Hello, and welcome to a midweek news post in support of National Adjunct Walkout Day (mostly) in the US. This is a major coordinated effort to raise awareness of the terrible state of the North American academic labour market—which is of course inseparable from the terrible state of the global academic labour market.
There will be coverage and action all over the web, and if you’re on Twitter, you’ll get a strong sense of the scale of this at #NAWD. NAWD is on Facebook here, and on Tumblr here. Vanessa Vaile’s A is for Adjunct site on Scoop.It is also an excellent resource.
For many adjuncts, actually walking off the job risks loss of income and future employment, and so there are a wide range of actions planned, including teach-ins and public grading sessions. There’s a map. There’s also an Open Letter to the Media on National Adjunct Walkout Day being widely reposted (this link is from the Adjunked Professor blog.)
And the Campus Safety website is at the ready, with “13 Steps Your Campus Should Take To Prepare For National Adjunct Walkout Day.”
If professors simply fail to show up for class, immediate security issues will be minimized. However, if they protest on-site, security operations will definitely be affected. Further, union organizers could become involved in the event, resulting in a more “in your face” tenor. Finally, remember: students were well-represented in the Occupy movement. Perceived exploitation of faculty could easily energize protestors who would challenge campus security and education operations, the actual intentions of the walkout event organizers notwithstanding.
After a solid year of locally based actions and union organising, this day of action moves beyond individual colleges and institutions to address the structural inequities in academic hiring at a national scale. As The Atlantic noted in “The Tall Task of Unifying Part-Time Professors“, there are serious challenges involved in coordinating an action by contingent workers, and organisers truly have no idea how effective or widespread tomorrow’s action will all prove to be. Kevin Mahoney for The Raging Chicken Press website points out that this is why it’s important to see #NAWD 2015 as the beginning of a movement, not a moment, just like the expanding action by low waged and contingent workers elsewhere in the US economy:
Like that first-ever strike against Walmart, Wednesday’s National Adjunct Walkout Day is not an all-or-nothing, once-and-done action. It is an important moment, yes. But it is also another signal that adjuncts demanding fair wages, health care, job security, and respect is not only a series of disconnected actions. They are assembling a movement. That movement might just be the only thing that has the power to beat-back the 40-year assault on higher education. And it is the movement that can to put an end to the exploitation of the vast majority of the people who make colleges and universities work.
This movement will demand change from three groups. Firstly, unions need to confront the paradox of negotiating for both parts of the two-tier profession, even though to bargain for one is to put at risk the privilege of the other. In The Chronicle, adjunct Keith Hoeller writes that unions need to step up for adjunct workers and admit the conflict of interest that has prevented effective representation of adjunct faculty by academic unions.
This separate-but-unequal labor system, where the minority of tenured faculty members rule over the majority of contingents, is mirrored in academic unions, which have been chiefly run by and for the tenured faculty. Union contracts generally treat the tenured faculty members like full academic citizens, while the contingents are denied equal treatment at every turn.
Secondly, administrators will be forced to review the policies that they have in place for faculty hiring, and also consider how well prepared they are for the likelihood of increasing action, including walk outs. In The Chronicle, Scott Schneider looks at the issue from the employer perspective, and concludes that the options for maintaining business continuity in the face of increasing protest from adjuncts are limited to using more technology, or getting more work out of tenured faculty.
In sum, the part-time-faculty labor market is in the midst of substantial change, and college presidents should be having thoughtful, strategic conversations with their leadership teams about how they will position their institutions for those changes.
And finally, tenured faculty themselves need to figure out how to address a problem that at first glance is not directly a problem for them. Partly, this involves recognising the indirect impact of casualisation on what the shrinking minority of tenured faculty actually have to get done. Mostly it’s about recognising that the job security of tenured faculty depends entirely on the willingness of adjunct teachers to continue to show up on these inequitable terms.
The MLA has responded with an “action for allies” initiative that seems not to have been entirely consultative with adjunct organisers, but does at least represent an effort to get tenured faculty involved. The MLA’s recommended actions include filling out surveys and holding meetings, which is setting a fairly slow pace. 540 have signed on to indicate their support.
Jordan Schneider’s “A Letter to Full-Time Faculty Members” in The Chronicle is much more direct:
We live in a time of “adjunct plight” essays. This isn’t one of them. True, I am an adjunct, and I have much plight, but rather than be blamed for whining by you full-timers, let me scare you instead. I am an adjunct, and I’m making it much harder for full-timers to get a job, to get tenure, or to retain meaningful control over academic affairs.
Let’s be clear: I am a shill, a scab. I am the cheap, easy, powerless trump card that administrators can play against full-timers every single time in every single conflict. And I am legion.
The faculty will always be in retreat so long as the vast majority of teachers are held powerless. Adjuncts are too great a temptation, too convenient a solution for a budget-minded administrator. We’re too inexpensive, too controllable, too dispensable a resource to ignore. Full-timers should be involved in helping adjuncts, not out of charity or guilt, but out of direct self-interest.
The conflict of interest between faculty with tenure and faculty on food stamps often seems intractable, but if #NAWD is to become a movement, this will have to change. So a huge cheer to the tenured faculty from York University in Toronto featured in this video, who couldn’t be clearer on where they stand on the adjunctification of higher education.
Here in Australia it’s orientation week for a new academic year, and frantic last minute hiring of Australia’s academic casual workforce is still underway. Over at The Research Whisperer, Jonathan O’Donnell has a fantastic post up on the tyranny of the casual timesheet, also for #NAWD.
We’ll be back next week with normal coverage of what’s going on here, including the continuing political consultation on higher education funding that manages never to mention staffing, and the ongoing campaign for equity in superannuation.
But for now, warm thoughts to everyone gearing up for a new semester, and the strongest possible solidarity to our North American colleagues taking a stand on National Adjunct Walkout Day.
@acahacker and @katemfd