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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Organizer Path: a Decompression


"The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons," J.M.W. Turner, 1834

I write this post out of love, but also pain. For some reason I really love being an external organizer, which is a person who uses a variety of strategies to recruit new members and build unions. It is an extremely rough life, kind of like that of a contracted soldier where you hardly have time to brush your teeth, and making any kind of life appointment, like going to the doctor, is almost impossible. I just now recovered from a double foot fracture from my five-miles-a-day turf duties. One of my influential mentors once compared organizing to a knife fight, and I agree. You are basically helping often scared and apathetic employees to build courage and fight their bosses. For me, this is very serious and personal. I simply cannot tolerate not winning when the goal is possible, especially because I feel responsible for every worker who trusts me with their story and hopes for a better future, as I was also once a worker, an adjunct professor teaching seven classes a semester and running myself into the ground with little reward. Little did I know that the liberation I would attempt to achieve through organized labor would pretty much boil down to the same thing, but with benefits. In any event, it’s a hard life that I’m also in love with.

It would be great if everyone who worked for a union had the same passion. Unfortunately, this is a world that is even less merit-based than academia, and full of rampant sexism and downright fascism with no logical purpose. If you do an excellent job and you’re a woman, men in supervisory roles will say that there were factors that made it easier for you and try to discount your work. If you win a campaign, men will often steal the credit or just try to push you out--It happens all the time. I have seen this pattern occur coast-to-coast and it’s endlessly frustrating and unfair. Going back to merit, during the last couple of years touring union facilities and various campaigns, I often chuckled to myself that people’s job titles tended to be the one thing they couldn’t do even if their life depended on it: the director who can’t lead or allow people to feel remotely comfortable, the maniacally hypervigilant coordinator who can’t match a pair of socks, the “organizer” who never meets with actual workers in the field and can’t get two fleas to jump in the same direction, the communications specialist who can’t recognize even the most glaring typo, leads (supervisors to the organizing proletariat, if you will) who can only lead oppressive meetings and mansplanation festivals. I think this is because the mission of the work attracts people who want to do good, but they can't work constructively because they lack the innate curiosity, commitment, and maturity level. And you have to want to do good work before you can do it, of course. Also, laziness is a serious problem for many.

However, by far the biggest disappointment for the many “natural” organizers who carry the torch for the labor movement itself, is jealousy: if organizing is a thing that’s in your bones, the nonfunctionals will see it and hate you for the power you build, in the same way that little kids will be jealous of the athletic or good looking kid in the class. It’s juvenile, but it’s unavoidable. I’ve seen it happen so many times to organizers of all genders and ages; it’s just something you have to live with unless there is someday a way to purge all the paid protesters from the ranks and reform labor itself. As a side note, the adjunct movement can also be very catty and unproductively competitive at times. I have also brought my own weaknesses to the scene as well. Due to my obsessive nature, I eventually became a cagey maniac of pain, a perfectionist and workaholic, focused on feeling overly responsible for every single thing while really jeopardizing my health. It is truly a “burn and churn” way of life if you’re not careful and choosy about where you work and what types of positions you accept.

For background into the ideology of organizing, my biggest influences in the literary sense can be boiled down to five books: 1.) Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky 2.) The Art of War by Sun Tzu 3.) Raising Expectations and Raising Hell by Jane McAlevey 4.) The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene and 5.) Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche. One might say, “This is a dark reading list, M-junct!” Yes, but we are at war, gentle comrades. One can’t win a war without first understanding violence and power. You might also throw in some Roman generals for research while you’re at it. I think the winning strategy is to be as Machiavellian as you possibly can while always appearing just and still retaining your soul and original fire, because if you lose these latter qualities, workers will see that death in you and be revolted by the stench. Also, it’s just not pretty to observe. That’s how people become automated robots (“borganizers” or "zombie bots") with empty eyes and a sarcastic disdain for workers. Obviously, this is not a winning recipe, and from what I’ve seen, one of the main reasons faculty campaigns fail is because many professional staff organizers who are not from the rank-and-file think that there is one single recipe for all organizing and that faculty have no insight or ability to truly lead their own campaigns. I also think baby borganizers have quite a bit of envy for highly educated people when what they should really be doing is learning from them, sharing their expertise and building power with faculty, not plastering AstroTurf (opposite of grassroots) over their heads and treating leaders like little chess pieces that can be marched around on call. The AstroTurf model is corporate and an insult to all labor; it undermines labor. In fact, even if faculty win a campaign under this model, because the union will be empty inside and nonfunctional apart from intermittent staff intervention at bargaining time, it’s a recipe for disaster that tends to infect disenfranchised workers with antiunion sentiment that spreads like a virus. And do we really want a fleet of highly educated antiunion people running around? I sure don't!

