From “Awfulizing” to Organizing

Yesterday I posted an entry about the AAUP Colorado Conference’s efforts to organize part-time community college faculty, who represent the overwhelming majority of community college teachers in that state.  Central to these efforts has been the work of Caprice Lawless, President of the Front Range Community College AAUP Chapter and Vice-President for Community Colleges of the AAUP Colorado Conference.  At the AAUP’s Summer Institute in Denver Caprice led a workshop on organizing in community colleges.  As part of the workshop she distributed a handout that she titled “AAUPropriate Considerations: Organizing at the Community Colleges.”  It’s a veritable treasure trove of organizing approaches and clever ideas, among which I found her warning to “Keep in mind you are moving from ‘awfulizing’ to ‘organizing'” especially compelling.  Because most community college faculty in Colorado (and most other states) are adjuncts, the handout focuses on organizing them, and some of the tips and references are locally specific (e.g., the use in organizing of Front Range Remover, which I suspect is a local brew) .  But many of the ideas are relevant and readily adaptable elsewhere and to full-time faculty, not only at community colleges, but even in many elite four-year colleges and universities.  Caprice has graciously agreed to share the handout more broadly, so I am posting it below with minor edits and formatting changes.  Please, make use of it as you move from “awfulizing” to ORGANIZING!

AAUPropriate Considerations
Organizing at the Community College

Caprice Lawless, VP for Community Colleges, AAUP Colorado Conference

1. Audience
Who is the primary audience for AAUP membership? The faculty on your own campus.  Although larger issues of social injustice deserve local and national press, at least in Colorado, it took us nearly three years of strategic and refined communications to persuade a local news outlet launch an investigative report on the employment conditions of our community college system. Of course, keep a stream of press releases going to all on your media advisory list, post them to your website, and send copies of each to your college administration. Other than that, though, focus on making AAUP a commonplace term on your campus. This may require branding in the most unlikely places (see list below).

2. Situation
Use each instance of inequality as a news peg for your promotions both on and off campus. Because workplace inequality is so entrenched in our system of community colleges, nearly every new semester presents another opportunity for highlighting the problem. This helps in two ways: it raises awareness among peers and simultaneously challenges the status quo.

3. Purpose
Keep in mind you are moving from “awfulizing” to “organizing.” The temptation to dwell on complaining and victimization is, at times, overwhelming. It is best, when so tempted, to talk with a colleague or two or over the phone or over a glass of Front Range Remover. Get the complaints out in the open among yourselves. Then, be careful to remain dignified and above-board in the tone of each blog post, press release, e-mail, etc.

4. Form
Here is where the fun begins. Invention traces its lineage to necessity. Are you starting from scratch at your college and looking for some ideas to try? We tried many things (a newsletter, an online book club) that were somewhat effective but others (such as those included below) were more successful. Take from the list below any of the ideas you find useful. From a few instructors at one of our 13 colleges, we gathered four more peers to form our FRCC chapter in 2013. Two years later, we are joined by 40+ instructors, with chapters at four of the colleges in our system.

Please contact me if you have any further questions about any of these steps we took.

AAUPossibilities are endless

Steps you can borrow from the AAUP chapters of the CCCS:

