Today is National Adjunct Walkout Day

Today is the grassroots/social media organized National Adjunct Walkout Day, as noted here, on the AAUP web site. The plight of adjuncts is all over the internets, but just one example here from Vitae, “The Adjunct Crisis is Everyone’s Problem.”

Of course, since EMU is on break this week, adjuncts don’t really have to make the personal decision about actually “walking out” of their classes or not (and the same goes for lecturers and faculty, too). Regardless, I have tremendously mixed feelings about all this.

On the one hand, I think that higher education’s reliance on part-time labor is (and has been for a long long time) a huge problem and one that is in terms of actual income clearly getting worse. I taught part-time for a few years back in the early 1990s, and I think part-timers are getting paid about the same now as I was getting paid way back when. I think higher education has something akin to an addiction to cheap teachers, especially when it comes to general education and labor-intensive courses like first year writing.

On the other hand, I don’t know if you can call something a “crisis” that has been (sadly) the status quo for over twenty years– at least in my field. Which brings me to the other issue, the other half of the addiction issue. The reason why universities continue to hire a lot of part-time teachers is because there is an abundant supply of them who are willing to take these jobs. So yes, universities need to start thinking more creatively and proactively about the adjunct problem, but degree programs that produce a high percentage of graduate students who will end up as adjuncts need to think about what they’re doing as well. And would-be graduate students and adjuncts also need to know what they are getting themselves into.

One more thing: in “celebration”/recognition of National Adjunct Walkout Day, I thought I’d share this, the movie Con Job: Stories of Adjunct & Contingent Labor:

What I’ve embedded here is actually an introduction; the movie itself is about 50 minutes long. I blogged about this last year on here, and as I said there (in much more detail), I found the movie simultaneously well-done and inspiring and infuriating.


Part-Time Lecturers Win a Major Job Security Greivance

I received an email with this news from Zachary Jones, who is the grievance officer for the EMUFT, which is the union representing the lecturers and part-time lecturers:

On October 8th an Arbitrator confirmed the First Right of Refusal for PTLs over hiring outside the bargaining unit when additional courses become available. The Arbitrator even gave the University a cease and desist order. Attached is the decision.

This is an import decision for PTLs because it requires EMU to first offer additional courses to incumbent PTLs before hiring outside the university. Instead of only getting one or two courses, it now means we’re more likely to get a larger workload, improving our job security.

This ruling is precedence setting and reinforces a grievance EMUFT won against the Creative Writing Program last year where Dean Tom Venner agreed with the EMUFT that the department head violated the contract by hiring outside the university instead of hiring incumbent PTLs to teach the additional courses.

I agree with Jones that this is an important decision. I don’t know the details of this particular situation (even though creative writing is in my department), but as I understand it, what this means now is departments have to actually advertise teaching positions and actually interview people who apply for those jobs. This might seem like common sense, but it actually wasn’t the common practice, certainly not in my field.

A lot of part-time hiring is done at the last minute (because a new section opens up, because someone suddenly can’t teach a class, etc.), and there wasn’t really a system in place to make that happen. And by the way, this practice of “just hire someone” is not new and not at all unique to EMU. When I was a part-timer way back in the early 1990s, it seemed like the process of who would or wouldn’t get that extra section of a class was based entirely on who was in the hallway when the department chair poked his head out of his office.  At my first tenure-track job, “the process” for hiring part-timers was the secretary called someone on the availability list and the first person to answer the phone got the gig.

Mind you, this new process is kind of a pain in the ass too. It means that part-timers have to put together an application, and it means that there needs to be an interview process, which is an extra step for department heads (and, in my department, faculty in the area where the part-timers are being hired). But it does seem to be a system that is a lot more fair and a lot less random.

“Part-time lecturers petition to be paid at same time as full-timers”

From The Eastern Echo comes “Part-time lecturers petition to be paid at same time as full-timers.”  I was in Pray-Harrold earlier today and I noticed (and signed the petition!) the effort to draw attention to this paperwork problem that really does cause problems for a lot of part-timers.

Basically, part-timers don’t get paid until September 30 instead of September 15. Think about that with your own life for a moment: it’d make a difference if you didn’t get paid for another two weeks, right? Especially if you were expecting to be paid on the 15th. To quote from the story:

The university is not complying with the federation’s wish to be paid at the same time as full-time lecturers. That is why EMUFT set up in Pray-Harrold to present the issue to students and faculty and get a petition going.

After coming off of a summer of not getting paid and then not receiving a check on the 15th is making it hard, “people are scrambling to pay bills,” Sonya Alvardo, President of EMUFT, said in a statement.

I fully support finding a way to pay these folks on September 15, and it doesn’t seem like it would be that big of a deal to make happen if the administration wanted to make it happen. But I have to say that part of the problem here is the number of people who are “full-time part-timers.” For example, in the opening of this article, there’s this:

“It’s becoming such a burden, a lot of part-time lecturers have to get a second job,” said Zachary Jones, a part-time lecturer in the geology department.

Well, doesn’t “part-time” by definition you have to do something else to pay the bills– that is, a second job or some other kind of financial support?

