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Celebrating Successes and Moving Forward

One of the questions raised after my piece last week was: now what? I attempt to point at some ways forward.

January 19, 2014

First off, I’d like to thank everyone for such a warm and supportive reception to my piece last week, particularly on social media. On Facebook and Twitter, you shared your own stories alongside my own, which I appreciate. It’s still strange, however, to be feted as a leading activist for adjuncts and contingent labor; there are so many other people, on the ground, who have been advocating, agitating, and organizing on behalf of adjuncts, but their work goes unnoticed nationally.

Today, then, I want to publicly celebrate some the people who are working for adjuncts, and highlight a few of the victories that have taken place during the 2013 year, as well as point to places where there is already momentum to start 2014 (and if you’re in those places, opportunities to join in and help out). But I also want to offer some suggestions to those of you who are interested in raising the profile of adjunct issues, advocating, or helping to organize adjuncts.

If you want a place to get started to learn about just how many and how broad the push is across the country to raise the profile of adjunct issues, you should check out the New Faculty Majority Board of Directors list. There are representatives from a wide variety of institutions, unions, and other labor organizations, working for the betterment of adjuncts and contingent faculty everywhere. This is clearly not an exhaustive list. There is The Adjunct Project, focusing on the CUNY system’s adjuncts, as well as working being done by traditional unions, such as the United Steelworkers Union in Pittsburgh and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) across the country.

2013 was, over-all a good year for adjunct rights, particularly through unionization. Browsing the 78 pieces from here at Inside HigherEd, there is a lot to be hopeful for moving forward. And a number of victories in the fight for equity, rights and protection of adjuncts across the nation involve Adjunct Action, the national organizing campaign allying contingent faculty with SEIU, the 2.1 million-member union which already represents some 16,000 adjuncts/contingent faculty nationally.  In 2014 Adjunct Action begins bargaining at Tufts University starting in February, Lesley in Boston is voting with the National Labor Relations' Board (NLRB) starting on January 31, along with University of LaVerne in the LA area. Additionally, Loyola Marymount (LA) is also about to file for the right to form their own union. Adjunct Action is also organizing public campaigns at the University of DC and Northeastern. Seattle U/. Whittier College in LA voted to join SEIU in December.

This past year, adjuncts in the Boston and LA areas have mobilized and supported one another in their efforts to form unions and win better salaries and better treatment more generally. New York State is next on the list this year. Contingent faculty in private universities and colleges across the state are standing together and SEIU Adjunct Action New York sets out to raise standards for thousands of our colleagues as the 2014 semester begins. There will be a COCAL (Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor) Conference this August 4-6 in New York City, bringing contingent faculty leaders together from not just the United States, but internationally as well, highlighting the growing reliance on contingent labor both here and abroad.

If you want to help, you can do things like joining the New Faculty Majority, or attending panels on contingent labor issues at your national conference, in order to connect with other contingent faculty and allies. Learn about the numbers at your institution, such as how many adjuncts teach in your department or faculty and how much they make. Support any organizing activities. If your faculty union already represents contingent faculty, find out about how that has impacted adjuncts.

This is all very tentative and preliminary. I invite readers to suggest their success stories and advice in the comments. This piece comes off as being very pro-union, but I know that non-traditional unions/groups/coalitions have been successful, too, and would love to hear from them, as well. I believe we can start making positive changes in higher education. Remember, faculty working conditions are student learning conditions. 

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Lee Skallerup Bessette

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