BY CAPRICE LAWLESS
Twice as many attended this year’s multi-college, AAUP end-of-the-school-year Damn It! Summit, held once again at the historic Denver Press Club. AAUP members from four college chapters within the Colorado Community College System (CCCS) showed up, ready to party. AAUP Colorado Conference Co-President, Steve Mumme, was on hand to toast the year’s end with the revelers, as was national AAUP Committee A Member Don Eron, AAUP Chapter Presidents Shane Peterson (CC Denver), Nate Bork (CC Aurora), Natasha McConnahie and Anne Emmons (Red Rocks CC), Larry Eson and Mark DuCharme (FRCC), along with chapter members from the various colleges.
Attendees explained how their jobs as adjunct faculty are isolating and their contributions so discounted that chapter confabs give them needed outlets for camaraderie and validation.
“Being in the AAUP helps keep me sane,” said Mark DuCharme, co-president of the Front Range Community College chapter. He has been teaching English as an adjunct for nearly a decade. “Being an adjunct can be a lonely and fearful experience,” he explained. “Getting to know some of my colleagues and learning that they go through the same things I do has been immeasurably helpful to me, both as a human being and as a teacher. I feel connected with my AAUP cohort, whereas when I first started teaching at FRCC I felt totally isolated and unspeakably alone.
“I look forward to events like the Damn It! Summit as a way to replenish myself while also reconnecting with familiar colleagues and meeting new ones,” said DuCharme.
AAUP events at the Club provide members a way to get out of their gritty work environments and get together somewhere upscale. Community college adjuncts, especially, otherwise can’t afford to go anywhere classy, as they usually have too much month left at the end of the money.
Attendees spent most of the time just basking in the ambiance, catching up with one another, saying “Damn It!” and other bad words aloud for a good cause. They did so while enjoying many rounds of bottom-shelf CCCS remover. After dinner, the crowd made a spot on the floor to play a game saluting CCCS administration’s budget bamboozling: “Budget Boogie Woogie Baggo.” The beanbag toss game was accompanied by swing-era music Larry Eson, FRCC chapter co-president, had brought, including “In the Mood,” “Jump Jive an’ Wail,” etc. Top-scoring winners received either English pub beer mugs or English pub coasters. Third-place winners won mints in union-jack-decorated tins that read, “Keep Calm and Carry On and Join the AAUP.”
A drawing every half-hour distributed door prizes (beautiful, beaded, red-and-black lanterns contributed by Melinda Myrick, FRCC chapter vice president). Finishers of the Workplace Answers Crossword received packages of Ramen noodles (a staple of the USDA adjunct food pyramid) and sample-size bottles of Aleve contributed by a community supporter. The abundant prizes, spread out all along one wall, were wrapped in red and decorated with big AAUP bumper stickers.
Members had e-mailed curses the week prior, which event planners printed in 48-pt. type and taped to the club’s 12 stair risers. Denver-area journalists, book authors and book-club members who were at the club that night for their own meetings couldn’t help but read the damn comments as they went up and down the stairs. Perhaps the group inadvertently created a 12-step program like no other. Perhaps their curse collection turned out to be a new kind of press release. Case in point: A local network news director pulled a few members aside to ask them what was going on. He got an earful and they made a new friend.
Giving faculty permission to curse, complain, get together, and let off steam is much appreciated, attendees reported. “Since joining AAUP I am beginning to feel a sense of belonging, especially after this Damn It! Summit,” said Anne Stanwick, who teaches public speaking at several CCCS colleges. “This is a great way to get to know like-minded folks from Red Rocks, Front Range, Aurora, and Denver community colleges. There are far more of us interested in the AAUP than I had thought. Also, learning about the salaries at the top [published in the AAUP Adjunct Index and the AAUP Workplace Questions crossword puzzle] just blew me away!” she added.
“With the AAUP standing up and fighting for reform, I feel there’s a renewed sense of hope on the horizon,” said Nate Bork, who teaches philosophy at Aurora Community College and has been its AAUP chapter president for two years. “AAUP is the driving force for change in the Colorado Community College System. What we do makes a difference for thousands of teachers and the hundreds of thousands of students they’ve dedicated their careers to serving,” he said.
“This annual event brings together, at the end of the academic year, our growing group of fully committed and partially compensated CCCS faculty,” said Anne Emmons, co-president of the Red Rocks Community College AAUP chapter. Emmons teaches Art at Red Rocks CC. “Our work extends to a shared commitment to support one another. Timely and relevant support is lacking in our workplace. Our AAUP chapters provide that support, while also giving us a way to effect some changes. We are the invisible faculty majority who make the dream of affordable college education possible in Colorado. While we work for changes, we meet at the end of the year to encourage each other and to say, “Damn it! Things should be better!” she added.
And so, amid the cursing and the belonging, AAUP members ended another tough year of teaching in the CCCS. Such camaraderie, they report, is their chief source of solace in a publicly funded institution whose governing board, the State Board of Community Colleges and Occupational Education, gave them only a $4.80/week pay raise last year. It simultaneously brought the wages of Nancy McCallin, CCCS system president, to more than $1,000 per day, and gave its 13 college presidents and 48 vice presidents (most of whom had wages already in the six figures) an additional $15,000 to $42,000 per year. It also gave a 20% increase to the 1,200 full-time faculty, giving them an additional $188/per week. Very few students, parents, and Colorado taxpayers are aware that from the average $350/course tuition a student pays in the CCCS, less than $43 of that goes to the teacher teaching that course, in most cases, since 75% of the teachers are adjunct faculty. It is the ocean of 4,600+ poverty-wage-earning adjunct faculty who teach the lion’s share of courses the wealthy CCCS provides. In the coming months, far more Coloradoans will be aware of that situation. Their voices will be joining those of the plucky AAUP members who so poetically condemned those facts at the 2016 Damn it! Summit.