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Beyond the News

Adjuncts act for awareness and change

Coordinated protests on National Adjunct Walkout Day draw faculty and student support
University Business, April 2015
Students at UC San Diego walked out in solidarity with adjuncts at the university.
Students at UC San Diego walked out in solidarity with adjuncts at the university.

Faculty and students who demonstrated during the first National Adjunct Walkout Day on Feb. 25 aimed to raise awareness about the working conditions faced by part-time instructors.

The day was the brainchild of San Jose State University lecturer Leah Griesmann, who remained largely anonymous until after the event transpired, in an effort to keep the activities as grassroots as possible.

Despite the day’s title, walkouts were not only discouraged by many unions, but illegal in some states. In New York, for example, the Public Employees Fair Employment Act prohibits strikes by such workers. Therefore, many adjuncts had to find more creative ways to express their frustrations than actually abandoning their classrooms.

The day featured lectures and teach-ins organized on campuses across the country. Speakers included full- and part-time faculty, students, authors and more.

Precarious Faculty, which shares news and is an advocate for adjunct faculty, tracked news coverage from at least 20 states and regions on its blog. As of press time in mid-March, NAWD organizers were still tallying final participation.

At the University of California, San Diego, adjunct Larissa Dorman helped organize student walkouts as well as a teach-in by five lecturers. The teach-in included panels on hard-hitting topics such as race, gender and how they affect the adjunct community.

“Our students think that if their professors are Ph.D.s, they are taken care of,” says Dorman, who teaches at San Diego City College and is the UC-AFT field representative at UC San Diego.

“Many don’t know what adjunct or union means. They don’t know many of their professors don’t have retirement, social security or benefits,” Dorman adds. “They don’t know adjuncts have no say in coordination of meetings, or how difficult it is for them to hold office hours, as they are not paid for them.”

Hashtag Highlight: #NAWD

National Adjunct Walkout Day’s hashtag—#NAWD—was used in more than 20,000 tweets as of March 15.

It hit a daily high of about 10,000 tweets—many with photos and videos—on Feb. 25, the day of the event, according to the social web search engine Topsy.

Hashtag momentum was strong that week, with more than 5,000 tweets the day before. Tweets sharing media coverage extended well into March.

The most shared image was a map showing widespread event participation in the U.S. and beyond.

For Ian Duckles, an adjunct professor of philosophy at four California institutions, another goal was to push for increased funding from the government, with a particular focus on pay equity for adjuncts.

Duckles helped organize rallies at San Diego City, San Diego Mesa and Grossmont colleges. In the week before Walkout Day, tables were set up on campuses, with volunteers providing information and pamphlets about adjunct conditions. On February 25, adjuncts wore “Scarlet A” pins to spark even more dialogue.

Duckles, who is a faculty vice president of the AFT Guild Local 1931, teaches at Mesa, as well as at Cuyamaca College, San Diego Miramar College and the University of San Diego.

Both Dorman and Duckles say the day was successful in terms of generating publicity and raising awareness of adjunct conditions, and that similar activities will be organized in the future.

Expectedly, administrative reactions to the protests were mixed. Dorman says campus activities were closely watched by the Labor Relations office (the intermediary between the unions and the University of California Office of the President), and there was conflict over use of a campus room for the day’s activities.

Duckles, however, had a more positive experience: The president of Mesa College, Pamela Luster, spoke at the Mesa Rally in support of adjuncts; San Diego City College president Anthony E. Beebe attended the rally at Mesa College; and the chancellor of the Grossmont Cuyamaca Community College District, Cindy L. Miles, was present at the Grossmont Rally.

Scott Schneider, a labor and employment lawyer and head of the Georgia-based higher education group at Fisher & Phillips LLP, says that although the day drew national attention, he’s not sure adjuncts’ demands can be easily met.

“There is a fairytale being floated around that all colleges and universities are swimming in vast oceans of money and treating adjuncts well is merely a function of, for instance, redistributing money from bloated administration to the adjunct ranks,” says Schneider, who is also a law professor at Tulane University in New Orleans.

“The reality, though, is that a host of market and governmental pressures are keeping revenues down at the same time that federal and state resources have dried up,” he adds.

Still, Schneider expects changes for adjuncts and schools employing them.

For institutions without the means to improve working conditions for adjuncts, he says, “I see them either starting to provide their line and tenured faculty with higher teaching loads or leveraging technology to efficiently provide education services.”

In other words, he explains, institutions that have limited resources will eventually be forced out of the market.

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