The Journey of a Movement – A Brief History of COCAL

By Mary Ellen Goodwin

This is the fifth in a series of Academe Blog guest posts arranged by the AAUP Committee on Contingency and the Profession in celebration of Campus Equity Week. For information on and resources for CEW, see the national website at

In August 2012, contingent academic activists from across the United States, Canada, and Mexico converged on the campus of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México for three days of plenaries and workshops focused on the impact of the globalized neoliberal economy on public higher education. The gathering in Mexico City marked a milestone on a journey that has spanned seventeen years; not only was it the first time the conference was held in Mexico, but it was the largest gathering since the first meeting of the National Congress of Adjunct, Part-Time, Graduate Teaching Assistants, and Non-Tenured Faculty in Washington, D.C., in December 1996.

The second National Congress was held at the CUNY Grad Center in New York City in April 1998. In the weeks following this conference, a newly formed Steering Committee voted on a name for the movement, and ultimately the moniker “Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor” was adopted.  A year later, regional activists gathered at the University of Massachusetts, Boston for the third conference.

In January 2001, COCAL traveled west to San José, California, for the first bi-national conference. Over 160 contingent activists and allies from across the United States and Canada convened at San José City College for COCAL IV. Indeed it was an movement whose time had come and contingents were not going to be intimidated into silence any longer; it was at this conference that plans for the first Campus Equity Week were conceived.

The fifth conference took place in Montréal in August of 2002. COCAL V marked the first time that a significant contingency from Mexico attended the conference, signaling the beginning of a truly international movement—COCAL had become a tri-lingual conference and has convened biennially in August ever since, traveling between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The journey has taken the movement to Chicago (2004), Vancouver (2006), San Diego (2008), Québec (2010), and Mexico City (2012).

While attendees have been primarily from Canada, Mexico, and the United States, over the years contingents have traveled from as far away as Ireland, Germany, South Korea, and Africa to attend COCAL conferences. With the 2014 conference being held in New York City—just steps away from the United Nations—our hope is to attract an even wider international audience, as contingency has indeed become pandemic.

A more complete history of COCAL and its conferences can be found on the COCAL website, You can also stay informed about important issues by joining the Adjunct List serve,, and the COCAL Facebook page, Read more about the upcoming COCAL XI on Academe Blog.

ABOUT COCAL:  The Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor is a network of North American activists working to strengthen higher education and improve academic workers’ working conditions. COCAL is not affiliated with any single labor union and promotes grassroots contingent faculty organizing through events like Campus Equity Week and a biennial conference.

Mary Ellen Goodwin has taught as a contingent faculty member for over 20 years. She currently teaches ESL at De Anza College in Cupertino, CA, and serves as the Associate Secretary for the Foothill-De Anza Faculty Association. She sits on the Board of Governors for the Faculty Association for California Community Colleges (FACCC) and is a member of the AAUP Committee of Contingency and the Profession. She was the coordinator for the COCAL IV conference and is a member of the COCAL International Advisory Committee.

For information about the AAUP Committee on Contingency and the Profession, see


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