Today is National Adjunct Walkout Day. Adjunct faculty around the country will take action to raise awareness about the precarious and unjust two-tier faculty system in American colleges and universities. They will insist on fair wages, job security and better working conditions. And, they will be fighting for a higher quality of education for their students.
Adjunct is defined as a supplement: something that is added or auxiliary to that which is essential. In academia, the term “adjunct” refers to the 75 percent of all college and university faculty nationwide who are contingent. They teach off the tenure track, often earning poverty-level wages with no job security and often no benefits. The biggest group of this type of faculty at UC are the non-senate faculty, or as they are more commonly called, lecturers. Many students assume that the lecturers teaching their classes are full-time professors, earning a decent salary with healthcare for themselves and their family, with the security of tenure, access to departmental decision-making and institutional support.
Unfortunately, the truth is that lecturers and other contingent faculty teach 51 percent of student credit hours at UCs. The administration tends to view and treat the human beings in these positions as temporary and expendable, even though many of them have been providing excellent teaching in these positions for many, many years.
So why does it matter to our UCSB community if the administration relies on cheap and “temporary” adjunct labor to teach the bulk of our undergraduate courses? Putting the inherent inequity of a two-tier faculty system aside, let’s spotlight a few of the many ways that the second-tier adjunct faculty are marginalized and mistreated and the impact this has on the quality of education at UC.
Consider the current plight of three lecturers in the College of Creative Studies Literature Program as a case in point.
These ‘adjunct’ instructors, with stellar teaching records, deeply impressive publishing and professional work and a longtime intellectual and emotional commitment to their students, colleagues and program are facing a proposal that would dramatically cut their employment. This reduction to less than half-time would deprive them and their families of health coverage while jeopardizing their livelihood due to reduced income. These lecturers are currently slated to teach half — or less than half — of what they have been teaching in order to accommodate programmatic change that could just as easily occur with their appointments intact. This is a scenario that tenure track faculty neverhave to face.
These CCS lecturers are not line items in a budget nor are they expendable faceless cogs in some vast machine.
In the CCS Literature Program, these lecturers aren’t auxiliary; for years, they have been teaching classes taught nowhere else on campus, designing curricula, hosting renowned visiting writers, overseeing two literary journals, advising students and writing books to enrich the educational experience of our university community. They are the heart of the program, and they could be gone, replaced by a variety of other lecturers who have even less enfranchisement and even less power. CCS students would lose the continuity and stewardship offered by experienced faculty with a long-time investment in the program.
These CCS lecturers are not line items in a budget nor are they expendable faceless cogs in some vast machine. They and their fellow lecturers are human beings who, again and again, offer up their best to their students, their research and their publishing, and their greater university community. They deserve fair and respectful treatment.
The lecturers’ union, UC-AFT, is entering contract negotiations with UC next week, and our three urgent priorities are getting fair benefits, stable employment and respect in the workplace. Please visit the You See (UC) Democracy? page on the UC-AFT website to learn more about our issues.
And please join me on this day in saluting the ‘adjunct’ faculty of UC for all they do.
Bill Quirk is the UC-AFT Associate Director