As a long-serving adjunct, I share frustration at our continued contingent condition.
Even after 15 years of service with an excellent reputation amongst students and colleagues, I worry at the end of each semester whether I will have enough work in the next semester to make the bills. At this very moment I am watching the enrollment numbers for a summer course I am scheduled to teach, anxious that it won’t reach the magic and mysterious cut-off level, and wondering what I will do if it doesn’t run. But to blame the PSC leadership for this state of affairs is both unfounded and unfair. It is one thing to disagree on strategy, but to accuse this leadership (and Barbara personally) of “neglect of us and our issues” is unjustifiable. It is also sad, as the leadership shares the same exact goal of the overwhelming majority of adjuncts: to do away with this horrible two-tier system. My experience as a member of the PSC’s EC and bargaining team has richly illustrated Barbara’s and more generally the principal officers’ commitment to part-time faculty equity. Their commitment (both professional and personal) to this can be seen through the time, energy, and resources that have been allocated to adjunct equity.
Take adjunct health care as an example: while the issue is not resolved, what has been achieved so far is quite astonishing. The $10 million allocated to CUNY adjunct health care was not a gift from on high, but rather was the culmination of a decades-long struggle by this PSC leadership to get CUNY to acknowledge and accept some responsibility for the large cohort of permanent part-timers. Anyone who has been around a while knows how resistant CUNY administration has been to even acknowledging our existence. This happened because of a sustained campaign to keep adjunct issues on CUNY’s radar. Almost every conversation with CUNY incorporated adjuncts in some way. CUNY as a consequence expended quite a bit of political capital to get this done with public decision-makers. When that wasn’t enough, the PSC leadership negotiated contributions from CUNY to make up the difference. To do so required an incredible amount of preparation to come up with precise eligibility numbers and costing estimates. To get as far as we have on this has also taken an extraordinary amount of time, energy, focus, and resources. This is complex work that has produced tangible, concrete benefit. Equally important, it has taken up a substantial part of Barbara’s and the other leaders’ time. Importantly, it is but one of many concrete, tangible pieces of evidence demonstrating the union’s commitment to producing results on matters of equity. In the meantime, the PSC leadership arranged several extensions for those adjuncts receiving health insurance from the welfare fund.
Just to give a bit of perspective, I looked over my calendar for the initial meetings on this issue from Spring of 2012. From April through early June, the adjunct health care subcommittee met 11 times for a total of 23 hours (including preparation meetings, meetings with CUNY, and meetings with the city). This does not include the many, many hours individuals put into preparing the numbers and arguments for each meeting.
Or take the Spring of 2010 as word began to filter back that adjuncts were being let go due to departmental budget cuts. The PSC leadership undertook a massive effort to find out what was going on, in order to determine how best to respond. That project began with Barbara sending out an email and a letter to each and every chair in CUNY asking them to respond to a questionnaire (she personally signed approximately 365 letters). Every department then received a phone call asking about the impact of the budget on their department, primarily the impact on adjunct retention. This data was collected and put in a report that was then presented to the D.A. Again Barbara, and more generally the PSC leadership, invested substantial amounts of time, energy, and resources on behalf of adjunct equity.
I could go on to list the gains that have been made by this leadership (paid office hours, 200 conversion lines, salaries in the last contract that tilted towards the most vulnerable and lowest paid, Professional Development Grants, the FUSE project, etc.). Has all this brought equality? Of course it has not produced such an outcome. But has this work and the contract gains made a real difference in the lives of adjuncts? Absolutely. I could just as easily criticize the leadership for their missteps. How they handled the 9/6 rule crackdown was a huge mistake; but such criticism has to do with how they responded to CUNY’s wantonly violating the contract, and not of their character or concern for adjuncts. (In fact, even here their response is a slightly mixed bag, for on my campus several adjuncts who lost the ability to do overloads are now full-time lecturers due to the conversion lines).
If we look at the current contract demands, we can see that it is based on balancing the needs of the different parts of the bargaining unit. It was constructed from what was essentially a “listening tour” at by the principal officers back in 2010 (maybe 2011), and is guided by solidarity. They heard that adjuncts want security and so that is one of the pillars of the demands.
Any analysis that leaves out the historical and political context in which we operate is unsound. Any analysis that ignores the balance of power in our current system easily leads to making enemies of friends. Sometimes movements have the wind at their backs. At this point in time, it is all headwinds for the labor movement. The PSC has not chosen this particular historical moment, but it does all it can to resist the worst aspects of a neoliberal agenda which aims to privatize and corporatize all that is public, and to turn all workers into mere commodities. It is one thing to disagree with a chosen strategy or particular policy–strategies and policies ultimately decided on by at the D.A.; it is another to attack the commitment and character of people who spend a great deal of their time and energy fighting for our rights. The people being accused of sycophancy of the Democratic Mayor are the very same people that participated in civil disobedience against our Democratic Governor. These are the complex on the ground facts associated with the struggle to produce change.
While adjuncts have every reason to be upset, anxious, and frustrated, I believe that directing it at the PSC leadership is both misplaced and counterproductive. Full-timers, and more largely the PSC, are not the enemy. Those that wish to prostrate all labor and to privatize all that is public are the enemy. Those who wish to narrow our student’s education to serve only the interests of corporate America, to turn them into good workers while ignoring the importance of turning them into good citizens are the enemy. Those that want to plunder the public’s wealth to fill the private coffers of the privileged are the enemy. Apathy is the enemy (in CSI’s recent Chapter election, one that turned largely on which slate would better represent adjuncts, less than 20% of eligible adjuncts voted; in the recent election for adjunct rep on the college council, 8.7% of eligible adjuncts voted; at the May 1st marched behind a banner reading “5K per course for Contingent Faculty,” very few of the 12,000 adjuncts that would benefit from that appeared. It should be noted, meanwhile, that many full-timers and retirees were there).
Finally, I noticed that any and all “investments” won should go to adjuncts and graduate students. That doesn’t sound like solidarity to me. What about the many junior faculty hired after 2009 who have never seen a raise? What about HEO assistants? What about CLT’s? Could you be accused of ignoring their plight?
Eugene Deb’s asked and important question in his essay Labor Omnia Vincit:
“Why is it that labor does not conquer anything? Why does it not assert its mighty power? Why does it not rule in congress, in legislatures and in courts? I answer because it is factionized, because it will not unify, because, for some inscrutable reason, it prefers division, weakness and slavery, rather than unity, strength and victory.”
I for one will continue to resist dividing the collective at such a critical moment. We are either all in this together or we will all surely lose. Solidarity does not mean we must all agree on every point, but it does require that we stop making personal attacks and seeing every point of disagreement as betrayal.
Sincerely yours in Solidarity,
Michael Batson, adjunct lecturer and part-time personnel officer, executive council, PSC
[To sign the open letter, go here.]