#TUhearing or #HEnotHearing?

21 March 2015

Whatever the outcome of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB) hearing on Temple University (TU) adjuncts’ bid to vote on unionization, the proceedings spotlight the crux of adjunctification: when telling adjuncts to only do the work stated in our tentative assignment agreements, what admin means is, Psst! meanwhile, we will rely on your dedication to students to work off the clock.

Here’s an overview of the situation in case you missed it:

Hundreds of the university’s adjunct faculty petitioned the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board in December [2014] for the right to vote on joining the Temple Association of University Professionals union, which already represents 1,400 full-time faculty members. In a Feb. 17 letter to the Temple News, the TAOC wrote, “Unfortunately, Temple administration is delaying the process because they don’t respect us. Provost [Hai-Lung] Dai continues to send misleading and offensive emails to adjunct faculty discouraging us from unionizing. His actions show that he regards us as nothing more than cheap labor.”

To be clear, this is a seminal moment, for the TU adjuncts’ fight for voting rights is a weigh station on the long snaky path that is the vicious cycle of precarious academic labor, or, as Academia Obscura duly notes, the Professorletariat.

Professorletariat @AcademiaObscura

The PLRB hearing began Thursday, March 19 in Harrisburg, where, in the words of Temple Association of University Professionals (TAUP) president Art Hochner, six adjunct faculty members testified as to “their impressive educational credentials, their teaching, their interaction and collaboration with full-time faculty, and the activities outside of the classroom that they involve students in to enhance educational goals.” Sounds like adjuncts doing the bang up job on which we pride ourselves, right?

Sadly though not surprisingly, Hochner’s assessment isn’t shared by the official voice of Temple administration, as revealed by live tweeting of the event from adjuncts, allies, and the United Academics of Philadelphia (@UAPhilly) local using a #TUhearing hashtag. No, rather than being treated like the human beings, citizens and public servants they are, the witnesses were treated to a rather antagonistic mode of operation by Temple’s attorneys. Summing up the day, one witness wrote about being “dismayed by the demeaning way [in which she and her] colleagues were spoken to by Temple’s representatives”:

I did not feel valued or appreciated by my employer, regardless of what they try to tell us on campus. In Harrisburg, Temple made it clear they view our service and devotion to our students and to Temple as ‘voluntary’ and we could ‘just go home’ [if we thought we were working so many hours sans pay].

United Academics of Philadelphia’s correspondent put the matter squarely, tweeting in response to witness descriptions of the long unpaid hours adjuncts give in service to their students:

#TUhearing Langel asks Chris Rabb if extra-class work is part of TAO. Neither is grading @UAPhilly
[NOTE: references are to TU attorney John Langel and TU adjunct Chris Raab]

The @UAPhilly citizen journalist ultimately shows dissatisfaction with the way TU attorneys suggest that adjuncts are free to not work outside the hours stipulated by our tentative assignment agreements.

#TUhearing Adjuncts own fault if they work outside hrs @UAPhilly

Hm. Well, concerned fellow twitizens had quite a bit to say about this idea, slyly summed up by local Metro Philly news reporter Sam Newhouse, who noted the complete illogic of such an approach:

#TUhearing No logic in adjuncts ignore students @SNewhouse

Educators and, yes, lay citizens know that it’s impossible to carry out the duties of teaching strictly within the confines of the hours spent with students. As well we know, along with the complementary cycle of assessment and evaluation (grading), precious contact hours are the end result of many more hours spent outside class researching and preparing: syllabi, calendars, lesson plans, handouts, presentations, questions, tests, prompts, demonstrations, just to name a few items on the educators’ daily to do list, and we haven’t even mentioned administrative duties such as inputting grades, record keeping and email.

But it looks like Temple would rather adjuncts divide class time between teaching and the long list of steps that equate class time. How would that work? Students sit idly by in class as we do all the unpaid hours of work that goes into every contact hour? Sam Newhouse’s wry comment shows the absurdity of the TU attorneys’ argument.

Never mind that the lawyers raised this notion directly in reference to witness David White’s explanation of how many hours he gives his students outside class in order to help them put on a one act festival – a point the lawyers will surely try to stick. But don’t believe the hype. As one twitizen observed, the “gap between [University attorneys and University operations] is never more apparent than in these fora. They’re very lucky no one takes them up on it.”

The admin attorneys let the cat out of the bag on this one, though, because using David White as a vehicle, every adjunct is being told that any hours we put in outside class are freebies. And as such, not only should non-contact work hours be donated by us, we have no right to expect compensation, that it’s our choice to perform duties not stated in our assignment agreements. The laughter you hear is the unstated irony turned weapon every adjunct knows: one cannot teach on contact hours alone.

