A Thanksgiving Toast: Here’s to San Precario (Saint Precarious)

precarious-university-uc-santa-cruz-lecturers-picket-1Is it strange to toast a fictional character during a family dinner? I say no, especially if the character symbolizes the kind of precarious work situations most adjuncts face in order to even have Thanksgiving. Since you’re already providing the food, perhaps San Precario can provide some food for thought.

San Precario, the patron saint of precarious, casual, temporary, fractional workers, first appeared in Milan, Italy in 2004, taking the form of a fast food worker. Sometimes appearing as male, sometimes as female, (Santa Precaria), the saint’s purpose is to create a visual iconography of the increasing casualization of the workforce, i.e., the administrative trend of adjunctification currently threatening America’s halls of higher education.

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The saint is sometimes depicted with multiple arms representing the multiplicity of casual contracts and jobs as well as to represent that, through necessity, casual workers develop multiple skills and juggle several jobs in order to survive. References to the workers’ martyrdom are held in the hands: For adjuncts, they might hold the employment page from a newspaper, a syllabus, fast food and car keys (or bus fare). San Precario may appear as a teacher, a temporary office worker, a supermarket employee, maintenance worker, or professional mom trying to handle her work responsibilities while breastfeeding her infant.

Visual symbols inspire comment and conversation, and can promote public awareness of the changing working conditions of part-time teaching professionals as well as other workers. So, as we enter a season filled with parades and gatherings, wouldn’t it be nice if San Precario showed up at a couple of your local events to help raise public awareness of what’s happening to the faculty at America’s colleges and universities? How can adjuncts and students at your university conjure the saint and what information might his/her presence provide?

So, as you’re toasting symbols of gratitude, love and abundance this Thanksgiving, take a moment to acknowledge San Precario and show respect to the legions of people s/he represents.


Can You Handle the Truth?


Adjuncts and graduate students, like most Americans, are optimistic to a fault, even to the point of doing themselves a great disservice.

Take, for example, tax protections for the inordinately wealthy. Many Americans vote to keep them in place and elect officials who trash the already suffering middle class in order to protect the top 2%. Americans don’t take a stronger stance against the widening income gap because their optimism has them convinced that they are one lucky break, one entrepreneurial idea, or one winning lottery ticket away from joining their ranks.

optimisticSimilarly, adjuncts and graduate students frequently step back from making waves in academia’s waters or ruffling the feathers of administrators for fear it will inhibit their chances of making tenure. And, of course, they never fight to end tenure and put everyone on a level playing field because they want to believe they’re one meritorious achievement from being granted tenure themselves.

It’s time for a reality check. Do you think you can handle the truth? Here it is:

You’re not going to get tenure!

Tenured professors are, at best, an endangered species and their numbers dwindle more with each year. Currently, they make up only 30% of higher education’s faculty and a percentage of that number are, in all reality, more administrator than teacher. The “top-down” management style that permeates America’s colleges and universities values administrators over teachers and enjoys keeping faculty in check by stripping it of job security. Plus, part-time labor can be paid less and isn’t entitled to benefits.

College presidents used to come from backgrounds of scholarship and public service. They viewed higher education as an opportunity to teach young adults about the world they’d soon inherit, train then to think critically, then send them out in hopes they’d make the world a better place. Research and scholarship, both seen as essential to the greater good, were revered.

keep-calm-and-get-ready-to-fight-2Today’s college and university presidents and the administrators they hire are a very different breed. Many have corporate backgrounds and are more focused on increased profits than the common good. Students are customers and the job of faculty is to give those customers the basic services needed as the customers pay their way to a “skills certificate.” Research and scholarship matter only when tied to large grants or opportunities for intellectual property copyrights.

The American public just gave control of the federal government to a party that is noted for its love of corporate elites, Wall Street banks and hedge funds, and union-busting politicians. Where in that quagmire will academics have an opportunity to rise without a fight?

