Congressman George Miller Challenges University Presidents on Adjuncts

Congressman George Miller

Last year, Congressman George Miller of California took up the cause of adjunct labor. Miller, who is the senior Democrat on the House of Representatives’ Committee on Education in the Workforce, opened a public forum last year where adjuncts and other contingent faculty members could share stories about their working conditions.

The open forum generated hundreds of responses from adjuncts across the country. Miller said he was reading each one. According to an interview conducted by Vitae‘s Sydni Dunn, Miller was hoping to “have the opportunity to have a full-committee hearing in the education and workforce committee” regarding the findings of the forum.

I admit to being a little skeptical of Congressman Miller’s interest in this topic. For all I knew, he saw an opportunity to reach thousands of new constituents in one swipe. Maybe that was the case, but Miller has proven more than once that he hasn’t forgotten about the pledge he made to adjuncts.

For starters, he publicly discussed the 800+ responses he received to his open call, and he co-authored a report on the findings. This report was known as the “Just-in-Time Professor: A Staff Report Summarizing eForum Responses on the Working Conditions of Contingent Faculty in Higher Education,” and it’s a 36-page exploration of the adjunct responses to the public forum complete with charts and graphs.

And then today, over at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Rep. Miller published an open letter to college presidents wherein he discusses some of what he has learned about the working conditions of adjuncts and also student athletes. In the letter, entitled “Presidents, Do Right By Athletes and Adjuncts,” Miller calls out college presidents for their treatment of these two exploited groups on college campuses.

The Congressman challenges the rhetoric of university administrations, who often discourage union activity and promise compromise, but then turn right around and maintain the status quo.

He writes:

You can’t have it both ways; you can’t insist that you are unable to make things better for athletes or adjuncts, and simultaneously insist that they should not try to make things better on their own, through collective bargaining.

You own these working conditions. You can keep defending the status quo and trying to excuse shabby workplace practices, but I respectfully suggest you change them instead.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. As for whether this advice will be heeded, well, we shall see. At least the cause is continuing to receive attention—and it’s going further up the ladder than ever before.