By Caprice Lawless, VP for Community Colleges, Colorado Conference, AAUP
Adjunct faculty, especially, are pressed for the time to research their institution, to learn how the moving parts work (or don’t), and where the money is going. Do it for them. Publish an index. Take a look at ours (link below) to give you some ideas.
We are finding this rhetorical form extremely useful. We published our first one in 2013 and it brought numerous faculty members to our chapters. We publish these on our website, send to the press, make copies to post in adjunct workrooms and offices, and stick them in the refrigerators and microwave ovens faculty use. (They are food for thought, after all).
It will take a bit of time to conduct the research on your institution and to, as they say in J-school, “Follow the money.” However, keep in mind that time will be well spent. As thought leaders, you will be coming up to speed on the conversations about your campus, your college, your college system (if your college is part of one), the key players in your state government’s higher education community, some insight about your accrediting agencies, which news outlets your institution keeps on a short string, and how some in the local business community support administrative prerogatives over living wages for you and your peers. You will be surprised daily as you work. Put each surprise into a sentence, include a hyperlink, carefully cite your sources, and voila! You’ve made an index!
The index is a persuasive rhetorical form because it is a quick and memorable read, while also providing readers links to read further when and if they have the time. You can make your argument using statistics and the Orwellian speech of administrators, Chamber of Commerce officials and lawmakers. In the course of your work throughout the year, just copy and paste into a file the prickly plums that arrive weekly in your faculty e-mail. Also save to that file the links to newspaper articles or TV programs that mention your predicament.
The process will force you to encounter your institution’s financial audits. Will they bedevil you? Yes, especially if you are not an expert in finance. We forget sometimes, as teachers, that the number one skill we pass onto our students is the ability to question, and that it is okay to follow our own advice. You will have to find a colleague who understands accounting or finance. For our 2013 index, we were new to the AAUP and did not know where to turn for help. So, armed with questions, I called upon a friend in Denver who has never worked as an adjunct, but who has worked for VPs of Finance in two of Colorado’s largest corporations. I also sent to a few accountants I know from my water aerobics class the link to our college system’s annual audit, along with a few more of my naïve questions about our financial situation.
In this way, I received all sorts of knowledge about audits and financing, and consequently made a number of Kiwanis, Elks and small business owners aware of the shaky labor practices in the community colleges. Making friends in other industries and in other associations is another aspect of activism. It’s also fun to work with people outside of academia and outside of your area of expertise. Long story short, my Finance insider downtown fished out some of the key information I needed for our first index, which we published and also used to make a revelatory pie chart depicting some of the same facts. This year, I was able to use some IPEDS statistics Howard Bunsis provided during his presentation at our July 2105 Mini-Innie. (The AAUP Summer Institute offers workshops each year on how to understand audits, and I look forward to taking one of those workshops soon.)
You may encounter heavy resistance from your college. For example, for our 2013 index, we wanted to know the salaries of our system president and each of the 13 college presidents. That information is not available to the general public, by an obscure legislative decree passed a few years ago. That legislative measure is a sad comment on the lack of transparency higher education enjoys here in Colorado. To get the salary information I had to file a Colorado Open Records Act request form with the Secretary of State’s office.
A few weeks later, I received a cryptic e-mail from the legal office of our college system, explaining that the information was available but that it could not be e-mailed, that I would have to come to the system’s office get it in person and that it would cost me $.25 per page. Not sure of how many pages that would entail, and a bit nervous about the 54-mile, round-trip drive in January weather, I asked Suzanne Hudson, Secretary-Treasurer of the AAUP’s Colorado Conference for advice. She was surprised by the e-mail as well, and worried that it might entail hours of sorting through hefty ledgers, making photocopies, etc. Suzanne is a wonderful chapter mentor, and so did not hesitate to volunteer to accompany me to the far-away office to help me make the copies. She told me to wear comfortable shoes and that she would bring along the conference checkbook to pay for the copying.
Upon our arrival at the imposing system office, a lone receptionist corralled behind a room-sized counter asked who I was, and then nervously pushed across the counter toward me an envelope with a single piece of paper in it. On it was listed the names of the 13 college presidents, their salaries, as well as the salary of the system president. The receptionist said the fee for the document, according to a post-it note attached to the envelope, would be $.25. Suzanne gave the woman a quarter and we asked for a receipt. We used that information in our first index. I’m only telling this story so you will have some idea of the type of nonsense you may encounter as you create your index. Stay cool, stay calm and carry on. Do not be deterred.
When it comes to information-gathering, it is OK to be a free-range chicken. You’ll become aware of all you don’t know, but wish you did. Make note of it and save it for your next index. Stay curious, stay open, and stay professional.
For example, last week, I had spent a few hours reading and re-reading the lobbyist information pages on our Secretary of State’s website, making notes and drawing charts, but remained more perplexed than ever. We wanted to know how many lobbyists the CCCS had working under contract and how much each one was paid to oppose our House bill in 2014 and our Senate bill in 2015. I had come up with some rough figures, but the power of an index is its precision. Also, I did not want to misrepresent accidentally the data provided by the Secretary of State’s office. I also did not want to go to the bother of filing a Colorado Open Records Act request again, as that process can be time-consuming, and I know from experience how cranky and uncooperative our college system can be with those requests.
Accordingly, I made a brief call to the Secretary of State’s office to ask for clarification. The staff member was cheery and helpful, and explained how to word a field-specific request from the database. In a few days I had the lobbying detail for the 2015 index. Even after she sent it to me, however, I followed up with a brief question to verify the way I was going to publish the information. This attention to detail is critical so as not to misrepresent the Secretary of State’s office and for the research process to reflect positively on the AAUP.
As you read through The 2015 CCCS Adjunct Index, you’ll get many ideas of your own. Make note of those ideas. Pour yourself a cup of coffee (or, if you prefer, a glass of what we refer to as “Front Range Remover”) and get started. Use your research chops to go all out for your index!