And so, my instructor friends, it’s time to accept this truth: In administrators’ eyes, you are a way to a means. Admin loves that they can get highly-educated professors at a bargain-basement price. They don’t care that you have multiple jobs or that you struggle to pay rent and feed your kids. Admin doesn’t care that you’re one bad medical diagnosis from being ruined and dying in abject poverty. They’re just happy they can get caring people to work part-time with no benefits. Admin doesn’t care that students drop out at a higher rate when adjuncts don’t have time and resources to meet with them and provide guidance. They just rack up the tuition and living expenses already paid then move on.

 Admin sees adjuncts and students like tissues in a box – if you pull one out and toss it away, another will pop up.

So, if you stay silent and avoid taking a stand because you’re afraid you’ll blow your chance for tenure, hear this: It’s already blown! Your only worth is how much you save admin, not how talented or cooperative you are.

The world you’re in now is the only world you’ll have.

Isn’t it time to stand up and fight to make it better?

protest   article-2634772-1e0fb39e00000578-470_634x393great-photo-of-the-demo

“Thank An Adjunct” – Food Drive Edition


Even if you’ve decided there isn’t enough time to plan an Adjunct Food Drive before Thanksgiving of 2016, there are other upcoming holidays and there’s always next year. Food drives can be valuable, not only for the people they feed, because they provide an opportunity for the following:

  • Develop community involvement
  • Raise awareness
  • Gain press attention
  • Educate those outside academia

So, think about the other opportunities for a food drive in the coming year … winter holidays, Valentine’s Day, maybe even Mardi Gras.


Should you pursue a Food Drive, here’s a step-by-step guide to help you through the process.

  • Form your team. Make sure you have at least a couple collaborators to share responsibilities.
  • Decide on a date and specific hours for collection. And, have a back-up plan in case of bad weather.
  • Find a place for the drop-off.
  • Figure out where you can store the food and prepare it for distribution. You’ll also want to think about gathering boxes or bags.
  • Promotion (see separate section below)
  • Make and distribute flyers, posters, etc.
  • Recruit volunteers for the day of the event. You’ll want folks collecting and organizing food plus you’ll want someone ready to talk to administrators, press, etc. An additional suggestion … Find a way to make it fun. Gather artists, musicians, dancers … folks who’ll give a carnival feel to the event and draw attention to it.
  • Make signage for the event. Make sure people can see what the event is and where it’s taking place.
  • Create thank you notes for donors.
  • Sort food.
  • Distribute food …pictures are important.
  • Send thank you notes to your volunteers.
  • Follow up with the press – send pictures from food sorting and distribution.

More on Publicity …

Gathering food for adjuncts in need is at the heart of this food drive, but there’s another purpose for planning an event such as this … publicity for the cause. Anything that gets the attention of the press and public that drives attention to the issues adjunct and students face in higher education is important.

  • When creating print collateral (flyers or posters) or press releases, be sure to include statistics: Make sure people know that adjuncts make up over 70% of higher education faculty and that the percentage is growing.
  • Include the fact 1 in 5 adjuncts live below the poverty line while facing student loan debt and trying to support families.
  • Make sure people know that 25% of adjunct faculty depend on some sort of public assistance to get by.

Contact your local media. The newspaper, television and radio are great. Don’t forget local bloggers or podcasters and the school paper. Send press releases to national media as well. If NPR, CBS, MSNBC, Democracy Now, VICE and other media outlets get multiple releases from multiple schools, they’ll start to take notice.

Contact organizations who are already in place to support adjuncts. Get to know both national and state / local organizations that stand with you and might offer some form of support, even if it’s just a Tweet or some advice. New Faculty Majority, Faculty Forward, PrecariCorps, SEIU, Fight for 15 … we have a lot of brothers and sisters in the trenches and need to take time to communicate with them and find ways to help each other.

The bottom line for a Food Drive or any act of activism is to stand up for current and future adjuncts and, but doing so, to improve higher education for everyone. We won’t move forward if we’re afraid to step up or to ask for help. Together, however, we stand strong and can make a difference.

