience and positive student evaluations
Adjunct Professor of History at Holyoke Community College

Maria Maisto, President and Executive Director
New Faculty Majority & New Faculty Majority Foundation

Michael Gerhard Martin, MFA
Babson College First Year Rhetoric Program
Award-Winning Author of Easiest If I Had A Gun
Full-time part-time since Fall 1998

Karen Lentz Madison, Ph.D.
Adjunct Faculty, English, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
New Faculty Majority Board Member
Committee for Contingent Labor in the Profession (MLA’s CCLIP), Past Chair
College English Association, Past President

Robin Meade, M.B.A., PMP, CMP
Adjunct Professor of Business, Triton College
AAUP Committee A
Past President of the Moraine Valley Adjunct Faculty Organization

John D. Rall
Adjunct English Faculty
Mendocino College
Ukiah, CA

Lisa Robertson, M.A.
Adjunct Instructor of Art History, Cleveland State University, 2002-2016
Volunteer, Ohio Higher Education Coalition and New Faculty Majority

Lydia Snow, M.A.
Music Instructor, Northeastern Illinois University
Delegate, UPI 4100

Lana Sumpter, PhD
Adjunct Writing Instructor
Baker College

Katherine Ward, PhD
Adjunct Instructor, Anthropology
AFT Part-Time Faculty United
Local 6286

I would also add that this sounds a lot like the first step in the neoliberal tactic of defunding a public sector service until it breaks, then telling the public it doesn’t work, and then wrapping that sector up in a bow for privatization. What do you think, U. of Wisconsin, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Mount St. Mary’s, etc.?

Feel free to sign with us Troublemakers in the comments below, and watch this space for an official follow-up from NFM.


Take Back NEIU: Victory for Corporate University!

On January 20th two important stories were released to the press from the NEIU administration. The first was a victory story. Patty Wetli in DNAChicago writes: “After a frequently contentious fight, Northeastern Illinois University has succeeded in its two-year-long bid to acquire properties on Bryn Mawr in order to build student housing, an effort that required NEIU to invoke eminent domain.” Earlier that day on January 20 President Hahs is quoted by Jodi Cohen in the Chicago Tribune:  “Northeastern Illinois University President Sharon Hahs said that while she anticipates completing the spring semester, “there is potential for our university to shut down” without an “adequate appropriation” soon.”

Source: Take Back NEIU: Victory for Corporate University!


Ethics Blog » An Intersectional POV On How the Contingent Faculty Market Is Against Our Other Principles in the AAA Code of Ethics

[Excellent post from the American Anthropological Association’s Ethics Blog.]

This blog entry seeks to encourage a long-needed discussion on how our structural participation in the contingency market can be seen as contra to the general AAA Ethics Principles we, as dues-paying members, hold ourselves accountable to. In their March 27th 2015 AAA Ethics blog post “Professional Precarity, Ethics, and Social Justice,” my colleagues and fellow linguistic anthropologists Netta Avineri and Steve Black focused on how the contingency market compromises the final part of the AAA Code of Ethics. Their focus naturally was Principle Seven, “Maintain Respectful and Ethical Professional Relationships.” I want to expand on their important contributions here to foreground how structural conditions of the most marginalized contingent faculty, which I will define below, impacts the other objectives in more indirect but just as equally consequential ways to the profession, the communities we study, and the students and broader society we aim to serve.

Read more: Ethics Blog » An Intersectional POV On How the Contingent Faculty Market Is Against Our Other Principles in the AAA Code of Ethics


Branding Education

WalSmart U 4-RCBI’m heading back to class today, seeing all the college banners snapping in the January wind, and it’s got me thinking about teaching—and branding. This post started, in fact, in a discussion with Lydia Field Snow about branding at Northeastern Illinois University. One of the first things corporations do when they emerge into the world or take each other over like amoebas absorbing their food is brand or rebrand themselves. In corporate jargon, they do this because, as the NEIU marketeers explain,

A brand establishes a first (and lasting) impression of a product, service or institution. [Their emphasis.] Think of any successful clothing label, automotive company or higher education institution. They all have a unique, distinguishable mark and a set of attributes that differentiates them from competitors.

Brands often evoke an emotional response and an affinity with consumers. When you see a particular logo, you may think of safety (Volvo), innovation (Apple) or quality healthcare (Mayo Clinic). A brand is conveyed through consistent visual, written and physical practices which means consistent logos, messages and delivery of services or products.