“No More ‘Collective Begging'”

From Inside Higher Ed comes “No More ‘Collective Begging,'” which is about a meeting of labor groups advocating for adjuncts in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Here’s a long quote from the beginning:

If adjuncts want more workplace rights, they have to take them. That message was echoed throughout a discussion on non-tenure-track faculty rights here Monday at the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor, or COCAL, conference. It’s being held this week at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York.

The biennial gathering draws participants from the U.S., Mexico and Canada, and adjunct activist panelists from all three countries advocated striking as a real and valid means of achieving short- and long-term goals.

“Unless and until faculty, including part-time faculty, hit the streets and occupy the classrooms,” said Stanley Aronowitz, a tenured professor of sociology and urban education at the CUNY Graduate Center, “there won’t be any change of substance.”

Aronowitz, who has worked as an adjunct professor several times throughout his career, said this idea applied even in those states where collective bargaining or strikes among public employees is prohibited by law. Faculty members at Nassau Community College who went on strike last year over protracted contract negotiations paid hefty fines for violating New York State’s Taylor Law, for example. (Under the law, the union was permitted to engage in collective bargaining, but not to strike.) But Aronowitz and other activists said that striking is a fundamental right that should be ensured by the First Amendment; without the right to strike, he said, collective bargaining too often becomes “collective begging.”

Participants here responded to Aronowitz’s remarks on strikes with strong applause.

As the EMU-AAUP heads into what could be a rather contentious and challenging negotiation for the next faculty contract (set to expire next fall), I definitely understand where these folks are coming from. But as I posted in the comments on this piece, the costs of striking are high, and frankly, I’m not convinced that in the whole cost/benefit analysis of things that striking is worth it.

Don’t get me wrong– of course I believe in organizing and unionizing, and I think faculty unions (both adjuncts and tenure-track) ought to do all they can to protest, educate, and take other labor actions. I am far from against faculty unions. But having been on strike a few times now since I got to EMU, I can tell you it ain’t any fun, and when I look back at what the faculty got as a result of a strike, I’m just not convinced we couldn’t have done just as well by continuing to negotiate a new contract while working under the old contract.

I guess we’ll see what the contract negotiations brings us this time around.

Part-time Lecturer pay schedule change

A loyal reader and part-time lecturer who would prefer to be anonymous sent me what’s after the jump, an essay/article about the problems of the pay schedule change that has apparently been instituted. As I understand it, what this means is part-timers won’t be paid for the fall term until September 30 and then for the winter term until January 31, though the pay is the same. No clue why this is the case, though I suspect it is the accounting people’s way of trying to deal with the problems of previous years where the paperwork was screwed up so badly for some part-timers than they didn’t get paid for weeks and weeks.

On the one hand, this doesn’t strike me as a big deal, especially of you know about it up front. On the other hand, it speaks to the rather tenuous state that many of these folks teaching part-time are in, the proverbial paycheck-to-paycheck work scenario, and that is not cool for anyone.

Like I said, the whole essay after the jump:

Continue reading

“The College Faculty Crisis”

From The New York Times from Sunday comes “The College Faculty Crisis,” which is about a reality of higher education that I think most readers of already know: there are a lot of disenfranchised and poorly paid part-timers teaching in college classrooms, and it’s been that way for quite a while. But I guess it’s news when it shows up in the paper of record, right?

This article is about a study regarding community college instructors, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to apply the results to part-timers at places like EMU, too. There are a few points this op-ed is trying to make that I’m not sure I quite agree with though. For example:

The colleges expect little of these teachers. Not surprisingly, they often act accordingly. They spend significantly less time than full-time teachers preparing for class, advising students or giving written or oral feedback. And they are far less likely to participate in instructional activities — like tutoring, academic goal setting or developing community-based projects — that can benefit students.

I’m not so sure about that. I don’t think we expect part-timers to do all of the quasi-administrative work that’s done by faculty, but I also think we’re expecting part-timers to be well-prepared teachers, too.

“Unions, student groups launching ‘Higher Ed, Not Debt’ campaign against rising cost of college”

From mLive comes “Unions, student groups launching ‘Higher Ed, Not Debt’ campaign against rising cost of college.” Seems like a good idea to me; here are the opening paragraphs:

As the cost of higher education continues to rise for students in comparison to government spending, a coalition of labor unions and student groups is launching a new campaign calling for action to address the expense of higher education.

The “Higher Ed, Not Debt” campaign launched last week as a collaborative effort between unions, student and non-profit groups.

The unions include the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the AFL-CIO and SEIU. Student groups include Student Veterans of America and the U.S. Student Association. Non-profit groups include The Education Trust and the Center for American Progress.

Michigan is one of 26 states where students pay a larger share of the per-student cost for public universities than state government.

More from EMU president on the COE lecturer situation

EMU President Susan Martin sent around an email yesterday about the lecturer layoff situation in the College of Education:

To Students, Faculty and Staff:

Much discussion has taken place over the last 24 hours about the University’s decision to layoff eight full-time lecturers in the College of Education. The notices were provided to the eight employees on December 10, 2013, and are effective at the end of their appointments, August 31, 2014.

