Sunday, February 28, 2010

It's nearly you know how to apply for Unemployment?

If your illustrious adjunct career is anything like mine, midterm is about the time you start thinking about the plan for next semester's cookie money. After 15+ years of never even thinking about claiming unemployment benefits, last year at this time I gave it serious thought. I even attended classes for Michigan's "No Worker Left Behind" program, but it soon became clear that the money in that program was intended for those who need to attend the types of classes I usually teach! I looked at ways I could approach this fleeting opportunity for a grant of $10,000 over 2 years of schooling, but nothing that looked good to me fit the program parameters well enough. Besides, a last minute class assignment surfaced that put me squarely back on the adjunct hamster wheel of life for at least another few laps.

Even so, I know the day may come (and with today's economy and the troubles in Higher Ed staffing, it may come soon) when I have to swallow my pride and apply for unemployment benefits. The good news is, according to the feedback some of you have given on this page--and a document I'd recommend to all (link to come), I can finally state with certainty that it is possible to get unemployment benefits as an adjunct!

COCAL (The Chicago Coalition on Contingent Academic Labor) offers a very helpful guide for this process, entitled "Access to Unemployment Insurance Benefits for Contingent Faculty," by Joe Berry, Beverly Stewart and Helena Worthen. The guide gives you precise language to use when speaking about your reasons for applying, how to handle your employers' inevitable attempt to challenge your claims by saying you have "reasonable assurance of reemployment," and so on. The truth is, by definition, adjuncts are CONTINGENT workers, which means there is no reasonable assurance of anything! We serve at the pleasure of a lot of ifs, ands, and buts, (as my mother would say), so never fear...we have a case! 

According to the guide, however, there are good, better and best ways to go about applying, if you must. I recommend reading this guide thoroughly before launching your effort...and please share your results with other adjuncts (and me!) if you do go through the process!

I think we need to stick together on this issue and at least, get informed of what our rights are. Then, stepping up and exercising these rights might help establish us as a cohesive group of academic workers with special working conditions and needs--who deserve the same safety net offered to other American workers! Let me know what you think, please!

Friday, February 26, 2010

March 4th Actions to Defend Education!

What's happening in your neck o' the woods?

From Vanessa in New Mexico: NEW MEXICO @ UNM, UNM-AAUP chapter is sponsoring a forum on the "Crisis" in Higher Education. March 4, 3-5, SUB Acoma A+B. Panelists include Michael Mauer, Director of Organizing and Services, AAUP; Beverly Burris, Sociology Chair; Lissa Knudson, GPSA President; Elisha Allen, President UNM Staff Council; Stephen eGiulio, NMSU-AAUP; guests from the legislature. Open to the public, no charge.

From UPTF at Wayne State U (Detroit): Fund Education, Not Banks and the War Machine! Rally and march from Wayne State's Gullen Mall to the New Center. 4 p.m. rally; 4:30 march; 5 p.m. picket outside Cadillac Plaza and the Fisher Building.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

EMU part-timers are fighting the good fight!

This article from says it all: "A ‘Nice Experience’ or a Job? Lecturers at Michigan School Say Part-Timers Need a Union, Too." The national attention that EMU adjuncts are getting is encouraging, and the article does grit its teeth a bit, especially when the focus turns to how EMU's lawyers are attempting to derail EMU adjuncts' petition for unionization in both demeaning and divisive terms:

“'The part-time employment of adjuncts provides them with a little money and a nice experience,' said attorney Craig Schwartz of the Butzel Long firm, representing the administration on a recent conference call with representatives of the state’s labor commission and the union.

The part-timers, Schwartz said, 'have no community of interest' with the full-timers. Not surprisingly, this is the same argument the lawyers made to create divisiveness between professors and lecturers before full-time lecturers won their union in 2001."

What planet are these guys from? Click here for the full text...worth reading and passing along!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Day of Action for Education event heating up for March 4

The beat goes's the latest organizing info from Student Activism regarding the March 4 Day of Action to Defend Education. At the risk of restating the obvious, I'll just say we have a lot at stake in this action, too!

Let us know if anything's happening on March 4 in your areas, please!

Monday, February 22, 2010

If unionization was not allowed, would you care?