Your ideas and experience are always welcome. Make this a conversation by commenting, reblogging, and talking on social media.

And THANK YOU to all adjunct professors!


Too Many Tricks, Not Enough Treats


In keeping with this season of tricks and treats, let’s take a look at which of the two seems to be winning in the academic community and how that might be used to adjuncts’ advantages.

Realistically, it’s obvious that tricks have abounded this fall. Teachers showed up for the first day of school at Long Island University to discover they’d been locked out … Ohio State University English adjuncts were told their contracts were NFG then updated with a fun little update of, “Oops, just kidding … everything’s fine.” … Then there’s the City College of New York president who cut budgets by more than 14%, perhaps to distract from her $150K in financial misconduct. Let’s face it, the devils and gremlins are taking their tricks seriously this year.

So, where are the treats?

Sure I get that the phrase is “trick OR treat,” but that doesn’t mean it always has to be tricks, right? I’ll hand it to Admin – they’re the ultimate tricksters. They keep adjuncts on the edge of their seats until the last minute, wondering if they’ll receive a contract. Admin flaunts wealth while adjuncts work multiple jobs and/or depend on public assistance to make ends meet. Admin spends tens of thousands of dollars on high-end office furniture while adjuncts hold office hours out of the trunks of their cars. So, when is enough enough? When does a balance get struck, when do treats come into play? To paraphrase John Lennon, “Give treats a chance.”

bookshelf-ghostOr is our reality that adjuncts get the tricks and admin gets the treats? If that’s the only offer on the table, maybe it’s time the table gets turned. Maybe it’s time that adjuncts come up with some tricks of their own. Yes, adjuncts are smart and creative … and they’re pissed. Their dedication has been used against them, so maybe it’s time to turn that focus toward self-preservation.

Maybe it’s time for a year of adjunct-led tricks … a year of activism with some lols thrown in … starting now.

One issue is that adjuncts and their plight seem invisible. They’re ghosts haunting the hallowed halls of academia. Maybe it’s time to throw some light on them so the public is more aware of what’s going on.

Here’s my idea for a 30-day trick that could lead to a treat …


Organize a “Thank an Adjunct Food Drive” to be held from Halloween through Thanksgiving. Get students and their parents involved – include art and music; make it festive. Make flyers announcing the drive and explaining the poverty plaguing adjuncts. Pass them around at school, put them in the windows of local shops. Ask admin to let you set up a collection area in a visible area of campus. Whether they allow it or not, an opportunity is presented. Why? Because the next phase involves going to the local press, asking them for support, explaining the when and, especially, the why. If admin allows you a spot, make it as visible as possible with signs and volunteers doing the collecting. If admin refuses you a spot, go to local stores or libraries to request a space and make sure they, the press and the public know why you’re taking the drive off campus. Create something to give to those who donate – a grateful note of thanks and information on the treatment of adjuncts in your community.

Then, take pictures of the result, both during collection and after the “treat” has been collected. Perhaps adjuncts get together to share a meal of thanks, maybe food is distributed and there are photos of family meals. Providing follow-up is essential, both to show your gratitude and to remind the press and public why your “trick” was necessary.

What are your ideas for acts of activism adjuncts can create and participate in over the coming year?

Happy Halloween!

Coico and CCNY: How Could Something So Right Go So Wrong?

On Friday, October 7th, CCNY President Lisa S. Coico abruptly resigned her position at the City College of New York, effective immediately, after the New York Times contacted officials regarding her administration’s handling of around $150K of her personal expenses.

As we all face issues with the corporate mindset overthrowing and contaminating the methods by which colleges and universities are run, many opine (including me) that things would be better if administrators, especially presidents, were recruited from within academia rather than the corporate sector. Many of us are of the opinion that academicians would be more caring and honest if given the opportunity to oversee an institution of higher education. At least we used to think that … before Lisa Coico.

