It really doesn't take much. Take what my fellow NFM Summit blogger Josh Boldt has done. He identified a gap in the information that we have and came up with a way to try and fill it.
The problem is how to know for sure how much compensation and benefits adjuncts receive at any given institution, particularly those that don't have a union-negotiated contract. And even then, there are often complex formulas and other numbers that come into play, making it hard to know how much an "average" adjunct takes home per 3-credit course. Numbers that are widely circulated by the universities or other organizations representing the universities aren't much better at presenting an accurate picture of adjunct compensation. How do we, then, as adjuncts get the word out that we are, on average, very poorly compensated, but that there are also standout institutions that do compensate adjuncts fairly?
Enter Josh. In a post that has gone "viral" (or at least as viral as you can go in academic circles), Josh created a Google spreadsheet that anyone can contribute to with the goal of collecting as much information as possible on the working conditions of adjunct faculty at institutions across the country. The Chronicle had a short feature on his post on their front page. Search "adjunct salaries" or "adjunct working conditions" on Twitter and you'll see that it is making the rounds. Yesterday (Tuesday) the document had over 5000 views and as of Wednesday at noon, there were already 1700. This is not an insignificant amount.
The document itself now has over 300 entries on schools from across the country and still counting (I checked at noon and then again at 1 PM; there were 10 more schools that had been added). The numbers are sobering. We have a long way to go before we can reach the MLA’s stated goal of $6-7000 per 3-credit course, not to mention the job security offered from longer-term contracts, as most are semester by semester, course by course. But it also shows that there is a hunger out there to share good, accurate information. Users can contribute anonymously, but many shared their names and contact information. Clearly, this is something many of us feel comfortable enough talking about publicly, or at least one adjunct at each institution, in any case.
But I think one of the most important features of what Josh is doing is that, however small, it allows adjuncts to do something concrete. However small, it's given us a voice, an outlet. John A Casey Jr. lamented that we didn't receive enough concrete directives from the NFM Summit. What Josh has come up with is something simple, concrete, non-threatening, and valuable to the movement (if you want to call it that).
This is social media at it's best. If we can find ways to use our large numbers to our advantage, we can change things. One of the biggest problem has been our ability to get accurate information to the media and other outlets. Many may question the reliability of the document itself, but it still sends a powerful message about the conditions that most adjuncts work under. A document like this becomes a living, breathing, evolving monument to the situation of adjuncts. New schools can be added at any time. Raises and increased job security can be added and highlighted. And it was as easy as creating a spreadsheet.
So now when people shrug their shoulders and say that there isn't anything they can do for adjuncts, I'll call shenanigans and get out my broom (South Park reference, just in case). There is always something you can do. Create a support group at your school. Share information. If it's too risky, reach out to the online community. Find us on Twitter.
Make yourselves visible. For those who are on the tenure-track, take the time to look and listen.
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