Wage Theft.EPI

Wow, let me say that another way because framed a wee bit differently, the concept is so heartwarming yet clearly 21st century un-American, it bears repeating: the company is relying on my honor and good will to work many more unpaid hours than paid.

And here we have the crux of adjunctification, the loud clear message to public education that what’s wanted not only in academic but global labor is an all precarious workforce all the time. That’s the future of public education encroaching year by year: not the Professoriate, but the Professorletariate. If we think a 75% part-time academic workforce is outrageous, consider the day when we hit 99%. Not quite 100% because there’ll be a +/- 1% margin for full time non-management overseer positions a la chairs, plus various superstar or endowed positions receiving twice or three times the going rate for what were once known as tenured faculty.

This isn’t a pleasant thought, and I’d love to be able to muster the forces needed to fight against it, but in reality, Americans are pinned by the weight of decades of austerity measures and corporatized political power. Our attempts to fight back are decidedly reactive, and if we’re going to save our education system, save ourselves, we’re going to need some proactivity.

And so the #TUhearing is actually a clear sign of #HEnotHearing. The hearing signals a resounding need for investigation of not only widespread labor malpractice but undue corporate-political influence. This doesn’t have to be done by the government, although that’d be nice. There are plenty of leads to go around for professional and citizen journalists alike.

At the end of the day, as an adjunct, I very much want to see the Temple adjuncts be allowed to exercise their right to vote. As a citizen, I’m appalled that fellow Americans would even have to take such a notion to court.



Adjuncts Are But a Symptom

15 December 2014

One way to exert power in restraint of democracy is to bend the state to a market logic, pretending one can replace “citizens” with “customers.” Consequently, the neoliberals seek to restructure the state with numerous audit devices (under the sign of “accountability” or the “audit society”) or impose rationalization through introduction of the “new public management”; or, better yet, convert state services to private provision on a contractual basis.

– Philip Mirowski “The Thirteen Commandments of Neoliberalism

Who’s minding the store while thousands of academics across the globe debate ‘best practices’ for activism? The free market analogy is apropos, for while we focus our attention on the divisive nature of the two tier system, the assault on public education and the part-timization of the workforce go on unabated.

Adjuncts are a white collar symptom of systemic and deep global wounds to freedom. The plight of adjuncts is often compared to that of fast food and WalMart workers, but we need to consider that our advanced degrees provide us a privilege not shared by most of the wounded. We are equal to our fellow wounded but possess an additional step to economic access. So, even though many adjuncts subsist at or near poverty levels, we also exist within a realm of opportunity granted via advanced education – an irony we can’t afford to ignore.


Because the piece of the pie relegated to education keeps shrinking, we are all fighting for our very existence, and without realizing it or meaning to, we are being conditioned to accept a norm that says there is no public good, only allegiance to oneself. Such a focus erodes freedom. We need a concerted effort to fight the undermining of programs that actually helped bring about the ideals of democracy for forty-plus years, one of which is public education.

The ongoing Adjunct Question is a tool being used to misdirect us from the subversion of public education since the 1940s and the big push against New Deal programs. This era saw the formation of Friedrich Hayek’s Mont Pelerin Society, the adoption of ideas by Ludwig von Mises, and the birth of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), “generally regarded as ‘the first libertarian think-tank,’” into which both Milton Friedman and future John Birch Society founder Robert Welch put energy:

The purpose of the FEE – and libertarianism, as it was originally created – was to supplement big business lobbying with a pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-economics rationale to back up its policy and legislative attacks on labor and government regulations. (Mark Ames)

Think of it this way – there is billions at stake in the testing-accountability movement that accepts public funding into its own coffers as a way of doing business, framing the siphoning as ‘public-private.’ This means that tax dollars are being used to make profits at the expense of all of us, profits that are not being returned to the classroom. Nor are these monies being used to support citizen interests such as job security, pro rata compensation, student loan subsidies, or education the way we ourselves practice it.

No, as it turns out, public education is an investor’s dream. Often cloaked as social enterprise investing and venture philanthropy with directive strings attached, education investment opportunities include everything from owning charter schools, student loan corporations, and assessment facilities to manipulating curriculum and operating billion dollar hedge funds. As reborn education activist Diane Ravitch put it:

What’s in it for the hedge fund guys? A fun hobby; power; a chance to call themselves “civil rights leaders” (not too many to be found in the big cities’ exclusive clubs); and, yes, a chance to make money. Those who invest in charters can double their money in seven years, thanks to a federal program called the New Markets Tax Credits.