Thanks to a list-serve colleague at Adjunct Nation for this article -- "Adjuncts Apathetic on Unionization." It seems we're front and center in all types of media these days! Despite the discouraging headline, suggesting we're a bunch of layabouts with little interest in our own welfare, this article published in The Diamondback, University of Maryland's independent student newspaper this past Friday (February 19) covers the territory quite well. At least it acknowledges the reasons for our lack of involvement and finally concludes that we "care," but just don't have the wherewithal (time, especially) to do much about it.

Here's an excerpt:
Graduate assistants and adjunct faculty at state public universities do not currently have a legal right to collectively bargain. But after a November report was issued stating that they should not be allowed to unionize because of the expense it would impose on and the friction it could cause in state institutions, a heated dispute erupted among graduate students, state officials and university system administrators. Most adjuncts, however, seem apathetic or unaware of the issues surrounding this ongoing debate.“The sort of disengagement that most part-time faculty feel is because they work two or three jobs,” said Monica Jacobe, an adjunct University Senate representative. “A lot of adjuncts don’t take their job farther than what they are contractually obligated to do.”

The part-timers' union I belong to at Wayne State U is constantly faced with this challenge of member "disengagement." With schedule conflicts, being over-extended, overworked and underpaid, we're lucky to get 20 people together (from a membership of hundreds) for a general meeting. I've been as "apathetic" as the next person, over the years. However, there are powerful economic forces ranged against our progress as a professional group, and I've had a sinking feeling lately that this could very well be it for my so-called career. If it doesn't get better, it's probably going to get worse, so--bottom line--I'm trying to squeak out a little more hands-on involvement.
What about you? Got a union story to share?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Student activists speak out about reforming universities

This could be encouraging -- one highlight cited from a series of surveys conducted by Public Agenda for the National Center of Public Policy and Higher Education states, "Six out of 10 Americans now say that colleges today operate more like a business, focused more on the bottom line than on the educational experience of students. Further, the number of people who feel this way has increased by 5 percentage points in the last year alone, and is up by 8 percentage points since 2007." This focus on business, as opposed to student experience, is apparently fueling widespread doubt about why tuition rates keep escalating.


Student activists seem to agree; students are getting themselves into an awful lot of debt to afford their educations these days: is it any wonder they're feeling agitated? Faced with a rotten, job-poor economy looming for years ahead, what are their prospects?
All of the above are good reasons to consider speaking out on March 4: A National Day of Action to Defend Education. Have an action or event for that day to promote? Click here to let the national event organizers know, and please feel free to share the news!

Is part-time teaching the basis for a career?

It's the perennial dilemma for adjuncts:  how does part-time teaching fit into our  individual career plans? As so many have pointed out, there are as many reasons for teaching part-time as there are individual teachers, but I can't help thinking the BIG QUESTION remains: what does that "flexibility" do to our prospects as true professionals? Like many of you, I'm sure, I work 60-70+ hour weeks to stretch myself between teaching gigs, paper grading and class prep. In my case, (this semester only, as one never knows about next semester), the stretch is around 10 university credit hours and a private ESL course or two on the side. All of this nets me--US-- "part-time" or "contingent" status in the eyes of the federal labor laws, in the eyes of health insurers, and so on. Thankfully, one of the institutions I teach for has a part-timers union, but as helpful as that is locally, it does nothing to alter the BIG PICTURE--our contingent status overall. Whose purposes are really served by our "flexibility?" Does twisting ourselves into pretzels to make a living wage in a part-time economy serve US, in the long run?

From the AFT FACE blog, here's an interesting take on why the pretzel gig makes sense at times, titled, "The Part-Time Worker," by adjunct Jennie Smith. My question is, should making a sensible choice to teach part-time come with the baggage it does for our profession in general? Maybe the solution to this dilemma goes beyond unionization to the lofty level of federal labor laws? Maybe we need to be redefined on that level as true professionals?  What do you think?

Friday, February 19, 2010

College Students Cash Cows?

Here's an interesting piece! If college students are the "new cash cows," we could also consider where the cash comes from that's being milked out of them...and where all that cash is not going!

