Successful strategies for enhancing the lives of adjuncts and other contingent faculty
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About the Author
Keith Hoeller is an adjunct professor of philosophy at Green River Community College, where he became the first adjunct to win the college's Distinguished Faculty Award. He was also the first adjunct to win the Georgina Smith Award from the American Association of University Professors for improving the status of women and advancing collective bargaining. He is the cofounder of the Washington Part-Time Faculty Association and co-organizer of the New Faculty Majority. He has published more than two dozen opinion articles on adjunct faculty in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, and elsewhere.
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Equality for Contingent Faculty
Overcoming the Two-Tier System
By Keith Hoeller
Vanderbilt University PressCopyright © 2014 Vanderbilt University Press
All rights reserved.
Organizing for Equality within the Two-Tier System
The Experience of the California Faculty Association
Elizabeth Hoffman and John Hess
On November 15, 2006, a sunny day in Long Beach, California, 1,500 faculty and students marched across a bridge and assembled in front of the entrance to the chancellor's headquarters on Golden Shores. We had come to harass the California State University (CSU) chancellor and board of trustees, and that is what we did. The marchers carried banners large and small and even an enormous puppet of the chancellor. The crowd became more and more boisterous, students banged on the outside of the windows and held up banners to the windows so the trustees could see them, and a group of the protesters went inside the board of trustees' meeting room. Eventually, twenty-one faculty leaders sat down in the middle of the room and locked arms. Seven of these faculty were lecturers, people with little or no job security. They all began chanting, supported by other faculty and students inside and outside the trustees' chambers. Finally, the chancellor and the trustees fled the room and the CSU became what we had long been calling it: The People's University. When the faculty and students went back to their campuses, they began to make preparations to go on strike. The faculty eventually voted overwhelmingly to do so. Had this happened, it would have been the largest faculty strike in the United States. The chancellor, however, threw in the towel and conceded nearly everything we had been asking for at the bargaining table.
How did this happen? What does it mean? How is it that CSU lecturers played an important role in this fight with the chancellor? We hope to answer these and other pertinent questions in this article from our special perspective as contingent faculty activists. To begin, step back with us to another time.
"Throw the lecturers out of the union," shouted one of the leaders of the California Faculty Association (CFA). To the two lecturers in the room, hearing this was a low point in their union experience and proof of the contingent faculty axiom that one is never more than fifteen seconds away from total humiliation. The setting was a retreat held by the CFA in the early 1990s, and the hired facilitator had directed the participants to brainstorm as honestly as possible about what the CFA should do to build a strong and effective union. This comment was certainly honest, and it brought out into the open some depressing realities. Although the CFA was the legal representative for all the faculty in the California State University, the union did not well represent almost half the faculty members—those with full-time or part-time temporary appointments. These faculty, the lecturers, were marginalized in their teaching positions and marginalized—even rejected—in their own union.
Now, some twenty years later, the CFA has become a very different union, far more democratic and inclusive and committed to protecting the needs of all the constituents in the bargaining unit. It's not perfect and certainly the university itself remains a status conscious and exclusionary environment. And despite improvements in job security provisions, lecturers still lead insecure lives. However, the mean-spirited "throw the lecturers out" comment is unimaginable in today's CFA. We're a big union, representing more than twenty-three thousand faculty at twenty-three campuses, and there is a clear understanding that we need every hand on board, not only to protect our own interests, but to protect the institution of higher education itself.
Higher education is the key both to producing the innovative professionals needed for the twenty-first century and to rebuilding a middle class whose members can expect respect for their contributions, job security, a livable wage with health benefits, and a retirement with dignity. It's a cruel irony that the majority of the faculty preparing this workforce of the future have few of these benefits themselves. The contingent, temporary nature of their faculty appointments undermines not only their working conditions but also the academic freedom that ensures the integrity of the profession. This labor system results in an academic workforce with over half the faculty members marginalized from democratic decision-making and governance processes. The contingent nature of these appointments does not just negatively impact the faculty holding such positions. In a 2008 issue of Academe devoted solely to contingent issues, Gary Rhoades, general secretary of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), writes, "The future of the academic profession is connected to the working conditions of contingent faculty. So is the Academy's future." Rhoades concludes his article by arguing that we must do more than just improve job security and working conditions:
For faculty associations, one of the most important goals is to secure for contingent faculty improved safeguards of academic due process. But it is also worth questioning the discursive logic that influences the academy's direction and the working conditions and lives of contingent faculty. And it is worth challenging our current directions in ways that speak to a larger vision of professors and of higher education and its role in our society.
