How the Adjunct Crisis Hurts Students and the Importance of Fighting Back

Today I’m pleased to be able to publish this guest post by AAUP member Miranda Merklein, a contract professor serving the Northern New Mexico area. She holds a Ph.D. in English from University of Southern Mississippi, an M.A. in liberal arts from St. John’s college, and a B.A. in political science from College of Santa Fe.

Adjuncts are frequently told that basic necessities like a living wage and health care are not “in the budget” of the institutions that employ us, where we work full time hours as contracted, part time labor in a semester-to-semester purgatory state of what-ifs, often at multiple institutions with little to no control of our teaching schedules. We are the lowest paid, albeit terminally educated and skilled, employees at our institutions where we are treated like untouchables by virtually everyone on campus except our students who, until recently, had no idea we were teetering on the edge of financial ruin and emotional collapse. When we approach management about an increase in pay, a living wage, our intentions are questioned and we are accused of putting our own monetary needs above our chosen profession, teaching. At the same time, the people who are in it for the money—college presidents, upper administration, sports coaches—continue to earn raises like we collect white hairs while watching our students and our own children fall deeper into debt.

Tenure track and full time faculty speak of themselves as “we,” as in “we, the department”; contract professors, better known as adjuncts, are the outsiders, the “you guys”, separate and inferior no matter how long we have worked at a particular institution or how many classes we teach. “Thanks for helping us out,” they say. “We appreciate your flexibility.” While I realize this internalized superiority is not necessarily a result of conscious intention, it is damaging nonetheless, especially because this ideology is continually reinforced by the polarized working conditions of the two-tier faculty campus (see Jane Elliott’s Brown Eyes/Blue Eyes exercise). Although I consider myself lucky to have worked with many interesting and considerate colleagues in a variety of roles in my professional life, I would not be surprised if it were suddenly “in the budget” to build separate bathrooms for adjuncts; that’s how deranged the adjunct crisis has become, at great cost to our students and higher education. Continue reading

Colorado Community College Equity Act Song and Video

I’ve enjoyed this video in support of legislation for equal compensation for all faculty in Colorado’s community colleges and asked colleague Don Eron to write about it. Don is a faculty member at UC Boulder, a member of the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, and a leader in the Colorado AAUP conference. Here’s what he says:

Here is a link to a You Tube video of the “official” Colorado HB14-1154 campaign song:

HB14-1154, the Community College Pay and Benefits Equity Act of 2014, will provide equal pay for equal work for Colorado community college faculty. Currently, many community college teachers in Colorado are on food stamps, qualify for indigent health care, and receive their food from food banks. Under the bill, all faculty will receive pay and benefits under one salary schedule. This AAUP legislation has been endorsed by AFT Colorado, SEIU Colorado, AAUW Colorado, the Colorado Education Association, 9 to 5, FRESC, and the New Faculty Majority. It passed through the House State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee on February 3, and will appear before the Appropriations Committee within the next few weeks.

The Colorado Community College System (CCCS), in opposing this bill, argues that HB14-1154 will result in a doubling of state appropriations, a 56% tuition hike, the closing of numerous campuses, and irreparably damage the quality of education offered by Colorado’s community colleges. However, the CCCS boasts an extraordinarily healthy financial profile. We expect to demonstrate that, through a judicious use of surpluses and by slowing the growth rate in areas less essential than instruction, HB14-1154 will not require additional state expenditures, the raiding of current reserves, tuition increases, or the closing of colleges, and it will not alter in any way the educational mission of the system.

We have a broken community college system that works wonderfully well for one stakeholder–the upper level administrators who make the budget decisions–but offers too many incentives for these administrators to create hardships for instructors and poor learning conditions for students. What HB14-1154 does is remove the CCCS’s overwhelming financial incentive to prevent part-time faculty from becoming full-time faculty.

The You Tube video linked above was a complete surprise–we know that “Anonymous” is an adjunct in the Colorado Community College System, but he prefers to remain hooded for the time being. “Adjunct: Equal Pay” is the best song/video I’ve ever seen or heard about adjunct labor. It also perfectly captures the grassroots ethos of the HB14-1154 campaign.

For more information on this legislation, please go to the Front Range Community College AAUP Chapter home page:

Adjunct Positions and Student Learning

A new report out today from the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education (of which the AAUP is a member) focuses on problems faced by contingent faculty–and, by extension, their students–at the start of term. The report, based on a survey by the New Faculty Majority of 500 adjuncts, find that many have “at best, inadequate access to sample course syllabi, curriculum guidelines, library resources, clerical support, and the like. They often have only limited, if any, access to personal offices, telephones, computers, and associated software, and technological tools and training.”

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Time for a Humanities Offensive?

The humanities have more to lose in the current budget wars than either the sciences or technical fields, says AAUP president Cary Nelson, in “Fighting for the Humanities,” just out in the new issue of Academe (the full issue will be released next week). This is because people take it for granted that scientific knowledge must advance, but view the humanities as more dispensible. Yet, Nelson says:

[T]the sciences are not the only group of disciplines that challenge belief systems. The demand that we see ourselves, as humans, differently from how we have before—the assertion that knowledge of ourselves and of our history is fundamentally false—is part of the continuous burden of the humanities, and it is almost always unwelcome.

