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October 2016

Too Many Tricks, Not Enough Treats

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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 …

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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!

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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
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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

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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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