On Wednesday, Broward College will be the site of a gubernatorial debate between Rick Scott and Charlie Crist. Good time to bring attention to another important issue at the college.
In recent years, colleges and universities have faced a crisis within their ranks. Fewer and fewer teaching jobs are designed as full-time positions with benefits, and administrations instead use highly educated but poorly paid part-time or contract workers to teach the bulk of classes. Though these lecturers or adjunct professors frequently teach classes of the same quality and/or duration as the full-time professors, they typically accept the poor compensation in hopes that they can one day slide into permanent positions. Meanwhile, a few top-level administrators get away with six-figure salaries that come as fruits of the adjuncts' labor. Some adjuncts are starting to organize in response; a national walkout day is slated for February.
I am an adjunct who teaches history at Broward College. Despite having worked here for a decade, the maximum I can earn teaching a full load of classes is $16,000 a year -- poverty wages. In the past year, I have harnessed the discontent of my fellow adjuncts and attempted to engage the administration to rectify the two-tiered labor conditions.
Now, the college administration has utilized a classic time-stalling technique of creating of a "task force" to get to the bottom and really do some sleuthing over what makes perpetual adjuncting such a sort of academic purgatory.
As CUNY Professor Corey Robin notes: "employment sanctions are in fact one of the most common methods of political repression in this country." Internal norms at universities -- carrot-and-stick models used to get adjuncts' compliance, petty political networking, and increased difficulty for adjuncts to be granted a livable income -- have been used to greatly strengthen the posh bureaucratic layer of the college.
Broward College administration responded to the initial adjunct agitation by me, Kim Laffont, Alice Wujciak, and others with the creation of an "adjunct task force," which will meet until early next year.
Upon any scrutiny, it is quite clearly a public relations farce.
Adjuncts have asked for two main things: stable and predictable hours on the basis of seniority and increased income. But College VP and Provost Linda Howdyshell (whose salary package I've requested via a public records request) opened the task force by declaring that a doubling of maximum adjunct wages to $32,000 per year was not going to happen. She also swatted down the argument for more stable scheduling, arguing that it was unfair to so many talented new adjuncts.
I think if they seriously believe this argument, then clearly, we need to apply it to administrators too. We need to really consider creating flexible administration, with three-month contracts at extremely low wages and no benefits, in order to increase efficiency. So we will know if they are serious if, and only if, they apply this model to themselves.
This isn't simply a problem of yet another bureaucratic bumbling government agency but rather a private-sector-driven problem. The Board of Trustees, whose members include Sean Geurin, Pamela Stephany, John A. Benz, Gloria Fernandez, and Elizabeth Tonkin, collectively represent a constellation of commercial power that ranges from finance to health care. Over the summer, at a series of monthly Board of Trustee meetings, they all heard limited testimony about the precarious living conditions of long-term adjuncts, and after a few rounds of hearings, they opted to go along with the administration's task force idea, which, as noted earlier, is a farce to the extent that it ignores the only core issues of money and secure and predictable income and course loads. They also dared to condescendingly tell the active adjunct representatives (I was present but did not speak) not to keep coming back and signing up to speak at board meetings about the adjunct situation.
Given the track record and the mixture of cluelessness and absurd pedagogical imperatives (another matter for another day) that these private-sector-backed bureaucrats seem to have, it is highly unlikely that this task force will produce anything more than a giant time suck in order to stall and hope the problem doesn't develop further.
I have long been suspect of the idea that we, as adjunct professors along with our community supporters, will build momentum by trying to appeal to the humanity of people who are ostensibly the rich golf buddies of college administrators who are paying themselves a nice and comfortable standard of living where they are not stressing constantly about bills, car repairs, and things like that. They have imposed these conditions on us in order to live as they do. Martin Luther King Jr. had a line in one of his speeches that said he would never adjust himself to a system that takes necessities from the many in order to give luxuries to the few. But the administration and its trustee enablers seem to want to push the exact opposite model: The college has redistributed wealth and power to the bureaucratic side and away from faculty dominance, despite the centrality of faculty within higher education.
In response to the adjunct task force farce, the South Florida Part Time Faculty Association will be writing its own report to match whatever the task force puts out in early 2015. In the meantime, the proverbial struggle will continue, hopefully increasing in its capacity to do what all functioning social movements do, which is develop targets and destabilize them until demands are met.
Ultimately, people with power are very much like drug addicts. They have power and feel entitled to it, and they will often go to incredible lengths to maintain that power, appearing irrational or even completely delusional to outside perspective.
Only a serious external shock can really bring about the type of power shift that we need simply for basic survival, let alone undo the years of damage caused by this model of administration, and to restore faculty dominance that responds to the majority needs of the faculty and working-class student body and not to the narrow interests of the business class.
As a general strategic rule, I am opposed to most victim narratives, as I find that guilt and shame are not always adequate motivators against people who already know they are guilty. And it's difficult to motivate people to come to anyone's aid simply by pointing to yet one more injustice to add to the huge pile that runs through everyone's Facebook feed and nightly news. Call it the bystander effect on a larger scale.
The board has signaled to the administration that it can effectively continue doing what it is doing. Everyone gets up and does his best Oliver Twist "Please, sir, I want some more," and they sit there and pretend to give a damn. You cannot expect to appeal to the humanity of people who are close to your abusers in this world.
Looking at past social movements, the reality of why things work has been so heavily whitewashed, in the era of foundation hatchlings and charitable foundation activism, so it's worth trotting out the basics of activism 101. In short, it is when you make demands and then deliver consequences to all who refuse to accede to those demands. It is the art of combining forces and acting like you are supposed to be in charge until you are actually in charge. Factory workers didn't gain massive income boosts in the 1930s doing the Oliver Twist dance; they took over plants and broke equipment and got away with it until they won. Civil rights activists openly violated the law, repeatedly, with frequency and fanfare in combination with demands. Rebellion, as they say, delivers the goods.
Look for an announcement for a community protest at Bailey Hall against Broward College, which is hosting the gubernatorial debate between Rick Scott and Charlie Crist on October 15. Save the date!
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