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NFM's Maria Maisto was asked to participate in a Chronicle of Higher Education chat on February 5, 2014.  Because technical problems with the chat prevented Maisto from participating fully, she agreed to answer viewers' questions in writing afterward.  The Chronicle has published an edited version of these answers at http://m.chronicle.com/article/To-Improve-Adjuncts-Plight/144663/.  Here are the complete, unedited answers she sent them:

 1. Does NFM want colleges to turn adjunct jobs into full-time jobs? 

 NFM  believes that part-time faculty, especially those that have been long-serving, should be given first preference for full-time jobs that open up. But we also believe that part-time should really mean part-time -- 100% pro-rata compensation -- it should not mean full-time work for less than part-time pay. On this issue we have to be careful to remember that people who need part-time work are often caregivers, especially women, and people with disabilities, so we don't want to forget about them in our recognition that there is a need for full-time positions and a huge number of people who are willing and able to fill them. 

2. Some adjuncts have access to health care benefits already and don’t need to be covered by the Affordable Health Care Act. Do you support an exemption from the law so that we could keep our current teaching loads (and paychecks) rather than face colleges cutting our hours so they don’t have to cover us. 

 I think the question needs to be clarified a bit.  In this scenario is the institution getting an exemption from the employer mandate or is the adjunct with health insurance getting an exemption from having his/her workload reduced? (Don't like the latter.)  The problem has been that institutions have tried to make contingent faculty work fit into a definitional framework that really isn't appropriate for the kind of work that we do and that really doesn't fit our classification as exempt employees. So I don't know that an exemption from the ACA is going to fix the underlying problem. One positive outcome of the controversy over adjuncts and the ACA is that it's forced the issue of how much unpaid work contingent faculty do into the open.

As we indicated in our comments to the IRS, we think that (1) institutions should not be allowed to avoid or circumvent the letter and spirit of the law, namely that no-one should be uninsured; (2) educational quality and commitment to the mission of education, particularly as a public good, should be driving institutional response to the ACA, so avoiding excessive course-loads is actually a good thing if it is accompanied with the kind of compensation that reflects theimportance of the work.  Since these aims can conflict with one another in this context, administrators need to closely collaborate with faculty, with unions, and with students to craft solutions for each individual institution that achieve both aims in a financially sustainable (and legally compliant) way.  

Personally I believe with many of my colleagues that fighting for higher course-loads may be beneficial for some individuals in the short term but highly problematic for the quality of education and the profession in the long term.  I realize that can be hard to face when one has had one's courseload and income reduced, but it's something that we have to confront honestly as members of the educational profession.  And I think it's reprehensible that so many of our colleagues continue to be forced into positions where their personal economic survival is being pitted against the professional responsibilities to which they have committed as educators.

3. What can adjuncts do to get the professional development that they need to succeed in the classroom? 

--I should note that many contingent faculty have a problem with the phrase "professional development," which seems to assume that contingent faculty, simply by virtue of being in contingent positions, need to be "taught how to teach" no matter how many years of experience or training they already have.  Many of us have been in the very difficult position of being required to sit through "professional development" sessions being given by people who have far less experience than we do and who can't or won't acknowledge that.  It's a symptom of the disrespect with which we are so often treated. It's not that contingent faculty don't want to engage in interactive discussions and workshops with others who are interested in pedagogy and field-specific issues; it's that we are so often not treated as colleagues.  No one likes to be talked down to and patronized and "professional development" sessions too often devolve into exactly that.

A different and more helpful notion of "professional development," as my colleagues Alan Trevithick and Robin Sowards have suggested, is asresearch support.  If you have research support, it's easier to get, say, funding to go to conferences on teaching, to get time to read up on the pedagogy literature, to publish about pedagogy, etc.

I understand the instinct to try to get the support we need on our own, but we have to remember it is also our employing institution's responsibility to provide it to contingent faculty in honest proportion to how it's provided to non-contingent faculty.  So we have to push institutions to recognize that this is a responsibility, and contingent faculty can join and ask their disciplinary organizations to remind departments and institutions of this responsibility.  Contingent faculty can also work to remind disciplinary organizations to make opportunities for this kind of support more available and affordable.

 4. What are some of the things that adjuncts can do to make local, state and federal lawmakers [interested] in the issues that matter to us? 

