Fighting For an Adjunct Union in San Francisco

Adjunct professors at the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) are attempting to unionize under the SEIU’s metro-organizing strategy, which is now spreading across major cities of the west coast. It’s another exciting opportunity for the successful higher ed organizing group Adjunct Action.

But SFAI administrators are fighting the union drive. The school has hired attorney Ron Holland to represent it. A bio of Holland explains that his practice “focuses exclusively on representing management in traditional labor law and employment law issues.” The union-busting campaign is underway according to Jennifer Smith-Camejo, who works in the communications department of SEIU Local 1021.

Adjuncts at the school are fighting back against the anti-union rhetoric being disseminated by SFAI and their attorney. Some have written on their personal blogs about the opposition they’ve faced, and a tumblr page has also been created to keep people posted on the latest updates. The tumblr links to a petition that anyone can sign to show support for the right to vote.

Students and teachers from SFAI and other area schools will be meeting over the next few days on and off campus to discuss the next steps.

For more information about the union effort at the San Francisco Art Institute, contact:

Jennifer Smith-Camejo, SEIU Local 1021

Adjunct Action Bay Area

Adjuncts on the Diane Rehm Show

The Diane Rehm show out of Washington, DC featured an important segment on adjunct professors this week. The public radio show has an estimated 1.7 million listeners. On the show Wednesday were Maria Maisto, executive director of New Faculty Majority, and Peter Schmidt who authored the recent Chronicle of Higher Education piece on the Adjunct Action national adjunct union.

The hour-long show gives a solid background on the current state of academic labor, and it also gives Maisto and Schmidt a great platform to explain the problem.  Some good discussions came from listeners, as well, who called into the show in order to weigh in on the adjunct issue.

Other guests on the show included two academic administrators who did their best to obscure the problem and deflect the issue by obfuscating and shifting blame, but Maisto handles them well by continuing to return to the real problems.

I love seeing adjuncts’ media presence continue to spread into more mainstream outlets. The adjunct problem really speaks for itself, so the key is just getting this message to a broader audience.

Lots of good tweets and comments posted on the piece, as well.

Check out the whole conversation on the Diane Rehm Show website.

Diane Rehm Show

Featured Job – April 18, 2014

The past few weeks our featured job has been a professor position. This week, I’m mixing things up a little. In honor of the new Flexible Academics group at Vitae, I’m featuring a job this week that qualifies as a flexible academic position.

The featured job this week is a Research Editor position for RAND Corporation. This job sounds really cool. If I were on the market right now, I would definitely apply.

RAND Corporation

Here are the details about RAND’s Research Editor:

  • Senior-level Research Editor with a diverse range of editing and communications skills who will be responsible for online developmental editing, copyediting, copywriting, and typesetting and page layout for print, electronic, and web products in support of the publication of final, peer-reviewed RAND research products
  • Also advises writers and researchers in matters of style, syntax, and usage to improve the general quality and effectiveness
  • Candidates must have excellent verbal and written skills
  • Copyediting and proofreading experience
  • Must be familiar with common style guides
  • Comfortable with publishing and electronic media
  • Knowledge of copyright and IP issues
  • Minimum of 5 years of experience in a publishing or communications environment.

The RAND Corporation is a research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges to help make communities throughout the world safer and more secure, healthier and more prosperous.

Sounds like a job ready-made for a flexible academic to me. Read more and apply for the job here.

We also have higher ed jobs on our job board.

Negotiating Tips Podcast

Just want to share a podcast series I’m learning a lot from. I only found it this week, but the podcast was produced a few years ago by Slate and it’s called Negotiation Academy. The series is proving to be a useful tool for thinking about salary negotiations.

The whole series is only ten podcasts about 15-20 minutes a piece. Each episode covers a different topic on negotiation strategy from preliminary research to BATNA (Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement) to asking for a raise. So far every episode has taught me some new piece of negotiation strategy that I can incorporate into my daily life.

I haven’t quite finished the series yet, but I can strongly recommend it. I’ve been starting each morning lately with a podcast and a new negotiation tip. Give it a shot and see what you think. I’ll probably pull the series all together in a future post on negotiating strategy.

You can subscribe to Negotiation Academy in iTunes or listen to the first episode here.

Negotiating Tips Podcast

Hey Unions! Wake Up!

Yesterday I was unabashedly pro-union. Today I’m going to play a bit of a skeptic.

That’s pretty much the way I’ve always dealt with unions. I like them in theory, but I sometimes wonder how much they actually do for their members. I think it’s good to challenge the union occasionally to keep it working hard for the people.

