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.






Five Trends to Watch in Higher Ed in 2016

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

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

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

Congressional Briefing Set For October 26, 2015 | Campus Equity Week

Congressional Briefing Set For October 26, 2015 Every member of Congress has been invited to attend this briefing, which kicks off Campus Equity Week 2015 on Monday, October 26 at 2pm in Washington…

Source: Congressional Briefing Set For October 26, 2015 | Campus Equity Week

Activist Toolbox: FERPA as a Strategizing Tool

CUNY Office hrs-Kottner-Access to office space is far from uniform in the adjunct world. Those of us who are lucky enough to even have offices as adjuncts know they’re almost always less than the ideal space in which to meet students. My own experience has varied wildly, from none at all to sharing a nice large office with only three other people. The photo at right represents the in-between; it’s the door to my office at York College, City University of New York, where I share five of six desks with all those other people whose office hour schedules are on the door. (The sixth desk has been co-opted by a retired prof who is now adjuncting for whatever reason.) None of those desks has even a semblance of privacy, not even a cubicle wall between them, except the retired prof’s, which is at the back of the room and has a bookcase stacked on top of his desk to block the rest of us out of his little world.

In our sad, Oliver Twist way, we just put up with this. At York, I mostly conduct conferences in the classroom, while students are working on other tasks, because it’s both quieter during conference week and far more private than my office is. At New Jersey City University, where I share with three other people, we just work around each other for conferences, and there are always other computers available to work at while someone’s using the office to meet with students. At the College of New Rochelle’s South Bronx campus, I didn’t hold conferences at all, and spoke to students in empty classrooms and hallways.

Therein lies a potential problem for the colleges and universities that neglect to provide us with private places in which to meet our students. The office space like that pictured below in Oakton Community College‘s new science building look deceptively nice, but they may actually lead to violations of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) if you are conferencing with students there and discussing their grades.

Oakton science adjuncts officesThe FERPA website states, “FERPA generally prohibits the improper disclosure of personally identifiable information derived from education records. Thus, information that an official obtained through personal knowledge or observation, or has heard orally from others, is not protected under FERPA. This remains applicable even if education records exist which contain that information, unless the official had an official role in making a determination that generated a protected education record” [emphasis mine]. That would be us.

The Delphi Project’s “The Imperative for Change” recognizes this possible problem and describes it this way:

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act Violations
The working conditions of faculty also present many problems for institutions. For example, since most part-time faculty are not provided private office space, they may be routinely meeting with students in places that are not appropriate for conversations about student coursework or performance and violate requirements of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Noncompliance with FERPA not only places institutions at risk of being sued, but can also result in a full withdrawal of all federal funds received. When faculty members do not receive any orientation to campus policies and procedures, as is often the case for non-tenure-track faculty, they may unintentionally violate important policies on campus (FERPA and otherwise), which places the campus at greater risk of facing legal action.

So how can we use these facts to force changes in our working conditions? The easiest way would be to bring these conditions to the attention of compliance officials at your school and tell them you’re worried about students filing a complaint for having to discuss their grades and progress in what amounts to public space. The result of this, however, might be nothing more than a flurry of consent forms for your students to fill out to agree to holding such discussions in your overcrowded “office.”

Hatchback officeAlternatively, we might want to point out to students that they have a right to privacy when we discuss grades and performance and that the college is not providing it by denying office space to adjuncts. Since only students (or parents of underage students) can file complaints about FERPA, that leaves it up to them to actually make these complaints. But they can’t do that unless they’re aware it’s a violation. Groups of students may want to organize to file federal complaints to force change at your institution. You and others can take photos documenting your “office” space to back up student complaints.

On a larger scale, this is an issue that professional associations can take up with academic administrations, to insist on best practices that allow students and professors the privacy in which to discuss grades and performance. And it’s an issue that should be brought to the attention of legislators interested in education standards and conditions. The issue should also be made public, not kept to ourselves; speak about it regularly when discussing adjunct working conditions. This could easily also be the focus of a local or national media campaign.

Please add other ideas you may have in the comments, especially if this is something you’ve done.

–Lee Kottner

It’s the Curriculum, Stupid

Sweatshop labor-B.Russellby Audra Spicer

The current Administration is attacking online for-profit universities on the grounds of “gainful employment.” The reason underpinning the attack is predatory lending. While politicians focus on predatory lending, they are missing the real threat to the academy: Universities’ predatory hiring cripples the curriculum.

I have taught online exclusively for the past decade, in both the profit and non-profit sides of the higher education industry. From my vantage point, predatory hiring debilitates the curriculum development process. Neither is any respecter of non-profit or for-profit status.