The AAUP had already set out such an approach—one that is both visionary and pragmatic—in its 2003 policy statement Contingent Appointments and the Academic Profession. This landmark statement, the result of several years' work by a committee of both tenure-line and contingent faculty, states that its recommendations are "necessary for the well-being of the profession and the public good" and offers guidelines for "gradual transitions to a higher proportion of tenurable positions" while developing "intermediate, ameliorative measures by which the academic freedom and professional integration of faculty currently appointed to contingent positions can be enhanced by academic due process and assurances of continued employment."
The CFA has supplied the model for what Rhoades says a faculty association must be by directly confronting contingency, making concrete plans to increase access to tenurable positions, and developing "intermediate, ameliorative measures" to improve the job security and working conditions of those faculty off the tenure line. Progress has been slow, hampered by the administrative demand for managerial flexibility and by recurring state budget crises. We have made progress, however, and it's worth examining how the CFA changed into an organization that can work in a unified way, challenge its direction, and develop Rhoades's "larger vision of professors and of higher education and its role in society."
The two of us, John Hess and Elizabeth Hoffman, share a long history in higher education. We have been graduate assistants, part-time and full-time contingent faculty members in community colleges and universities (in both collective-bargaining and noncollective environments), and union activists. John has worked as a tenure-line faculty member and as a union staff person. Elizabeth taught briefly in K-12 and spent time in the corporate world. But for both of us, CFA has been the place where we had an opportunity to participate in changing a union, a process that has enriched our lives and, we believe, benefited others. We have a story to tell about that process.
Unionization of the Faculty in the CSU
The CFA has a history that has cast a long shadow on the lecturers in the California State University system. In 1978, after a long fight involving faculty activists, the California Legislature passed the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act, which enabled faculty to pursue collective bargaining. Prior to 1978, the CSU faculty had formed two groups: One was the Congress of Faculty Associations, known by the same acronym (CFA) as the current California Faculty Association but a very different organization. The other was the United Professors of California (UPC), an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in which many lecturers were active. Elections were held in 1982, with 85 percent of the faculty voting for collective bargaining. By fewer than one hundred votes, the Congress of Faculty Associations was elected the exclusive bargaining agent.
The California Public Employees Relations Board (PERB), in their unit determination, had put both tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty in the same unit, arguing that all CSU faculty share a "community of interests" and "perform functionally related services or work toward established common goals."
The lecturers became part of the new union, renamed the California Faculty Association, which legally represented all CSU faculty. It would be some years, however, before there was much recognition of the shared "community of interests" that the PERB had identified. Lecturer issues had a low priority, and lecturers were generally ignored or made to feel unwelcome, both at the statewide level and the local chapters at each campus.
Many UPC members were reluctant to join the new CFA, but with the PERB's ruling and the election, the CFA was now the only game in town. Former UPC activists did become active in the CFA, including lecturers who were an important voice in making sure that their fellow contingent faculty were represented in provisions of the first contract and in the structures of the new union.
From 1983, when the CFA bargained its first contract, to the late 1990s, progress was slow for lecturers in the California State University system; they made few gains at the bargaining table. However, some rights already existed in the California Education Code, and these were mostly retained in the early contracts:
Lecturers had access to the grievance procedure.
Lecturers on full-year appointments who taught half-time or above and were eligible for health insurance could also qualify for the CalPERS retirement program.
All faculty were on the same salary schedule; thus, a form of pro rata pay already existed.
The first CFA-CSU contract laid the foundation for lecturer appointments, with the following provisions:
A lecturer appointed to a similar assignment in the same department in consecutive academic years must receive the same or higher salary as previously.
Departments must maintain lists (or pools) of lecturers who have been evaluated previously and provide these lecturers with "careful consideration" for subsequent appointments.
These two provisions were the first steps in a long and continuing struggle to make lecturer work less piecemeal and less capricious. The "similar assignment" language is the basis of the notion that lecturers have an "entitlement" to a certain time base when they are rehired. The "careful consideration" language is the basis of the notion that faculty on temporary appointments should not be just churned; instead, incumbents with proven success at CSU should have some preference for work. Some strong arbitration decisions made "careful consideration" for rehiring a meaningful concept. A department at least had to make a careful review of the record and could not hire obviously less qualified, less experienced new lecturers just to get cheaper labor. This is the most often grieved article in the whole contract because it challenges the most prized managerial concept: the power and flexibility to hire whomever the administration wishes. Courageous lecturers came forward to file grievances, and lecturer activists pushed the union to pursue them. One early and important arbitration defined "careful consideration" in a way that at least begins to sound like the deliberative process the profession uses for tenure-track faculty appointments:
"Careful consideration" means exactly that, cautious, accurate, thorough and concerned thought, attention and deliberation to the task at hand. In a sense, on behalf of applicants, it can be viewed as a benefit to guarantee that special attention be given to persons who have already devoted effort and gained experience within the system and especially the department where the "new" position exists.