1. You can begin with as few as two people.
2. Start talking with peers about their work.
3. Contact the AAUP. Join (or renew your membership) as a local conference member if there is no chapter on your campus yet.
4. Subscribe to the adjunct list-serv.
5. Read a few books on the topic of contingent labor (see attached poster and list of resources on our website). We began with Joe Berry’s book, Reclaiming the Ivory Tower. Three of us read his book and learned much from it. Then we moved on to books by Bousquet, Massé, Ginsberg, Kezar, etc. We petitioned the college library to begin a new Professional Development Collection. They purchased the 15 books we asked them to, so when we make mention of these authors in any of our fliers, we direct faculty to that still-growing collection.  Each Campus Equity Week (and the week prior and following) our informational display of and about these titles dominates the entrance to the library.
6. Have some business cards made. You can have hundreds made for $20 or so by Vista Print.** We leave the name & contact area blank, so each person in your group can fill in his/her name & contact information. Distribute these widely (see sprinkling ideas below). We left them on desks, lunch tables, restroom counters, newspaper stands, etc. ALWAYS have some with you to hand to teachers you meet in the parking lot, library, standing in line for the copier, etc.
7. Set up a website. We were lucky to have an IT member build a site for us that I now manage. Begin housing documents, links to news articles, links to information about your college.*
8. Set up a “research” tab on your website to house your bibliography.
AAUP CCCS Research (our growing bibliography)
9. See other features such as “Recent Interesting Links” on the AAUP CCCS website for site sub-page ideas. Post to this area any news items (local, national, from the academy or the press) pertinent to your specific audience of peers, administrators, and those lurking (our site has had more than 11,000 visitors).
Recent, Interesting Links
10. Use your website to house press releases, official statements, white papers, etc., as you grow.
11. Get the facts. Getting them can require hours of legwork. For example, in Colorado this meant filing a Colorado Open Records Act request through the Secretary of State’s office. (We wanted to know the salaries of the presidents in our system of 13 colleges). Expect a lot of nonsense and resistance from administration. Use that nonsense to write blogs about it in the future. Transparency is not easy for administrators who prefer secrecy. Keep your eye on the prize.
12. Your friends will grow *&^%!-ing tired of hearing about the adjuncts and AAUP, etc. Love your friends anyway.
13. Use Campus Equity Week and events like National Adjunct Walkout Day to recruit members and promote your issues.
14. Research films about labor struggle, organizing, social justice, etc. and see if you can get any of your peers to watch them with you. Few will have the time to watch these, as most of us are working several jobs to make ends meet. Watch them anyway by yourself when you have time (notably: César Chávez, Gandhi, Selma, On the Waterfront, Brassed Off (esp. the Postelthwaite’s speech at the end), and Norma Rae. By watching these films you will get your Brando on, and you need that. Also of great use are all the YouTube videos on Paolo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and those on social justice issues as expressed by Noam Chomsky, Henry Giroux, Howard Zinn and Bruno della Chiesa.
15. Gandhi urges us to “make the invisible visible.” Use everything that goes wrong as an opportunity to show the need to set things right, to highlight the struggle. Are adjuncts shut out of the flu-shot program? Get flu-shot vouchers and use the distribution of them for AAUP membership recruitment. Are adjuncts hungry because they can’t buy groceries? Our chapter sponsors food-bank visits and promotes food-bank use as a recruitment tool, while also using the situation to bring attention to the low wages adjuncts are paid. Are adjuncts shut out of the on-campus Health Fair? Organize one for adjuncts only, as we did. Our next big event in September will bring in expertise from the state-employee retirement program to help adjuncts calculate their retirement payments (such as they are). Representatives from nearby county housing authorities will show us how to sign up for subsidize housing now and in retirement. State health-care program workers will be on hand to distribute Medicaid forms, free dental information, etc.
Food Banks and Flu Shots 2013
We Care Health Fair 2014
16. Host some potlucks and Scrabble games at your house. Allow generous time for complaining and venting of frustration. Give Scrabble players 50 extra points if they can spell out “adjunct,” “contingent,” “labor” or “wage,” etc. Serve generous amounts of Front Range Remover.
17. Plan some public events: We began with a Film Series at a local library, showing Con Job and a few YouTube video clips made by Marc Bousquet. We invited to that event a state representative (Rep. Randy Fischer) who had been involved in higher education issues and two from the AAUP who had also been involved in the issues (Don Eron and Suzanne Hudson). We found out about them through our own research.
Con Job: Stories of Adjunct & Contingent Labor
Marc Bousquet: How the University Works
18. As soon as you have the minimum number of seven members in your group, formally set up an AAUP chapter. Send out a press release announcing that. Sprinkle the press release on campus. Celebrate with another Scrabble game and more Front Range Remover.
