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.


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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