Monday, October 01, 2007

death of the trash digging professor

Sometimes I think we understate the harm done to us by the abusive and discriminatory adjunct system because we are embarrassed. Few people are comfortable telling the whole world that their checks bounced, their significant other left them because they couldn't get a "real" job, or that they still live in parents' basement at 50. If you can't bring yourself to tell your story, tell this guy's, originally told by Barbara McKenna in AFT on Campus:

Adjunct teacher Marty Slobin’s obituary in the Dec. 12, 2000 edition of the Detroit Free Press is moving for its brevity. It memorializes the lecturer who had received a distinguished teaching award from the University of Michigan-Dearborn just the year before and who also taught at Wayne State University and Henry Ford Community College.

“Words cannot describe what this man does in the classroom,” a former student says.

Outside the classroom, Slobin commuted to his teaching jobs on three campuses by bus because he could not afford to keep a car.

“Marty’s whole life was devoted to his students and his teaching,” says a fellow professor.

Suffering from heart disease, Slobin could not afford the treatment—surgery—because the income he lost during a convalescence would make it impossible for him to keep up his health insurance premium payments.

Slobin had “succeeded in making the study of political science meaningful in the lives of his students,” the paper quotes Bernard Klein, a former interim chancellor of the university.

At one point, the university asked Slobin to stop going through the trash in search of the pop cans he returned to collect their deposit refunds.

“I attended his class on congressional elections earlier this fall,” says the university chancellor, Daniel Little, “and was able to see firsthand the respect and affection his students felt for him.”

Slobin, 55, died on Dec. 6 in his office after a heart attack. He was so poor, says Bonnie Halloran, president of the Lecturers Employee Organization (LEO)/AFT at the University of Michigan, that faculty at Dearborn and the neighboring community college took up a collection to pay for his funeral.


If your story isn't as extreme as his, it's probably because you have a job in another industry, a spouse, or some other relative who takes up the slack. Without one of those safety nets, most of us could be this guy.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Grandparents paid for me to go to college,
now they pay for me to TEACH college

A letter I sent to my assemblymember, and members of the Assembly Higher Education Committee:

My grandparents gave me money to go to college.

Now they have to give me money to TEACH college.

I thought if I got a master’s degree and taught college, I’d be able to support myself. But because I can only get part time faculty jobs that pay as little as a third as much as a full time teaching job per class, offer no health insurance most of the time, and have gaps in pay between semesters and no guarantee of work or enough classes to survive from semester to semester, I have to ask my 86 year old grandfather and his 89 year old wife to help me out.

My grandfather is proud to help me because I'm the most educated person in my family, and being a "professor" looks like part of that American Dream about each generation doing better than the one before.

Ironically, with two years of college, he was able to own a house and support a stay at home mom and three kids by my age while I consider myself lucky to make my rent, and that I have one school that provides health insurance for me alone (no family allowed).

I taught for eight years at four different districts before any of them offered me health insurance. Before that, I was paying $200 a month out of pocket for a long-term medication.

I took out $50,000 in student loans to get the degree that’s required to do my job. That’s ballooned to over $100,000 with interest because it’s been tough to pay with irregular work and having to pay for any medical expenses out of pocket for eight years. My student loan payments are more than my rent.

I also work more than a full time load when my multiple jobs are added together, and split the difference between what I can teach effectively and the number of classes I need to pay my bills.

I wish my story were unique, but I know many part time faculty members who only have health insurance through their spouses or have none when a major medical crisis like cancer comes up. Others still live with their parents in their forties and fifties because they love teaching in spite of how we are treated.

Community college districts do this with the legal fiction, allowed by state law, that we are "temporary" employees even though most of us will work in the same districts for decades. They only offer us part time jobs to avoid providing health insurance or fair pay even though when you add the multiple schools most of us are employed by, we work more than full time for these state-financed schools.

What kind of morals and what about the value of education are we teaching our students when college instructors are treated like suckers and Walmart employees?

Something is profoundly wrong when our education system is aping the worst practices of the private sector rather than leading by example. Administrators have failed to act responsibly in these matters and need more guidance from the legislature.

If the Assembly approves AB 1343 or AB 591, it would go a long way toward ending these abuses.


To support these bills, you can comment directly on them at these links:

AB 1343 comment form

AB 591 comment form

Cross-posted at FACE Talk

Get candidates (even presidential ones) on record about FACE during primary season

Most of the time when you talk to politicians about correcting a basic injustice they will complain about how much money it costs, how the opposition party or other interests will resist it, or how it will never be signed by your governor.