--Communicate with them!  Write, call, ask to meet with them.   My colleague Betsy Smith is a champion of and at this.  We should never forget that as constituents and citizens, we have a right and even responsibility to communicate with lawmakers -- and they have a responsibility to listen!  NFM is trying to build our capacity to communicate collectively with lawmakers, and many petitions get circulated that can and should get signed.

When you communicate, give them useful resources, like the congressional report that just came out and this piece from Delphi:  The Imperative for Change.  Remember to be clear and concise in your communication and to relate the information you are providing to issues that these folks are already working on -- or should be.

5. I don’t think universities will do anything drastic to improve the plight of adjuncts overnight. But what are some ways in which universities can gradually move toward better treatment of adjuncts?

--Step one is to acknowledge the problem -- it's a huge first step.  Do a self-study to find out what the conditions actually are on one's campus and how they compare to conditions locally, regionally, and nationally.  The most important aspect of this step is to LISTEN to the contingent faculty on campus (including through anonymous surveys) and to commit to protecting their right to give honest answers -- no retaliation allowed.  There are good resources at the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success (www.thechangingfaculty.org).  Find out what kinds of strategies have worked on campuses that are similar. Work with faculty to come up with a long-term plan for change. There are good templates like the Program for Change, modeled on Vancouver Community College, which was adapted into the bill now before the Colorado legislature. Most important: commit to change and get broad campus and community buy-in -- don't assume that anyone is not a potential ally.  Ground the work in the research and understanding that transforming the working conditions of contingent faculty will benefit students, the campus, and the community in the long run.

6. How do we talk to students about our situation without badmouthing our departments? 

--Talk about the national picture, the national context, the research.  You don't have to say anything about your specific department; many students will ask how your department or campus stacks up compared to the national stats, and telling them to do the work of finding out is a good research project for them which builds important skills. Check out Advocacy in the Classroom (ed. Patricia Spacks) for more ideas and discussion of the professional and ethical implications.

 7. What are three main areas where colleges can cut costs in order to put money back into human capital and to compensate adjuncts better? 

--This week's report from the Delta Cost Project will start to provide some good guidance on how best to answer this question -- so that we can be more specific.  For example: student services are among the biggest costs, according to the report -- we probably need to sort out what is most needed to be done separately and what has been "unbundled" from faculty work in unhelpful ways (advising comes to mind) and needs to be reintegrated, for the benefit of students. (See my piece for AACU this summer: http://www.aacu.org/peerreview/pr-su13/RealityCheck.cfm on this.)  Marketing is something that Delta has pointed out in the past is a high cost as well. How necessary is it? As Rebecca Schuman and others have pointed out, challenge the tyranny of the USNWR "best colleges" contest.  Campus amenities, certainly.  Athletic expenditures obviously need much more scrutiny.  See also the Delphi Project's Dispelling the Myths for more ideas. http://www.uscrossier.org/pullias/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/DelphiProject-Dispelling_the_Myths.pdf

 

8.  Could adjuncts receive special provisions on debt forgiveness since we can’t work enough hours to be eligible for it but we also don’t make enough money to pay our loans back? 

-- Interesting idea, a variation on what we are working on. At the very least, the existing laws on Public Student Loan Forgiveness need to be clarified and/or amended so that it's easier for contingent faculty to gain access to it.

 9. What would be some ways to change how adjuncts are paid? Should there be a minimum wage of sorts on a per-classroom hour basis? 

-- The MLA has famously made recommendations based on professional standards.  I think that would be a good place to start -- with the disciplinary organizations,so that the recommendations are grounded in professional standards that have academic quality as their objective.

 

10. What would you think of a proposal that would let adjuncts who teach the maximum number of classes allowed for 10 years at a public college or university have their student loans drastically reduced?

--Interesting. How about forgiven?   

11. How can adjuncts get their voices heard on committees that advise policy makers on educational reforms? 

--Communicate with legislators, join organizations like NFM and others that work on these issues; do research and publish on policy issues (I know, hard to do without any support or spare time).  

12. What do you say about claims that colleges would have to raise tuition in order to pay adjuncts more and give them health benefits? 

--I think that's a scare tactic that has been effectively challenged by the kind of work that the AAUP has done to analyze the audited financial statements of colleges and universities. Money is there, and faculty and administrators and students should all be working together to put pressure on states to reinvest in higher education. See also Delphi's Dispelling the Myths.

13. What do you think of the bill in Colorado that calls for adjuncts to receive equal pay for their work?

--It's bold and ambitious and would be absolutely groundbreaking.  We hope it will pass and we expect that everyone working on it is doing their best to build broad support for it.

