New Faculty Majority was founded in February 2009 when about a dozen faculty members, having participated in an extended e-mail conversation among seasoned and novice contingent faculty activists on the national listserv adj-l, came together to form a committee to establish a new, national organization to advocate for contingent faculty. The initial conference call was organized by Peter D. G. Brown. The group, which consisted of Ross Borden, Frank Cosco, Keith Hoeller, Jack Longmate, Deborah Louis, Maria Maisto, Rich Moser, Judy Olson, and Anne Wiegard, elected Deborah Louis and Maria Maisto as the organizing committee co-chairs. AFT adjunct activist Bill Lipkin asked to join the group in 2009 and Matt Williams, Vanessa Vaile and Tracy Donhardt were recruited not long afterward, coming to play important roles in the establishment of the organization. This organizing committee met by teleconference regularly, forming the organization step by step, choosing a name for itself, crafting a mission statement, selecting a board of directors and electing officers, applying for non-profit status, wrestling with a myriad of philosophical and political issues within and outside the non-tenure-track community, and all the while developing an ambitious agenda of goals and projects.
As the group evolved into a Board of Directors, Keith Hoeller left the group while Rich Moser, Frank Cosco and Deborah Louis chose to move into advisory roles, soon joined by Joe Berry and others.
Many of the board members were able to meet in person in Akron, Ohio the weekend of March 13th and 14th of 2010. This intensive retreat allowed time for strategic planning sessions at which Jack Longmate and Frank Cosco proposed the outline of a “Program for Change” as a strategy for adjunct activists to use based on existing conditions at Vancouver Community College in British Columbia, Canada, to help guide collective bargaining efforts. Ross Borden and Anne Wiegard were active participants in the drafting of the plan, which was presented at COCAL that year. The Board agreed to Jack’s and Frank’s request to facilitate the dissemination of the Program for Change to fellow activists for feedback. The most recent version of the Program is now housed at http://vccfa.ca/program-for-change/.
In the spring of 2010, Board president and vice president Maria Maisto and Matt Williams proposed, and the Board adopted, the Unemployment Compensation Initiative as NFM’s first national project. It was later named after Steve Street, a longtime activist and champion of unemployment for adjuncts.
In 2010 NFM board members participated in meetings of the Association of American Colleges and Universities, The National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining, the Coalition on Contingent Academic Labor, and the Working Class Studies Association.
After NFM received its non-profit status from the IRS as a 501c(6) in the spring of 2011, the organization decided to form an affiliated 501(c)3 to focus on research and complementary projects. In the first half of 2011 Maria Maisto spoke at the Modern Language Association Conference and “Counter Conference” as well as the MLA’s Association of Departments of English summer meeting. NFM and its Foundation also joined the Coalition on the Academic Workforce in February 2011, and in May 2011 joined — and participated in the launch of — the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education.
In June 2011, having received grants from The Marguerite Casey Foundation and the Ford Foundation, the NFM Foundation appointed NFM board president Maria Maisto as its executive director, and appointed Esther Merves as its research and special projects director, as well as membership consultant for the 501(c)6. Most of the funding the Foundation received during its first year of operation was dedicated to hosting its first national summit in Washington, D.C. on January 28th, 2012, supporting the participation of non-tenure-track faculty activists from all across the country.
In March 2012 Maria was invited to speak on shared governance at the annual meeting of the American Council on Education. She was elected to the Executive Committee of the Discussion Group on Part-time Faculty of the MLA, has been nominated to the Executive Council of the MLA, and has been asked to co-chair the Committee on Part Time Faculty of the Conference on College Composition and Communication. She also now serves on the MLA’s Committee on Academic Freedom and Professional Rights and Responsibilities. She and other board members have been regular participants or featured speakers at many higher education and labor meetings and conferences, and are regularly consulted by members of the higher ed and mainstream media. In addition, they publish regularly on the subject of academic labor for academic and mainstream venues alike.
In collaboration with the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education, the NFM Foundation produced a groundbreaking survey of Back-to-School working conditions for contingent faculty. The report, “Who Is Professor Staff and How Can This Person Teach So Many Classes?” has been cited as a major source of information about the reality of adjunct working conditions in the United States today.
In 2013, not long after NFM coordinated Campus Equity Week for the first time, NFM president Maria Maisto was asked to testify before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on the subject of higher education’s response to the Affordable Care Act. Maria’s testimony explained that institutional efforts to limit adjunct course assignments were simply the latest in a long history of abusive and exploitative practices. In response, Ranking Member George Miller initiated a survey of adjunct faculty nationwide that resulted in an unprecedented report, “The Just-in-Time Professor.”
NFM continues to work on policy initiatives designed to educate lawmakers and agencies about the impact of existing laws and policies on contingent faculty working conditions. Areas of focus include unemployment compensation, reinstatement of the National Survey of Postsecondary Faculty by the Department of Education, student loan forgiveness, and reform of the Fair Labor Standards Act. NFM and NFMF have hosted two briefings for congressional staffers and were primary consultants on the Brave New Films documentary “Professors in Poverty.”
The Foundation received its 501c(3) designation from the IRS in May of 2012. In early 2014 the 501(c)6 membership organization began the process of revising its bylaws. As of December 2015, it has proposed paring down the original bylaws in order to ensure it can remain in compliance, and is preparing to engage the membership in determining the structure of the organization going forward.
The majority of the founding board members are still very active within NFM and its Foundation, and the group has been enriched by the addition of new members who are adjuncts, former adjuncts, and tenured faculty allies. The directors of both NFM and the NFM Foundation are committed to improving the quality of higher education by addressing and solving the problems of contingent employment in academia, particularly with regard to inequitable treatment of adjunct and contingent faculty. At the foundation of our work is the conviction that faculty working conditions are student learning conditions.
More information about NFM’s founding and mission can be found in the following:
The Adjunct’s Moment of Truth by Maria Maisto
An-Activist-Adjunct-Shoulders the Weight of a New Advocacy Group by Audrey Williams June
Confronting Contingency: Faculty Equity and the Goals of Academic Democracy by Maria Maisto and Steve Street in Liberal Education Vol. 97 #1
“Taking Heart, Taking Part: New Faculty Majority and the Praxis of Contingent Faculty Activism” by Maria Maisto, in Embracing Non-Tenure Track Faculty: Changing Campuses for the New Faculty Majority edited by Adrianna Kezar (Routledge, 2012)
“Stop Looking for the Treasure Map and Start Laying Bricks” by Josh Boldt
Among the Majority by Michael Berube
Reflections on the New Faculty Majority Summit by John Casey