19. Begin power-mapping your job. Look for organizational charts. Which state and federal agencies oversee your college? How were community colleges started in your state? Who is your accrediting agency? Who serves on your governing board? How are they selected? What legislation (if any) has been attempted to remedy your situation? What unions are active in your state? Are working conditions better for adjuncts anywhere else? Who’s who in the state Dept. of Education, Dept. of Higher education? Which legislators sit on the Education Committees in the House and Senate?
20. Go out and meet people. Set up appointments with legislators. Take as many to the Capitol from your group as can attend. Learn which roads to take, where to park, where to get coffee, where the restrooms and elevators are. Get as comfortable as you can be in navigating your state Capitol so that you can confidently lead others to meetings later. At the start it was just one or two of us. We met with legislators for 15 minutes at a time. We introduced ourselves to the local AFT president. I had many long conversations with legislative liaisons, etc. as we built our power map. (Note: these maps are not static, but constantly in motion).
21. Set up and staff membership/information tables for Faculty In-Service events and for Campus Equity Week. Think of ways to spread the AAUP brand. Candy bars? Muffins? Coffee cups? (See examples.)
22. Set up displays of information wherever faculty gather (adjunct workrooms, lunchrooms, etc.). On our campus, bulletin boards are controlled by the Vice President and adjuncts have no offices. However, we share workrooms. There are refrigerators, microwave ovens and file cabinets there. Be creative in methods you can use to build visibility about your group. Our Red Rocks chapter made a gallery of faculty, with their photos and brief narratives, and then posted these on a well-traversed hallway for NAWD [National Adjunct Walkout Day]. It was NAWD-ey and nice!
23. Research and build a media advisory list.
24. Build a blog on your website. Invite peers to contribute posts.
25. Use blog to distribute press releases, links to research, etc.
26. If you are as lucky as we have been, your local AAUP Conference will help you push for change, launch legislation, write drafts of bills, and assist in every way they know how to improve your working conditions. They will inspire you with their intelligence, drive and passion. The Executive Committee of the Colorado Conference of the AAUP is an electrifying group, and that energy is contagious. You will finally feel you are a professional making a vital contribution to one of the nation’s most critical endeavors. That horrible feeling of worthlessness as you toil away, forgotten in a forgotten classroom, will lift. The AAUP is the multivitamin you needed all along. “If only I had known,” you will think. Once your individual and collective spirits are up, recruit chapter members to speak before House and Senate committees. Doing so builds confidence and builds chapter leaders.
Community College Pay and Benefits Act of 2014 (House Bill, 2014)
Senate Bill 094 (Senate Bill, 2015)
27. Work with the AAUP Conference to launch legislation, if there is a way to do so. We have been overwhelmed by the generosity and firepower of our Conference.
28. Publish & distribute results of your research in creative ways. We refer to this guerilla-marketing method as “sprinkling.” Listed below are some of our displays and locations for sprinkling. As we had more press releases, charts, etc. to distribute, we would add a few of these to each display as well. It gave passersby a strong impression of all we were doing, thus gathering even more to our group:
a. pie charts set out with apple pies, plates & forks
b. charts showing wage discrepancies set out with “Let Them Eat Cake” sheet cakes, a few business cards, AAUP membership forms, etc.  CCCS Salary Chart 2013
c. peanuts and crackers with notices of food bank visits.
d. tissue boxes in classrooms with notices about flu-shot vouchers/AAUP membership, links to our website, decorated with AAUP bumper stickers (our most enduring campaign so far)
e. bookmarks in whiteboard trays and under computer mice
f. fliers on classroom instructor chairs in classrooms
g. fliers or press releases folded up inside microwave ovens
h. fliers taped to refrigerator doors
i. fliers set inside refrigerators among lunch bags
j. press releases to all the contacts on your media advisory list
k. Don’t forget that your college president needs a copy of your missives.
AAUP Toolkit
29. You won’t feel as though you are making any progress when your House bill fails and then the Senate bill fails. Your chapter will lose some members. You will feel like giving up. Keep on working anyway. We refer to our chapter meetings at the Press Club as Summits. In January we had a Snowflake Summit. In March, we had a Shamrock Summit. After our bill failed, we had a Damn It! Summit. At that event we gave prizes for the best complaint about work, played a PowerPoint game we created called “Who Wants to be a Millionaire an Adjunct Pauper?” The winner received a prize. We made and shared misfortune cookies.
30. If you have time, publish a book that entertains while it educates. Sell it at your CEW and NAWD tables, and via your website. You will raise awareness this way, along with funds for printing of fliers and parking at the Capitol. Send copies to all members of your state House and Senate Education Committees, community supporters, key decision-makers.
The Adjunct Cookbook 2014
31. Read and re-read Gandhi. Read and re-read Howard Zinn. Copy down little quotes on post-it notes. Put them on your bathroom mirror. Friends who visit will tease you about your *&^%!-ing adjunct/AAUP cult stuff. Keep those notes up there anyway. Look at them every morning.
32. Get to the AAUP Summer Institute. Savor each moment and save all the handouts and notes. You will find them useful in the future.
33. Repeat steps 1 to 32.

2 thoughts on “From “Awfulizing” to Organizing

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