Striking adjuncts

David Trend

If adjuncts want more workplace rights, they have to take them. As Inside HigherEd reports, “That message was echoed throughout a discussion on non-tenure-track faculty rights here Monday at the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor, or COCAL, conference. It’s being held this week at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York.

“The biennial gathering draws participants from the U.S., Mexico and Canada, and adjunct activist panelists from all three countries advocated striking as a real and valid means of achieving short- and long-term goals.


“Unless and until faculty, including part-time faculty, hit the streets and occupy the classrooms,” said Stanley Aronowitz, a tenured professor of sociology and urban education at the CUNY Graduate Center, “there won’t be any change of substance.”  Aronowitz, who has worked as an adjunct professor several times throughout his career, said this idea applied even in those states where collective bargaining or strikes among public employees is prohibited by law. Faculty members at Nassau Community College who went on strike last year over protracted contract negotiations paid hefty fines for violating New York State’s Taylor Law, for example. (Under the law, the union was permitted to engage in collective bargaining, but not to strike.) But Aronowitz and other activists said that striking is a fundamental right that should be ensured by the First Amendment; without the right to strike, he said, collective bargaining too often becomes “collective begging.”Participants here responded to Aronowitz’s remarks on strikes with strong applause.

“Maria Teresa Lechuga, a Ph.D. candidate in pedagogy at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, added: “We need to stop asking for permission to organize ourselves.” Panelists said that striking is always a “last resort,” to be exercised only when adjunct faculty members and administrators can’t otherwise reach common ground. But in order to ensure public support when and if the time to strike comes, advocates said, adjuncts need to nurture relationships with other kinds of workers, along with parents and students.Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority, a national adjunct advocacy organization, said adjuncts shouldn’t be afraid to bring up their working conditions with their students. She said such conversations are part of students’ “civic education” — an essential part of their studies.

Aronowitz said faculty members should seek to connect with their adult students who are part of labor unions. Such students are frequently “absolutely distant” from the historical labor movement, he said, but have the potential to be powerful allies.

Several audience members said they saw striking as an opportunity to improve adjuncts’ working conditions and, by extension, students’ learning conditions on their campuses. But they expressed concerns about whether it was possible.

Betsy Smith, an adjunct professor of English as a second language at Cape Cod Community College, said she worried that her union wouldn’t consider striking because it was part of the Massachusetts Teachers Association – a mostly K-12 union affiliated with the National Education Association. “Children aren’t running in the streets” when a college faculty union strikes, but the union’s primary orientation might make for a “differing philosophy,” Smith said. (In an interview, Barbara Madeloni, the teachers’ association president, said the union sees the “profound exploitation” of adjuncts as a “critical issue,” and that it supports individual chapters’ right to vote to withhold labor.)

Cindy Oliver, president of the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of British Columbia, which represents 10,000 instructors in the province’s colleges and universities, said she thought all public employees except perhaps first responders retained the moral right to strike (although she noted that teachers in neighboring Alberta aren’t legally allowed to strike). And it can be a powerful tool; in British Columbia, where it is legal, an imminent strike some years ago helped a faculty union secure language about conversion of some part-time slots to full-time faculty positions and the right of course refusal, among other job security gains, she said.

Read more:
Inside Higher Ed

5 Replies to “Striking adjuncts”

  1. I don’t know about the adjuncts at Dr. K’s inutitstion, but I know that many adjuncts actually do not receive benefits. Even if adjuncts do receive benefits, they are often far inferior to those received by tenured or tenure-track faculty members. I cannot imagine that they would equal even half of the salary which still leaves a large amount of the $20K buyout unaccounted for.As a graduate student in the social sciences, this system worries me in two ways. First, at least where I am a student, it often seems like the graduate-level elective classes are the first to be dropped by the department in a buyout situation. This makes a certain amount of sense; you must first teach the required undergraduate courses (because departments are funded according to enrollment); then required grad courses; next are the undergraduate electives; and, finally, the graduate electives. This means that it is difficult to make it through our graduate course requirements to reach candidacy.Second, as a grad student interested in a career in academia, the prospect of a two-tiered employment structure is scary. Without having the benefits, job security and salary, I’m not sure going to grad school is even worth it. Without the provisions tenure or “just-cause” termination academic freedom is curtailed, grade inflation increases as adjuncts rely on positive course evaluations for re-hire, and the benefits of teaching through research are lost. I am not sure that is the kind of place that I would want to look forward to as I get closer to defending.

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