Sydni Dunn

Staff Reporter at The Chronicle of Higher Education

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

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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 (The names of faculty members who submit comments will not be published without permission.)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.

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