By Jack Longmate
The two-tier workplace, with an upper tier of tenured faculty and a lower tier of non-tenured faculty, has been the norm in U.S. higher education for half a century, long enough to have enabled several generations to become acculturated to it. Just as it seems natural and normal for water to run downhill, no one is surprised when adjuncts are not paid the same as tenured instructors.
In thinking about strategizing for change, consider this quotation from Albert Einstein:
We educators are no different from everyone else: we are ethnocentric. We tend to view and judge the world through the eyes of our own culture and, in this case, our own workplaces, which, I think, was my problem when I first heard about the Vancouver Model, a one-tier faculty workplace where all instructors, whether full- or part-time, whether temporary or permanent, are paid according to the same multi-step salary schedule; where all instructors are offered a pathway to permanent, tenure-like employment, called “regularization”; and where one’s job is protected by seniority, not full- or part-time status. Vancouver seemed so different from what I’d understood as the higher education workplace reality that I found myself questioning everything about it.
In a recent email discussion on the California Part-time Faculty Association’s (CPFA) ElChorro, a question arose about how the one-tier Vancouver Model “spread” to other colleges in British Columbia. If one considers one’s workplace the norm, and if it lacks things like equal pay, equal work, and job security, then one can’t be blamed for wondering, albeit ethnocentrically, how those features came to be. But the absence of those features could mean that one’s own workplace is not normal, but a debased aberration.
After all, part-time workers in other professions that require advanced degrees or certification, like dental hygienists or K-12 teachers, are not paid a discounted salary as part-time higher ed instructors are. We in higher ed have been socialized into thinking that it is natural and acceptable for non-tenured instructors to be paid less.
In strategizing for change, should concentration be on efforts with reasonable chance of success or the long shot in hopes of solving the problem once and for all?
Lantz Simpson, formerly of Santa Monica, formulated what needs to happen legislatively; his essay in Keith Hoeller’s 2014 book Equality for Contingent Faculty enumerates specific changes.
When the Program for Change (https://vccfa.ca/program-for-change-2/), a strategic plan based on the Vancouver Model, was presented at the New Faculty Majority Summit in January of 2012 in Washington, D.C., the editor of the Canadian academic journal reported that many U.S. adjuncts “seemed to feel that hell would freeze over” before they could expect the benefits of the Vancouver Model (Learn More).
But by asking for parity pay when performing “comparable duties” instead of equal pay, or by asking to adjust the workload cap, from 67 to 85 percent, instead of abolishing the cap outright, aren’t we tacitly supporting a two-tier system and its inherently discriminatory treatment of part-time faculty? Isn’t this what Einstein had in mind when he said that we can’t solve our problems using the same thinking that created them?
A fatalistic attitude about change—that real change will not be happening in our lifetimes—is self-defeating: if you ask for nothing, you’re apt to get nothing.
A reading of the Program for Change might appear to support small incremental steps. However, it is vital to make clear that the incremental steps move towards a goal—they are not the goal—and the goal is equality and the one-tier system like Vancouver.
The real issue is not short or long gains, but the goal of equality. On this point, there is no reason to be timid nor apologetic about. In asking for equality, we’re asking for nothing more and nothing less.
If we fail to make clear our goal of equality, then we come across just like any other interest group seeking more. What makes non-tenured instructors different is our unequal treatment, which violates human rights. The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human, article 23.1, declares:
Everyone has the right to . . . just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
The two-tier system does not offer just and favorable conditions of work because it denies equal pay, equal work, and job security. It provides no protection whatsoever against unemployment, since nontenured faculty members are typically laid off at the end of each academic term. The categorical discrimination based on job status alone that violates this Article. Eleanor Roosevelt and others who drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights did so to prevent cultural norms from defying morality and fairness.
The best hope for the profession is solidarity among all faculty, but that solidarity is sacrificed by the two-tier system when most are deprived of a family wage income, professional dignity, and a stable career. But if those provisions could be established through legislation or bargained, as has been done in British Columbia, all faculty could become united.
About the Author:
Jack Longmate served as an adjunct English instructor at Olympic College from 1992 until 2020; he is a former officer with the NEA-affiliated union and an active member of the Washington Part-Time Faculty Association.
With Frank Cosco, he co-authored the “Program for Change: Real Transformation over Two Decades”.