In a perfect world, I might write a paper citing the above sources in detail and really getting into the nuts and bolts. Unfortunately, however, organizing and adjunct hell has completely reprogrammed my brain. In some sense my innate skills have been improved. Things like reading people, building relationships, understanding body language, dealing with conflict, controlling the situation, the ability to get everyone on the same page and moving in the same direction--sometimes I think I’m on the verge of mastery! Yet my ability to digest academic texts, even my former favorite pieces of classical literature, has waned. I don’t know if I’ll ever get it back at this point, but I do have faith because I witnessed how my former colleague, also an adjunct, saw her abilities return after a few months away from the fallout of our last shared organizing experience. On the very bright side, both of us have made a commitment to stay in labor. From my perspective, I still think it’s the best way to defend higher education from the corporate forces that are undermining faculty and students, and because it’s just plain fun! That said, I was pretty pissed and demoralized for the last couple of months. (In talking with long-time organizers, I discovered that this is actually part of the process. You fall down and then you have get back up for another round.)

This is also a career, like adjuncting, where you have to make peace with loss. Since entering the movement full force, I have lost so much. I have had to give up valuable friendships that were torn apart by the stresses that accompany the crossing over from adjunct to union world, my pets that had to be put up for adoption because of no pet rules and the nomad Ford Focus lifestyle, nearly all of my possessions including all my books that I collected over my lifetime, along with all my marginal notes (because in order to break the futile low-wage adjunct cycle in New Mexico, I had to only take what could fit in my car). Despite all the hardships, however, I can honestly say that it's been worth it, and I will always value the wonderful faculty I have been lucky enough to work with. Organizing and becoming an “on program” person may have finished off what remained of my academic mindset, but I was never a person to write 15-source MLA articles in the first place. I am (or was) a creative writer. My dissertation was a book of poems that I bled out of my soul, memory and struggle. I thought I was set because almost every one was published in a peer review journal or trade magazine, and I was also a professional publisher, editor, and writer with a news media background, but as contingent faculty know well, it doesn’t matter in the end. If anything, the industry is suffering from an excess of unread, unreviewed fake papers and vanity, the intellectual equivalent of constant “selfies.” The peer review process and authenticity of the nation's leading publications has steadily crumbled; I don’t think this is even a controversial statement. (Some might say that Western Civilization itself is crumbling, but that’s another post.) The whole peer review racket is pretty much an incestual paper-pushing scam at the reader’s expense now (assuming there actually are readers aside from family and close friends), so I’m not really sure what the point is anymore. Eventually, the dealer must show their hand or the gamblers will leave and the table will disappear. That’s just logic.

Speaking of gambling, it’s very, very important that faculty choose their union wisely according to what faculty value and what that particular union’s track record is. Do they tend to win by very small margins? Do they constantly wind up stuck in court due to planning failure and fear of handling strikes if necessary? Are they organizing the bosses behind the workers’ backs and making concessions? If so, it’s not a good choice. At the same time, once every campaign gets going and the “boss fight” begins, management will always, without fail, say that faculty have chosen the wrong union. That is part of their divide and conquer strategy and building of doubt. And if you ever thought that management and employees, even the most distinguished faculty, have the same interests, consider the cost of what you’re asking for verses the price they will pay to fight an antiunion campaign where high-priced legal thugs will help them do anything they can to stop you from having any amount of respect or equity. However, and I say this knowing that management sometimes paid for me to speak or run events at various schools, these people are not your friends. You may have had Christmas dinner with them and attended their personal events, but I can guaran-damn-tee you that they will do anything within their power to stop you from forming a union, and not because they are theoretically against it, but because it puts the balance of power more in your favor and they can no longer make unilateral decisions. It really is that simple.

Moving into the future as I pick myself up and dress my wounds, if you one day happen to meet me at your classroom or office and I say, “Hi. My name is Miranda and I’m an organizer with ______ . Some of your colleagues are forming a union and it’s important that we speak,” do not slam the door in my face or discount me. I'm honestly trying to help even though I’m also trying to make sense of the puzzle in the smaller and wider sense. It’s true that I did just come out of a bad situation where I saw faculty disempowered and deceived, but it has all been a valuable experience and I don’t regret learning those hard lessons. All this aside, the truth is that faculty must lead themselves with union staff focused entirely on building power within the rank-and-file, and that’s exactly the kind of work that I’m focusing on today, in solidarity because I finally saw the light and picked a side.

