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.







The New Enemies List

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

–George Orwelltexasvigilantes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Lee Kottner

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.

Say It Again, This Time with Video

Anne Wiegard, NFMF’s chair, passed along this video her union, UUP, produced. Have a look and share.

Here’s an article about this video and the efforts of UUP too.

Anne adds: “The activism around issues of contingency has been steadily growing within many UUP chapters. The Contingent Employment Committee co-chaired by Jaclyn Pittsley and Richard Aberle is one of the largest and most ambitious of the statewide standing committees. Clearly, recent media presence means that the ongoing efforts by UUP to improve the terms and conditions of employment for members in contingent positions are becoming more visible, including the efforts of Jamie Dangler, who was quoted in the Cortland Standard article and who is UUP’s Vice President for Academics. I am proud of the fact that UUP has made equity for contingent members, especially those employed in adjunct positions, a priority in its agenda and its public relations.”

It would be great to see more of these kinds of PSAs on national TV, revealing the truth about adjunct working conditions. Can I get a witness?

CUNY Adjuncts! Support PSC with an Equity T-Shirt

PSC navy equity 1Just in time for Campus Equity Week and CUNY’s strike vote.

Ruth Wangerin writes: “This is a grassroots adjunct project and we have to pay for the t-shirts ourselves, @ $10. The second batch of t-shirts (if there is enough interest) might not come in time for CEW, though. The company needs 7-10 days.”

Order from Ruth ( by Wednesday 10/21; the minimum order is 36 for delivery by Oct. 28.

The perfect strike wear too!

P.S. College of Staten Island/CUNY folks can get one from Ruth to wear at the rally 12-1:30 on Thursday, Oct 22, at the fountain behind building 1P. It’s sponsored by PSC, DC37, and NYPIRG. We’re combining the call for a contract offer for faculty and staff with the call for a tuition freeze, and we’re delivering a letter to the college president asking him to pressure the chancellor to that effect. Adjuncts will be there, calling for campus equity.

UUP Increases Contingent Participation in Negotiations Team

UUPlogoIt’s a sign of progress whenever contingent faculty are included in any kind of governance and union activity. So few of us are able to participate even in representing ourselves and one another in either university shared governance or union activities that the overall nature of both of these political avenues remains stolidly tenured- and tenure-track-dominated (except of course for locals which exclusively represent adjunct faculty). This can make it difficult for contingent issues to be addressed, let alone addressed successfully. So we applaud the news of contingent faculty members being appointed to the negotiations team of United University Professions (UUP), the largest higher education local in the U.S., for the next round of collective bargaining with the State of New York.

The eighteen-member negotiations team appointed by UUP President Fred Kowal and led by Chief Negotiator Philippe Abraham of SUNY Albany, will represent the interests of SUNY’s 35,000 Academic and Professional Faculty. UUP is a wall-to-wall unit and roughly 40% of UUP’s members are currently employed in contingent positions. About 16,000 of UUP’s members are academics and the remainder occupy professional positions as coaches, librarians, counselors, clinicians, patient care providers, student advisors, IT specialists, tutors, etc.  The team will include three contingent members:

  • Douglas Cody, a part-time lecturer in Chemistry at SUNY Farmingdale;
  • Beth Wilson, a full-time lecturer in Art History at SUNY New Paltz; and
  • Anne Wiegard, a full-time lecturer in English at SUNY Cortland.

The previous negotiations team included two contingent members, and the team before that included only one. While the increase in contingent team members signals increased recognition of the scope of issues such workers face, the composition of the team is not intended to be proportionate to the different categories of workers, but rather to provide the Chief Negotiator with a team whose members bring expertise in all aspects of the terms and conditions of employment of concern to UUP members.

The size of UUP’s Negotiations Team reflects the great diversity of occupation within the thirty-two campus system spanning the state, from urban research centers to small rural campuses, from teaching hospitals and medical schools to comprehensive colleges and specialized campuses like SUNY Maritime or ESF (Environmental Science and Forestry) or the non-traditional focused Empire State College campus.

The president of UUP has the sole constitutional authority for conducting contract negotiations and may appoint anyone (or choose to appoint no one) to assist in this endeavor.  Historically, UUP presidents have appointed a team and a chief negotiator to engage in negotiations.  UUP’s constitution does mandate that a Negotiations Committee with representatives of every campus chapter oversee the union’s major decisions such as the setting of priorities and the approval or rejection of a tentative agreement. The committee appointments have not yet been announced, but contingent faculty have previously been included in this body as well.

The current agreement will expire July 1 of 2016. UUP will be gathering extensive data from members this Fall via a negotiations survey available to every member and visits of team members to every campus for listening sessions.  Throughout the negotiations process, individual comments and suggestions from members will be welcomed. The first meeting of the negotiations team will take place from August 18-20th in Lake Placid, NY.

For ongoing information about UUP‘s contract negotiations, visit the negotiations page.