Coico attended CCNY. In fact, she was the first alum to serve as president in the college’s 140-year history. Before her appointment, she had an impressive history of research, specializing in microbiology and immunology, and teaching. In addition, she was an experienced admin, having served as the Cornell Medical College Associate Dean for two years then their Vice-Provost of External Affairs, Government Agencies and Professional Associations while directing the Tri-Institutional MD-PhD Program. In 2004, she left Cornell to become the Dean of the New York State College of Human Ecology, a position she held until leaving to become Provost and Chief Academic Officer at Temple University.

In 2010, Coico accepted the position at City College, with the understanding that she would expand the school’s science program and continue the strong fundraising that had become the hallmark of predecessor Gregory H. Williams. She got a sweet deal – a base salary of $400K plus perks, including a $7.5K per month housing allowance. That’s pretty great, even by New York standards. Not long after she took the helm, however, criticism began over her handling of fiscal matters and her strained relationship with the faculty.

Coico had a strong partner to help manage fundraising, the 21st Century Foundation, a non-profit that was employed as the college’s main fundraising vehicle. Somewhere along the way, however, that relationship went in a wrong direction. According to the New York Times, the foundation paid for some of Coico’s personal expenses, including furniture, housekeeping expenses, even fancy fruit baskets.

The question being investigated is whether Coico’s expenses were accurately recorded and whether some had been misrepresented.On October 9th, CCNY said it’s seeking a “comprehensive investigation” by the state.

According to an email between two school officials, the college itemized $155K of her spending into three categories: “college,” “personal,” and “iffy.” She was asked to return $51K of funds received because she didn’t receive approval prior to moving to New York.  She was asked to return an additional $20K that she used for the security deposit on a Larchmont apartment.  And, she was told that the $50K in furniture she purchased with school money was, indeed, property of the school. Apparently, she didn’t return the $20k used for the deposit, even when her landlord returned it to her after she and her husband purchased a home in Westchester City in 2013. It’s alleged that a lawyer representing the college instructed Coico to return the money in question, but the school discovered that she hadn’t returned all of the funds despite her claim to the contrary.

Lisa Coico seems to fit the profile of the ideal college president with a strong academic background and, it appears, no corporate ties. So, what went wrong? Does money and power corrupt so quickly and thoroughly? Is the answer limiting the amount of time someone can spend in college administration or is that more incentive for admins to grab what profits they can before leaving their post? I don’t know about you, but I’m left scratching my head, wondering how something so right went so wrong.

Why the Adjunct Crisis is Everyone’s Business

by Rita Lilly, @New95 Associate, October 6. 2016

Unless you’re directly connected to an institution of higher learning, it’s easy to ignore the crisis adjunct professors are currently experiencing. In truth, it should hold meaning and cause concern for everyone. Here’s why.

First, let’s look at how it affects students and how they, in turn, affect society as a whole.

Many of us have fond memories of in-depth discussions with a professor after class, some of which took a complete departure from the class topic. For some of us, that marked the beginning of seeing ourselves as adults and learning to interact with others on an adult level. Today’s adjuncts rarely have time for those encounters. Most must run from the classroom to travel to another part of town for a second or third job. Since they’re not provided office space, meetings that do take place are held in a busy hallway or on the way to the parking lot. When adjuncts are denied offices and storage, they frequently try to organize reference materials and student records in the trunks of their cars (if they can afford cars).

According to the Delphi Project, which studies how the changing face of faculty affects student success, students taught primarily by adjuncts and, therefore, who miss out on the extra time and attention they need, are much more likely to drop out of school than those with access to instructors. That presents the country as a whole with a generation of under-educated young adults who’ll face a harder time finding work (and, perhaps, moving out of their parents’ homes).