Mighty, mighty!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The USDOL's Response to Adjuncts


The Department of Labor's response to the petition to investigate the labor practices of colleges and universities in the employment  and exploitation of adjunct and contingent faculty (here): https://www.change.org/p/david-weil-dir-wage-and-hour-div-u-s-dept-of-labor-open-an-investigation-into-the-labor-practices-of-our-colleges-and-universities-in-the-employment-of-contingent-faculty (Delivered in-person.)





Wednesday, October 28, 2015

If You’re Going to be a Union Leader, You Have to Plan for the Worst: The Story of Robin Meade


By Robin Meade

I was sitting in my deposition with the John Murphey, the college attorney sternly questioning me about my claim for damages. I didn’t go to a doctor to be diagnosed for depression because I didn’t have the money. He asked why I didn’t go see a doctor after I found a full time job and had insurance. He insinuated that once I had a better position, I just decided that I was over it. I have to say that this time was the lowest time of my life. I really could not have gotten through it without my faith in God. I would submit that the full weight of difficulty is felt not by those who let go or who break down but by those who continue to hold everything together. This does not mean that feeling the weight makes you better than those who cannot but rather that you are blessed with the strength to continue.  

I think it is important to make that distinction. People go about thinking that their circumstance is solely their own doing. This is not true. No one grows up in a vacuum, no one lives in a vacuum. As individualistic as our culture has grown, we are still all together working through life. Some presume that their success has to do only with their own ability and likewise some presume that their lack of success has to do only with their own errors. In the case of the majority of the Moraine Valley Community College (MVCC) administrative executives and board (and sadly in many other administrations and boards of higher education), this illustration explains the perception of adjuncts.  This is why adjuncts are viewed as a separate, lower class of people and easily disposable. The story is that adjuncts are the misfits who cannot find employment anywhere else.
    
This is, of course, ridiculous, because if it were actually believed, these people wouldn’t be fit for teaching the next generation. It’s a lie these people tell themselves to justify the flippant treatment of other people. This discussion of success should continue with an examination of how success is defined, or should be defined and then measured. No one will have this conversation though, because if the definition can be defined and measured, the picture of success would evoke change. Change is not desired.

Being a business major, I had always had an inherent distrust of unions. I had no real experience with them until I was asked to join the Moraine Valley Adjunct Faculty Organization (MVAFO). Things at Moraine Valley did not appear to be improving for the adjuncts. A few questions and no answers later, I was running for office as secretary of the MVAFO. I won the election and off I went. To begin with, I had no interest in the politics with the Local. During our board meetings, discussions increased about how to change our position with the administration. There were different points of view. I started writing a newsletter to regularly communicate with the membership. The only point which was clear to me at the time was that change appeared to be an uphill battle. There was a lack of respect for adjuncts on campus and a lack of respect for the MVAFO board. We were not included the way the other campus unions were. Our sister unions made headway on issues with each negotiation while our contract remained some eight pages long. When asked, the full time board offered ideas but no actual substantive assistance in making progress with the administration.  Our grievance chair was not offered classes to return for the spring semester. The Local wouldn’t fight for him.

In my naivete, I presumed that the reason for lack of progress was more related to how communications were being presented and by whom. So, I ran for president and won. I started by sending personal, hand written notes to fair share members to ask them to join the bargaining unit. About half joined. This increased our voice at the Local. I kept up the newsletter and started a website for the MVAFO. The administration began to invite me to attend events and meetings. I began to try and build relationships that I hoped would aid us during negotiations.

An adjunct who taught with no issues for 16 years was assigned a new department chair. Suddenly there were no classes for him and the department chair took it upon himself to torpedo any other chance the adjunct had at employment. An adjunct who had won the Adjunct of the Year award was told there were no classes for her just two weeks before the semester started. She had been assigned four. An adjunct who had taught for over 20 years and had five student endorsement letters was told there were no classes for him less than two weeks before the semester began. He had been assigned four. Two weeks before her full ukulele class was to start, an adjunct was told there were no classes for her. She was the only one able to teach this course.  Six of her students came to a board meeting to protest. They had already purchased their books and instruments.

These were not situations of bumping. These were situations where adjuncts were deliberately left in a financial lurch. Why? Whim. Whose him? Who knows? This is what can happen when there is no progressive discipline or evaluation system in writing in a contract. The administration started to insinuate ‘student complaints’ and then refused to show proof of any signed complaint citing FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act). But when questioned as to why the other unions could see complaints, the answer was “it’s in their contract.” If it’s in any contract then either you’re violating FERPA by putting language in the contract or it’s not a FERPA issue.