–Lee Kottner

RIP John Hess, Activist, Colleague, Friend

News via Joe Berry:

John Hess, one of the fathers of the contingent faculty movement and winner last year of NFM’s first Steve Street award for service e to the movement, died August 14, 2015, of Parkinson’s disease. He had been fading for many months, but maintained a remarkably positive outlook and enjoyed visitors up to his last days.

Here is the statement that accompanied the NFM award  last year.

The book on the lecturers’ struggle in the CSU system, referred to in the statement, will be finished by Joe Berry and Helena Worthen. We regret that John did not live to see it completed.

Formal obituaries and information about planned memorial(s) will be circulated in later COCAL UPDATES as the information becomes available.

With love and solidarity,

Joe Berry, Editor COCAL UPDATES

and also see this tribute from one of his oldest friends and colleagues, Chuck Kleinhans

Dear Friends,

Julia and I will be traveling to the Visible Evidence documentary conference in Toronto tomorrow with heavy hearts.  Our co-editor, friend, and collaborator since 1974, John Hess, died from Parkinson’s Disease on Friday.  VE was the kind of event John loved: full of film, politics, media makers with committed concerns, an international cast of attendees and the critics, programmers, distributors, and exhibitors who support the projects.  But above all, the teachers who give people the tools to make activist films, the history and theory to understand them, and the passion to care about them.


Remembering  John Hess

My JUMP CUT co-editor, John Hess, died on Friday, July 14, 2015 from complications following his living with Parkinson’s Disease.  John had been in severe decline for the past month and his end was clear.  Friends and family had opportunities to see him these last months. He died at home with caregivers present, as he wished.  John’s wife, Gail Sullivan, died of cancer a few years earlier after a career as a labor organizer with the Teamsters for a Democratic Union and the California Nurses Union.  John is survived by his two sons, Andy and Sean and their families. A memorial service will be held in the future in the Bay Area.

John will be remembered by many people as an important labor organizer, particularly for part-time and contingent teachers in the college and university system. While at San Francisco State University, he participated in the successful effort to unionize the faculty in the California State University system. Thereafter he worked to organize the contingent faculty (full and part-time temporary) and served in several elected and appointed leadership positions in the California Faculty Association (CFA). After returning to California from the East Coast in the late 90s, he worked as a staff member for the CFA for seven years, especially responsible for organizing the contingent faculty.  He was honored for his pioneering and exemplary work this spring at a national meeting in Los Angeles.  He was able to attend and receive the personal well wishes of the national crowd attending.  A recognition of John’s work in teacher organizing can be found here.

John will also be remembered as a teacher.  He taught as a TA in Comparative Literature at Indiana University, where we first met as grad students.  He also taught as a lecturer at Sonoma State, at San Francisco State (for 14 years), and at American University and the University of Maryland.  He also taught as an Associate Professor at Ithaca College.  Some of John’s happiest memories were of his former students who had gone on becoming involved in film, political activism, and community engagement.  I was with him many times when a former student would come up and say how he had touched their life.  This made him immensely proud and pleased.  John saw his work as a teacher as encompassing much more than the traditional academic classroom.  He was active in the 1970s in the East Bay Socialist School where he taught introductory courses on Marxism.  With the Berkeley JUMP CUT collective of the 70s and 80s he shared the practical knowledge of putting out a radical publication and developing a politically informed film aesthetics.  While there were scheduled weekly meetings, in fact the house was a 24/7 locus of political filmmakers, critics and students, and assorted people passing through town who carried on a running dialogue about politics, media issues, and life in general.  His work with lecturers in the Cal State system was aimed at teaching them the most effective strategies and tactics to gain empowerment.  Here his work was truly ground-breaking.  John moved the lecturers from being a kind of accidental after-thought in Cal State system unionizing to its rightful place as representing the majority of the classroom teachers and being closely linked to the concerns of students and communities.

John’s contribution as an editor to JUMP CUT’s progress and development was fundamental.  We first talked of the need for a new political film publication our last year in grad school in Bloomington Indiana.  Our partners got teaching jobs and we were trailing them and thought we had time on our hands.  So it seemed sensible to start a film publication even though we were over 2000 miles apart and had to communicate mostly by mail (no email, and long distance phone calls were prohibitively expensive at that time).  Crazy idea, but we did it with the help and encouragement of others.

John came to his left politics not from theory or sudden passion but from life experience.  On graduation from college he joined the Army and went through military language school, learning Russian.  His Cold War post was in rural Germany listening to Soviet tank drivers maneuvering in East Germany.  (Ironically, they were like him, away from home in a foreign country.)   He also learned German from locals in bars, something that horrified his German teachers when he went back to graduate school for formal instruction.  He returned to the US with the student and anti-war movement underway, but his approach was as a veteran.  When he arrived in the Bay Area in the early 1970s, he circulated in the fluid movement of New Left activism, radical political filmmaking, and a new critical intellectual climate.   Engaging with new political movements and forms such as feminism, gay/lesbian perspectives, as well as the established post Civil Rights black and Chicano movements, and viewing new films from around the world produced the need for a better understanding.