Given the various assaults on higher education in general and the humanities in particular, Nelson asks:

[C]an we prevent the humanities from being tamed? Can we preserve the academic freedom to celebrate diverse and idiosyncratic cultural achievements and to draw provocative comparisons and contrasts across the whole of human knowledge? Can we maintain the capacity to challenge received beliefs, the confidence in righteous nationhood, and our blindness to injustice and prejudice?

Only, he suggests, if we embark on a “humanities offensive”: an educational project wherein we assert what we believe and explain it.

Read the whole article and let us know what you think.

Student Debt and Other Threats to Affordable Higher Ed

There was lot of Twitter buzz this weekend about a roundtable at the Modern Language Association convention in Seattle on the fight for public higher education (see a roundup of Tweets).  The roundtable (organized by yours truly, although in the end I wasn’t able to participate) included Michelle Masse, Jeffrey Williams, Jason Jones, Bob Samuels, Christopher Simeone, and Marc Bousquet  on the topic of 1) attacks on public higher ed and 2) what faculty and graduate students should be doing to shore up quality, affordable public higher education.

There is more about the roundtable in the Chronicle of Higher Ed—just ignore the misleading title.

And just out, here’s more on the student debt problem from Jeffrey Williams, professor of English and cultural studies at Carnegie Mellon University and one of the roundtablers. Escalating student debt is a kind of bondage, he writes in “Academic Freedom and Indentured Students,” an article in the new issue of Academe (the whole issue will be released next week).

He notes that  two-thirds of American college students now graduate with substantial debt, and compares this system to indentured servitude, affecting students for a significant part of their future work lives and limiting work and life choices. He continues:

At its core, student debt is a labor issue, just as colonial indenture was, subsisting off the desire of those less privileged to gain better opportunities in exchange for their future labor. One of the goals of the planners of the US university system after World War II was to displace what they saw as an aristocracy; instead, they promoted equal opportunity in order to build America through its best talent. The new tide of student debt reinforces rather than dissolves the discriminations of class. Finally, it violates the spirit of American freedom in leading those less wealthy to bind their futures.

Read the article for yourself and weigh in with your comments.

Are We in for a Wave of Privatization?

In the new issue of Academe, Bruce Burgett argues that for public universities in states like Washington, the temptation to privatize is becoming overwhelming. He writes:

Given the rise of market-based models in educational policy circles, the threat of the current moment is that the economic stress public institutions are experiencing will lead them to jump at any partnership or initiative that promises new revenue, treating their mission to provide broad access to higher education as a luxury that is unaffordable in the current crisis.

Is this going on with your state’s public institutions?

New Article on Budget Cuts and Education Quality

In the new issue of Academe, Elizabeth Capaldi, executive vice president and provost at Arizona State University, writes about how her university has handled steep cuts in state funding.

She says that while some university activities–for example, a named fund, building, or chair–are supported by dedicated funds, “the state and the students themselves are the primary funders of the educational functions of public universities.” Thus, although faculty have tried to shield students, “the recent state budget cuts have thus had a disproportionate effect on the education of students.”

She continues:

Because administrators do not like to talk publicly about the negative effects of budget cuts, many people outside the university do not realize how much damage these cuts are causing. While it is important for legislators and governors—and the public at large—to understand these negative effects, advertising the effects hurts our ability to recruit faculty members and students and depresses morale. We know, however, that when we increase class size, rely more heavily on contingent faculty, and cut staff, we are indeed interfering with the quality of education we provide to students.

Is your institution dealing with budget cuts? If so, what are the most visible effects and what is kept hidden?


This photo collection from the Atlantic, with pictures collected from Occupy demonstrations across the world, really brings home the breadth of the protests.The AAUP’s Council and Collective Bargaining Congress endorsed the Occupy movement last week–a move that, judging from the volume and intensity of e-mail responses, evoked strong feelings among our membership.

For many reasons–including the fact that student access to higher education is increasingly threatened by mounting costs and loans and the fact that faculty themselves have become predominantly low-wage workers with few protections for academic freedom–faculty at more and more institutions are issuing statements of support for or participating in the movement. To name just those tha crossed my computer screen in the last day or two: Oberlin College, Temple University, Columbia University, the New School, the City University of New York, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of California, the Cal State system.

What are faculty at your institution doing?

My son at Occupy DC with the sign he made.  We occupy because our family and others deserve access to quality public education, libraries, health care, good jobs, and collective bargaining rights–all things that are being undermined by the concentration of wealth at the top & the erosion of the social contract.

Institutional Review Boards Overstepping Their Roles

The AAUP recently submitted comments to the Department of Health and Human Services in response to proposed new rule making on institutional review boards, the campus bodies that oversee research on human subjects. In accordance with the AAUP’s 2006 report on this subject, the comments emphasize that IRBs should evaluate risk based on empirical evidence, that there should be no IRB review of interview, observation, and survey research with legally competent adults, and that the federal government should not regulate research it does not pay for.

The 2006 report was prompted in part by many complaints of inappropriate IRB actions, particularly

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