The bottom line was facts didn’t matter.

We prepped for a year for contract negotiations. We studied other contracts and made the bargaining list, complete with solid proposals for language. We did the math for our wage increase request. We were met with hostility and accusations of bad faith at the outset. The chief negotiators made it clear that all the adjuncts in the bargaining unit could be replaced at any time and that the union had nothing to bargain with. That was, except for the unfair labor practice the MVAFO had managed to get the Local to file.  The administration went to negotiate with the president of the Local instead. All the time and effort to try and get our union a seat at the table was for nothing.

During the summer in the middle of negotiations, the retiring president received almost $400,000 as a severance. This amount would have been more than enough to cover what the adjuncts were requesting in changes to better our working conditions and further student success. The college blatantly lied on three successive AQIP reports (at the time AQIP was part of the Higher Learning Commission and reports were given to AQIP answering assessment questions about the campus) about adjuncts evaluation at the college. The college blatantly lied about shared governance with the adjunct union.

But none of the facts mattered. None of the data mattered. And in the end the president of the local sent out a letter that I did not have an opportunity to see beforehand, with my electronic signature to my membership asking for a yes vote on yet another ineffective contract. 

After contract negotiations, we were asked to write a letter of support for the college’s reaffirmation to the League for Innovation in the Community Colleges. We refused but began to consider writing a letter not supporting the reaffirmation. We surveyed the membership on how innovative the college was towards adjuncts. The current college president, Sylvia Jenkins, was responsible for creating the center for teaching and learning on campus. She and the other administrative executives talk about this thing like it was the key to a 100% graduation rate. I will agree that the center is a great resource but having one is fairly standard at community colleges in this area. Having one is more like ‘keeping up with the Jone’s’ rather than a spectacular innovation. Few adjuncts use it because there is no incentive and many adjuncts don’t have the time because they are coming from or going to other jobs. Plus, this center will only accept its own courses as legitimate so if an adjunct has gone through similar training at another school where they teach, they are expected to do it all over again at Moraine. 

The ACA and it’s ramifications on adjuncts was also a hot topic at this time. I worked with the IEA/NEA adjunct groups to speak to the Illinois Community College Trustees Association, (ICCTA), the (Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) and the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) to plead the case of arbitrary cutting of adjunct hours. The MVCC board of trustee election was held in the spring of 2013. Our union created and distributed elections flyers which called for fiscal responsibility, comparing the severance package of the outgoing retiring president with the tuitions hikes. The flyers that were posted on the union boards across campus were removed by the campus police. I sent two FOIA requests, which were met with derision and denial, but I did finally get the contracts for the administrative executives. Then, right at the end of finals in the spring semester, the college made a unilateral decision to not allow adjuncts to teach and work hourly. This decision had an immediate impact on about 15% of the bargaining unit. I was also working with the IEA/NEA, and with their help, drafted and sent a request to bargain over the issue. The letter not supporting the reaffirmation to the League for Innovation in the Community Colleges was also drafted this spring.

At the delegate meeting of the Local in July, I proposed the filing of two unfair labor practices, and both were approved. One of them was for the termination of yet another adjunct after classes had been assigned to him and one for the refusal of the college to bargain over not allowing adjuncts to teach and work hourly. Kurt Hale, the attorney for the law firm that represents the Local, advised me to send one more request to bargain before the ULP would be filed. I did so and discussed with my board members, delaying sending the letter to the League for Innovation until we received a response. 

The classes for fall semester began. I received the second denial to bargain. I then sent the letter to the League board members and president. I did not include the president of MVCC, also a board member of the League, because months earlier I had sent the data from the innovation survey to the vice president of academic affairs and that effort produced no willingness on the part of the college to address any of the issues raised by the data. This was a Tuesday. 

The only response I remember receiving from the letter to the League for Innovation was one stating something along the lines that the League was not going to become involved in a union issue. Right, because we all know that teacher working conditions have nothing to do with student success. How ridiculous. Terry O’Banion, former president of the League, came to speak for the Spring 2012 faculty in service at MVCC. He shared the points at which students are commonly lost in the semester and what could be done by faculty to help increase graduation rates for the big push toward meeting the Obama 2025 college graduation goals. The presentation was sound but academic in value, similar to the underwear gnomes in South Park going from step 1 to step 3 to make a million dollars; there were no substantial in-between steps or illustrations of how each area of the school contributes to the substantial in-between steps. Something really needs to be done about dismantling groups like the League and other snake oil vendors peddling ineffective student success concoctions.

