At the National Summit that took place on January 28,2012, we asked participants to identify what they thought to be the most important strategies that NFM and its Foundation should undertake in order to advance the cause of equity for faculty on contingent appointments. There was broad consensus that devising targeted messages to different constituencies is key. Educating different sectors of the public about how and why contingent employment is harming higher education, communities and the country as a whole must be a primary and consistent activity.
In order to facilitate this strategy, NFM has formed the TEACH (Transform the Employment of Academics Contingently Hired) Task Force. Its purpose is to compose messages targeted to different constituencies, to coordinate activities designed to help people understand the issues, and to help implement solutions.
Even before the TEACH Task Force was officially launched, NFM member and Summit attendee Josh Boldt demonstrated what is possible by constructing The Adjunct Project. The project is exactly the kind of endeavor that we would like to see the TEACH Task Force help to launch, because it educates and involves multiple constituencies at once -- faculty, administrators, the media, and the public -- about one key aspect of faculty contingency: the actual compensation of faculty on college campuses.
Another project that NFM sees as the type of work that the TEACH Task Force can propose or support is The Program for Change, a blueprint for faculty and administrators to use, based on existing conditions at Vancouver Community College, to guide union negotiations and/or institutional reform efforts.
A slightly different project launched at the same time that the Summit was being planned is The Delphi Project on the Changing Faculty and Student Success. Spearheaded by Professor Adrianna Kezar of USC (a Summit speaker), funded by the Spencer, Teagle and Carnegie Foundations, and carried out in conjunction with the Association of American Colleges and Universities, its primary audience is higher education "insiders" -- administrators, accreditors, higher ed associations, and faculty groups and unions. The Delphi Project aims to tap the expertise and energy of its participants in order to explore and launch practical solutions that will have the particular advantage of being proposed and supported by sectors of higher ed that may not have focused enough on contingency in the past, but are willing to do so now.
The TEACH Task Force proposes and coordinates similar projects. It is the action arm of, by, and for NFM members to educate the country about the need for reform.
Current Task Force Projects:
(All of these projects need more volunteers!)
1. Petition to and Follow-up with VP Biden and Dr. Jill Biden
In light of the Vice President's ill-informed comments declaring that faculty salaries are the cause of high college costs, NFM composed a petition and is seeking a meeting of a "contingent" of non-tenure-track faculty and their allies with Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden to educate them about the reality of faculty working conditions and their effect on student learning, professional development, and access to the middle class. Our goal is to get a meeting with the Bidens so that they can meet the actually underpaid faculty majority.
Status: letter to Dr. Jill Biden's office from NFM requesting a meeting has received no response.
2. Educate My Students
Sites that claim to rate professors are now abundant, and in general do more damage than good, especially when those providing feedback are neither verified nor held accountable. Because these sites are here to stay, however, it's time to fight fire with ... truth.
Help us to persuade the operators of these sites to add one paragraph of factual information to every professor-rating page. It probably won't stop the invective-filled posts, but it just might make readers, be they students, parents, or colleagues -- to stop and think about the structural and systemic conditions that most often produce negative classroom experiences.
3. TEACH the Parents Well
One constituency that has been difficult to reach is parents. Famously concerned about the cost of college, they don't know enough about what is happening on campus once their kids arrive. Help us to educate parents by proposing and writing articles about the connection between faculty working conditions and student learning conditions for parent-targeted publications, organizations, and blogs.
4. Lead the Leaders
The need for transparency about college costs is registering with lawmakers and government leaders. The White House has unveiled its "College Scorecard" to help families compare prospective colleges, and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Duncan Hunter(R-CA) have proposed the bipartisan "Students' Right to Know Before You Go" bill (House version, Senate version) to require colleges to disclose crucial information to prospective students.
Help us to get information about contingent faculty numbers and working conditions built into these public education and accountability efforts.
5. Restore the Faith
It's bad enough that any college or university exploits its employees, invoking fiscal exigency or interpretations of free market economics. When a faith-based college or university does it, however, it is usually violating clearly articulated teaching about justice. Help us to strengthen the appeals already made by many faculty to the consciences of their faith-based campus communities. We would like to see a commitment made by all faith-based institutions, to stand for and uphold clearer and higher standards of economic and social justice.