14.  How do the stereotypes of professors as people who are privileged, well paid and taking summers off for lavish vacations hurt the adjunct community and what can we do to combat this image on a national platform? 

--Keep telling our stories.  The best antidote to stereotypes and lies is Truth.

15. Given the overall state of adjuncts in post-secondary education, what could adjuncts do to “help the cause” without fear of being dismissed? 

--It is always going to be risky.  Everyone needs to assess their own individual comfort level.  But know that there is strength in numbers and in solidarity, as well as protection:  concerted action is often protected.  My colleague Robin Sowards explains it this way:

 "If you are under the jurisdiction of the NLRA, "concerted activity" is legally protected (https://www.nlrb.gov/rights-we-protect/protected-concerted-activity), and *some* states have state labor relations laws that include similar protections for employees in the public sector (in OH and PA, for example). Many states, however, do not have such protections, and the NLRA does not even cover all private sector workers. And the legal protections, where they exist, only protect you so much in practice anyway. It's illegal for employers to retaliate for union activity, but the legal liability just isn't expensive enough to really prevent them from doing it--at best, the employer has to restore your job and give you back pay, but the NLRB does not have the power to award any punitive damages. The real power that we have is in solidarity, in the sheer fact that the action is collective. No-one else is going to protect us; we need to stand together and fight with a for one another if we want to win. I'd encourage people to read The Troublemaker's Handbook (https://www.labornotes.org/store/troublemakers-handbook-2)."

16.  What impact will increasing numbers of adjuncts have on faculty governance? 

--I think that depends on individual institutions and the faculty culture that exists there. Involving more adjuncts in faculty governance is important and necessary because contingent faculty are in the trenches, trying to fulfill the institutional mission, usually in greater numbers than the non-contingent faculty. Involving contingent faculty in governance can also, conceivably, help improve relations between the TT and the NTT.

17. How can adjuncts do research on their own issues without institutional support, access to databases and the time needed to do such work?

-- As mentioned in the earlier response, it's really hard. People can apply for individual grants, but that's obviously time-consuming though it can be done.  Again, better to fight for the right to institutional support for research because it's part of what our responsibilities are as faculty.

18. Is there a correlation between graduation rates and adjunct professes that could help fund change? 

--If you mean are there stats that could help persuade policymakers and legislators of the need for change, yes.  See the Delphi Project for a start.

*     *     *

Statement in response to President Obama's August 22, 2013 Speech at SUNY Buffalo

 While New Faculty Majority appreciates the efforts of the Obama administration to address the critical problem of the skyrocketing cost of higher education and its effects, particularly on the students and faculty who are saddled with crippling student debt, we call on the administration to consider more carefully the full ramifications of the policies it is currently advocating.

Ironically, the majority of the faculty at colleges nationwide work in conditions (making less than $25,000 per year working full time hours) that do not allow them to repay their own student debt, if college teaching is their primary source of income.  Like other workers in the US, college instructors have seen their profession turn into low-wage, part-time, unbenefited jobs rather than into respected employment capable of supporting a family.  The policies that the president is advocating in his new plan would exacerbate, not alleviate, this problem.

 If the president wants to hold colleges accountable, then he should demand that they disclose the numbers and working conditions of the majority of the faculty, and acknowledge the significant research that shows that faculty working conditions are among the most critical factors affecting student success. He would admit that graduation rates are meaningless at institutions where faculty are discouraged  from holding the highest standards possible by adjuncts' economic precarity and lack of access to meaningful due process protections, and  by tenure-track faculty's out-of-control tenure requirements.

If he were to talk to students as we do on a daily basis, he would learn that they don't want MOOCs and other quick fixes that are being implemented without input from students or faculty. He would learn that the vast majority of students, especially the most disadvantaged, crave what students at elite institutions take for granted: accessible, supported faculty able to engage in the basic human interaction and mentoring at the heart of good teaching, the intellectual research at the foundation of good teaching, and the intelligent use of technology -- not as a substitute for real teaching and learning, but as a tool in the service of human beings rather than as a cog in the machine of what has become the big business of higher education "reform."

Students spoke in this recent Public Agenda report  http://www.publicagenda.org/files/student_voices.pdf, but interestingly it was barely noticed by anyone in higher education.  Among its findings:  "Advisors, counselors, and faculty members who offer support and guidance that is accurate, accessible, and tailored to students’ educational and career goals are in high demand and can be hard to come by."  They are hard to come by because institutions have created working conditions that place significant obstacles to their accessibility.