Wednesday night was the board meeting. I was surprised that no one pulled me aside to discuss the letter to the League. I remember several students speaking out at that board meeting about not being able to be tutored by their instructors. This was a direct result of the unilateral change of not allowing adjuncts to teach and work hourly. 

Thursday morning, I missed a call but I recognized the number as being from the administrative offices. When I called back, I heard the voice of the secretary of the vice president of facilities, Andrew Duren. She asked if I would be able to come in. Thursday wasn’t a teaching day at MVCC for me and I had other things to do. I told her I could make time, and just to check, I asked the purpose of the meeting. She responded that it was a disciplinary hearing. I asked for who and she replied that it was for me. I then informed her that I would have to check with the Local to see if the attorney on staff, Brenda Pryor, was available. The secretary made it clear that whether I had representation or not, I was expected to come down to campus.

The attorney for the Local called to try and schedule a meeting for Monday but the MVCC administration refused. Mr. Duren made it clear to Brenda that he wanted to take care of the issue that day. And so, since I would not come down for a meeting on campus without adequate representation, the campus chief of police came to my house to hand deliver my notice of termination at about 2pm. My email was immediately cut off and that afternoon the locks were changed on the union office at the college. 

I spent most of the day on the phone. One of my union colleagues at Wright College knew the business department chair and went to ask if he had any classes. He did. Their classes started the following week. I just had to get there. But that took care of less than half the pay I would lose. I know I don’t have to explain that to anyone who has worked as an adjunct or as a ‘full-time part-time employee’. I don’t want anyone to misunderstand either. I was very grateful to have those classes and I could not have found a more supportive place to teach them than the business department at Wright College. However, when you are struggling to make it, the idea of having savings to cover you in case of whatever is fantasy. I needed a plan and I didn’t have one. I was in shock. I was upset. I was angry.

In his deposition, Mr. Duren avoided answering how much time I was actually given to appear before I was terminated (from about 8am until 2pm). Both he and Ms. Jenkins spun it as me refusing to come in to meet. They didn’t have any answers for why they didn’t speak to me at the board meeting the night before. Since I did not actually speak with Mr. Duren, but his secretary, he could not be charged with denying me union representation.

LESSON: If you’re going to be a union leader, you have to plan for the worst.

The next day my students were texting me to see what was going on because an assignment was due and they wanted to know what to do. I was supposed to receive my first paycheck, but the college reversed the deposit. The bank charged me a fee for their reversal, which overdrew my account. The day consisted of more phone calls and arranging meetings and trying to work out a plan. There was a local meeting of the chapter presidents that evening. I let everyone know that I was fired and that the letter of termination specifically stated it was because of my activities as union president. There was general support for me, but no outrage or huge outpouring of support. The Local was going through issues because of the lack of integrity of its president. Later I would find out that three attorneys had to convince the president of the local to file the ULP for my dismissal. He didn’t like me because I was willing to stand up and speak out. 

I went to adjunct orientation at Wright College. I spoke with the president of the adjunct union for the City Colleges and let him know what had happened. He offered to try and speak with someone at the labor board. I emailed him several times but did not hear back from him.

The next week I was still getting texts from students. The college was slow to replace me with other instructors and, it being the beginning of the semester, the students were looking for direction.  They were given little; so much for "student success" being the primary objective of the school. I heard from several of them throughout the semester asking questions about the material, wishing I was still teaching the class and wondering what had happened. My classes started at Wright and went smoothly. I had a hard time adjusting to the forced change, but the people at Wright were amazingly supportive.

Early in the week, I met with Kurt Hale, the attorney from the law firm that represents the Local, to go over the ULP filing and process. I had notes from the day I was fired. I met with the police chief to empty out my locker and then with the MVAFO board on campus in the union office to discuss next steps. My board members were badly shaken and some were worried for their own jobs. We arranged for me to be escorted where I walked on campus so that no false accusations of my purpose there could be made. Andrew Duren called the Local to emphasize that I would be arrested for criminal trespassing if I came on campus again for any reason except for business related to my own termination. The police knew that I couldn’t be arrested unless I had received an official notice. Since the college accepts federal funds, I didn’t think they would do it, so I pushed the envelope on that a bit.

The college pushed back. The League for Innovation had a scheduled visit and they did not want me on campus. I received an official notice from the police chief. The Local filed a grievance for my termination to follow the contract. The grievance chair on staff, Chuck Mustari, and I went to the meeting. The grievance was denied. Sylvia Jenkins testified in her deposition that there was no grievance and if there had been, she would’ve denied it.

