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Doubling Down on the Exploitation of Adjunct Faculty

In an article titled “Outsourced in Michigan” written for Inside Higher Ed, Colleen Flaherty chronicles the movement among Michigan’s community colleges to outsource the hiring of adjunct faculty and the management of related “payroll duties” to a corporation called EDUStaff.

EDUStaff had previously specialized in providing substitute teachers for K-12 systems. So, if you have been dismissing the warnings that what has been occurring at the K-12 level will be increasingly migrating to the postsecondary level, here is some further, very direct evidence on that pattern.

The Far Right is very clearly intent on privatizing all public services, including public education at all levels. It is not a scare tactic to assert that this is occurring. It is, instead, willful ignorance to deny that it is occurring, that it is a very serious threat, and that it demands very determined and persistent opposition.

The outsourcing of adjunct hiring in Michigan is wrong on so many levels that one hardly knows where to begin. But it is clearly a result of Michigan’s becoming a “right to work” state and the tacit political and “cultural” endorsement of exploitative labor practices.

Michigan’s community colleges are directly adopting the strategy common among the operators of the vast networks of warehouses across the U.S., the sector that now employs many of the low-wage workers who several decades ago were employed primarily in low-end manufacturing and then, during the previous decade’s short-lived “building boom,” became employed in construction. WalMart and the other operators of these networks of warehouses rely on “temp agencies” to meet almost all of their “staffing” needs. This strategy keeps wages low, insures that benefits remain almost non-existent, and makes it much more difficult for the workers to unionize since their places of employment are never fixed.

One might argue that such a summary suggests very little change in the current conditions of employment for adjunct faculty since they are already paid very little, are denied benefits, and face steep obstacles to unionizing.

But corporate America and in particular the corporations specializing in the privatization of public services have become very expert at squeezing large profits from the meager compensation of low-wage workers. In Michigan, the “temp agency” will become the employer of record for adjunct faculty (managing “payroll duties” is a euphemism for being the employer of record). This strategy will free the community colleges from the obligation of paying into the state retirement system on behalf of adjunct faculty, and “private” employers are, of course, not required to do so.

Ironically, the argument supporting this strategy that was presented by the institution that first proposed it is that most adjunct faculty do not remain employed as adjuncts long enough for them to be eligible to draw pensions from the retirement system. But even with the outsourcing to EDUStaff, those adjunct faculty will be required to make contributions—albeit somewhat reduced contributions—to the pension system. So, to be clear, the institutions will no longer have any responsibility to make contributions that will enhance the pensions received by those adjunct faculty who do manage to make enough contributions to become eligible for pensions, but the individual adjunct faculty will be required to continue to make contributions to a pension system from which most of them may never draw a pension.

So, the next step will almost certainly be for the privatizers to argue that these and undoubtedly other contributions to the pension system are patently unfair, and that argument will provide the basis for further “reforms” of the pension system.

To their credit, most of the unions representing full-time faculty at the community colleges in Michigan are adamantly opposed to this outsourcing of adjunct hiring. But, at Michigan’s community colleges, only 16% of the faculty are still full-time and only 30%-40% of the courses are now taught by full-time faculty. So, in some ways, those unions are fighting a rear-guard action from which we may benefit more than they do. (An analogy might be found in the rear-guard fighting done by the French divisions that temporarily stalled the German advance on Dunkirk.)

In many ways, the contract with EDUStaff that these community colleges have entered into formalizes the most worrisome aspects of the increasing exploitation of adjunct faculty: the end of any pretense whatsoever of meaningful academic freedom, the end of any pretense whatsoever of any opportunity for more secure employment, the “unbundling” of faculty responsibilities, and the outright reduction of the profession to a low-wage employment sector. In fact, this outsourcing of adjunct labor actually takes everything one further, major step in the wrong direction because it de-institutionalizes the hiring of adjunct faculty at institutions where they are the great majority of faculty and teach the great majority of courses.

This is the proverbial canary in the coal mine after the first dizzying whiff of methane.

 

The full text of Flaherty’s article is available at: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/07/21/colleges-assign-adjunct-hiring-third-party#sthash.Fh2qCtHv.g4grLfBo.dpbs

 

About martinkich

I am a Professor of English at Wright State University, where I have been a faculty member for almost 25 years. I serve as the president of the WSU chapter of AAUP, which now includes two bargaining units, as the vice-president of the Ohio Conference of AAUP, and as a member of the executive committee of AAUP's Collective Bargaining Congress. As co-chair of the Ohio Conference's Communication Committee, I began to do much more overtly political writing during the campaign to repeal Ohio's Senate Bill 5, which would have eliminated the right of faculty to be unionized.

5 comments on “Doubling Down on the Exploitation of Adjunct Faculty

  1. Dot
    July 25, 2014

    Even on the strictly financial side, I would love to know how EduStaff makes money on these deals… according to my college, using EduStaff will lead to the college paying the same amount they do now while adjuncts get raises of up to 25%, and in addition to this EduStaff has to be getting a profit somewhere. It just doesn’t add up…

    • martinkich
      July 25, 2014

      I don’t think that there are any examples of privatization leading to higher wages for average workers. The consistent pattern is that management and shareholders make money at the expense of average workers.

      If adjunct wages increase, it may be because the institutions are funneling some of the revenue that they are saving on pension contributions to higher salaries to make the whole thing seem more palatable. But even if that is the case, one wonders how long it will last.

  2. southwerk
    July 26, 2014

    Reblogged this on Pilant's Faculty Senate Page.

  3. mirandamerklein
    July 31, 2014

    Reblogged this on PrecariLeaks and commented:
    Rent-a-prof staffing agencies ready and willing to supply a fresh batch of scabjuncts to colleges and universities whose contingent faculty demand fair wages and a workload policies. Too bad we’re on to you, “Adjunct Resource Fairs.”

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