Higher education has a history of imposing "high quality/low cost" strategies without regard for their hidden and long term costs.  Employing 75% of the faculty on a temporary basis has been the most devastating in terms of fiscal and human costs, and we are alarmed by the likelihood that policies currently being proposed will perpetuate such effects.  The employment of faculty on temporary contracts has extracted quality teaching out of dedicated faculty members not because of a basically exploitative employment structure but in spite of it.  It has devastated a valuable human resource, churning through several generations of college faculty and turning college teaching into something that people do only if they can afford to, and at the high cost of respect, proper remuneration, and retirement.  And of course significant research compiled by the Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success (www.thechangingfaculty.org) shows the detrimental effects of degraded faculty working conditions on student learning conditions, especially the learning conditions of the most vulnerable, least advantaged students.

 We call on the president to listen to an authentic cross section of student and faculty voices and to consider both the quality of education, and the quality of life of the majority of the faculty, in devising higher education policies going forward.

 

 

 
 
 
We mourn the loss of our friend and colleague, Steve Street, who died on August 17, 2012 of cancer in Buffalo, NY.  Steve was an NFM Board member.  He was also a wonderful writer, fearless advocate, and cherished friend.  His friend and fellow activist Don Eron has called him the movement's "poet laureate,"  a beautiful and apt tribute. 
 
Here is the message that Maria Maisto and Anne Wiegard sent to the adj-l listserv, where Steve was a frequent participant:
 

August 17, 2012

Dear Friends,

I am deeply sorry to have to let you know that our dear friend and colleague, Steve Street, died this morning at a hospice facility in Buffalo, NY.

Many of you may have known that Steve was battling a second round of cancer, but he was persistently optimistic and had even planned to attend COCAL and to continue teaching this fall.  I think none of us knew how truly serious it was, and last week he took a sudden turn for the worse and was admitted to hospice where he died in the company of his brother.  Some of his friends and colleagues were able to send him messages of love and support, including Ross Borden who made a six-hour round trip to visit him last night.  It is our hope that he had some comfort in the knowledge that he was so respected and cherished by all of us.  As you know, he was active in COCAL, on this list, in UUP (United University Professions), and NFM.

Like all of us, I am devastated.  Steve was a hero to me, and a personal mentor who gave me confidence when I got started in this work.  I had the privilege of collaborating with him on an essay on contingency published in  Liberal Education  and on other pieces of writing as well, and always thought that not only was he a beautiful writer and sharp, perceptive thinker, but that he was extraordinarily generous and encouraging as a responder and collaborator.  I can't help thinking of the thousands upon thousands of students who benefited from his teaching and mentorship.

Steve was a clear and forceful thinker and writer, someone who was never afraid to speak truth to power.  (He was also a talented and award-winning fiction writer.)  In part because of his persistent, fearless insistence that adjuncts deserve a living wage and health benefits, his union, UUP, was finally able to negotiate health insurance for adjuncts teaching at least two courses. That is what allowed him to survive his first bout of cancer.  He endured some colleagues' irritation with him for constantly advocating for adjuncts but recently acknowledged to me how grateful he was that attitudes have changed enough for FT and PT faculty to really begin to work together to do the right thing for adjuncts. 

 

My friend Anne Wiegard, who worked closely with Steve in both UUP and NFM, had this to say:

Steve's perseverance as an activist inspired his UUP colleagues for many years, both at the local and statewide levels.  His unerring moral compass did not mean he was unwilling to compromise in order to achieve practical gains, but it did mean that his humane principles and deep commitment to academic freedom never faltered.  We will sorely miss Steve's brilliant ability to frame concepts and to capture and analyze the subtle nuances of the complexities of contingent employment issues.  But we will miss even more his warm friendship, great kindness, and razor sharp wit.

We intend to honor Steve's memory in many ways, but most especially in re-dedicating ourselves to the struggle to secure the dignity of proper working conditions for all contingent faculty in higher education.   I hope you will all help us to grieve and to celebrate Steve by sharing your thoughts and memories on this list, the venue which made it possible for so many of us to meet him, delight in his writing and be inspired by his courage.

All best,

Maria and Anne

 

 
 

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As part of its National Unemployment Compensation Initiative, NFM seeks volunteers to help advise contingent faculty who are applying for unemployment benefits or appealing claims denied. Contact us to let us know that you can help!
 
Help spread the message:  we need your help communicating the facts about contingent faculty working conditions to targeted audiences.