The president of the local tried to get me to resign. I refused. A precedent had already been set to allow terminated officers to finish out the term they were elected to serve. My board wouldn’t let me return to campus even though I was willing to be arrested.  I couldn’t do anything but wait for the ULP to run its course, and that would take time.

At the local delegate meeting in September, the delegates took a collection for me. It was greatly appreciated but it was noticed that some of the delegates from the sister unions at MIVCC did not contribute. The MVAFO board proposed and wrote a vote of confidence for me to present to the local. All the officers but the treasurer signed it. My treasurer quit because she feared retaliation for being on the board. I presented the resolution at the local meeting of the chapter presidents in October. After the meeting one of the other leaders advised me to pursue a First Amendment case. The president of the MVCC full-time faculty union approached me to try and broker a deal for the administration. I told him to talk to Kurt Hale and wondered whose side he was on. The next week I contacted an attorney, Wayne Giampietro, to pursue the First Amendment Case. The Local would not cover the fees for that case but the Wayne was certain I had a good case.

In November at the Local meeting, I was viciously and verbally attacked with unfounded lies by a delegate. He said that I was spreading rumors accusing the president of the Local of being incompetent and how horrible that was considering the thousands of dollars that had been spent on my defense. At that point, a bill hadn’t been sent to the Local for my defense. I hadn’t spread any rumors about anyone but had answered directly when asked about the situation. Again, I was in shock. I was upset. I was angry. But I was also becoming numb to the attacks. I determined to finish out my time, serving in my office to the best of my ability.

In January of 2014, the federal judge dismissed my First Amendment case against the college. Wayne called me and let me know we were appealing. So the appeal was filed. Wayne and I attended a mandatory settlement meeting for the First Amendment case in April. In August, Kurt and I attended a settlement meeting for the labor board. The courts want to see if the cases can be settled before moving on to appeal.  I heard “don’t you want to move on with your life?” too many times. These cases weren’t preventing me from moving on with my life. I had moved on with my life. Apparently, too many people have settled when they should be fighting for justice. My depression and all the crap I went through wouldn’t be satisfied by me settling, so the next person would have to fight the battle from scratch. When injustice is settled and not challenged, arrogant bullies believe they have done nothing wrong and continue to do whatever they want, unchecked.

I won the appeal in federal court. The American Association of University Professors contacted me about my case. I was surprised to actually have a group reach out to me. The support was so refreshing after everything I had been through. Until that point, I literally felt all alone. I applied for and received an AAUP grant of $10,000 to help with the legal fees for my First Amendment case. Through the AAUP, I have been able to connect with a tremendous support network for adjuncts and academic freedom, including the AAUP Committee A, Hank Reichman, Peter Kirstein, John Wilson, Miranda Merklein, New Faculty Majority, Maria Maisto Lynch, Precaricorps, Bri Bolen, Lee Kottner and others.

Currently, I’ve won my case with the labor board (IELRB), but the college is appealing. The new president at the local, Dave Richmond, is willing to continue supporting this case. For the First Amendment case, which is in federal court, winning the appeal gave me the opportunity to have a hearing, which is in the works. Dave Richmond contacted the AFT and started the ball rolling for the AFT to file an amicus brief on my behalf for this case. I’m not giving up. The appeals will be exhausted with time. I will win, but more importantly, precedent will be set to help those who fight in the struggle after me.

Even now it is difficult for me to write about the feelings and thoughts surrounding the experience.  Going through being fired and having so many doors shut and others open, both unexpected. Trying to find the correct adjective, even trying to nail down the exact emotion, is a struggle. I suppose that means I haven’t reached the stage of acceptance yet. I wonder if I ever will. However, today, while considering how to finish this article, I ran into a former student who has just graduated with her Bachelor’s degree. She was in my class years ago at Moraine Valley and struggled to get through school. She thanked me for my teaching and for inspiring her to persevere to complete her degree.  So, I will call my time as an adjunct at Moraine Valley a success.

Robin Meade has been a professor of business for over 15 years. She currently teaches online at Triton College and is a management consultant specializing in project and change management. She has three children and lives outside Chicago. You can reach her at birgitta025@yahoo.com.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Machines are Breaking Down by Matt Crackle


The machines are breaking down, and in their dismantling, I will also suffer.

Just got an email from my director of education at the online school. The president of the school has opened the year with a round of firings. She states:

"...we have been forced to make some difficult decisions in reassessing our current business model..."

and

"With that being said, these actions should serve as a wake-up call to all of us to come in every day, give our all, and work diligently to continue to impact a turn-around to experience a reversal of recent trends...."

and

"Decisions such as these are difficult but we will come out on the other end as a stronger and more vibrant institution that will continue to change the lives of those we serve every day."