I have a little union experience myself actually. My first paycheck came from a union job. I bagged groceries at Kroger, and I paid union dues out of every paycheck. $4.23 a week. That was 1996 and I was sixteen years old.

As far as I could tell the main thing we got in exchange for our membership was a due process system that basically made it impossible to be fired. Stealing was about the only justifiable cause for a supervisor to can one of us.

Truth be told, most of my fellow baggers and cashiers—myself included—deserved to be fired at least once a week, but the management’s hands were tied. I remember thinking it was kind of absurd that our jobs were that locked down. I witnessed aggressive insubordination and drug-fueled, on-the-job antics that always went unpunished. All in exchange for $4.23 a week.

I’m sure there were serious grievances also being filed, but I never heard about any during the two years I crammed groceries into paper or plastic. The union system seemed like it was just existing. Just feeding off the corporation in some kind of asymbiotic state of dependence.

These are the times when I question the value of unions. When they seem to have stagnated and just gotten comfortable making very small token gains occasionally—just enough to project the illusion of helpfulness so people will continue paying dues.

Union Dependence

Is your union getting lazy?

On Monday, the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources released a new report known as the “Two-Year Institution Faculty-Salary Survey” that details pay raises for faculty members at community colleges and other two-year institutions. The report indicates that many faculty unions at two-year colleges are existing in the same kind of comfortable “maintenance mode” that my union at Kroger occupied.

Salaries at schools with faculty unions increased by 2.1% this year. No issue with that number per se—a raise is always a good thing. The problem is that this salary increase is almost identical to the average salary increase for faculty members at schools without faculty unions. Salaries at these schools were up 1.9% this year.

So what exactly did the unions do here? When it comes to salaries, not much. Professors did just fine without the unions and they didn’t have to pay dues, so they probably actually came out ahead financially.

Obviously there are lots of intangible benefits to having union representation. Job security for professors is probably more of a concern than it was for me and my grocery-bagging buddies, for one. And sometimes just having a union stand behind you keeps potential management bullies at bay. No question that’s also a valuable benefit that shouldn’t be denied. But is it enough to make it all worth it?

Despite my critiques, I’m of course pro-union. I think faculty unions are almost always a good idea, but I do think it’s important to shake them up a little bit from time to time. Make sure they haven’t fallen asleep and gotten comfortable living off the system. When a union is making salary gains identical to those at non-unionized schools, that’s a red flag and it should be explored more deeply.

Adjunct Action Continues to Gain Strength

There’s an excellent piece up today at The Chronicle of Higher Education on adjunct professor faculty unions. No sense trying to replicate the top notch reporting that Peter Schmidt has done regarding Adjunct Action and the SEIU. Just head over to The Chronicle‘s site and read the article.

Peter Schmidt is a senior reporter at The Chronicle, and he is the newspaper’s specialist on faculty unions. His stuff is always worth reading, but this in-depth piece of reporting on the work of Adjunct Action is especially strong.

Ever since I saw the Adjunct Action Twitter account a year or so ago, I knew the group was on to something big. I’ve been an outspoken proponent of their work since day one. The first unionization victories in Washington, DC led to the “metro-organizing” strategy which seeks to unite adjuncts by region rather than by school.

Adjunct Action Continues to Gain Strength

This makes much more sense because the turnover rate for adjuncts at a given school can be relatively high—too high to count on the strength generated by the adjunct numbers alone. Plus, if an administration found a way to force out a group of adjuncts, the union would be significantly weakened.

Not so with the metro-organizing strategy because this union gains strength from several area universities and is therefore less affected by the staffing changes at any one school.

It was this metro-organizing approach, in particular, that caught my attention. Since those early days, I’ve watched with excitement as Adjunct Action has spread from city to city: DC, Boston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, St, Louis, and others. New cities are being added regularly to the group’s organizing roadmap.

Adjunct Action is the closest thing I’ve seen to a national union for adjunct professors. Lots of promise and potential here. I’ll continue to promote the organization and relish its victories as it spreads across the country.

Unfortunately, as a southerner, there isn’t much chance a union will come my way in the near future. But I will, of course, be cheering on the successes of my colleagues in the north, midwest, and west coast as Adjunct Action continues to grow and gain strength.

Should I Force Students to Read Paper Comments?