NEIU, it seems, has swallowed the full dose of corporate KoolAid. They even have an Identity Guidelines page, just like every corporation I’ve ever worked for. Another marketeer, Deborah Maue over at Inside Higher Ed, defines it this way, pitting brand against reputation: “A higher ed institution’s brand is usually related to typical educational results [my emphasis] such as alumni successes, graduation rates or career preparation. Reputation can be influenced by many things, including the experience of its students while on campus.”


The cash cow brand

So how does branding (and, wow, I cannot get that picture of sizzling hot iron out of my head when I write that) work with a university, which produces no products and offers no services? Wait, you say, isn’t education a service? Well, corporate Badmins think it is. It’s like health care, which is also often defined as a service but is instead a suite of actions designed to reach an ultimate goal of health. Health is a relative term, though. There are degrees of health, and research is showing treatment to be quite an individualized undertaking, including everything from mental or physical therapy to surgery to customized pharmaceuticals or just learning to eat well and exercise. Like education, healthcare depends upon individual expert practitioners backed by a support infrastructure (including some really cool technology). Trouble starts when non-experts (like insurance company clerks) start making medical decisions based on profit and loss. When you start thinking of healthcare in terms of a service delivered for profit, you get a lot of sick, dying, or dead people, and a lot of extraneous, unnecessary expenses. There’s a developing conception of healthcare being holistic, too, not in the New Age sense, but in the sense that it involves not just the whole person,, but the larger social conditions people inhabit and experience, like poverty, stress, discrimination. You can hardly call maintaining and improving the health of human beings a service or a product in this light. It becomes, instead, a large-scale social and political undertaking of the utmost importance, involving all of society and a vast array of methods and actions. It is innovative (like Apple), hopefully safe (like Volvo), and hopefully high quality when provided by groups of physicians and a support infrastructure as well-funded as the Mayo Clinic. It’s not any single “thing” or “process” that can be easily memed or summed up in a slogan though.

Sounds a lot like education, doesn’t it?

WU branding-MM

Expensive banners: Crucial internal marketing tool. Students might forget why they’re here, otherwise.

I’ve been thinking about how to best describe education from the inside for a long time, and haven’t been able to find even an adequate analogy. It’s different things on different days, from different vantage points, in different departments, at different levels, at different points in one’s life. The best I can come up with is the idiom currently used to describe the socio-economic situation and problems of the poor: The Struggle. Like healthcare, there is no product, though some people in business view students that way. There’s not even an endpoint of “being educated” any more than there’s a true perfect endpoint of “being healthy.” There is a huge difference between just “knowing stuff” or “having skills” and “being educated,” in fact. Wisdom is wound up in there somewhere, as is application, experience, and common sense, analytical ability, and even self-knowledge. We’ve long eschewed “talent” in our quest for equality, but it has some part to play, as do levels of privilege accorded to different races and genders. The new bywords in education are “grit” and “resilience,” but I’m not sure they actually mean anything.

If we define healthcare as I did, as “a suite of actions designed to reach an ultimate goal of health,” and it’s the closest cousin to education, I propose that education is “a suite of actions and methods (pedagogy) designed to help those involved reach an improved and improving state of intelligent, informed adulthood and continue learning throughout their lives.” How do we do that? We engage in healthcare by using tests, technology, and intelligent, informed deductions (that someone taught us and that were gleaned along the way). We engage in education the same way. The tests and technology are tools we use to shape the raw ability of humans to comprehend ideas and concepts into a functional intelligence that analyzes, continues to learn, and devises new ideas and solutions—and maybe creates and enjoys art along the way as well. Notice there is no specific directive about what’s to be done with that developed intelligence—not “get a job in the corporate world,” or “become an artist,” or even “go on to medical school”—any more than insurance companies can tell doctors what’s the best treatment or best specific outcome for their patients.

As in healthcare, there are tried and tested techniques, but education can be and often is a lot more freewheeling than healing. The instructor might be an expert, like a physician, but the processes of teaching and learning are not like prescribing a pill or undergoing a course of therapy or surgery. You’re not healing something that’s not working, or working the wrong way, or is outright broken. You’re changing it, changing the whole person. And when I say you, it’s not you-the-instructor, it’s you-the-instructor-and-the-student together. Learning, like the new model of healthcare, has always been holistic and collaborative. Socioeconomics affects learning as much as it does health.