Um, okay. "Current business model." "Give our all." "Vibrant Institution."

I emailed my former boss (who got axed, rehired, and moved to a different department) to check in on her and see if she was okay. My other recently resigned boss told me that he doesn't see the school surviving another year. I have not yet emailed my newest boss. I find her difficult to read.

For me, this is actually bad news, although the job is SHITE. At my current location, you can't even get paid for (insert any terrible act you like) let alone find teaching jobs easily. I have tried multiple times to move to greener pastures. Many terrifying, pragmatic and adult reasons have prevented my exodus. Horrified and humbled to realize that I am actually living our best case scenario.

And all this after buying this stupid fucking calendar (at 80% off) and saying to myself, "Hey, maybe you'll have an office this year to hang it in?" 

The power of positive thinking. Like a movie star writing himself a million dollar check when he's dead broke. Assuming that you can speak something into being and that it will magically come true.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Caution, Your Professor is Broken


While in recovery from last semester’s mania, I am gripped by the understanding that, to stay afloat, I will again have to teach six courses between two institutions next semester, and again I will likely end up no better than I started, just treading water. For the past couple of years I have taught 5-7 courses per semester as an adjunct professor at two colleges an hour’s commute apart. I’ve made it work, despite everyone telling me I was crazy, with one colleague adding, “If I had to teach seven classes, I’d shoot myself in the head.”
The truth is that every cell in my body is screaming, “Nooooo!” Despite what I want or need to do, I find that I am completely burned out with my various intro-level circus acts. Highly credentialed performers—that’s what we Higher Ed instructors are for the most part, pulling off piecemeal, low-wage acts all over town, sometimes across state lines, with no expectation of continued employment and zero benefits. I would like to cling to the higher ideals of education as a means to upward mobility or a rewarding career—for enlightenment’s sake?—but it’s just not the case. It’s getting harder and harder to convince myself that pointing out this contradiction to students is inappropriate or wrong. After all, adjuncts hold advanced degrees and don’t even clear minimum wage. Telling students the truth isn’t “politicizing the classroom” in a negative way. Instead, telling them the truth is my—is our—imperative.  
Yet, many students do not want to be in class in the first place. They are attending for the loan money or program rewards because there are so few jobs or opportunities available now beyond the military. So, there we all sit together, just scraping by building skills that our society doesn’t value while suckling on this anemic cash cow financed by an excessive debt bubble on the verge of bursting, with the majority of funds trickling quite obviously to the executive salaries of upper administrators at the top, not to mention the overall bloat of unnecessary expenditures with no connection to the classroom whatsoever, or the heartlessly exploitative and very lucrative textbook racket.
Interestingly enough, I was approached not too long ago by one of these upper administrators, who proposed that maybe adjunct faculty did not deserve to earn a living wage because numerous students passed our entry-level English composition courses and still could not read or write well. I retorted that we adjuncts are not the gatekeepers to the classroom. We do not set the standards on placement exams, and—although we would like to believe that everyone who passes high school is fairly literate—this is not the reality we face. 

Highly disposable contract professors get fired all the time without due process or recourse if we fail too many students. I, for one, have had administrators come into my classroom and try to convince me to pass students who hardly attended, texted and surfed the Web for entire class periods after arriving late, and didn’t complete assignments. I flat out told one waify admin that they could go ahead and try to intimidate me into passing the student in question by putting my job on the line, but that it would be doing a disservice to the student and the college. Still, she persisted with personal visits and emails until I just gave up trying to hold on to any semblance of integrity in our correspondence. Somehow the student’s papers were quickly created and delivered, and I still have no idea under what conditions this miracle occurred. 


At universities and colleges across the country, professors and their students are losing ground to the corporate agendas of rogue administrations. We have SWAT teams of “student services” ready to connect “customers” to emergency loans and other resources. At the same time, adjuncts teaching intro-level courses for poverty wages are expected to help at-risk students academically, but without the institutional support to do so effectively. Our policies and teaching materials are increasingly dictated from above, and the syllabus as a form of course outline has become more of a legal document for students wanting to appeal grades than an accurate depiction of learning objectives or progression of the course.


We adjuncts teaching intro-level and developmental courses are continually placed in positions of high responsibility with little authority over our classrooms, students, and our own working conditions. Still, every semester we are assigned new fleets of students facing severe hardship: people struggling to overcome violence and poverty, recover from addictions, to rebuild their lives after jail or prison, yet we are not trained as culture workers or missionaries; we are barely surviving ourselves and with massive student debt. There is seemingly nowhere for us to turn but against the forces that are competing to destroy the profession we spent so many years preparing to enter. 