Last week, I wrote about the way I have dramatically reduced my grading load this semester by skipping comments on student papers. As usual, my readers helped clarify my position.  I could have more accurately written that I reduced my grading load by switching to a face-to-face commenting structure rather than attempting to write comments on every student paper.

The main problem with trying to comment on every paper is I am inevitably wasting time writing out some comments that are never even read by the students they’re intended for. No matter how hard we try as teachers (or how much we deny the truth), there are just some students who don’t care about the feedback. These students flip to the bottom of the page, check the grade, and toss the paper in the trash along with all those painstakingly-crafted comments.

Maybe I’m too much of a realist—or too cynical—but I can’t bring myself to ignore the truth that a lot of my time as a teacher is wasted. I’m sure part of my perturbation also comes from the fact that I teach part-time and therefore have a lot more going on in my life than just teaching. In fact, teaching is really only a small part of my life. The less time I spend on it, the more time I have to do other things.

I realize that might not be a popular approach to teaching, but that’s the mentality I’ve adopted in order to retain sanity as an adjunct. Teaching is a job and the smarter I can do it, the better.

That being said, a big part of the job is also making sure students are learning and getting better. I don’t want to make dramatic changes that negatively impact my students. I have to find a healthy balance between work flow and student development. So I run experiments like the one I’m conducting this semester in order to discern the best practices that achieve that healthy balance.

On that note, I’ve been thinking more about how I could experiment with commenting on student papers. A few comments on last week’s post suggested ways I might check to make sure students are reading comments.

Force Feed

A comment by unfortunatehabits pointed out that I could make students respond to my comments or compile questions after reading them. Not a bad suggestion, but I’m not sold on the idea of forcing students to read my comments. Unfortunatehabits calls this the “eat your vegetables” style of commenting. I like the name, but I’m not sold on the efficacy of this strategy. Personally, I would probably just resent the teacher for making me do it, which isn’t exactly a good state of mind for learning. But maybe unfortunatehabits is right. Maybe some learning would sink in after several force feedings.

Another idea I had was to use the Track Changes function in Google Docs or Microsoft Word in order to ensure students are at least engaging with the feedback. I could require students to accept changes and resolve comments. Resolved comments could be responded to directly in Google Docs and disputed comments could be discussed in the margin, as well. I guess if I really wanted to get serious about it, I could sneak in a ringer comment or two that would show me if the students were paying attention. Grading these responses would be one way to force students to read my feedback.

I can’t help but point out, though, that this would be adding even more work to my already sizable grading load. It goes back to finding that balance between what is good for the students and what keeps me from spreading myself too thin. I haven’t found the perfect ratio yet, but I’ll keep trying new experiments and tweaking my strategy. I believe classroom innovation is crucial to both advancing student learning and alleviating teacher burnout.

Featured Job – April 10, 2014

The featured job this week comes from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, NC. The job title is unassuming, but it actually sounds like a pretty cool position: Instructor of Humanities.

Despite the simple name, this job is a tenure-track teaching position. And it only requires a master’s degree. However, the school is looking for a specialized scholar in American Studies, Global History, African Studies, or Comparative Literature. That significantly narrows down the field, so those who qualify have a better chance of getting an interview.

North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics

Here are the highlights of the position:

  • Must have three years experience teaching at a college or a college-prep school. University writing experience especially helpful.
  • Full-time, ten-month appointment in the Department of Humanities, with full benefits through the State of North Carolina.
  • Focus on interdisciplinary studies, and on team-teaching interdisciplinary cultural studies and humanities electives.
  • Will team-teach American Studies and teaching African Studies, with the possibility of developing and teaching a course on North Africa and the Middle East.

About the school:

  • NCSSM is a state-supported residential school for students who have demonstrated exceptional talent or interest in science, mathematics, and technology.
  • Due to the nature of the school, credentials are less important than: a wide-ranging knowledge of literature and its cultural and historical contexts, a passion for teaching and learning, and a love of ideas and of the applicants field of study, combined with a willingness to act as a mentor and guide for students—both in the classroom and in extracurricular activities.

To apply: Submit electronic application via:

Read more about this job here.

See more higher ed jobs on the Order of Education job board.

What is a Flexible Academic?

I’ve never been quite satisfied with the labels #altac and #postac. It seems like they don’t do justice to the people they describe. Sarah Kendzior once pointed out on Twitter that these terms define a person based on what he is not, rather than on what he is. In order to be an alternate academic or a post-academic, you have to not be a normal academic. The names suggest that the alternative categories are less important than the category from which they are derived.

