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Campus Equity Week Kicks Off With a Quick Counterpunch

by P.D. Lesko

Campus Equity Week, Oct. 26-30, is here and aimed at drawing attention to the exploitation of low-wage adjunct and contingent faculty at American colleges and universities, and to the impact of colleges’ staffing decisions on students.

On campuses from California to Ohio to New York, the country’s adjunct and contingent members will be distributing petitions and surveys, holding membership drives and rallies, providing students and faculty with information about adjunct poverty, and fighting for job security, higher wages and better working conditions.

Despite the popular image of tweed-wearing college professors, the majority of faculty today are struggling to fight their way into the middle class:

  • Contingent faculty—including adjuncts/part-time faculty, full-time nontenure-track faculty, and graduate employees—now represent 75 percent of the higher education instructional workforce.
  • Adjuncts are paid an average of $2,700 per class with few or no benefits—below the minimum wage for a typical lecture class.
  • Adjuncts themselves usually have advanced degrees, and their student loan debt situation is even worse than it is for other students—averaging $43,000 for graduate school debt.

AFT President Randi Weingarten had the following to say about Campus Equity Week: “To strengthen the middle class, we need high-quality, affordable higher education and strong unions. That will help make a difference for this inequitable and exploitative environment. For too many Americans—increasingly including adjuncts and contingent faculty members, who are the majority of the higher education instructional workforce—too many obstacles are standing in the way of the American dream. Unless and until institutions reward the dedicated teachers who teach most of the classes in higher education with the job security and pay that they deserve, America will be shortchanging students. And while we fight each day to fix this broken system, this week represents an opportunity for our members to engage and educate parents, students and colleagues on the exploitation of part-time higher education faculty.”

MLA Executive Director Rosemary Feal took to Twitter to lend her organization’s support to Campus Equity Week.

Feal_Tweet

The MLA, which has seen a more than 10 percent decrease in its membership since 2011, serves around 27,000 members, approximately 6,000 of whom are students. In 2013, the MLA’s annual conference attracted 7,715 registrants, according to the organization’s federal income tax return. Of those attendees, in 2013 the MLA provided 65 cash awards to non-tenure-track and unemployed conference goers in order to defray the costs of attendance. While the MLA doesn’t keep track of how many of its 21,000 faculty members are non-tenured, it is thought that the number could run as high as 30 percent of the organization’s total non-student membership.

On the group’s website, Campus Equity Week organizers suggest activities for each day of the week:

Monday: Mobilize!

Contact your representative to attend or follow-up on the congressional briefing with New Faculty Majority on adjunct working conditions.

Tuesday: Tweet/Teach-In!

Share your story on campus and on social media.

Wednesday: Wear Scarlet!

Scarlet, and the red A, have risen as symbols of equity for adjunct faculty.

Thursday: Thank You!

Thank activists and their allies working for change. Highlight examples of courage and ethical practice. Follow CEW @CampusEquityWk and like us on Facebook. #CEW2015 #CampusEquity

Friday: Forward Motion!

Keep campus equity a year-round event. Participate in national and local campaigns to achieve the goals of equality and quality in higher education.

According to CEW organizers, Colorado State University has a vibrant, dynamic Campus Equity Week planned that includes “pop-up classes, round table discussions, book talks (Michael Bérubé’s & Jennifer Ruth’s Humanities, Higher Ed. & Academic Freedom), movie screenings (the film Con-Job, as seen on our Resources page), and guest speakers.”

Critics of Campus Equity Week include Keith Hoeller. Hoeller, in a blistering essay published in Counterpunch on Oct. 23 writes, “Campus Equity Week (CEW)  will be held across the U.S. October 26-30.  CEW started as a grass roots movement in 2001 and has been held every other year, alternating with meetings held by the Coalition on Contingent Academic Labor (COCAL).   Since 2013 CEW has been overseen by the New Faculty Majority (NFM), that describes CEW as ‘a week of education and activism that draws attention to the working conditions of faculty working on temporary, low-paid contracts, who now constitute the majority of college instructors.’ But one million insecure and low-wage professors, some living on public assistance, now need and deserve much more than recycling old slogans and charging half-price for ‘part-time cookies,’ as Green River College adjuncts did ten years ago. We need concrete goals and concrete actions to achieve them.”

Hoeller sees COCAL and NFM as being co-opted by leaders of the AFT and NEA, unions to which Hoeller belongs and of whose policies regarding their allegedly decades-long lackluster representation of part-time faculty nation-wide he has been persistently critical.

Keith Hoeller writes in his Counterpunch essay: “If U.S. faculty advocacy organizations and unions remain unwilling to embrace ‘full equality’ as the singular vision for the contingent faculty movement, and continue to proclaim only vague goals of improvement, they should be seen as obstacles, not friends, of the contingent faculty movement. And contingent faculty themselves must use discernment to avoid being hoodwinked by the sweet-talk of equity or parity, equal percentage pay increases, and other measures that effectively accommodate to the two-tier system, instead of challenging it.”

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