Sydni Dunn

Staff Reporter at The Chronicle of Higher Education

With Support From

A Congressman Asks for Adjuncts’ Stories, and Responses Pour In

Full 11252013 georgemiller

It’s only been a week since Rep. George Miller launched an online forum for contingent faculty members to share stories of their work conditions. But the California Congressman’s inbox is quickly filling.

As of Monday, the electronic forum had received about 200 submissions, said Brian Levin, Miller’s deputy press secretary and new media coordinator. And more are rolling in.

“This eForum is an opportunity for adjuncts and other contingent faculty to inform the Congress about what’s happening on the ground with higher education,” said Miller, a Democrat, in a news release. “I think there is a huge lack of understanding of what it means to be in the adjunct world.”

The forum, which went live Tuesday, asks part-time faculty members to submit statements detailing how long they have worked on a contingent basis, what they receive in compensation and benefits, and how their working conditions help or hinder their ability to do their jobs.

There’s a deadline for submissions: Comments must be posted by December 20. But what happens at that point? That’s not entirely clear. For one thing, comments may be posted on the website of Democrats serving on the House education committee. They might also be submitted to the congressional record and used in a report issued by the Democratic group. (The names of faculty members who submit comments will not be published without permission.)

But for the time being, the forum is essentially “a fact-finding inquiry,” Levin said. “What will be done with it is dependent on what information we receive.”

If what they’ve received so far is any indication, they’ll end up with a lot of material to work with. In the first three days, he said, the office saw more than 150 submissions.

“There’s been a lot of very substantive and thought-out responses,” Levin said. “We’re reading them as they come in. So far, we’re really getting a sense of what it means to be a contingent faculty.”

Miller first raised the idea of the forum earlier this month, at the education committee’s most recent hearing. At that hearing, several contingent workers testified that the Affordable Care Act could have the unintended consequence of hurting part-time faculty. Many adjuncts will see their teaching loads forcibly reduced by colleges seeking to limit part-timers’ working hours to less than 30 per week, the law's threshold for requiring employers to provide health insurance to employees.

In response to the adjuncts’ testimony, Miller said, “I think Congress should be taking a serious look at this phenomenon.”

Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority, an advocacy group for contingent faculty members, was among those to testify. She applauded Miller’s response.

“Rep. Miller is first national politician to see this as a problem that needs to be addressed,” Maisto said, noting state representatives in Ohio and Colorado had been vocal. “And what’s interesting to me is that this seems to be an issue that cuts across party lines. So, to us, this is all very exciting.”

Yet many adjuncts still wonder if anything will come of Miller’s interest in their labor struggles. “This is our chance for redress,” said Ana Fores Tamayo, an instructor in Texas, on Twitter, before sounding a more skeptical note. “Let’s see if they’re more than talk, talk, talk.”

Image: Courtesy of Congressman George Miller.

Sydni Dunn is a staff reporter at Vitae. Find her on Twitter at @SydniDunn.

Announcing Vitae's New Discussion Groups!

Want to swap strategies and share insights with other academics?

Sign up for Vitae and join the conversation in one of our new discussion groups: Adjunct Life, Flexible Academics, On Scholarly Writing, or Advising in Academia.

Join Vitae Signing up is fast, easy, and free.

Join the Conversation

Log In or Sign Up to leave a comment.
  • A year ago, almost to the day, I worried in public that without Congressional or some kind of "celebrity" support, our most important message -- work conditions = learning conditions -- would get lost in the endless back and forth between admin claims of "bankruptcy" and the necessity of contingency and faculty cries for help across a range of issues including compensation, governance, health care, and so forth. The clear bi-partisan interest when coupled with decades of data, testimony, and unyielding tenacity could mark this moment as the season when the tide turned in favor of the adjuncts who continue to journey from brokenness to community (Jean Vanier). Thank you, Maria, Anna, and countless advocates as well as the leadership at Chronicle for continuing to report our stories, speak truth to power, and battle to renew American Higher Education.

    Dr. Robert "Migrant Intellectual" Baum
    Dr. Robert "Migrant Intellectual" Baum
  • When the state college CEO of the year pays 75% of his faculty (adjuncts) a below minimum wage of $1600/16 wks. of work while paying himself two salaries of $527,000 AFTER retiring, and this state college president names buildings after a state rep who has been destroying the South Florida environment and water supply since the 1990s, and that Indian River State College then violates the Florida Constitution, Florida Statutes, and Code of Ethics, AND that evidence is covered up by Florida Governor and Medicaid and Medicare thief Rick Scott's Inspectors General, and while that state college further violates the United States Code and tramples on adjunct individual constitutional rights, IT IS HIGH TIME for a joint federal investigation of America's state college systems and state college trustees. I call on the United States Departments of Justice, Education, and Labor to stand up for America's contingent and adjunct professors who work for starvation wages without health care and representation in faculty senates. Corruption has come to America's state colleges and the people of the states are finding their tax funds are being used to suppress the constitutional rights of adjunct and contingent professors. Adjuncts should stop being segregated and treated as second class citizens. Corrupt patronage has replaced promotion by merit in American higher education. Thank you to NPR, MSNBC, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and everyone in the United States Congress and federal agencies who do not want to see professors join fast food and WalMart workers striking.

    Reid Friedson
    Reid Friedson
  • I have been working as an adjunct for 20 years. I have three college degrees and I would make more money flipping burgers at McDonald's than I do teaching at two different community colleges. Adjuncts at these colleges attend professional development meetings each semester, but receive no real compensation for giving up three to four hours of their time. Why not? Because these meetings are considered part of our commitment to the college. Yet we are paid for contact hours - the hours that we are in the classroom. I spend hours and hours grading papers but that is on MY time. Now TRS (Teachers Retirement System) has passed a ruling (due to the Affordable Healthcare Act) that indicates that when calculating the hours an adjunct works a ratio of 2:1 is used...this means that for every contact hour there is a prep hour and adjuncts can work no more than 18 hours a week...but the colleges only PAY for the contact hours. Also, working at more than one college can put an adjunct over the 18 hour a week limit. And anything over the 18 hours or three classes (total for all colleges one works at) is considered full time. Why? Because the colleges pay into TRS for retirement benefits. Confused yet? But if I worked at McDonald's part time and Burger King part time (they pay into Social Security) it is not full time. So now I am left to scramble to figure out how to pay the bills...ah, the benefits of a college education...NOT! And let's not forget benefits...there are none. if I want health insurance I pay the full cost. I do not earn vacation days. As adjuncts we deal with administrators that have not been in a classroom since they left college, yet they are the ones making the policies as to what happens in the classroom. When a local community college changed their name it cost over $400,000 to replace the signage...yet adjuncts at this same college make $1846 a semester (16 weeks) per class. The priorities need to change! Higher Education is losing those qualified teachers because they can no longer "afford" to work at less than minimum wage. Of course I am simply preaching to the choir because adjuncts know all this. We deal with these situations on a daily basis but we need to rise up and demand above poverty wages so we no longer have to work at multiple institutions just to pay the bills.

    Ranne Freese
    Ranne Freese