Another important memory from my own college years is being challenged by my professors, being forced to objectively examine and sometimes abandon lifelong ways of thinking. I was taught critical thinking skills and the importance of presenting a cogent argument in order to defend my beliefs. In today’s colleges and universities, adjuncts have absolutely no job security. Being offered a contract for the next semester depends, in part, on student evaluations. If a professor is too challenging or a class is too difficult, students can sway admin toward foregoing a contract renewal. With that in mind, some professors understandably choose to lob softballs at students, keeping challenging materials and subject matter to a minimum in order to protect their employment.

We’re creating a generation of college graduates who are ill-prepared for the requirements and rebuttals of real world careers. In truth, almost half or college grads feel unready to head into the workplace, and 43% of employers agree. And, do I even need to mention that these 20-somethings, who haven’t been asked to make hard decisions or think critically while matriculating will be asked to step into voting booths to help decide critical issues and elect officials that will affect the future of the entire country?

Maybe the arguments stated to this point still haven’t convinced you that you need to care. Well, maybe you’ll care when you realize that it hits your wallet … hard.

1 in 4 adjunct professors need at least one form of public assistance. That means your tax dollars are being used to subsidize fat cat college presidents who collect six- to seven-figure salaries while paying professors so little that they’re forced to turn to food stamps, Medicare and other social services. Current estimates are that public services for adjuncts and their families cost taxpayers around $468-million per year. Whether you’re in college or have a child at a university, you’re paying the price of letting administrators teach higher education like a neighborhood Walmart. Be honest, would you pay tens of thousands of dollars to send your kid to Walmart for college? Is that the level of university education from which you want to get your next generation of employees? If not, maybe you should start paying attention to what’s going on with adjuncts.


Family Weekend Revealed


Ah, Family Weekend … The highly anticipated 3-day adventure to see how our kids are settling into dorm life and classes!

As with tour weeks for high school seniors, campuses strive to put their best foot forward in hopes of attracting and retaining their customers. Did the word customer bother you at all? If not, it should have.

A change has occurred in higher education across the US. You see, where your freshman child used to be seen as a student to be challenged, molded into a critically thinking, well-rounded builder of futures, they’re now seen as a customer to be retained for maximum cash flow in exchange for a diploma earned with minimal financial and resource expenditure on the part of the college / university administration.

I know, you’re thinking, “Well, maybe at some schools, but not ours.” Here are a few indicators to consider:

–          Does the school’s president come from academia or industry?

–          Does the school’s web page and brochure focus on fancy dorm facilities, a mall-worthy food court, state-of-the-art athletics facilities and shiny new buildings underwritten by large corporations?

–          How many of your child’s professors are adjuncts? (In most schools, you’ll find that 70-80% of instructors for undergrads aren’t tenured professors. If your child is at a community college or a for-profit university, the number is 100%.)

–          Do the adjuncts have offices? Are they paid enough to be able to have one job or will they be running right after class to teach at a second or even third school just to make ends meet?

–          Compare the president’s salary to that of an adjunct; you’ll quickly see if your chosen school has adopted the top-down management style of large corporations, making sure top administrators are well-paid while allowing a very small portion of the budget to trickle down to adjuncts and the resources they need to educate your child.

Listen, I get that the fancy facilities make a good impression, but we have to understand that they don’t magically appear; someone has to pay for them. That someone is you and your child. You pay for it through ever-rising tuition. Your child pays for it by dealing with underpaid adjuncts, most of whom live below the poverty line and, therefore, hold down several jobs so they can afford to house and feed their own children.

Adjuncts are well-educated professionals with a true passion for teaching. Unfortunately, they’re usually hired per semester with no hope of reaching tenure track. Adjuncts aren’t allowed a voice in discussing the curriculum they teach or the textbooks they use, and they aren’t given basic resources like sample syllabi, access to copy machines or office space in which to hold hours for helping and mentoring students. They show up each day because they’re dedicated educators who do their very best in spite of the horrific pay and conditions administrators provide.

There’s a chance that you’re not getting your money’s worth on a high-ticket item – your child’s future. So, this year, during Family Weekend, please make a point of learning about your child’s professors. And, if they’re adjuncts, please think about becoming a voice that supports them at your child’s school.


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