It’s not a national secret that our students are being failed by all levels of public education. There is a brutal war on teachers occurring in K-12 and Higher Ed where teachers are set up for failure even before we begin practicing. Although I have surplus energy to continue fighting the battle against the corporatization and privatization of education, I don’t know if I can stomach my further participation on the production end; I mean, I don’t know if it’s even possible for me to continue teaching like this because, to get up and go for another round, I would have to find a way of convincing my mind, body, and soul into thinking that I’m not burned out to the innermost core of my being.


There are so many variables I have to consider. I have sick, elderly parents who also have no safety net. Will one or both of my children want or need to live with me in this extortionist apartment complex that requires me to wring out nearly $1k every month for a basic cube life? What is to become of my dog and cat if I can’t make it another semester, and how would I even move my stuff with my back thrown out from carrying around my adjunct mobile office campus-to-campus for 16 weeks? I don’t know the answers, but I find some solace in knowing that thousands, if not millions, of teachers are in the same boat with me. An all-out mutiny may be the best option at this point.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Objectively Seeking Solidarity Guru


I don't mean this as a joke. I really want to know what a worker is supposed to do when the main obstacle to faculty solidarity is that one group really seems to believe that they are superior or inherently more valuable and deserving than another group when such evidence does not exist. The consequences of internalizing inferiority are no better, as workers are gradually broken down psychologically and emotionally in order to survive in this two-tiered toxic environment; they often become shadows of themselves and will remain this way until they can either escape or take matters into their own hands to the astonishment of their no-betters.

I look at it this way: if a team of volunteer firefighters runs into a burning house to save the occupants and finds one group of people closest to the flames, trapped and choking while another huddle of people are in a cooler corner where there is still breathable air and freedom of movement, can we honestly argue the firefighters must first run to the safer bunch and hand them bottles of chilled water, making sure they are okay and happy before fetching the others?

If the answer is, 'Of course not, we must first rescue the people about to burst into flames and then the others,' then why is it that when we apply the same logic to college campuses we find tenured and full-time faculty members arguing that their needs come first before adjuncts experience any sort of equality? Is it just a sad attribute of human nature that we can't see past our own self-interest? The bulk of the labor force are the occupants closest to the fire. I can see someone bringing up the help the stronger ones so that they, in turn, can double the rescue attempt, but that discounts the likelihood that the occupants closest to the flames, if they survive, will remember every extra second they had to wait for their empowered colleagues to do the right thing.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Adjunct Professors are Fed Up with Whining Administrators


Upper-level college administrators are spectacular creatures of contradiction. They say yes when they mean mean no, and vice versa. They form committees based on vague initiatives like “Advancement Services,” “Efficiency,” and “Institutional Effectiveness,” and even establish high-salary jobs or entire departments based on these loosely-defined concepts.

Administrators continue to fail and appear to undermine their own goals at times. Often they seem confused about the purpose of their own projects, committees, and task forces, yet despite these alarming inefficiencies, upper administrators are multiplying at an alarming rate and being rewarded with executive-level salaries unbefitting of non-profit institutions of higher education meant to serve the public good. Still, if this über-professionalized class of prolific resource-wasters is reaping the rewards of the increasingly corporatized campus, why are they always complaining?

In order to better understand the plight of our campus aristocrats, The Adjunct Majority (We Are The 75%!) has compiled a list of the common complaints senior administrators are whining about nationwide paired with their explanations, translations and/or remedies.

* Special thanks to @ProfessorEx74 (Ed.), Billy Pilgrim, @GracieG, @N1Academy, Seth Kahn, Kareme D'Wheat, and Adjunct Noise for your contributions. 

Script: 

There is a state budget shortfall. Everyone must make sacrifices. EVERYONE must do more with less.

Interesting how these sacrifices don’t apply to the executive-level salaries of administrators themselves, even if drastic overspending can be linked to their individual or collective bad fiscal choices.

I know it is hard for you to survive making less than minimum wage with a PhD. Even *I* had to make sacrifices.

Loss of discretionary spending money does not constitute a sacrifice—Sorry. This heartless, pseudo-sympathetic gesture is one notch above, If you don’t like it, go do something else. It is akin to mockery.  

If you really loved teaching as much as you say you do, you’d do it for free. This should be about your calling, not the money. Whine.

Since when does training for a decade and accruing massive student debt make one eligible for the monastic lifestyle? If colleges want to treat us like a religious order, then we should be provided with room and board instead of being passed over to the Human Services Department so universities can subsidize their labor force with public assistance. Are we Walmart or a school?