By Jack Longmate
When hearing about proposals to fund new tenure-track jobs, adjuncts might think to themselves: “If I could only get a tenure-track job, I could say ‘Good riddance’ to this dead-end adjunct gig with its discounted, poverty-level pay; limited hours; lack of job security; lack of health insurance and retirement; and the rest of its substandard working conditions, so you bet I’ll support legislation for more tenure.”
Over the last half century, the primary response of U.S. faculty unions to the rise of adjunctification and the decline of tenure has been to call for funding of more new tenure-track positions. But adding tenure-track positions does nothing to improve the substandard working conditions of contingent instructors. For that reason, a resolution opposing more tenure-track jobs was presented at the COCAL conference in Queretaro, Mexico, in August 2022. Improving the working conditions of contingents is, or should be, the chief goal of the California Part-time Faculty Association, COCAL, and faculty unions who represent contingents.
While contingent instructors can’t be blamed for wanting tenure, it is delusional to believe that legislation funding new tenure-track jobs will make their dreams come true when non-tenured instructors outnumber the tenured by at least 2 to 1. In California Colleges, for example, if every one of the 18,000 tenured instructors were to suddenly resign, the resulting job openings could not come close to accommodating the 37,000 part-timers. Apart from the numbers, the variables of the hiring process make clear that contingents are not guaranteed a tenure-track job: nationwide competition, preference for more recent graduates and/or a bias against current adjuncts, personal shortcomings that may have prevented being hired into a tenure-track position in the past, etc.
Further, newly funded tenure-track jobs convert positions, not people. Current adjuncts would not become tenured in place. Quite the reverse: at least some contingents would lose their jobs since new tenure-track jobs are created by eliminating non-tenured ones.
As long as faculty unions, institutions, and some frantic contingents call for more tenure-track jobs, the chances of meaningful reform of the substandard working conditions of contingents are very slim. Especially detrimental to improving contingent faculty working conditions are those who claim that more tenure-track positions is actually the solution, as HELU’s pledge explicitly declares, “Expand Tenure to End the Adjunct Crisis.” It is an absolute falsehood to suggest that more tenure “will end” the adjunct crisis.”
Inevitably, some will say: “Why not push for both, more tenure-track positions and improved working conditions for contingent faculty? That way, everybody wins!” But that posture sustains the false notion that more tenure positions would help current contingents and provides the option to ignore their unfair and exploitative working conditions.
The California Community College Chancellor has recognized this fact. In 2021, Vice Chancellor David O’Brien opposed AB 1269, which called for the Chancellor to develop a state plan for “pay equity for part-time faculty.” But such a plan, he explained, would conflict with collective bargaining that established the current working conditions. He proposed the alternative of “additional investments in full-time faculty hiring to lower the abundance of part-time faculty.”
The contingent faculty movement needs to put an emphatic stop to the idea that more tenured instructors help contingent faculty and confront and reform the substandard working conditions.
Tenure is not the only option for a livable wage, job security, and professional dignity. The Vancouver Model offers regularization with tenure-like job protection awarded upon completion of a probationary period and promotes the individual, not the position. The Vancouver Model is a single tier with equal pay, equal work, and job security protected by seniority.
It is time that U.S. faculty unions act like real unions and end the bifurcated and elitist two-tier faculty labor system, instead of strengthening it, and promote the equality of a single tier. In doing so, they would be honoring their duty of fair representation (DFR), which may also be their best move to save tenure.
COCAL Resolution: Choosing Equality for All Contingents Over Tenure for a Few
Whereas over the last half century in the United States, the number of tenured and tenure-track appointments has declined while the number of non-tenured appointments has increased; generally, the non-tenured outnumber the tenured by at least a 2 to 1 ratio;
Whereas the primary legislative and collective bargaining response to the decline of tenure-track positions has been initiatives for new tenure-track positions, such as California’s 1988 AB 1725; the AFT’s 2006 FACE campaign; and the Sanders-Jayapal H.R. 2730, the College for All Act of 2021;
Whereas such initiatives do not improve the substandard pay and working conditions of non-tenured instructors;
Whereas such initiatives convert positions, not individuals; are created by eliminating the jobs of non-tenure-track instructors; and cannot possibly offer tenure to the majority of non-tenured instructors;
Whereas the resulting two-tiered faculty workplace stands in defiance of equality, creating the morally reprehensible circumstances of two instructors with similar or identical professional credentials who teach the same classes, award grades and credits of the same value, and have the same tuition charged for their classes but with grossly different wages and working conditions;
Whereas one-tier faculty workplaces have been collectively bargained in higher education with equality for all instructors (e.g., the Vancouver Model), where all instructors are compensated according to a common multi-stepped salary schedule; perform equal work that is prorated in the case of the part-time instructors; have avenues for job security after completing a probationary period; and are granted job protection through seniority.
Be it Resolved that COCAL declare its opposition to initiatives to create more tenure-track positions which have the effect of sustaining and reinforcing the two-tiered faculty labor system;
Be it Further Resolved that COCAL retract its endorsement of Higher Education Labor United (HELU) and any other organizations that mistakenly claim that more tenure-track positions would “end the Adjunct Crisis” as HELU’s pledge does.
Be it Further Resolved that COCAL endorse current and future initiatives that treat all faculty equally: equal pay; equal work; equal benefits; job security which is not necessarily tenure; and job protection through seniority.
Editor’s Note: COCAL has yet to make a decision about the resolution.
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