Thursday, June 23, 2016

Adjunct Discussion at Juneteenth event: Friday, June 17, 2016

Juneteenth event: Friday, June 17, 2016

From Jack Longmate, Olympic College, 1992 to present.
Yesterday, I gave a 15-minute talk about adjunct faculty at a Juneteenth event (celebrating of the end of slavery) and the dedication of a new park named for a local civil rights leader.  It was the final part of a event that included a League of Women Voters candidates forum for those running for the Superintendent of Public Instruction, who oversees K-12 education in Washington state.  While I spoke after the intermission, when most of the crowd left, l ended up connecting with several members of the audience; one of the SPI candidates remained.  The approximate text is below:
1.         In our state’s 34 community and technical colleges, faculty can be classified as either tenured or as non-tenured, who are called part-time or adjunct.  I’m going to be talking about the latter group of part-time or adjunct faculty. Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” which is why this subject is important for all. 
2.         Our community and technical college system, like our K-12 system, is funded by our state government.  The McCleary decision has indicted our state for failing to fulfill its paramount duty to fund K-12 public education—for which the state continues to pay a fine of $100,000 a day.  As roughly 10,000 K-12 students are enrolled in our colleges every year through the Running Start program, the state may also be negligent of fulfilling its paramount duty to 34 colleges, especially when the treatment of its adjunct faculty is considered. 
 3.         Adjunct instructors have a primary role, not a secondary role, in our colleges:  not only do the 7,000 (7,315) adjuncts significantly outnumber the 3,000 (3,744) full-time, tenured faculty, adjuncts collectively teach about half of all classes, and as such, are undeniably integral to our system. 

 4.         Even though adjunct faculty must meet the same basic qualification requirements as full-time faculty, even though the tuition charged for their courses is the same, and even thought the grades and credits awarded have the same value, adjuncts faculty are certainly not treated equally; their working conditions are emphatically substandard.  Many call their treatment exploitation. 

 5.         Most workers, once they complete a probationary period, are considered permanent.  But adjuncts remain probationary, temporary employees indefinitely.  Whereas a tenured faculty can be laid off only after the state has declared a financial emergency, adjuncts are laid off at the end of every quarter.  Most adjuncts don’t receive a living wage, which is attributable to two factors: a significantly discounted wage scale—here’s a button that protests the 50% wage discrimination on our campuses—and they face a workload cap, limiting them to less than full-time even when there’s full-time work available.   I have taught nearly 25 years at OC, and for teaching 66 percent of a full time teaching load, my gross wages are less than $20,000 gross annually.  If this were a household’s only source of income, it would qualify for public assistance. 
6.         The practice of hiring of adjunct or part-time faculty began innocently enough.  During the 1970’s, enrollment from babyboomers swelled, and colleges faced a shortage of instructors, so colleges began to hire local professionals to teach a given course here and there.  Since their responsibilities were assumed limited to just teaching, colleges felt justified paying them at a discounted secondary pay rate, thereby giving birth to the two-tiered faculty workforce.  In a give-an-inch-and-take-a-mile fashion, colleges administrators embraced the practice of hiring adjuncts, not only for the significantly cheaper labor costs but for the flexibility or the expendability that adjuncts offered: if a tenured instructor’s class doesn’t fill, the college is contractually obligated to pay the instructor, but if an adjunct class doesn’t fill, he or she can be laid off without incident.  Thus, hiring adjuncts is seen by some as good business, which might be fine if we were talking about something like umbrellas that are used when needed but then put away when not.  But adjunct faculty members are people, with lives and families, and our state should be helping them, not treated them callously or with indifference.
7.         That this unfairness exists might seem bewildering, especially as adjunct faculty, in this state, are represented by a union—it’s been called higher education’s “dirty little secret.”  Isn’t a union bound but its Duty of Fair Representation to fight for equal working conditions for all its members?  Alas, a number of factors erode the community of interests that a faculty union should be and work against improvements.
8.         In a two-tiered workplace where full-time workers are paid a higher pay rate than part-timers, one might imagine that full-timers would naturally urge that part-timers be paid at the same rate to avoid having their jobs undermined by cheaper part-timer workers.  But in the case of tenured faculty, there’s no such fear since tenured faculty are contractually guaranteed a full-time load.  

9.         Not only are tenured faculty guaranteed a full-time teaching load, they are also allowed to voluntarily teach courses in addition to their full-time assignments, that is, overtime for extra money, and when they do, they often displace adjunct faculty from those courses.  This practice, which amounts to a conflict of interest, helps to explain why there has been such little progress over the last few decades at granting meaningful job security to adjuncts.  If adjunct jobs were truly protected, it would interfere with the ability of full-time faculty to teach overtime at will. 

