Adjunct-Bashing and Retaliation

Wherever adjuncts have risen up, criticized unions and their leaders for their mistreatment of the contingent faculty, and demanded change, union leaders have uniformly responded with denial and hostility. In order to maintain the two-track system and the privileges that come with tenure, it is important for the unions to stifle any independent movement that might threaten the hegemony of the tenured faculty. It is also important to make sure that no independent adjunct leaders emerge to challenge the union’s power base.

Sometimes an adjunct can be discredited simply by labeling them “antiunion,” or “anti-full-timer,” or “anti-tenure.” Because I have criticized the two-track system, union leaders across the country have long hurled such epithets at me. This process of vilifying an outspoken adjunct lets union members see the individual as a threat to the group, and to realize that if they should associate with the dissident, they may be subjected to the same hostility.

Without any job security, adjuncts who speak up run the very real risk of losing their current jobs, and not being hired for future work. They also may anger tenured faculty who evaluate their courses, provide references for future work, and serve on hiring committees.

Unions have been eager to find and promote “happy adjuncts,” who will speak well of the unions and the tenured faculty who control them. If these adjuncts will also hurl darts at the independent activists, all the better.

But if a critical adjunct should sneak through, the unions have been quick to leap into action. When Doug Collins, the elected secretary of the Seattle Community College AFT, testified against a union increment bill and asked that it be amended to be fair to adjunct professors, he was subjected to an unprecedented recall vote and removed from office.77

When nearly ten years later, Jack Longmate, elected secretary of the Olympic College NEA, also testified against a union increment bill and asked that it be amended to provide equal increments for adjuncts, union leaders, including the president of the statewide Washington Education Association, quickly retaliated. After Jack rejected tenured faculty members’ demands that he resign, he was purged from office when the full-timers ran a tenured faculty member against him.78 With only 8 percent of the Olympic College adjuncts choosing to join the union, it was easy for the full-timers to replace him.

It is the two-track system that divides the faculty into the haves and have-nots. Unions that support it do not want solidarity among the faculty.


How to Achieve Equality for Contingent Faculty

Given how entrenched the two-track system now is throughout the United States, can adjuncts ever expect to make any improvements, let alone gain full equality with their tenured colleagues? How can contingent faculty ever make any substantial improvements when the three faculty unions lack any kind of coherent plan to make substantial improvements and oftentimes seem to remain determined to represent the tenured faculty at the expense of their contingents?

Not surprisingly, after ignoring the adjuncts for decades, the faculty unions are now claiming to be their saviors. Union leaders and naïve observers think: If only the adjuncts will organize themselves into local chapters of the AAUP, the AFT, or the NEA, collective bargaining will take care of everything. Solidarity can thereby be achieved and the colleges will not be able to pit one group against the other.

Apart from lip service to adjuncts, there is no evidence that any of these unions or their leaders have any serious intention of abandoning the supremacy of the tenured faculty.

Indeed, it would be hard to find a more cynical solution to the adjunct faculty crisis than the one offered by the AFT: the Faculty and College Excellence (FACE) plan, which seeks to restore the tenure-stream faculty to 75 percent. While the FACE plan gives a small nod to improving adjuncts a bit, its primary goal is to obtain legislative funding to convert part-time positions to full-time ones. As noted, this means the loss of adjunct jobs; the AFT has since revised its literature to say it does not intend to do this.79

Yet in order to convert two half-time positions to one full-time position, at least one and possibly two current part-timers will lose their jobs. And if the new full-timer is allowed to teach overloads, one or more additional half-time teachers could lose their jobs as well. That is why one Washington adjunct called the Washington State FACE bill the “Adjunct Annihilation Act.”


Is Collective Bargaining the Only Solution?

It is not reasonable to suppose that collective bargaining alone offers an effective means to achieve adjunct equality. An adjunct union is likely to require two years to become established, and then another two years to obtain its first three-year union contract. Then in three years, the union may be able to make a couple of slight improvements. After ten years, in all likelihood, the adjuncts are still likely to have a weak contract. And this process would have to be repeated at each and every college and university in the country. Strikes are prohibited at nearly all public colleges, and higher ed unions have hardly been engaging in any strikes in recent years.

The faculty unions have only pledged themselves to vague improvements to the two-track system and none even has a plan to implement even any small changes. And if the unions have been behaving like abusive spouses, none has yet to even apologize and pledge to stop abusing the adjuncts. They are still at the stage of “blaming the victim” for the violence done to them.

Nonunion adjunct organizations have been successful in bringing about major gains not merely on a single campus, but statewide. The California Part-Time Faculty Association was a leader in obtaining the favorable Cervisi state Supreme Court decision, which has made collecting unemployment nearly automatic for adjuncts. It has also led the way in improving salaries for community college adjuncts. And it was instrumental in a campaign to lift the artificial caps in the community colleges from 60 percent to 67 percent of a full-time workload, thereby allowing adjuncts to teach an extra course each year.

The Washington Part-Time Faculty Association, which I founded with Terry Knudsen in 1997, has had a major impact on adjunct employment in the community colleges.80 The legislature has appropriated nearly $60 million to improve adjunct salaries, moving them from 40 percent to 60 percent of a full-time salary for teaching a full-time workload.

Additionally, as I mentioned earlier, I initiated two successful class-action lawsuits, both called Mader v. State of Washington, which (a) greatly expanded the number of adjuncts who qualified for retirement and health care benefits, and (b) put $25 million into the pockets of adjuncts who had been denied such benefits in the past. I also drafted a 1999 bill that gave cumulative, compensable sick leave to all adjuncts in the state, and I arranged for them to purchase long-term disability insurance for the first time.


Achieving Equality for Contingent Faculty

The two-track system is broken. Tenure-stream professors now find themselves adrift in a small, leaky lifeboat surrounded by an ocean brimming with contingent faculty who, prevented from climbing into the tenure boat, are forced either to tread water or else drown.

Even the American Association of University Professors has begun to speak of tenure in apocalyptic terms, announcing that “Today the tenure system has all but collapsed.”81 In 2010, the organization’s president, Cary Nelson, wrote, “Now the average college teacher is no longer eligible for tenure, and the good ship humanities is already partly under water.”82

Tenure is becoming extinct and nearly every week somebody publishes a story asking “Is College Worth It?” Still feeling the effects of the 2007–2009 recession, the answer appears increasingly to be “No!” It certainly isn’t worth it for the millions of students who forgo income and incur student debt to obtain a graduate degree in the humanities, only to find that there are no tenure-track jobs, and that their only options are one-year appointments or a lifetime of part-time teaching in the academic ghetto.

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