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[Xmca-l] Re: ZeroHours professor dies in poverty
- To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <firstname.lastname@example.org>, "email@example.com" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: ZeroHours professor dies in poverty
- From: Helena Worthen <email@example.com>
- Date: Sat, 21 Sep 2013 15:56:59 -0700
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An 83-year old woman dying in abject poverty after working as an adjunct
for years and years makes a horrifying snapshot. With 75% of college
professors working as adjuncts, however, it's not surprising. I know
adjuncts who sleep in their cars. I'll bet there are people in that exact
situation at every single institution represented on this list, and we
just don't hear about them. Or talk about them.
So yes, it makes a ghastly a snapshot but what's also important is the
flip side of the story -- how to change things so that it doesn't happen
again and again. This is not a snapshot. It's a long, long story. But it's
the same story. The two need to be told together.
Please pay attention to what is happening at City College of San Francisco
right now. Unionization has been in place there for decades; the union got
strong in the 1990s, got good contracts and good shared governance;
adjuncts there can make 90% pro-rata pay and have some job security and
benefits. An adjunct can make a living and retire with a pension from
CCSF. Then along comes "reform." "Reform" means a tight focus on degrees
and credentials, eliminating non-credit adult ed, cutting classes. It's
like what's happening in K-12; "student learning outcomes" or SLO's are
the stand-in for standardized tests. The hammer of reform in San Francisco
turns out to be the ACCJC (Accrediting Commission for Junior and Community
Colleges) which gets funds from the Gates and Lumina foundations as well
as other places including member dues. In July 2013 the ACCJC announced it
would strip CCSF of accreditation. This would effectively shut the college
The ACCJC does NOT have any criticisms of the quality of education
provided by CCSF. Instead, its problems are with the democratic shared
governance of the college, the strong role of the faculty, and the slow
process by which the college has been reluctantly jumping through the
hoops set up by the ACCJC. The elected Board of Trustees has been fired
and a "czar" or super-trustee installed.
This has resulted in a major push back from the constituencies of CCSF.
CCSF is enormously popular in the Bay Area. It has a real base: A special
parcel tax was passed in 2012 just to keep classes open at CCSF. The depth
of the base is demonstrated by the breadth and range of the fight back
against the ACCJC: Students have been arrested for sitting in the Mayor's
office, the union has filed a complaint with the Dept of Education, the
Dept of Education has agreed with the complaint and is investigating the
ACCJC, the State auditor's office has started an audit of the ACCJC, the
San Francisco Attorney General has filed an lawsuit and an injunction
against the ACCJC and the Chancellor's office (statewide community college
chancellor) is doing a review of the accreditation process. Each in it's
own way, the whole range of players is responding.
Julian says "Which side are you on?" He's talking about the death of Mary
Margaret, but CCSF is a place where she would have had job security and
retirement and health benefits, so being on her side means supporting
places that have won decent job conditions over many years of strong union
activism and good public education. Then, when the fight gets going and
comes out into the public eye, you get a chance to see who comes out on
the OTHER side. If you're going to have an institution of higher
education that does NOT exploit adjuncts, all kinds of entities come onto
the field that you might not have thought of.
One of the first things people started asking, when ACCJC came up with
their decision, was "Who benefits from this?" Because City College is
beloved, popular, cheap, good quality, enrolls over 100,000 students
(although the threat of closure has reduced enrollment this semester), and
35-65& of people who live in SF have gone there. Who in their right mind
would benefit from shutting it down?
Well, one answer is the for-profits. CCSF has many career programs like
culinary and fashion merchandising, etc that if closed would turn hundreds
of students over to for-profits.
Another answer is any entity that profits from student debt.
Another answer is that it's a model of a good, democratic unionized
college that is an inspiration for other organizing attempts. (People from
CCSF for example were at a conference at Duquense last spring, talking
about their contract and working with the USW on strategy.) So the
achievements of CCSF get exported to other colleges that are considering
unionizing, and it would be useful to make an example of it.
The sides, pro and con, are not monolithic or un-fractured. But what's
happening right now is that you can see that, with enough good leadership
and activism and people having the guts to do things -- especially if
they've had some practice in the past -- you can mount a fightback that
makes the bad guys at least slow down for a while.
A great deal has been and is being written about this struggle (some by
me, full disclosure) and is available on the web. The link here is just a
On 9/21/13 2:52 PM, "Julian Williams" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
>I find your reaction depressing: so are you for the unionisation of
>'adjuncts' or not? Do you see the sympathies of these outraged middle
>class (presumably contemptible) colleagues progressive (whether self
>interested and middle class or not) and potentially transformative or
>not? Do we require colleagues to hold perfect moral positions on all
>questions before we welcome them to the cause of unionisation? (if it had
>been so, we would never have had unions - they are of course essentially
>I read the two positions posted and I don't see how the truth can be
>somewhere 'between' the two.. On the contrary They both tell the same
>story. The university says there were many kindnesses shown by its staff
>(im sure there were) and the case is being used for ulterior purposes (i
>certainly hope it is) ... but the unionist said only that she should have
>had some minimal rights (I'm guessing health and pension support) and the
>adjuncts need to unionise to fight for such rights and against
>I just don't see how there is a truth somewhere in the middle here: it
>seems so simple. Based on the two links, but maybe you know something
>Which side of this fight are we on, exploiters or exploited.. Surely it's
>Ps I just love the idea i could join a steelworkers union...
>Unfortunately we don't have any of those left here - they we're all more
>or less closed down some time ago.
>On 21 Sep 2013, at 14:48, "Jenna McWilliams" <email@example.com>
>> I've seen this article make the rounds through Facebook and Twitter
>>this week. My academic friends are particularly outraged...as if "this"
>>(poverty, homelessness, death by poverty) shouldn't happen to "us"
>>(academics rooted firmly in the middle class).
>> I imagine the truth of this story, if a truth can be located, is
>>somewhere between the two stories that Bruce and Martin sent out. I also
>>think it takes a particular kind of hubris to get up in arms about
>>poverty only (especially) when it hits "one of our own." Where is the
>>general outrage about poverty, homelessness, and death by poverty when
>>it attacks the people it more typically attacks--the ones who we assume
>>to be different from "us" in ways that keep "us" safe from "their" fate?
>> Jenna McWilliams
>> Cultural-Historical Research SIG Communications Chair
>> Learning Sciences Program, Indiana University
>> On Sep 21, 2013, at 9:21 AM, Martin John Packer wrote:
>>> I don't know this case personally, and I do think that adjuncts are
>>>treated poorly, but the university has responded to some of the
>>>specific claims made in the article you linked to.
>>> On Sep 21, 2013, at 4:58 AM, Bruce Robinson <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
>>>> Union Solidarity Int (@USILive) tweeted at 2:18pm - 19 Sep 13:
>>>> Death of an adjunct post-gazette.com/stories/opinio? < powerful story
>>>>via @DrDonnaYates: #ZeroHours professor dies in poverty @MahmoonaShah
>>>> Alternative link:
>>>> Get the official Twitter app at https://twitter.com/download
>>>> Sent from Kaiten Mail. Please excuse my brevity.