As The Chickens Come Home to, Well, Obfuscate

Out West where the buffalo roam, the antelope play and the Humvees hum down Highway 101, there’s a slaughter going on. Had anyone bothered to ask me, I would have told you that it was going to happen sooner or later. I actually did, when I wrote about it in November 2008 here. I wrote that the rifles were pointed squarely at (who else?) part-time faculty.

In the February 26th issue of the Daily Aztec—and who doesn’t love a newspaper named for an ancient people who practiced human sacrifice?—Carole Kennedy, Ph.D., the president of the San Diego State University chapter of the California Faculty Association (CFA), is quoted as saying, “The state feels part-time faculty are expendable…and…CSU has laid off lecturers….” 

The state feels the CSU part-timers are expendable? Of course the state feels part-time faculty employed on the CSU campuses are expendable. The CFA union leaders told them the part-time faculty were expendable. Hell, CFA leaders practically pinned “you’re expendable, bub” signs on the back of every single part-time lecturer employed in the CSU system. How’d they do that, you ask? Why, by bargaining a labor agreement that contains language that encourages state officials to treat part-time faculty as though they were expendable. In times of trouble, the CFA’s contract calls for part-time faculty to be dismissed first, before full-time temporary lecturers and, to be sure, before full-time regular faculty. And now, Carole Kennedy, Ph.D., associate professor and president of the San Diego State University CFA, tells us that the state feels part-time faculty are expendable, and the state is high-handed and haughty to think so. 

Evidently, when the state treats part-time faculty as though they are expendable, it’s misguided and wrong, but when the union does it, it’s “representation” wrapped up in pretty paper and topped with a frilly bow, and CFA staff and their cheerleaders tell us that lecturers in the CSU system enjoy one of the best union contracts on three legs. AAUP activist Marc Bousquet lauds the CFA contract in a Chronicle of Higher Education piece posted on (I couldn’t make this stuff up if I wanted to) April 1, 2008. In a 2002 interview Bousquet did with AAUP President Cary Nelson, they discuss the CFA contract that “has won greater job security for the non-tenure track lecturers…” Nelson replies, “There is often genuine solidarity there between union activists who are full time and part time. The California Faculty Association has joined the part timers and full timers in cheerful and creative activism.”

Well, until the budget cuts hit the fan, and then it’s every tenure-line faculty member for him or herself, and the part-time lecturer brothers and sisters in cheerful and creative solidarity are expendable. In California, Oregon, and Washington state, where over 60,000 part-timers are unionized, part-timers are losing their jobs hand over fist, and their union representatives are obfuscating, or worse still, stone-faced and silent in the face of what can only be described as tremendous personal loss. Even if these union leaders are helpless (thanks to decades of what can only be described as shabby representation) to stop the layoffs and firings, they can at least be honest about the fact that in their states, and thanks to their contracts, part-time faculty are being forced to bear the brunt of the budget cuts imposed by state legislators.

In California, I wish that Lillian Taiz, president of the CFA, would tell the truth. I wish she would acknowledge the slaughter of her part-time lecturers, and come clean and confess that the contract her union negotiated on behalf of 12,000 lecturers has placed part-timers and their jobs in the direct line of fire. I wish she would give interviews and talk about exactly how many of her 12,000 lecturers have lost their jobs, and how the loss of those lecturers has impacted the quality of education on CSU’s campuses, where 10,000 students have been denied admissions and class sizes have ballooned.

In short, I wish Lillian Taiz, and her counterparts in Washington and Oregon, would stop obfuscating.

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  1. Oh yes… we should, instead of firing part time lectures, dismiss the full time tenure track people, or at the very least force them to furlough. The people who serve 40 hours or more a week and dedicate their entire employment effort to a single university. The people who handle the graduate programs. The people who take care of curriculum development. The people who carry out the vast majority of university research. They should be the ones fired instead in favor of people who teach one or two courses at the entry level and either go home or go to another employer for the rest of the day/week. Nice plan.

    I do agree about the part that the union is failing to represent your needs effectively. Well guess what, it’s utterly failing to adequately represent the tenure track faculty’s needs as well. Why… because it cannot possibly represent both groups of constituents. There IS a fundamental conflict of interest of a single union attempting to represent part timers such as yourself and tenured faculty such as myself. It is highly unethical to pretend to do so.

  2. I’m a part-time faculty member in MA, a member of the Massachusetts State College Association (MSCA). I recently received the Jan/Feb issue of our union’s newsletter, which contains a full-page article – complete with two colorful tables – under the headline “MSCA Pursues Enforcement of Contractual Limits of Part-Time Faculty.”

    The article outlines a charge being brought “by the MSCA against the Board of Higher Education and the Council of Presidents.” The charge “involved management’s failure to enforce the contractual limits on the number of sections that can be taught by part-time faculty.” The issue goes back to 2002, when the MSCA filed a grievance, the results of which varied sufficiently to put off continued investigation until this year.

    On Jan. 22, members of my union’s leadership – including union president C.J. O’Donnell – represented the MSCA at a hearing with the Division of Labor Relations. The purpose of that hearing, it seems (speaking of about obfuscating – you should see this article), was to insist on stricter enforcement of our contract’s limits on PT faculty hires.

    Let me be clear: my union president and other members of the union’s leadership are moving forward with actions that, if successful, would mandate the removal of members of the PT faculty (for instance, me) from our jobs across the state.

    I will admit that I signed on for representation by this union (or rather, my membership was compelled upon my acceptance of a position at my institution), and so I am in some measure responsible for this course of events. But I cannot help wondering why why why I continue to support a union that not only does not support me, but that actively works against my professional security…

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