This is a guest post by Miranda Merklein, a contributor to the recent September-October issue of Academe. Merklein is the acting president of the Santa Fe Community College-AAUP chapter, where she works as an adjunct professor. She also teaches at Northern New Mexico College. Follow her on Twitter @MirandaMerklein.
The organizing drive really picked up over the summer, after the Santa Fe Community College’s administration surprised the SFCC community with news of a five million dollar budget shortfall. This news was announced on August 5 in two talks given by Interim President Randy Grissom–as attendance at the first meeting exceeded fire code capacity, in which security guards were stationed at the doors to turn aggravated employees away, so a second meeting was scheduled–and laid out in a simple PowerPoint presentation. Immediately following the president’s talk, the “Financial Stability Plan” (FSB) that called for immediate layoffs, salary cuts and a tuition increase, was approved by the Governing Board without public comment.
This complete failure of shared governance occurred the week before fall convocation when many faculty members are not on campus. Although select representatives of faculty and staff were made aware of the decision in the weeks preceding the announcement, they were reportedly told not to share this information with the rest of us, and they obeyed. Additionally, because faculty senate does not hold meetings over the summer, there was no opportunity for us to receive news of the alleged financial crisis in any event. When I expressed my concern to the faculty senate representative at the board meeting, I was strongly advised not to go “looking for victims” to refer to the press in attendance because the original solution was to balance the budget deficit solely on adjunct professors (my employee classification), an idea that was later abandoned in favor of other select reduction-in-force layoffs.
Because the advocacy chapter represents the concerns of all faculty at SFCC, including adjunct and full-time professors, all on contingent contracts, my response–to which I received quite a bit of criticism for my lack of restraint in speaking with a local reporter–was to immediately contact national AAUP staff and request assistance for what I understood and still believe to be a serious assault on shared governance that calls for an independent financial analysis. Before I got a chance to make that move, however, I was contacted by staff as soon as the press coverage hit social media. Our regional coordinator arrived the following week and a special chapter meeting was held where members composed a letter of concern to Grissom and the Governing Board. We requested clarification of the rationale behind the FSB pay cuts and layoffs and presented our own preliminary financial overview, which was inconsistent with the claim that the college was experiencing a shortfall. We also expressed our concern for the lack of transparency involved in the decision-making process.
Grissom responded to our letter the following week after the body of the letter was pasted into the “Submit Your Rumor or Suggestion” box on our internal Web portal. He also scheduled a Q&A session for faculty and staff where questions were answered and key points were emphasized by another PowerPoint presentation. Since then we have received regular updates in writing to items submitted to the rumor/suggestion box. Meanwhile, several faculty members and I formed an organizing committee for the purpose of mobilizing faculty on campus, because we think it is necessary.
So far adjunct professors have been the most engaged and active participants in organizing for the purpose of forming a union. It is hard to say exactly what the future holds, but we plan to conduct an election of officers this semester and are looking forward to a full financial analysis to be presented by Howard Bunsis, chair of the AAUP Collective Bargaining Congress. Meanwhile, I was glad to share my recent experiences at SFCC and Northern New Mexico College, where I am (to my astonishment!) still employed as an adjunct, at the Colorado Shared Governance Conference in Durango on September 5.
I attribute my continued survival as an outspoken adjunct to my public identity as an activist, as it is much easier to eliminate the quiet ones. Whatever happens, I am not afraid to remain active and continue to voice my concerns, especially at SFCC where I first started my academic career as a student 16 years ago. After all, SFCC is my and my student’s school as much as anyone else’s. I just hope that more of my colleagues will see that there is more protection in being public than there is in flying quietly under the radar or succumbing to the dialogue management campaign. Together we have the ability to make SFCC a better campus for faculty, staff, students, and the community we serve.