Despite these and other contract protections, lecturers, on the whole, still had a marginalized and precarious status. Even the provision for "careful consideration" just forced the administration to go through a careful process. The provision made it easier to say yes than to say no to incumbent employees—no small thing when dealing with administrators—but the provision did not guarantee reappointment to lecturers. One particularly depressing development in the early 1990s was the union leadership's decision to settle a contract by abandoning a provision that gave some lecturers two-year appointments.
The progress, however slight, that was made on lecturer issues in these early years of CFA happened because lecturers had a guaranteed presence in the structure of the union. The CFA bylaws call for specific lecturer representation at the CFA Assembly (which functions as the statewide governing body and direct representative of members), on the board of directors (which oversees the governance and carries out the policies of the CFA), and on key committees, including the bargaining committee. At the campus level, a CFA executive committee or board must include a lecturer representative, and the representative serves at a delegate at the assembly. The statewide Lecturers' Council, which meets at every assembly, consists of these chapter delegates.
Sadly, through the 1990s the Lecturers' Council was a pretty dispirited group. Sometimes fewer than a third of the campuses had representatives at the council meetings, and the meetings were often little more than a group gripe session. The meetings did provide, however, some opportunity to share information and build a base of lecturer solidarity, and there were some successes.
At statewide council meetings, we discovered just how little even the elected lecturer representatives knew about contract rights and lecturer benefits, and we started to improve the communications between the CFA and the lecturers, and among the lecturers on each campus. We put out information, for example, on the eligibility of most lecturers for unemployment benefits. A small group of CSU lecturers had been working on the issue of unemployment benefits since the 1970s; community college contingent faculty activists had also been working on the issue. Thanks to their efforts in challenging denial of benefits, the Cervisi v. California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board decision in 1989 established that an assignment that is contingent on enrollment, funding, or program changes does not provide a "reasonable assurance" of reemployment.
The unemployment issue provided the Lecturers' Council with some interesting insights. First, we had contingent allies outside the CSU, who though perhaps even more marginalized than we were, had fought back against a denial of rights and achieved a big win. Second, we had solid information, backed by law, that the university administration could not argue with, and the information meant money in the pockets of eligible lecturers. Third, the administration would never disseminate information about unemployment benefits. It was our responsibility to get the information out, talk with lecturers who had questions, and push lecturers to do something the employer did not want them to do. Some chapter lecturer representatives gave workshops on how to apply for unemployment benefits, and these workshops were usually very popular.
The Mario Savio Effect
Getting out better information was a beginning of some action and organizing, but lecturer representatives were still generally lone wolves in the union. In the mid-1990s, meeting Mario Savio, a hero of the 1964 free speech movement at Berkeley, pushed the Lecturers' Council toward more collective action. Savio, a lecturer at Sonoma State University and delegate to the CFA Assembly, walked into the small room where the council was meeting. "There are a lot of lecturers in the CSU," Savio commented. Then he asked, "How many lecturers are usually at the bargaining table?"
"One," someone answered.
"There always has to be at least two of you if anything is going to change," Savio responded. That was a revelation to most of us in that room, but by the end of that Lecturers' Council meeting, we understood that getting more representation for lecturers was part of a broader organizing strategy and we did ask for—and get—another lecturer on the bargaining team, the beginning of significantly improved representation in years to come.
Excerpted from Equality for Contingent Faculty by Keith Hoeller. Copyright © 2014 Vanderbilt University Press. Excerpted by permission of Vanderbilt University Press.
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Table of Contents
Part 1: Case Studies of Progressive Change
Organizing for Equality Within the Two-Tier System: The Experience of the California Faculty Association
Elizabeth Hoffman and John Hess
The Case for Instructor Tenure: Solving Contingency and Protecting Academic Freedom in Colorado
Online Teaching and the Deskilling of Academic Labor in Canada
Natalie Sharpe and Dougal MacDonald
Part 2: The Two-Tier System in Academe
Organizing the New Faculty Majority: The Struggle to Achieve Equality for Contingent Faculty, Revive Our Unions, and Democratize Higher Education
The Academic Labor System of Faculty Apartheid
The Question of Academic Unions: Community (or Conflict) of Interest?
Do College Teachers Have to Be Scholars?
Part 3: Roadmaps for Achieving Equality
The New Abolition Movement
The Vancouver Model of Equality for College Faculty Employment