Over the past nine years, enrollment in the College of Education has declined by more than 1,400 students, from 4,697 in 2005 to 3,214 in 2013 – as students transition from pursuing teaching degrees to degrees in other fields, such as the sciences, health, business, arts and technology. This trend is being echoed at education programs throughout the state and nation.

As evidence of the university’s responsiveness to enrollment trends, we are adding full-time lecturers where there has been growth. We hired 12 new full-time lecturers in fall 2013 to teach in programs across the university and plan to hire another 10 full-time lecturers in fall 2014. The eight full-time lecturers in the College of Education are eligible to be recalled and can apply for the new positions if they meet qualifications.

We are being responsive to our enrollment trends in order to continue to maintain the high quality of EMU’s nationally recognized teaching program while exercising responsible budget management and cost containment.

We have great respect for all of our full-time lecturers and it is always a difficult decision to inform quality, valued personnel that their appointments are ending. However, we must consider the enrollment trends that are affecting education programs at universities throughout the state and nation.

Susan Martin


EMU layoffs of lecturers in the College of Education: a few links

Apparently, this is news that has been brewing for a while, but as mLive reported yesterday afternoon, “Eastern Michigan University layoffs: Majority of full-time education lecturers get notices.” Here’s a longish quote from near the beginning of the article:

In their existing roles, the lecturers are tasked with placing, supervising and teaching student teachers enrolled in EMU’s education program and undergoing a practicum at a Michigan high school.

“I’m concerned because the student teacher supervisors that place student teachers have relationships with the school districts. We have relationships with the teachers,” said Pam Olech, a lecturer who received a layoff notice in December. Olech, a retired elementary school principal and certified teacher, has worked at EMU for 11 years, eight of them as a full-time lecturer.

She continued: “I’m nervous in terms of what the layoffs are going to do to the program and the student teachers.”

I received an email from EMUFT President (I think she’s still president at least) Sonya Alvarado about all this; here’s what she sent:

On Tuesday, February 11th, Member of the Eastern Michigan University Federation of Teachers (American Federation of Teachers local 9102) will stand up for 10 Full-Time Lecturers whose positions the university intends to terminate at the end of the winter semester. In December, the Eastern Michigan University administration issued layoff notices to these lecturers, all of them in the College of Education. After several meetings, the administration offered no consistent or convincing rationale for these layoffs, at one point citing budget concerns, at another expressing its displeasure with the three-year appointments that these lecturers will receive under the collective bargaining agreement that both EMU and EMUFT members ratified less than a year ago.

Collectively, these lecturers have decades of experience and have taught thousands of students who have become teachers in Michigan. They have relationships with dozens of schools in the area, which allows them to place students in their student teaching positions. Lecturers alone do this work; no tenure-line faculty place or supervise student teachers. Firing these lectures will be a devastating blow to EMU students and to the reputation of EMU’s college of education, a reputation already tarnished by EMU’s association with the Educational Achievement Authority.

In response, EMUFT members will have information tables in Porter Hall on Tuesday and Wednesday this week with petitions available for students and other concerned members of the EMU community to sign. The members remain hopeful that once all of this comes to the attention of EMU’s president, Susan Martin, she will preserve the integrity of the College of Education by continuing to employ these Lecturers who have contributed so much to EMU for so many years.

And then this morning, mLive has “Eastern Michigan education dean defends lecturer layoffs: ‘We are just managing in a time of decline.'” Essentially, College of Education Dean Jann Joseph say that the layoffs are necessary because of declining enrollments. Here’s a quote from the article:

“We looked at the data. We looked at the enrollment patterns, and we were not convinced that we would have enough teaching loads and classes for all the people who were currently lecturers,” she said. “We are just managing in a time of decline.”

In 2009, 4,672 undergraduates and graduates were enrolled in the education school, taking 57,373 credit hours. Last year the 4,134 enrollees clocked 48,796 credit hours. This year numbers continue to dip, and the school is tracking at about 41,000 credit hours.

Joseph says credit-hour enrollment has been cut in half over the past decade: It was around 90,000 in the early 2000s.

The union (the EMU Federation of Teachers in this case) of course disputes the financial difficulties the administration is claiming here.

Anyway, we’ll see how this plays out. Dean Joseph says in the article that at the end of the day, they will probably not have to lay off all 10 lecturers, but however this plays out, it’s clear that the declining enrollment in education (which is happening for lots of demographic and political reasons) is beginning to impact the bottom line here.


“More College Adjuncts See Strength in Union Numbers”

This was in the New York Times last week, but I just came across it today:  “More College Adjuncts See Strength in Union Numbers.” As you can probably guess, it’s about the plight of adjunct labor in higher education and efforts to unionize, with particular focus in the article with some of what is going on right now in Boston.

I guess there were two things particularly striking to me about the article. According to this piece, the union/organization that is getting the most traction with adjuncts nowadays is the Service Employees International Union. I find that kind of odd and I wonder why the AFT and the AAUP aren’t working more with these organizing adjuncts.  Second, when a topic like this makes its way into a long article in the New York Times, it starts to get national attention.