by Dina Martin
Ask Denise Johnson about the issues facing adjunct faculty and she could draw you a picture.
In fact, that’s what she did for the Community College Association (CCA) when she designed a variety of materials for faculty to use in observing Campus Equity Week (CEW) in late October. An artist, graphic designer, art history instructor and adjunct representative in the Chaffey College Faculty Association, Johnson has been an activist for part-time faculty since attending a conference of the New Faculty Majority three years ago.
“Rehire rights, access to health care, not enough information on the Affordable Care Act, paid office hours, access to offices, equal pay for equal work, and general inclusion,” she says, ticking off the list. “For some, it’s a breakthrough to be invited to a department meeting.”
Johnson attended that first conference to join the effort to unite full- and part-time faculty over a shared interest in quality education and equity. Since then, she has become increasingly involved in committees on campus, in her union, and now in CCA’s Part-time Issues Committee.
At their meeting in September, members contributed creative input to a coherent plan for CCA chapters’ CEW activities, dividing up the work of designing their “tool kit” for all campuses. As part of that committee, Johnson designed posters, certificates, mugs and buttons to call attention to equity issues, while others took on the work of research and making sample items so that CCA chapters could order what they needed. The committee members also staffed a table at CCA’s fall conference, where they handed out materials and the electronic tool kit to representatives from 23 chapters.
This year, community college adjuncts were joined by their California Faculty Association (CFA) colleagues in the CSU system and NEA members across the country in raising awareness of the nation’s increasingly stratified higher education system.
The issue has never been more pressing. With adjunct faculty now constituting the “New Faculty Majority,” or about two-thirds of faculty nationwide, the annual Campus Equity Week has become more visible at colleges across the country.
Despite their doctoral degrees and other experiences, adjunct faculty are drastically underpaid, many earning less than the average sales clerk at Wal-Mart and often having no health care benefits.
The majority of contingent academic workers earned an average wage of $2,700 for a three-credit course in 2010, according to NEA. This figure means they barely made the minimum wage for each hour of their work, despite holding advanced degrees.
Despite the dreary news, Johnson is optimistic that progress is being made.
“I think we’re in the process of awakening,” she said. “We’re beginning to make strides in bringing equity to campuses.”
Meanwhile, faculty on one campus, College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, added a new dimension to the ongoing struggle — a forum on self-censorship.
The idea emerged from a discussion between faculty association president Vincent Devlahovich and an adjunct faculty member.
“He shared in confidence his concerns about how adjuncts often feel they cannot be candid in their respective departments or at their respective institutions for fear of how they may be perceived by full-time faculty and administrators. These perceptions could negatively influence section assignments by chairs, recommendations by full-time hiring committees, and their reputations in general — creating an environment where adjunct faculty must self-censor themselves,” Devlahovich says. “Having been an adjunct, I see the phenomenon of self-censorship as a symptom of the job insecurity experienced by our adjunct colleagues.”
A number of rallies, workshops and discussions sponsored by CFA were held on CSU campuses as well.
CFA President Lillian Taiz opened the first event of Campus Equity Week with the words: “What unifies us all across the country this week is a belief that a two-tiered system will destroy meaningful access for millions of working people, robbing them and our society of the benefits quality higher education can provide.”
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