There is one time when politicians, particularly Democrats, are EAGER, to promise action to educators: when they are running against an opponent in the primaries. They can't afford to have a key constituency like us apathetic and despondent on election day.

In California's last governor's race, I got the democratic candidates for governor on the record supporting equal pay and ending discrimination against part time faculty

(unfortunately, the winner was running against Arnold Schwarzenegger, and unlike Arnold, he hadn't made dozens of action movies that could be played on continuous loop on cable before the election).

All it took to get that promise was showing up at a candidates forum on a Saturday afternoon, and writing a question on a little card. I wrote a follow up letter to the winner to get him to confirm his promise in writing, which he did.

If your state has a governor's race or a contested primary for your state legislator, go ask them. If the seat isn't contested or the likely winner isn't likely to support equal rights for part time faculty, ask them anyway. You can use it to remind other faculty members why they SHOULDN'T vote for that person.

Since this is a presidential election year, you have an opportunity to take this a level higher.

When you find out a presidential primary candidate will be in your area glad-handing, show up and ask them if they would sign a bill ending discrimination in pay and benefits against part time and contingent faculty.

The Democratic candidates are desperate to get labor support and will be unlikely to say no. John Edwards in particular has made being labor-friendly a centerpiece of his campaign.

If you can get it on tape or video, even with your phone camera, so you can post it online, even better.

Does this mean the candidate will push legislation or even sign a bill if elected president?

Who knows.

But if you get them on the record saying they will, you can use that to draw attention to the abuse of adjunct faculty and to show state legislators that they are behind the curve and better act fast if they don't want to end up looking like the Orville Faubus of the 21st Century.

Cross-posted at FACE Talk

Sunday, June 03, 2007

BARBARA EHRENREICH on Part Time Faculty in "CEOs vs. Slaves"

We are mentioned in paragraph seven:

But a parallel kind of splitting is going in many of the professions. Top-ranked college professors, for example, enjoy salaries of several hundred thousand a year, often augmented by consulting fees and earnings from their patents or biotech companies. At the other end of the professoriate, you have adjunct teachers toiling away for about $5000 a semester or less, with no benefits or chance of tenure. There was a story a few years ago about an adjunct who commuted to his classes from a homeless shelter in Manhattan, and adjuncts who moonlight as waitresses or cleaning ladies are legion.


The next paragraph talks about people who should be our natural allies, lawyers and other advanced degree "perma-temps," who mistakenly thought that if they got a masters or higher, they would at least have secured a place in the middle class.

This is why attacking the definition of temporary may be an issue that resonates with people outside academia.

The temping industry and model of employment has grown far beyond fluctuations in companies' demand for labor as might happen with tax accountants for example. Instead, like our situation, many businesses have a constant rotating cadre of temps to avoid benefits or employees who accumulate seniority or much scrutiny about why someone is let go.

Since a lot of people will be reading this story, you might want to post a testimonial comment about how you have been screwed as an adjunct in the comment section at the end, to raise public awareness.


And contact Ehrenreich with your stories and what we are trying to change, so she might revisit this issue in another column in the future.


She also has a blog & organization for screwed professionals.

This is the first I've seen of her blog, but it's worth a look.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

AFT fights abuse of Part Timers with national FACE campaign

The American Federation of Teachers has introduced legislation in eleven states to end the separate and unequal treatment of part time faculty.

While there are differences in the wording of the bills in various states, but a couple of principles run through all of them:

  • equal pay for equal work
  • health and other benefits for part time faculty
  • reversing the trend of relying on part time faculty instead of a full time tenured instructored corps.

The strongest language for equal pay is in the Washington state bill:

WA Senate Bill 5020

Section 3

...part-time faculty must be paid on a pro rata basis, based upon the percentage of full-time faculty teaching load. For example, part-time faculty who work fifty percent of a full-time teaching load must be paid fifty percent of a full time salary.


Other paragraphs work out the consequences of that like how you move up the scale, so if you work a 50% load, you move up 50% of a full time step. That sounds fair.

Here in California, the AFT has a bill in the pipe, AB 1343, and CPFA, the California Part Time Faculty Association, has introduced a similar bill, AB 591.

You can track both by going to the California legislation search page and entering the bill number (for some reason, they don't keep set addresses for the bills).

You can see all the FACE bills and info on the FACE campaign at

If you live in one of the states where they have these bills, write your state legislators telling them to support it, and find out from the AFT who is running your states campaign and ask what you can do to help. If you aren't in one of those states, call up your union leadership and ask why they haven't introduced a similar bill.