by Marnie Webster | 1 November 2014
Interest has skyrocketed regarding an anonymous call to action made via Facebook on October 1st. The post states simply that “adjuncts across the country will come together” next February to “insist on fair wages and better working conditions.”
This mysterious announcement coupled with similar ones on a sister Twitter account have caused quite a stir on social networks, listservs, and blogs, and has been picked up by various media such as InTheCapital, Inside Higher Ed, Chronicle Vitae, Popular Resistance, and AWP. By NAWD’s one month birthday, interest had grown so much it seemed time for an interview. In the following first interview, the anonymous blogger/tweeter National Adjunct is kind enough to answer some questions regarding all the commotion.
Why make a call for adjunct faculty to walk out? Why now?
I think another way of looking at this question is to ask why this call hasn’t been made sooner. I can only guess that it is because so many adjuncts feel so isolated on their campuses, and have so little time left over after teaching, grading, and trying to survive on a barebones salary. The isolation, lack of resources, and lack of time for adjuncts to get involved in the issues impacting them makes activism on a national level challenging. However, despite all these challenges, at this time, a lot of really encouraging activism is happening on the local level. Many adjuncts are fed up with the situation, and so many adjuncts have been seeing that their frustration is not just individual, but endemic. This, combined with what seems to be an uptick in media coverage of adjunct issues, has made now a good time.
How did the call for a national walkout come about?
It came about after an email thread at our campus where contingent faculty were talking about the economic realities of their lives. Many of these faculty members had been working on the campus for years—excellent educators, devoted to public education—living in poverty and privation and donating their time to the students. This while profligate spending on facilities and administrative salaries was going on. Mind you, this has been happening on a campus that has a strong union that has achieved a lot for its members such as health benefits and three-year appointments. Yet even with the union, these contingent faculty members have been earning less than the minimum wage, and have been suffering under an untenable work load with administrators increasing class sizes and service commitments that have to be done for free—all while spending lavishly on facility upgrades, and increasing student fees.
While these were issues impacting our particular campus, anyone who has adjuncted knows that these issues are by no means unique. A variation of this scenario is happening on every campus across America. It has become clear that this is a national issue, and this is why it seemed like the right time for national action.
People are really curious about who is making this call to action, yet you’ve maintained an anonymous presence – why?
This call needs to be taken up by adjuncts everywhere if it’s going to be successful. By staying anonymous I (and the volunteers contributing time to this campaign) hope to keep the focus on adjuncts in general. There’s also a practical reason for staying anonymous—it stops the communication from getting personal. NAWD has received a lot of communication from excited adjuncts wanting to get involved, and that communication will only increase. NAWD will also see communication from those who have a stake in NAWD not succeeding. Keeping the communication out of the realm of the personal, since anyone “working” with NAWD is a volunteer and not a professional activist, will keep the focus on the movement, and not take too much time and energy away from the already busy lives of those volunteering.
Is there anything you can tell us about yourself and others making this call?
We are contingent faculty members—adjuncts. And I think something to add here is that adjuncts really care about education, really care about students, and really care about what is happening to higher ed. Many adjuncts have devoted their lives to education and education is a value they hold dear. Adjuncts are not just getting involved with NAWD because of their personal economic situation (in fact, most tend to be rather selfless individuals, who would willingly put up with some personal privation for the public good). Adjuncts are getting involved because they see that a system that is exploiting 75% of its faculty is destroying departments, disciplines, and higher education itself. They see a system that is milking more and more money out of student fees and tuition while actively proclaiming, “education has NO value” through the treatment of 75% of its faculty. These adjuncts are realizing that the time they are donating to the students is NOT serving any public good, but is on the contrary, propping up a system that is increasingly serving private profits.
What’s the significance of February 25th?
A lot of people have been asking that! A few considerations went into choosing this date: for one thing, the date was about five months off from the first call for a walkout, and that seemed like a reasonable time to build momentum and get folks onboard. Secondly, though it’s impossible to plan around the schedules of every campus, this date is unlikely to be associated with midterms or spring break. Thirdly, the date comes in the middle of the week, at a time when campus activity is high. Finally, this date is associated with the Paterson Silk Strike of 1913, so there is a link to the U.S. labor movement.
I see a National Adjunct Walkout Day discussion board has recently been created. What’s this about?
The discussion board is a place for people to connect and share ideas for February 25. The success of NAWD, because it truly is grassroots, involves adjuncts and adjunct supporters interacting with each other to plan individual or collaborative campus actions. The great thing about NAWD is that it’s very flexible. What’s right for adjuncts on one campus might not be right on another. For example, in some states, and in some unions, a literal full-scale walk out would be impossible. However, there are infinite ways to participate and show support on February 25, from walk-ins to teach-ins, to many other ideas that have been proposed. Importantly too, the new forum board is a place for full-time faculty, unions, and adjunct activist groups to get involved in supporting NAWD actions. Because these issues impact a range of folks, the discussion board is an important place for all those involved in NAWD to connect.
What are the goals of NAWD? What would you like to see happen on the 25th and further down the road?
The goal with NAWD is systemic change. That is the goal. But there are steps towards achieving that goal, such as raising awareness about the situation of adjuncts. Providing a network for adjuncts to connect from campus to campus. Changing the messaging about adjuncts from, “why don’t they just get another job?” to “why does a system that claims to value education exploit 75% of its faculty?” Getting tenured faculty involved—many of whom are horrified by what they see as the increasing corporatization of colleges—is huge. And finally, shining a national light on these issues so that no adjunct or campus is facing these issues alone. Systemic change is the goal, but achieving any of these steps would mean that NAWD has been a success.
The NAWD digital discussion board for adjuncts to organize and plan actions is also available through a link on the Facebook page.
National Adjunct is the alias of a lecturer in writing at San Jose State University who has chosen to remain anonymous.