A core problem with the gainful employment rule is a failure to understand the curriculum development process, which creates the material that students are learning, across all sectors. The classes that make up every major are written by contingent faculty who have no support beyond an 8-week contract. If politicians discover that students are failing to gain employment in their fields, perhaps the fault lies with universities’ disregard for the contingent faculty who teach and the curriculum that students learn.

Anonymous Knowledge

Subject Matter Experts, only; no “professors” need apply

The Subject Matter Experts (in higher education’s neo-Orwellian lexicon) among adjuncts design the classes for online universities, both non-profit and for-profit. They should not be confused with professors. Professors have academic freedom, plus time. They can use both to take a developed, informed perspective on their disciplines, stay up-to-date with current thought, and provide students with an evolving, state-of-the-art learning experience through current research and publication.

Neither the curriculum nor the majority of students comes into contact with professors at an online university. Contingent faculty develop a curriculum, in isolation, class by class. Course development contracts are hard to farm out because the work is intense and on short deadlines. Contingent faculty, on the other hand, have little time to do anything but grade for the several universities where we must teach in order to survive.

Course developments should have a basis in the latest research in the field. When contingent faculty are busy stitching together paychecks from multiple universities to make a living—raising the question of whether perpetual contingent work for someone with a terminal degree equals “gainful employment”—we are mere graders.

Turnkey Courses

The “turnkey courses” that result from sporadic course development become the one and only version of an online class. Every contingent faculty member must teach every section of the class through that shell until it comes up for redevelopment. In many disciplines, updates to the material that students learn aren’t scheduled for years.

Contingent online faculty are forbidden to alter the university-owned shell, no matter how antiquated. We can only supplement the shell with our own material, but we have to be careful. Doing so can cause more problems than it solves for students if our materials don’t jibe with the shell.

Finally, because contingent faculty have no standing within the university—beyond creating and teaching the very curriculum that generates millions of dollars—when we work as Subject Matter Experts, we cannot examine departmental or cross-curricular offerings to ensure that learning objectives are sequenced and instructional efforts lead to solid, assessable outcomes.

The university operates on an outdated, piecemeal curriculum. The result for students is an unsatisfactory, misaligned learning experience.

Failure to Thrive

How is it possible for contingent faculty working for several universities to create material to supplement creaky course shells that were put together by anonymous contract workers over the course of 8 weeks several years ago?

Does a systemic failure on the part of universities to care about the curriculum at all have anything to do with graduates’ difficulty in finding gainful employment?

Do Not Use What You Know

Contingent faculty are some of the most highly educated people in this country, yet online, we are told to not use any of our knowledge or training to choose a textbook or create a reading list, never mind write a syllabus or design learning activities.

To effect a positive change in the higher education industry, someone who sits in a position of power should examine the reasons for poor student outcomes. It’s past time that a realization about the problems with the academy dawn with our politicians in Washington, D.C.

Gainful employment is only part of the problem.

“It’s the curriculum, stupid.”

Audra Spicer has a PhD in British literature and—let’s get practical—graduate certification in educational technology and professional communications, to keep up with higher education’s morph into vocational education. Living the peripatetic life, she has been an adjunct in three countries and over a dozen universities. She is a proud member of The National Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi and lives near Pittsburgh with her family.

Legislation Watch

This is the first of an occasional column highlighting local, state, and federal legislation and legal cases affecting Higher Ed. If you’re aware of specific legislation in your area, please submit tips to us. We also welcome more in-depth analyses of specific bills or policy changes.

A number of conservative attempts to modify higher education’s inner workings have been offered in various states in the last six months, but most have either not been taken up or died a grisly death. Among the most infamous were North Carolina State Sen. Tom McInnis’s  Senate Bill 593, and Senator Mark Chelgren’s bill (Iowa) which increased the number of classes all professors would be required to teach, and allowed students to “vote their least favorite professors off the academic island” regardless of tenure, respectively. Both show an obvious lack of knowledge about how higher education works, and a desire to have greater “managerial” control over the ideas and  knowledge—in short, the work—produced in colleges and universities. Though these two bills have been tabled, they remain “in play” in that they may become zombie bills resurrected in the next session. We’ll keep an eye peeled.

The really big news for academic unions is the Supreme Court taking up Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. This case has public service unions, including academic unions, holding their collective breath. At issue is whether public sector unions can require “agency fees” from non-members to help finance union work. “If the Supreme Court rules that ‘fair share’ violates the First Amendment rights of public employees, they would transform the entire public sector into right to work, more appropriately named ‘right to freeload,’” said Rudy Fichtenbaum, a professor of economics at Wright State University and national president of the American Association of University Professors,” in an article in Inside Higher Ed. The Atlantic has a good run-down of the history and analysis of Samuel Alito’s role and likely vote in this case. Some academic union locals are already stepping up the effort to convert agency fee payers to full members.