10.       Whenever a social system has established itself and people become used to functioning in it, that social system begins to take on a life of its own and comes to be seen as the natural and normal state of affairs.  Just as no one is surprised when water runs down hill, no one is surprised when tenured faculty receive higher pay, raises that recognize teaching longevity, funds for professional development, sabbaticals, or early retirement options while adjuncts are offered none of these benefits.  That is, most people, including many adjuncts, have been lulled into accepting what Andrew Brooks terms “the most prevalent myth” about higher education (from a 2014 University Affairs article (  

that the current situation with respect to part-time and contract faculty is basically OK and nothing much needs to be done about it. It is not OK. Of two people with qualifications and experience of the same kind, if one has tenure and the other works on per-course contracts, the first is paid four times as much as the second (or more) and has job security for life. The other, in addition to awful pay, has no job security and usually no benefits (including no pension plan).
11.       Olympic College certainly demonstrated its acceptance of this myth that “nothing much needs to be done” about adjunct faculty.
            a.         It recently completed a multi-year effort at developing a strategic plan.  That plan did not involve reform for the working conditions of adjuncts.
            b.         Olympic College now has an office of Equity and Inclusion, but it’s not at all about equality for its adjunct instructors. 
            c.          During the Olympic College faculty retreat in April (on April 8), I happened to be at the same dinner table as the presenter, who was curious about the college’s support for professional development activities for adjuncts.  I criticized the college, explaining that while adjunct got a stipend for taking part in the retreat, we did not accrue credits towards a salary increase like tenured faculty do.  Also at the table was a tenured faculty member, who is a former faculty union president and who also served on the state’s 2005 Part-Time Faculty Employment Best Practices Task Force commissioned by the legislature, so his perspective represents a mainstream attitude.  He countered my criticism of the college’s treatment of adjuncts, characterizing part-time instruction as a “great part-time job.”
12.       If this is the predominant mindset of union leaders, of college administrations, of policy makers like legislators or trustees, that adjuncts are mere part-timers or maybe paraprofessionals as opposed to full-blooded professionals who happen to teach part-time, there is very little chance of improvements to the substandard working conditions, much less equality.
13.       But just as our state is paying the price for neglecting to properly fund K-12 education, we may have a fiscal if not a moral price to pay if we continue to deny equal treatment to our state’s adjuncts.
14.       The United Nations’ 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights is often used to identify human rights abuses.  Article 23, item (1) reads:
(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
Adjuncts are laid off at the end of every quarter and therefore are offered no protection from unemployment.  
Of course, nothing stops adjuncts from holding another job to augment the income, but the state doesn’t withhold full-time employment from other classes professionals that it hires to perform essential services, like engineers or K-12 teachers or ferry boat captains, expecting them to find other means to earn a livable wage while working part-time for the state
Article 23 item (2) reads:
(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
Adjuncts certainly do not receive equal pay for equal work.  Statewide adjuncts are paid 62 cents on the dollar.  
Some may argue that adjuncts do not deserve equal pay because they don’t do equal work, including the full range of services that tenured faculty are supposed to do, like holding office hours and committee work.  The reality is that many adjuncts now do far more than they are contracted to do but are not compensated for those duties; most would be delighted to do more, like holding office hours to work with students.

Article 23 item (3) reads:
(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity…
When adjuncts are provided a discounted secondary pay scale and face a workload limit that prevents them from working full-time, they are deprived of “just and favourable remuneration.”
15.       The state should have learned its lesson 15 years ago.  A class action lawsuit, Mader v. State, found that every single college in the state was underreporting adjunct hours, which deprived several thousand adjuncts of health care and retirement benefits.  The lawsuits were settled in 2002 and 2003 at a cost of $25 million, and now, thanks to those class action lawsuits and subsequent legislation, all adjuncts who work at 50 percent of a full-time load are eligible for those benefits. 

But we shouldn’t have to learn our lessons the hard way.  We should do right because it’s the right thing to do. 
16.       I’d like to conclude by quoting fellow activist and the namesake of Bremerton’s newest park, Lillian Walker from the wonderful document posted at the Washington State Secretary of State's Legacy Washington website,
If you've got something to complain about, well, work at it and make it better.  And, treat everybody right. I don't care who or what they are, treat them right. You don't have the authority to mistreat anybody, because that's why we are here - to help each other. If you can help somebody, help them.
Thank you.

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