Reading in socialism and Marxism provided a crucial perspective.  But John was also fascinated with the actual lived experience of socialism.  He travelled in East Germany on research during graduate school and returned around the fall of the Berlin Wall with an interest in the lives of the people he met above all else.  Similarly with his visits to Cuba and Nicaragua and El Salvador: the people, not the politicos, celebrities or manifestos were what mattered.

John and I shared that leftist learning experience along with others on the JUMP CUT staff.  I think our mutual stubbornness kept us bonded together, but also our shared values and complementary interests.  As an editor John was always clear, direct, and pragmatic, measuring submitted articles against his own undergraduate students horizons.  What would they get out of an article, could they understand the argument?  Equally important John had a comfortable and determined view of the economic realities of self-publishing.  For decades he kept us afloat and moving along running the business end of JUMP CUT along with the pragmatics of pasting up and laying out an issue, and mailing it off to subscribers and bookstores.

Perhaps this reflected his upbringing in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  His father was a businessman and his mother returned to her Mennonite roots later in life.  The combination of practicality and a plain and simple life marked his daily behavior and his spirituality that often took the form of meditation, fasting, and retreat.  But that was balanced with a love of activity: sports when he was younger, running and walking when older and for a long stretch canoeing as part of a club.  He sometimes arrived from a week on the rivers needing massage and a hot tub and laughing about how he was getting too old for this.

John’s personal life involved several marriages (and divorce) to remarkable women.  Through it all he was a proud father of his two sons, Andy Hess and Sean Sullivan.  Andy grew up mostly in Germany to which his mother returned, but spent summers with John and went to college at San Jose State.  A very talented electric bass musician, Andy has played with blues, rock and jazz musicians around the world.  John loved attending Andy’s shows and supported his artist son’s goals and choices.  John met Sean well into Sean’s boyhood and stood by him during some stormy and trying times (for all concerned) as Sean found his way, emerging as a successful businessman involved in local area moving and a rare items record store.  When Sean’s mother, Gail Sullivan was diagnosed with cancer, John worked alongside her in the decade-long medical process, and Gail in turn shared her own understanding when John was diagnosed with his own progressive debilitating disease.

As a writer and critic John’s strongest editorial commitments were to the politics of Hollywood film, typified in his classic article on Godfather 2 which ran in an early issue of JUMP CUT.  And equally important was the actual practice of political filmmakers.  He quickly developed a great interest in Latin American film and filmmakers, travelling to Cuba, to Nicaragua and El Salvador and to Mexico, and meeting filmmakers who passed through the Bay Area.  John was especially sensitive to the artist’s difficulty of seeing a film project through to the end and dealing with the recurrent issues of organization, finance, the group effort, distribution and exhibition as well as the politics and aesthetics of a particular media work.

Parkinson’s is a progressive and irreversible disease, different for every individual.  John was diagnosed about 6 years ago and was conscious of planning as much of his life as possible from that point on. When the disease kept him from being able to write and progress on some of his projects he was bitterly sad at not being able to complete a project he knew was important.   He continued to be an active part of the JUMP CUT editorial team as a critical reader until about a year ago, and I had the opportunity to review his archived JUMP CUT materials which we expect to go to an appropriate site.  An extensive set of interviews he conducted with East German filmmakers in the later 1970s and early 1980s has already been deposited in an archive at the university of Massachusetts.  A series he did with US independent documentary political filmmakers, essentially people who had been involved nationally with the aftermath of the New Left Newsreel group will also be archived shortly.

John has been my closest male friend through my adult life.  We bonded over shared values, shared politics, and a shared commitment to trying to change the world for the better.  As a teacher and critic John wanted to help people understand the world so they could be smart in changing it.  As an editor he wanted to help writers connect with diverse readers.  As a political activist he wanted to empower people at the grassroots level.  By necessity we had to meet in person, and that began in the summer of 1974 with me heading out to Berkeley to hash out the pragmatics and idealist goals we had for JUMP CUT.  That annual extended time together, supplemented by his trips to Chicago and connecting at conferences and festivals, welded us into a tight bond.  But rather than critiquing manuscripts and solving layout hassles, or listening to way too much of  KPFA talk radio (one of John’s addictions), what I remember most is John’s incredible generosity..  When I had to pack up and leave my Chicago household, he came in the middle of a bitter winter to help, knowing my pack rat ways would have to be tamed, and with plenty of boxes and tape.  When I took my last drive from Chicago to Oregon in 2009, he joined me traveling across the upper Great Plains with a soundtrack of Rright-wing Radio (we provided a running sarcastic response) but mostly jazz and rhythm and blues (the one audio experience we always agreed on).  Last fall we did another trip, drastically short due to John’s physical limits, to Salinas to visit the new Steinbeck museum, and over to Monterey where John attended language school for a year back in the 60s.  These close personal times are a treasure to me.  John was the finest man I’ve ever met.

Chuck Kleinhans
Associate Professor Emeritus
Radio/TV/Film Dept.
Northwestern University

co-editor, JUMP CUT: a review of contemporary media