Meanwhile, the big news for community colleges is the new bill first hinted at by President Obama in January and now actually proposed by House Democrats (PDF) but as yet untitled, making funds available for states to offer free tuition at community colleges. This is legislation that adjuncts should be especially concerned with because there are no provisions for funding more full-time faculty, or even an acknowledgement of the fact that we do most of the teaching at CCs; there is, in fact, no mention of faculty at all. But there is a great deal of reliance on metrics and outcomes to continue the funding, and calls for “providing comprehensive academic and student support services, including mentoring and advising, especially for low-income, first generation, adult, and other underrepresented students.” Unless adjuncts make it clear who should be doing the advising and mentoring, those jobs will got to even more administrators—or worse, overburden the administrators already doing that job.

Wisconsin’s new proposed state budget has just come down the pike with some devastating consequences for public education and Higher Ed. We’ve already heard about the $250M cut to the University of Wisconsin system and the negation of shared governance and tenure. ABC’s local affiliate’s blog has a concise summary of the major provisions of the budget, but here’s one of the scarier non-monetary parts of the Wisconsin budget, aside from the part that kills shared governance and laughs at tenure:


All 132 members of the Legislature, their staff and those who work for legislative support agencies would be able to shield nearly all their communications and work material from the open records law. Currently available material, like bill drafts, would be kept secret. Nearly all records created by all other state and local government officials would be exempted from the records law as well.

Note: This provision was withdrawn shortly after the initial budget was released (on July 4th, appropriately enough) with the following explanation: “The intended policy goal of these changes was to provide a reasonable solution to protect constituents’ privacy and to encourage a deliberative process between elected officials and their staff in developing policy. It was never intended to inhibit transparent government in any way.” We’ll leave it here just to make people aware of the political climate in Wisconsin, in case you weren’t already sure which way it’s heading.

By contrast, Oregon is about to vote on a $14M increase to Oregon State‘s budget, which will allow them to hire new faculty and expand programs. Not only that, but they’ve beaten the Federal law to the punch and are already making community college free. Yay, Oregon (and Tennessee)!

For something truly precedent setting, we look to Massachusetts, which is making a major effort to hire more faculty, and not just adjunct faculty. “Legislation sponsored by Rep. Paul Mark, a Peru Democrat, would require public higher education institutions to increase fulltime faculty so that by 2021 three quarters of substantial undergraduate courses on each campus are taught by tenured or tenure-track faculty. The bill (H 1055) would also tie adjunct faculty pay to a prorated amount of what fulltime faculty make.” Needless to say, this would be a godsend for adjuncts.

After a long, major campaign (that included some hard-hitting radio ads), CUNY’s Professional Staff Congress, which has been without a contract for five years, got their budget that proposes 20% raises (mostly for tenure-track faculty and not retroactive) past the state senate. Gov. Cuomo, however, is Not Amused and has not yet signed it. Students won’t be either, since higher tuition is also part of the package. And adjuncts? “The PSC has historically negotiated within the annual salary amounts for equity increases for certain lower-paid positions, such as College Laboratory Technician and Adjunct Lecturer, or for additional amounts applied to top salary steps; we reserved the right to negotiate similar equity increases in this round.” Maybe PSC will negotiate the same kind of equitable distribution of raises practiced in California, with higher raises going to those at the lower, adjunct end of the wage scale.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced on June 30th that as many as 5 million employees will now be eligible for overtime payexcept for “learned professionals,” which is basically college professors of just about any sort. Here’s a summary of that exemption:

Learned Professional Exemption

To qualify for the learned professional employee exemption, all of the following tests must be met:
  • The employee must be compensated on a salary or fee basis (as defined in the regulations) at a rate not less than $455 per week;
  • The employee’s primary duty must be the performance of work requiring advanced knowledge, defined as work which is predominantly intellectual in character and which includes work requiring the consistent exercise of discretion and judgment;
  • The advanced knowledge must be in a field of science or learning; and
  • The advanced knowledge must be customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction.

Without that exemption, there might be some hope adjuncts could make a case for work done outside the classroom when we’re paid by the credit hour.

BUT, in a potentially important and possibly precedent setting move, Massachusetts adjuncts can now earn sick time calculated by a 60% higher out-of-class to in-class work ratio than the previous IRS numbers. “Following extensive conversations with representatives of SEIU Local 509’s FacultyForward initiative, the Attorney General’s Office promulgated regulations that account for two hours of course planning and follow-up outside the classroom for every hour spent on in-class instruction – a 60% increase over existing IRS rules governing “shared responsibility” under the ACA. The new rules take steps toward acknowledging the true workload of contingent faculty, allowing them to accumulate time to care for their families’ health without loss of compensation or other course-scheduling repercussions.”

On the same note, we’ll close with Connecticut’s newly passed wage theft law that requires employers to double what they’ve stolen when repaying lost wages. Think how rich we’d all be.

–Lee Kottner