Ever since I saw Kendzior’s tweet, that hierarchical naming structure has stuck with me. I’ve wished for a new way to describe academics who choose to pursue other career tracks beyond the professorship or even beyond the academy itself. Besides, it’s kind of annoying to have to include both hashtags in a tweet when they refer to the same general group of people.

In a recent altac and postac piece for Vitae I begrudgingly used those terms. I only did it because I didn’t have a better way of referring to these non-traditional academics (non-traditional academic just doesn’t have the same ring to it).

When my editor at Vitae mentioned they were trying to create a group for altac and postac discussions, I was glad to hear about a new gathering place for the conversations that had been happening randomly around the web. But I wondered what the group would be called. My editor commissioned me to come up with a new name.

Over the past month or so, I have rejected dozens of possible names. I wanted to avoid the trap that Sarah Kendzior pointed out. The name had to create a new category that wasn’t defined in opposition to another group. The name also had to make sense and be easy to use. It had to encompass academics who work both within the academy and without it, and it had to be empowering.

After a few weeks, the name finally hit me: Flexible Academics. A flexible academic is someone who views her career with an open-mind, who keeps her options available as she goes through graduate school, who wants to learn about the wide variety of jobs she qualifies for other than just professor.


Is your career flexible?

The new group just launched today at Vitae. It’s going to be a place to ask questions, share resources, and meet other like-minded people. From a design standpoint, the group is still in development. Soon, it will look much different and contain more options. If you’re into this kind of thing, you should go ahead and join the group so we can get this discussion rolling. As I’ve said before, I’m just learning about flexible academic careers, but I like what I’m seeing. Anything that provides an alternative to adjunct hell is worth checking into.

I’m looking forward to meeting new people and sharing resources as we continue to define this category.

Join me in the Flexible Academics group here.

My Graduate Degree’s Default Setting

I ended up a teacher by accident. At some point during three years of graduate school, I got it into my head that I was going to teach college students. I never even liked teaching or public speaking or even being around people all that much. So, naturally, I decided to become a teacher.

Actually here’s what happened: Someone told me at some point that teaching was a thing people do after they get a master’s degree in English. That’s what caused it. Someone said I should do it, and for some damned reason that was all I needed to hear.

I remember the day two women came to one of my graduate classes and talked about planning for the future after grad school. It was one of those pep talks or something like it. Come to think of it, though, they were mainly just recruiting future adjunct professors for the satellite campuses of the university. Out of the whole talk, that’s the message that stuck with me.

We hire people from this program to teach. In two years, we might hire you.

After class that night, one of the women—Director of Something or Other—told me I could be an adjunct professor with my degree. I didn’t even know what the hell that meant. It seemed cool at the time, and she gave me her business card so it was official. Said to contact her in two years when I finished the program. We’re always looking for good adjuncts, she said.

At the time, I assumed her invitation was a compliment. She had seen something in me, and she had offered me a guaranteed spot on the teaching roster after graduation. I remember being excited. It seemed too good to be true. It was.

Looking back that meeting could only be described as a kind of propaganda session, designed to indoctrinate us new recruits into the system of exploitation. The seeds were planted. You, too, can be a professor. Opportunity awaits.

When you’re green like that it’s easy to get thoughts implanted into your mind. “You’d be good at X,” and then suddenly you’re doing everything you can to become X because somebody with authority saw promise in you.

I fell right into it. Never even questioned the track once I had been set upon it.

Yeah, okay, a professor—that sounds cool. She’s right actually; I do want to be a professor. I remember now.

If I had thought about it for two seconds, I would have realized I didn’t want that at all. Too easy to take the path that had been outlined for me. Too convenient to follow the map that someone else drew rather than design my own adventure.

Once I had the map, all I had to do was follow the dotted line to the buried treasure. Nevermind that the treasure might be fool’s gold.

Treasure Map

And from there on out, I was a teacher. Never questioned it again. Now, six years later, I’m finally starting to admit that I deviated from my plan, that I allowed the words of an authoritative stranger to influence my future. I didn’t go to grad school to be a teacher. That was never the plan. It was only a default setting that I forgot to switch off once I took my degree out of the package.

To be clear, I’m not blaming my mistakes on someone else. No, I’m the one who failed to plan. I’m the one who ignored the warning signs. I’m the one who veered off course. I’m the one who accepted someone else’s plan for my life.

And now I’m the one who is tearing up the map mid-course. I’m the one who is stepping off the trail and venturing into the wilderness. I’m the one who is now—finally—creating my own path.