Adjunct Survival Workshop: An AAUPportunity for chapter-building

Vitamin AAUPColorado’s Community College System (CCCS) continues to pay 75% of its faculty (the so-called “adjuncts”) poverty-level wages. To help our hard-working peers make ends meet this semester, our Front Range Community College AAUP chapter is hosting the first-ever Adjunct Survival Workshop. This event will simultaneously help our peers save hundreds of dollars this year, give us the opportunity to make some new friends, showcase the value of AAUP membership, and show lawmakers and taxpayers the cost of CCCS failed labor policies. We have invited to the event adjuncts from four CCCS colleges, local press, and lawmakers we know through our ongoing legislative efforts.

Our chapter has been sponsoring food-bank visits for some time now, but with this event we can share with adjuncts how to access food stamps, subsidized housing, inexpensive dental care, utility bill discounts, Medicaid, and other taxpayer-supported programs. State and county officials will be on hand to explain program parameters, how and when to sign up, etc. With an eye to the future, we have also invited officials from Colorado’s Public Employee Retirement Association (PERA) to demonstrate for adjunct faculty how to calculate what they will receive in retirement from their years of service in the CCCS.

Because PERA benefits are linked to salary levels during years of service to the state of Colorado, it has been estimated that the many CCCS adjunct faculty who have taught full-time teaching course loads for years will receive between $300 and $400 per month in retirement. At that income level, many CCCS adjunct faculty who have served Colorado’s economically disadvantaged youth will themselves become economically disadvantaged adults qualifying for taxpayer-supported programs for decades throughout retirement. Most alarming is how many devoted teachers working in Colorado’s wealthy Community College System already qualify for such assistance even while working for the most financially secure system of higher education in the state.

The top-heavy, well-paid CCCS administration (2,009+) outnumbers its full-time faculty (1,246), while the largest group of community college workers is the part-time or “adjunct” faculty (3,924), according to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), the national clearinghouse of higher-education reporting. Furthermore, the Feb. 2015 CCCS Financial Statements and Compliance Audit reveals the CCCS net position at the end of June, 2014, was $617,915,276 million. This represents an increase of more than $30 million since 2012, when the Basic Financial Statements and Compliance Audit for that year reported CCCS net position at the end of June 2011 was $586,996,147 million.

“The CCCS is taking in $20 million more per year than it spends,” explained Howard Bunsis, chair of the AAUP Collective Bargaining Congress, during his presentation at the July Mini-Institute sponsored by metro-area AAUP chapters of the CCCS. “That should be going to you, the teachers, instead of going into their reserves,” he said. “The mission of your college system is instruction. That money isn’t going to instruction, so that’s wrong,” he explained. “When they tell you they can’t afford to pay you even double what they are paying you now, they are lying,” he added. “Why does the CCCS need to have even more than $100 million in reserves?” he said. Bunsis is one of the nation’s foremost experts in analyzing higher education finance. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, his J.D. at Fordham Law School, and teaches accounting at Eastern Michigan University.

Although the mission of the system is to use those funds to provide instruction, as Bunsis pointed out in his July 2015 report, “The Legal and Financial Landscape for Community College Faculty in Colorado”, just 14% of CCCS revenue goes to the instructors teaching 60-85% of all courses its 13 colleges offer.

Bunsis explained that CCCS administrators employ fear tactics in spurious statements to adjunct faculty about budget shortfalls and declining enrollments, but data refute the statements. For example, very few CCCS adjunct faculty, many of whom work two or three jobs to make ends meet, understand that the CCCS takes millions more than it spends annually, and that it has accumulated more than a quarter billion dollars in reserves . The tired phrase adjuncts hear, that “enrollment is down,” provokes the question: Down from what? Student enrollment has risen dramatically from to 144,783 in 2011 to 163,000 in 2015, according to CCCS statistics, even while, semester-to-semester, there have been small fluctuations. The system continues to bring in so much money, for example, that it recently gave its full-time teachers a 20% pay increase (approximately $1,000/per course), plus a cost-of-living pay increase, while giving its part-time faculty a pay increase gesture (approximately $240/per course), and no cost-of-living increase. The part-time faculty, who rarely are allowed to move into the decreasing number of full-time positions, continue to earn poverty-level wages, even with the tiny pay increase. Meanwhile, the CCCS building boom continues apace; the system has added scores of new programs and pays tens of thousands to lobbyists to fight equal-pay legislation that adjunct faculty bring forward. The wage inequality is so severe that in the Denver metro area, for example, the few hundred full-time faculty are earning, on average, $6,800 including benefits to teach a course while their adjunct counterparts teaching that same course are earning, on average, $2,500 with no benefits. The CCCS Board on Feb. 11, 2015, determined that, in spite of its fantastic financial picture and its ability to put $20 million each year into reserves, it cares so little about the financial difficulties facing adjunct faculty that it un-recommended its own Adjunct Task Force Recommendation to give to its impoverished adjunct faculty the 28% pay increase the Task Force determined was needed. To add insult to injury, to skirt Affordable Care Act compliance, many of the 13 CCCS colleges are cutting adjunct-faculty course loads to force the adjuncts out of the teaching profession altogether. This is leaving many of Colorado’s most economically disadvantaged students without the stellar teaching that has long been the hallmark of Colorado’s community colleges.

This Adjunct Survival Workshop is the type of direct action we learned about from sessions at the AAUP Summer Institute and from books recommended to us by those presenters, esp. Beautiful Trouble and The Troublemaker’s Handbook. All it takes is some research to pull together the speakers from various programs, a little legwork to gather handouts, a bit of time to book a classroom as the venue and to e-mail faculty the invitation, and then just a little money to spring for some photocopied posters and agendas.

# # #

Your comments are welcome. They must be relevant to the topic at hand and must not contain advertisements, degrade others, or violate laws or considerations of privacy. We encourage the use of your real name, but do not prohibit pseudonyms as long as you don’t impersonate a real person.