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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?

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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

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 …

thanksgiving-food-drive-copy1

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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