I asked some of my colleagues to give me single-word descriptions of either teaching or education and here’s some of what they came up with: rugby, work, impossible, murky, labor, challenging, transformative. This is The Struggle all over. Every time we enter the classroom to confront ideas and concepts, it’s all those things and more. It takes work to learn, it takes work to teach. Every class is both labor and laboring to give birth to a new state of understanding for both student and instructor. Class discussions can be just exactly like a rugby scrum, as can sitting down to corral ideas into a paper (and sometimes, as one friend said, it takes an enema to get them out—thank autocorrect for that one). Some days it seems impossible, and it is, but it happens anyway without anyone knowing quite how. That’s the transformative moment, when both instructor and student become someone new. It’s also, as another friend points out, enigmatic. Often our thoughts are murky and it takes a long time to clarify them in our own minds, let alone our students’ minds. Every class is a new challenge. Every new subject is a challenge. Every paper is a challenge. Every reading is a challenge. Every discussion is a challenge. Another of my colleagues calls it thankless; it can be years before students understand why we asked them do the projects we assigned them or read the books we asked them to, and what they learned from it. Another colleague, who works in K-12, offered gardening as her word, and I think that’s absolutely apt too. We are cultivating ideas, thoughts, creativity, and character in our students and in our own research, weeding out fallacy and murky thinking.

How do you brand that? You can’t even call it a defined process, let alone a product or a service.

What you can brand is everything else. Like healthcare, education depends on an infrastructure to support it: one that includes at least some basic technology now, like computer access in classrooms and reliable campus-wide wi-fi (though truthfully, good teaching of concepts requires not much more than chalk and piece of slate). More and more, that infrastructure is coming to include luxury dorms, Olympic quality gyms, semi-professional sports teams, recreational climbing walls, and starchitect buildings, as well as an administration that outnumbers the faculty. None of these are really necessary, but they create a visible image that the university can brand: We have a president we pay a seven figure salary who used to be a state senator or Captain of Industry! We have a student union designed by Morphosis! We have a champion basketball/­football/­hockey/­bowling team! We are the University of Cool Stuff!

And for that, President Captain of Industry needs a marketing department to sell his school to prospective students who are being trained to see education as a commodity. (That used to be called Recruitment.) Now there are “internal clients” for the marketing department, too, and they must observe the rules of brand usage at all times, lest the University of Cool Stuff brand be watered down or applied incorrectly. God forbid the library should use the logo or tag line on a banner in the wrong way or with the wrong colors. Catastrophe! We might be mistaken for Some Other University!

How does all this marketing further the mission of an educational institution? How does this help students learn? How does this make sure they come out of the University of Cool Stuff with knowledge and tools to help them live productive, enlightened lives? It doesn’t. There’s nothing in any brand connected with what actually goes on in classrooms. Branding perpetuates itself, and the corporate culture it springs from. It bloats administration and takes money from faculty salaries. The money spent on glossy brochures and logo design is far better spent on hiring and supporting excellent teachers. At least one university agrees. Imagine if 75% of your doctors nationwide were poorly paid and only had 4-month contracts with the local hospital? How much faith would you put in that system? How good do you think it would be? (Ask nurses about this; they’re becoming the contingents of medicine.)

But what about the competition, the marketeers wail. They will steal all our students!

This is where the corporate model slams headfirst into the ridiculous climbing wall. Universities and colleges are not competing with other universities or colleges unless you see students as cash cows supporting your overspending on outlandish buildings and spa facilities to build the personal reputations of upper administration. All that glossy marketing crap has taught students to value the physical plant over what the faculty offer them. What kind of work your college’s scholars and teachers do should be the selling points, though most administration seem to feel “those books and articles don’t do anything for a university’s bottomline” as evidenced by lack of support for adjunct research. The student-faculty ratio. Class size. Personal attention. Mentoring. Internship opportunities. Activities that build skills and character. How do you sum that up in a word or a tag line, except with meaningless nouns like “excellence,” or “quality”?

The truth is, one college or university is much like another within their own tiers, unless you consider the intellectual differences that set them apart: the faculty research projects, the world-renowned scholars, the endowed chairs, the special scholarship programs, the award-winning teachers. And this is where a preponderance of unsupported adjuncts dooms your college. When 75% of your faculty is faceless and disposable, unsupported for research or professional development, nothing sets you apart.

Brand that.

–Lee Kottner