It may seem realistic to accept the neoliberal argument that education is not a right (and it is eek, socialist!), and therefore schools must compete for consumers just like businesses, but it’s actually opportunistic and clearly doesn’t work. The question should be: how do we fight the nexus of the behemoths of big politics and business in order to redress the contingency crisis?

https://i1.wp.com/dollarsandsense.org/archives/2014/0314friedman--fig3--500x368.gifThe two-tier system is an excellent tool for the divide and conquer strategy of Jeffersonian free markets. Forcing tenured professors to protect the tenure system misdirects attention away from the assault on the teaching profession as a cover for union busting and removing obstacles to the godhead of the market. While educators as a whole are attacked on multiple fronts, the unions we rely on to protect academic freedom and tenure are in a fight for their lives. The business-political elites have been busy forcing education unions to spend large sums fending off legislation meant to weaken our voices. Unfortunately, the two tier system, viewed by assailants as a socialist program, unwittingly and conveniently helps weaken public education. This is not a justification for the inability of unions to protect academic freedom and make gains for all faculty members – just a demonstration that the assault on multiple fronts is working very well.

So, if the unions are busy fighting for their existence (relying on the same methods used in the past), and tenured faculty are busy protecting tenure (relying on academic freedom arguments that necessitated the rise of faculty unions), and the adjunct faculty are busy working to improve their working conditions, who is minding the store?


Our old ways of handling academic infighting is made obsolete by the legislating of our lives in which every move is calculated toward repealing any semblance to the freedoms we understand as guaranteed in the Constitution. In “Reclaiming the Politics of Freedom,” Political Science Professor Corey Robin argues that big business, “uncurbed and unchecked, portends…personal domination,” and that government is a source of freedom:

When government is aligned with democratic movements on the ground, as Walter Reuther and Martin Luther King Jr. understood, it becomes the individual’s instrument for liberating [oneself from one’s] rulers in the private sphere, a way to break the back of private autocracy.

Contingent labor is being made out to be the new norm, not just in academia, but worldwide. We need to consider that our fight is not just a fight for adjunct faculty, but for the denial of what the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states as

The right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work which ensure, in particular:

(a) Remuneration which provides all workers, as a minimum, with:

(i) Fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value without distinction of any kind, in particular women being guaranteed conditions of work not inferior to those enjoyed by men, with equal pay for equal work;

(ii) A decent living for themselves and their families in accordance with the provisions of the present Covenant;

(b) Safe and healthy working conditions;

(c) Equal opportunity for everyone to be promoted in his employment to an appropriate higher level, subject to no considerations other than those of seniority and competence;

(d) Rest, leisure and reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay, as well as remuneration for public holidays.


We must take the big picture into consideration to broaden our thinking and thus our discourse. This doesn’t mean abandoning our work to claim our rights and improve our working conditions, but enriching it. Educational budgets are ensconced in state budgets, and changes to Ed Codes are likewise made without consulting the public, so working to change the very legislative conditions that cripple education is a necessary tool. In this way, lobbying advocacy groups such as California Part-time Faculty Association (CPFA) are vital. We must also challenge the entrenched power of the business elite who seek to further shift Americans from citizen to consumer with calls to investigate this unwarranted influence at the local, state, and national levels. Equally important, adjuncts should join efforts against the business elite, working hand-in-hand at every level of education and connecting to efforts from those who, like us, are being denied freedom through economic manipulation.


Think about how we have become accustomed to doing so much more with so much less – and with little to show for it but our sense of loyalty to the public. If we are to take back education and our freedom, we need to be a solid front of citizens who seek to denormalize what is being force fed us as givens.

0 This article appears in the Fall 2014 issue of CPFA’s Community College Journal.

Flow Chart: How Privateers Undermine Our Education System

Advancing the Quality of The Common Core Flow Chart

Many thanks to Karen Bracken for painstakingly clarifying Morna McDermott’s original chart.


Video explaining the Flow Chart:

Walking the Labyrinth of the Corporate-Owned-Common Core

This chart shows the insidious web of assault on our public education system. While the chart reveals the system behind privatizing our primary and secondary schools, many of the same groups are actively involved in similar takeover of our higher education system. The goal in all this at every level of education is to access public funds and bust unions so as to have more control over the entire operation.

California Tenure Ruling Sneaks Past Higher Ed

I spent a quite a bit of time yesterday researching and Tweeting news of California Judge Treu’s ruling that tenure prohibits students from accessing a quality education. I have loads to say about how this is wrong in so many ways, but that’s not the reason for this post.

This post is to urge all levels of Higher Ed faculty and media:

• to see that a decision against tenure affects every level of education.

• to start viewing every attack against teachers as part of a campaign to undermine not only faculty unions at every level but unions and the voice of the middle and lower class

• to connect the dots between neoliberal free market capitalism, Citizen’s United, the rise of our Oligarchy, deregulation, state legislative actions, and access to public funds.

• to perceive that undermining unions allows greater leverage in the so-called free market

• to work together to fight the destruction of what we know best and are supremely capable of delivering

And finally, to get that all of this applies to you, citizen or not, because this is part of the undermining of our participatory democracy.