How badly has the tuition risen in your schools?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

National Day for Defense of Education, March 4

This blog is devoted to exploring the issues that keep university adjunct instructors spinning their wheels, but not getting very far, but there does come a time when the BIG PICTURE raises its ugly head and we have to take notice. Well, March 4 is the day the national spotlight will be aimed at that ugly, 9-headed Medusa we call Public Education in this country, thanks to:

March 4 National Day of Action to Defend Education

Here's an excerpt from the web page linked above:

"As people throughout the country struggle under the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, public education from pre-K to higher and adult education is threatened by budget cuts, layoffs, privatization, tuition and fee increases, and other attacks. Budget cuts degrade the quality of public education by decreasing student services and increasing class size, while tuition hikes and layoffs force the cost of the recession onto students and teachers and off of the financial institutions that caused the recession in the first place. Non-unionized charter schools threaten to divide, weaken and privatize the public school system and damage teachers’ unions, which are needed now more than ever. More and more students are going deep into debt to finance their education, while high unemployment forces many students and youth to join the military to receive a higher education. And all of the attacks described above have hit working people and people of color the hardest."

It goes without saying, adjuncts have a stake in the BIG PICTURE, so check out the web link above to have your say. We're not alone in this one!

Go, EMU!

Here's an article from Eastern Michigan University about the unionization drive of adjuncts there. This statement speaks volumes: "I believe that anyone who says that part-time faculty have no common interest with those who teach full-time and are only doing this for 'little money and nice experience' lacks understanding of the dynamics of higher education and the realities of preparing students for the work place..." Regents listen to union pitch

Savage Chickens - Cartoons on Sticky Notes by Doug Savage

Great way to start the Thursday marathon -- thanks, Vanessa! Savage Chickens - Cartoons on Sticky Notes by Doug Savage

Monday, February 15, 2010

Thanks to AFT for this!

Here's a very interesting Huffington Post piece by Bob Samuels of the AFT University Council, entitled, "Why Tuition Always Goes Up at American Universities."  Tuition certainly isn't going up because adjunct wages are getting appreciably better, but with so much downward pressure on university budgets in general these days, and so many voices proclaiming adjunct teaching to be the best hedge against recession around, can we predict the trend?

Have your say!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Diversity or Fragmentation?

Thanks to a fellow Adjunct Nation list member for this: it seems adjunct life has finally hit the big time -- the January 31 business section! Whether we should cheer or not is a matter of perspective: is the diversity of paths beaten to the doors of our shared academic limbo a strength or a weakness? Can anyone take our professional status seriously if it's advertised as a "fall-back plan" for hard times?

The article, by Phyllis Korkki, is entitled "Back to School, as an Adjunct," and, in a nutshell, it promotes the dictum "he who can't, teaches" as the latest recession survival strategy. Korkki states, "Becoming a teacher can be rigorous and time-consuming, but at the college level, part-time teaching is a realistic option for some professionals. Postsecondary schools are often willing to be flexible about academic credentials in return for real-world expertise" (emphasis mine).

So, any professional can be a teacher these days--and the market agrees, according to Korkki: "The need for part-time professors, known as adjuncts, is high right now. Education is one of the few areas of the economy that has been expanding, partly because so many of the unemployed are returning to school." Again, we can look at this positively or not, which is just what the "Letters to the Editor" in response to Korkki's story do. One letter touts the adjunct life as a Baby Boomer's dream, " ideal encore career." Another letter (my personal favorite) decries the "casualization of the academic labor market," suggesting American universities are slipping off the international pedastal with the shift away from tenure-track positions (a trend more or less lumped in with the increase of adjunct hiring). Will reducing our job profile and expectations to something "any professional" can do help adjunct professionals have a coherent voice out there? Or will it fragment us even further?

Please share your thoughts!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What do you think about your "voice" as part-time/adjunct faculty?

"Voice" is about as slippery a concept as any, especially when applied to a profession. If Barbara Ehrenreich's Bait & Switch and George Clooney's Up in the Air are any indication, a large percentage of today's working professionals feel there are forces at work that totally trash any "voice" they might have. An even trickier question is, how does "voice" relate to the experiences of part-time/adjunct faculty? I know from my research that whatever this loaded term means, a lot of us don't feel we have enough of it!  For starters, here's a checklist to consider:
  • Is having a "voice" about sitting at the table with the full-timers and taking part in department decisions that impact us?
  • Is it being invited to present our work at department meetings?
  • Is it being asked to mentor new part-time faculty?
  • Is it being asked to sit on curriculum development committees? 
  • Is it being in on the discussion when our class assignments are scheduled from semester-to-semester?
  • Is it about union representation?
  • Or, some combination of all-of-the-above?
What do you think? What would make you feel that you have a satisfying "voice" in your professional life? Your comments are welcome!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Feeling overworked and underpaid? Here's the MLA's solution...

