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Truth in Jest

Adjunct union protests working conditions and stalled contract negotiations with fake job pamphlet.

April 20, 2016
 

Most job ads glitz up the gig a bit -- after all, it’s a kind of advertising. But what if a job ad really told it like it is, at least how it is to those dissatisfied with their working conditions? That’s the idea behind a new parody pamphlet on part-time instructor “mis-opportunities” from the office of “inhumane resources” at Cerritos College in California, courtesy of the adjunct faculty union.

The union says it has been working without a full contract for more than a decade and used the pamphlet on social media to draw attention to its concerns. The college, meanwhile, says it is devoted to settling remaining contract issues with part-time faculty members.

The pamphlet begins with a disclaimer assuring interested parties that they have equal access to “employment exploitation” and are “not subject to envy or esteem in any program or activity of the [college] district” regardless of race, gender or a host of other characteristics.

Still interested? The successful candidate “will be assigned to teach beginning to advanced courses, but primarily those leftover courses that full-timers don’t want to teach, including very early and very late remedial and required courses (the ones students take because they have to).”

Take whatever classes “offered out of fear, even if they are not preferred, because replacement courses are not likely to be forthcoming,” the ad reads, touching on common complaints from adjuncts. “Teach at and rush between multiple campuses to avoid poverty. Spend more time commuting than teaching. Lug around several heavy bags, one for each campus you will teach at. Endure the frustration of working more but being paid less, and the stress-induced ailments that follow.”

Other duties associated with the position include a host of largely unpaid service obligations and projects that “support the department and division objectives for the benefit and profit of the school, which adjuncts will most likely never take part in.”

Here are the qualifications:

Here’s how to apply:

And here’s some more information on the application deadline and selection process:

The parody closes with the (real) email addresses of various college administrators, suggesting that those who agree students deserve instructors with better working conditions contact them.

Lyndsey Lefebvre, an instructor of English at Cerritos and vice president for part-time faculty for the American Federation of Teachers-affiliated Cerritos College Faculty Federation, said it was more than common adjunct faculty concerns that led to the protest pamphlet. The union hasn't had a full contract in its 13-year existence and this year hoped to negotiate for office hours, seniority lists, a system that would reduce the impact of course cancellations on adjunct faculty members and stipends for additional duties performed. But negotiations remain at an impasse ahead of mediation in May, she said.

The union decided on its particular medium in light of an on-campus job fair, Lefebvre said, and the sense of “irony” of “walking through a quad with students who might start at an entry position at one of the businesses, and within a few years, make more than the part-time adjunct working on the campus educating them -- and further, who would want to adjunct if they knew beforehand what it was really going to become and mean for them?”

Lefebvre added, “We wondered what it would look like if the college was really attempting to hire an adjunct … if we were more honest about the conditions?” While it is somewhat lighthearted, she said, “it is also reflective of the real situation of the nontenured faculty, who give their all for student success and want a fair shake at the opportunities and responsibilities for the position, while being fairly compensated.”

The union plans to hand out the pamphlet at a future advocacy event but has so far been using it on social media. The general response has been that it’s funny but sadly true, Lefebvre said via email. “Sometimes, in all of the extreme seriousness of labor negotiations for part-time faculty, it can be difficult to laugh when, in particular, rent is due. But sometimes the acute pointing to the reality that employees live is the only way to illustrate a life that some people do not realize.”

In a statement, Cerritos Community College District officials said the union does have a contract that was signed in 2012, but that "there are additional articles that still need to be negotiated. The district is committed to completing all remaining articles."

Officials said they believe part-time faculty members should get a salary increase, but the district's proposed 16 percent increase over three years was not accepted. (The union says Cerritos adjuncts are the lowest paid in their peer group of nine Los Angeles-area colleges and lack many of the additional benefits their colleagues elsewhere enjoy.)

“Like many colleges across the state of California and the country, Cerritos College is experiencing a slowdown in enrollment,” officials said. “A the same time, the faculty union is requesting an unprecedented 18 percent salary increase for part-time faculty and a 14 percent raise to full-time faculty over three years. The district survived the worst economic recession on record without any furloughs, layoffs or cuts to student programs because of strong fiscal planning. The district values the faculty and their efforts to help students receive the finest education possible, and is committed to its obligation to maintain a financially strong college to keep students in the classroom and faculty at a great place to work.”

Miranda Merklein, a Seattle-based adjunct organizer and independent researcher, was among those who praised the pamphlet on social media.

“The ‘inhumane resources’ pamphlet accomplishes more than a traditional piece of campaign literature by using humor and creative writing to bring light to the horrendous working conditions of adjunct and contingent faculty,” she told Inside Higher Ed, noting she’s penned a tongue-in-cheek “adjunct survival syllabus” out of similar concerns.

Quoting the pamphlet, Merklein said, “‘Applicants who wish to receive higher pay or better working conditions will receive no recourse from the department’ is both Kafkaesque and painfully true, as anyone who's worked as disposable academic labor is aware.”

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