“Our visible invisibility means universities sit in the comfortable position of never having to justify to parents the ever-increasing cost of a college tuition coupled with the reality that many of their children’s professors may be making as little as $16,000 a year.”
~ Margaret Betz, Contingent Mother: The Role Gender Plays in the Lives of Adjunct Faculty
Any movement, any effort toward greater social and economic justice, is only as strong as the voices behind it. When we speak up, when we pull back the curtain on the ways we’ve been oppressed or treated unfairly, it’s the stories we tell that make our struggle human. Social justice isn’t political, it’s personal, and the struggles happen every day in living rooms, classrooms, coffee shops, kitchens, and conference rooms. Broadcasting our voices on the internet creates a web of narrative that is as effective as any march to the capitol, any rally.
When Daniel Kovalik published “Death of an adjunct” in his column on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last September, it opened the floodgate for the adjunct movement in the U.S. The internet came alive as it had not previously with information about the treatment of adjuncts and contingent faculty, statistics about pay and hours worked, and details about the rights afforded (or exactly not afforded) a staggering 70% of higher education’s teachers. Many had been gathering this information for years — the New Faculty Majority, for example, or the Adjunct Project — but suddenly, through the very public death of Margaret Mary Vojtko, the statistics and data became personal.
Stories proliferated. On the hashtag #IamMargaretMary, adjunct voices both sympathetic and righteous spoke out about their working conditions. Momentum built during the autumn that followed Vojtko’s death, with publications like Hybrid Pedagogy sharing contingent narratives, and the focus turned toward the very real struggles these teachers endure. Most recently, the hashtag #NotYourAdjunctSidekick has provided a space for adjuncts to talk seriously about their situations and what needs to change in order for the teaching profession — and higher education in general — to be equitable and just.
Throughout, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has been working hard for adjunct equity. On March 24, 2014, SEIU will launch a new website for their ongoing campaign to raise awareness about the adjunct crisis. Adjunct Action, while not a unionizing effort in itself, provides adjuncts with information and tools to organize and create more strength in more numbers. And as the site evolves, it will offer ways for adjuncts to connect with one another, get involved in decision-making for the movement, and engage in professional development and training opportunities.
Part of that evolution is taking place now, in this article. Adjunct Action is calling adjuncts to participate in helping to form a new community of voices on the site. As part of the March 24th launch, they will be collecting adjunct stories — stories about our struggles, our successes, our fears and our hopes, our experiences trying to organize, and our ability to affect change — using a unique online tool provided through the Action Network. By providing this record of our lives, Adjunct Action will help to build that narrative, that rally, that march online, even as it must also happen on the ground.
This call for participation goes out to all adjuncts. Adjunct Action is seeking short posts (300-500 words) that consider the contingent situation from all perspectives. These posts may consider:
The social, political, and economic rights and responsibilities afforded adjuncts in their positions;
The conditions which have led to the “adjunctification” of higher education;
Any efforts to organize groups of adjuncts to rally for better pay, benefits, longer contracts, and more;
Any and all successes that have come of those efforts;
A vision for the future, and what it will take to make that future come to pass.
Sean Michael Morris, editor of Hybrid Pedagogy, will work in conjunction with the Adjunct Action team to curate these articles. To post your story, go to the Tell Your Story page on the Adjunct Action site. This is a rolling call as much as it is a roll call. As long as there is inequity in higher education, there will be a need for our voices.