It's good to know that there are some influential voices in academic policy calling for equitable part-time faculty wages. Here's a statement put out recently by the Modern Language Association, entitled "MLA Recommendation on Minimum Per-Course Compensation for Part-Time Faculty Members." Happily, the MLA supports factoring in more dollars per course to compensate part-timers for having no medical benefits. This could be very important and helpful if the Federal health care reforms ever happen and we are all required to purchase coverage, one way or another.

Also, happily, for the 2009-10 academic year, the MLA recommends a minimum $6750 per 3-credit hour course for semester-based courses and $4500 per 3-credit hour for trimester-based courses. These figures were arrived at by starting with the principle that part-timers should be compensated "pro rata to full-time faculty performing similar duties" and are contingent upon the actual work load of the part-timer (3 courses/per semester would be the equivalent of "full-time"). There's a lot more to see on the website the link above takes you to -- bottom line, we're not alone in this BUWW (big, ugly working world). If this report has any teeth, I'd say a lot of us are due a nice pay raise!

Have your say about pay rates and more...please take the quick 5-7 minute "Adjuncts in Academia-2010 Survey" here!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Kudos to the AFT-FACE campaign for its support: Write your Senators!

The latest edition of the AFT On Campus publication (Jan./Feb. 2010) features a great interview with researcher Adrianna Kezar of USC and Cecil Sam, USC graduate assistant, who have studied higher education institutions and their use/misuse of adjunct faculty. See the AFT links on the side of this page for more on this -- Kezar and Sam get it right, and considering neither one of them are adjuncts, it's good to hear!

The FACE campaign is asking all of us to write our U.S. Senators now to promote better treatment for adjuncts and more full-time hiring on university campuses. Please hit the link to submit your thoughts in their form.

Last, but not least, if you haven't already done so, please take a few minutes to take the "Adjuncts in Academia 2010 Survey" here. We are an issue whose time has come! Your voice is needed and greatly appreciated!


Friday, February 5, 2010

Welcome to The Adjunct Voice

Collectively, we university part-time/adjunct faculty members (hereafter called "adjuncts") are a demographic universe unto ourselves. We come from every academic field and carry every degree imaginable. We bring as many goals and approaches towards our teaching lives as there are individuals. Of course, there's a flip side to this incredibly lively diversity: our badly fragmented professional voice.  Most academic analysts I've read--not the bean counters--view the very fact of our relentlessly growing numbers (one stat claims we are now 600,000 strong nationwide) as a troubling development. Yet, U.S. white collar employment in general is trending this exact direction: towards more part-time, temporary and contract positions with reduced wages and few, if any, paid benefits. Clearly, universities have just been ahead of the curve--or worse, they've led the way. Whichever it is, it's had a snowball effect on the U.S. middle class and adjunct life isn't likely to get much easier for it.

Many of us never set out to become "career" adjuncts, but then, who would? Yet, being plucked from the ranks of long-time adjunct teaching to fill a full-time position is increasingly rare (having taught for 10+ years hasn't helped my CV any), and part-timing is no longer just a way to "get a taste for teaching" before making the full-time plunge. On the other hand, those who began teaching part-time to supplement their corporate incomes are probably glad they did, given today's unemployment woes: teaching might just be their mainstay, at this point. Unfortunately, that's a heck of a pay cut to swallow.

So, dear colleagues, what are you experiencing today with part-time university teaching? I'm hoping this blog will give us a forum for discussion and collective problem-solving--even for lively, but respectful venting. If you're like me, you don't have much time for meetings and collegiality in the schools you serve, but a "virtual" community is possible from anywhere, anytime, and we've all got stories to tell!

For starters, please take a few minutes to fill in the attached anonymous survey, "Adjuncts in Academia Survey, 2010."  I'm asking for your input on this because (in my free time, ha!) I'm conducting a study on adjunct faculty issues for presentation in March.  Your thoughts on these matters are more important than anything else I will have to say. Like I said, this is just for starters, though. It's finally occurred to me after years of grousing about working conditions, pay, lack of health care, etc., that it's time to get together for a nationwide chat and feel a little less alone in today's big, ugly working world. Maybe together, we can figure out some solutions!

Let's talk!

Raye Robertson