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A conversation about outsourcing education, higher education culture and adjunctivism.

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Saturday, May 10th from 9:00 am to noon –
Berkeley City College, room 431 / 2050 Center Street, Berkeley, CA 94704

There have been numerous conversations in the last few decades about the neoliberalization of higher education and how colleges and university are increasingly being conceived as needing to adhere to the parameters of private sector business and market values. Even if the actions, paradigms and goals of educational leaders and institutions are not directed specifically towards the privatization of this area of public services; nevertheless, they manage educational institutions as if they were, or should be, run according to the models of private businesses. An example of this is the ever-increasing emphasis on productivity, budget constraints and the massification of education. In the case of this last development, illustrated by last year’s obsession with MOOCs, it is interesting to note that most of the conversations about MOOCs did not focus on the idea of open education but rather on using them in ways that could serve the greatest amount of students with the fewest resources. Furthermore, more and more corporations are directly or indirectly influencing curriculum, for example, through research and materials produced by textbook giants. Another example of this corporate influence can be found in the use of consultants to outsource critical operations of the educational institutions such as technology and assessment. At the same time, perhaps because of the focus on economic productivity, another phenomenon that has become predominant in the last two decades is the precarization of instruction in the form of adjunctivism. In this short conference/conversation we will discuss these issues and debate the possibilities and consequences of conceiving higher educational institutions that conform to the parameters of the private business model.

What Adjuncts Do

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress”
Frederick Douglass

Thomas A. Foster is right in his article “What faculty do” when he describes the innumerable tasks that professors do during their tenure in universities. The idea that labor compensation in higher education is associated only with teaching is a sign that the person who is proposing this notion is not familiar with the reality of the university professorship. Furthermore, most of the tenured faculty contracts take into consideration extracurricular tasks as part of the instructor’s load. The fact is that this reality is not exclusive to tenured professors in higher education or even to higher education in general. The participation and collaboration of adjunct, classify employees and students in university life and shared governance is enormous; but especially adjuncts. Unfortunately, in some cases their participation and dedication is not properly recognized.

Perhaps I should clarify first that I am not an adjunct professor. I am not only tenured but also Chair of my department. I get respect, relatively decent compensation, security of employment and the possibility to participate in decision making in my college. But I know that the reality of most adjuncts in the United States is nothing like mine. Furthermore, their reality is so harsh that if you are not a college professor, you might think that we come from different economic and professional areas. I personally believe that this type of division is unacceptable. Let me explain why.

I am a member of several major committees. I am co-chair of the technology committee at my campus and in the same position at the district. In all the committees of which I am a member, the participation of adjunct faculty is vital to its sustainability. Furthermore, since I have been Chair of more than one department for more than 10 years, I have been able to see the rich and vital collaboration of adjunct faculty in all of these departments. Their contribution is enormous. Many times they are the sole experts in the specific subjects they teach; to the point that I have seen many adjuncts acting as Chairs of divisions in different areas at my college. Just to exemplify this statement, my dear co-chair and friend in the Modern Language Department at my college is a non-tenured faculty member. This situation is very common in small colleges. When you have a subject that does not have a full-time instructor, the adjunct instructor is the only expert on campus that can update a subject’s official outlines and curriculum.

Additionally, in the area of languages, practically all the language coordinators I know (a type of sub-chair of the language departments) are always lecturers (non-tenured faculty). In the area of curriculum development and assessment, it is easy to argue that adjuncts are as active, and in many cases, more active, than full-time tenured professors. They collaborate with the rest of the department in the creation of courses, assessment of other instructors, and even participate in hiring committees. They are also active in other curriculum development areas involving the adoption and assessment of materials and classes, the creation of OERs and the support and counselling of students. In a very cruel irony, many of them are very supportive of the department and do many extracurricular activities to gain the appreciation of students, of tenured professors and deans, with the hope of a security of employment that, in many cases, never materializes.

The majority of adjuncts teach impacted introductory classes. They represent approximately 50% of the faculty population[i] but, for example in my campus they comprise 63% of the faculty. In my department they are close to 80% of our full-time equivalent faculty (FTEF). In some disciplines, as I already mentioned, adjunct instructors are 100% of the faculty population.

In many cases adjunct schedules change constantly, in direct opposition to the monotonous topics of the classes they have to teach. They have little or no security of employment. Budget cuts affect the whole campus population but especially adjunct instructors. They are always the first to be cut when there is a reduction in the number of classes. They do not have the benefit of the academic freedom associated with tenure. Adjuncts have no compensated time for sabbaticals, research, attending conferences or, in many cases, for personal emergencies or sick leave to care for a family member or themselves. Their area of research, in many cases, is so specific that they do not have many options in the job market. So the statement you sometimes hear that they should find other positions is painful and disrespectful because graduate schools in the US have the tendency to promote particularly focused research. It is a tremendously difficult task to find a job if, for example in my case, one’s dissertation deals with the representation of esoteric traditions and technology in Latin-American vanguard. Most of us rarely teach anything remotely connected with our dissertation topics and in most cases we try to create parallel careers; in my case in the area of instructional technology. But not everyone can be so lucky.

Adjuncts contribute so much to their colleges that the status differentiation between adjunct and professor is a distinction I find uncomfortable at best. This is why I disagree when people try to make distinctions between the work conditions or realities affecting tenured and non-tenured faculty. If any of our instructors in my department is in an adverse situation related to her/his work conditions, this affects the whole department. A good Chair and college administration would not want to lose such valuable colleagues. The unequal work conditions in colleges are inefficient and cruel. They promote class warfare and fragment departments. The issue of constant administration upheavals and the damage that these constant promotions cause on campuses has been clearly raised in the past. We must now definitely raise the same concerns about the issue of faculty appointment instability.

The collaboration among all faculty members and solidarity in this struggle that affects us all (the universalization of the struggle), regardless of academic rank, does not constitute “a backdoor attack on the tenure system itself”. I suggest that all these problems are part of a much larger issue in higher education associated with the neoliberal concept that education should be run like the private sector; which dictates that, even in the educational realm, the market must rule. As Frederick Douglass once said: “We are one, our cause is one, and we must help each other; if we are to succeed.”

[i] Caruth, Gail, AND Caruth, Donald. “Adjunct Faculty: Who are these Unsung Heroes of Academe?” Current Issues in Education [Online], Volume 16 Number 3 (15 November 2013)