Adjunct News

Taylor Fontes

New Complaint to Accreditor Assails College’s Treatment of Adjuncts

Posted on: April 22nd, 2013 by Taylor Fontes No Comments

This week The Chronicle reported that the leaders of two adjunct faculty groups in Washington State have filed complaints to the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities – the accreditor for all 34 two-year colleges in the state – for alleged abuses of part-time instructors.  The two community colleges in question are Green River Community College in Auburn, Washington and Olympic College in Bremerton, Washington.  The complaint from Olympic involves an isolated incident that occurred between an individual adjunct and his campus union leaders, whereas the Green River matter documents maltreatment of adjunct faculty that is broader and more systemic in nature.

The commission never responded to the Olympic instructor’s complaint, and it has since been dismissed.  However, after their failure to thoroughly investigate the adjuncts’ claims of abuses at the Green River campus, the US Department of Education warned the Northwest Commission that it should take seriously the adjuncts’ complaints or risk losing federal recognition.  According to Maria Maisto of the New Faculty Majority, Green River has a better case to bring to accreditor because accreditors tend to address systemic issues at universities and while leaving individual disputes with the university administration to their campus unions.

Editorial Comment:

A clear sign of a successful mobilizing effort is the escalation of recourse efforts.   By voicing their grievances beyond their campus unions to their regional accreditation commissions, the adjunct faculty at Green River Community College were not not only sending a message to their university administrations that they would no longer tolerate the abuses they were being subjected to, but that failure on the part of the university to adequately address their complaints could jeopardize the future of their institution.  According to the article, accrediting agencies will consider treatment of adjunct faculty as a factor for eligibility of accreditation.

On March 14th we posted an article which demonstrated the utility of local accreditors as leverage for change a couple months ago when the Higher Learning Commission reported that they would be updating their criteria for accreditation by adding new language stipulating that higher education’s number one mission is to serve as a “public good.”  We saw this as a very promising policy initiative to undermine the trend toward corporatizing education at the expense of student access to an affordable, quality college degree.

We like to think that having a strong, organized and well mobilized union is enough to counter threats to faculty that come down from autocratic administrations, but unfortunately the formidable challenges that faculty face in today’s academic environment require a larger awareness and more powerful resources at their disposal.  And, as was depicted in the article, sometimes the next level of influence is not enough to bring about a satisfactory resolution.  In fact, when complaints made on behalf of the entire adjunct population of Green River Community College fell on deaf ears at the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, the US Department of Education had to step in.   While it is certainly disappointing that it would come to this, having this level of recognition of the deplorable conditions under which many adjunct faculty work is monumental in terms of finally moving toward measureable improvements.

To read the full article by Peter Schmidt go to:

Taylor Fontes

Effort to Unionize Adjuncts by Region Starts a Campaign in Boston

Posted on: April 18th, 2013 by Taylor Fontes No Comments

Back in October we posted an article from The Chronicle reporting on a new organizing strategy taken up by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to unionize adjuncts in the Washington DC area.  This week they reported that their tremendous success has led them to replicate their efforts in the Boston Area and eventually Los Angeles.  The national union has assumed the name “Adjunct Action” for their Boston campaign, and is planning a symposium on adjunct unionization on Saturday at which they expect to involve adjunct instructors at more than 20 local colleges.  Many private institutions in the area are not unionized or even very union conscious, and since Boston is a bigger market for higher education than Washington DC, the campaign is especially important here and has the potential to “set the standard across the country,” according to Malini Cadambi Daniel, SEIU’s campaign director of higher education.

Editorial Comment:

For the past year-and-a-half or so we have been posting article after article chronicling the various ways in which adjuncts have been exploited at their respective institutions of higher education.  Nearly every day there was something being reported in news about higher education about how adjuncts are cobbling together a living either by working at multiple institutions or taking on low-level employment for which they are overqualified.  In fact, one shocking report that came out last year stated that that the average adjunct is so poorly compensated that he/she could qualify for food stamps.

Articles that posited a silver lining solution to the plight of adjuncts have been few and far between.  Indeed there have been some that show promise in raising awareness and are beginning to address the needs of adjuncts and better their working conditions, such as the push to create more job stability by introducing a three-year contract in some cases.  There was also a report that came out a couple months ago that identified a handful of schools that are conducting adjunct orientation events.  However, with the exception of the groundwork laid by the adjunct advocacy group the New Faculty Majority, there have been few galvanizing efforts to seriously take on the challenges that contingent and non-tenure track faculty face on a day-to-day basis.

The innovative strategy to unionize adjuncts at multiple schools in a region, as the SEIU has did in Washington DC, is doing in Boston and has plans to do in Los Angeles represents a breakthrough achievement in organizing and demonstrates the kind of action needed to sustain a national movement.  We are proud to say that we at the Hofstra Chapter of the AAUP have our own success story with regard to adjunct organizing.  It has been no small feat, to be sure, but we can now claim that nearly 90% of contingent faculty in our bargaining unit faculty are members in good standing of the AAUP.  But our work is far from over.  Now that we have them, we must be accountable to them.  The adjunct survey, which is expected to be ready to administer by the fall semester, will help us gather better demographic data on our adjunct members as well as their priorities for the next contract negotiations.  We also plan to create an adjunct advisory committee composed of adjuncts from various departments (preferably at least one representing each school/unit), which will meet on a semi-regular basis to communicate ideas and concerns amongst one another.  We hope that this will adjuncts to use their voice to effect the changes that changes necessary in order to elevate their statuses to that of their full-time colleagues.  Additionally, we hope that such a group will foster camaraderie and community among a population that has typically felt marginalized by administrators and full-timers, but also isolated from their adjunct colleagues.

To read the full article by Peter Schmidt go to:

Taylor Fontes

The Instructors Formerly Known as ‘Adjuncts’

Posted on: March 25th, 2013 by Taylor Fontes No Comments

Adjunct instructor James Dempsey, who does not disclose his institutional affiliation, has written an online opinion piece in The Chronicle unpacking the linguistic evolution of the term “adjunct.” He discusses the ways in which the effort to classify those who teach “off the tenure track” as they continue to swell in numbers to the point of, in many cases outnumbering tenured and tenure-track faculty, has impacted how the term and the population to which it refers are perceived.

He offers two insights that are particularly important when attempting to reconcile the negative and positive aspects of “adjuncts,” both the term itself and the individuals it describes. The first is what he calls the “pejoration” of the term. In other words, generally speaking, at first coinage a term may be ascribed a neutral or even positive value but then begins to take on a negative connotation as the object to which it refers becomes increasingly marginalized. Second, the dialectical process that perpetually pursues a “more neutral” term, essentially renders one that tends to describe what (adjuncts -> contingent faculty -> non-tenure-track faculty) are not, rather than what they are. Hence the term du jour is “non-tenured,” “non-tenure-track” or “off-the-tenure-track” faculty.

Editorial Comment:

The problem is that this dialectic will never produce a positive or even a neutral term unless the conditions associated with the term itself are upgraded. That is to say, in this particular case, so long as (insert term of the day here) are treated as second-class, disenfranchised citizens then their respective title is of little or no consequence. You could call them kings for all that matter and eventually the term king would replace the prior term as the new pejorative. So the takeaway here is: while language is important and is inevitably imbued with value through our everyday discourse, the nomenclature becomes a subsequent concern to uplifting the (insert term) from its oppressive circumstances.

To read the full online opinion piece by James Dempsey go to: