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Adjunct Faculty Must Create Their Own Foundation

Posted on Wednesday June 27, 2012 by Michael Keathley

Have you ever had an idea in the back of your mind for years, one you’ve even shared with colleagues; yet, you haven’t taken any action on it? Meanwhile, a problem persists that could in part be alleviated had action on the idea been taken.

When I recently rediscovered Pablo Eisenberg’s article entitled, “Plight of Adjunct Faculty Needs More Attention from Foundations” in The Chronicle of Philanthropy (6 May, 2010), I knew it was time to share this idea with my global audience and to advocate putting this into practice regionally, nationally, and perhaps even worldwide.

It’s time for adjunct faculty to take the financial bull by the horns and create their own foundation to improve their situation.

The Need
Eisenberg stated the problem well: “The caste system in higher education damages the entire nonprofit world, and charities and foundations should seek to end it” (6 May, 2010). The fact that many postsecondary institutions classify themselves as “non-profits” and that many garner both financial and in-kind donations to support their mission from both individuals and various foundations means that for the most part, colleges and universities are a part of the philanthropic world.

Within this context, schools should meet the criteria for what defines a non-profit organization: “A nonprofit corporation is a special type of corporation that has been organized to meet specific tax-exempt purposes. To qualify for nonprofit status, your corporation must be formed to benefit: (1) the public, (2) a specific group of individuals, or (3) the membership of the nonprofit” (2012). According to the Foundation Center, non-profit organizations should exhibit sound characteristics that “include a vital mission, clear lines of accountability, adequate facilities, reliable and diverse revenue streams, and high-quality programs and services” (2012).

However, as Eisenberg explains, postsecondary institutions do not meet the criteria or characteristics of a non-profit when it comes to adjunct faculty treatment because colleges:

• “Employ more than 580,000 part-time faculty…who are paid far lower wages than their full-time tenured faculty colleagues and are rarely given health or retirement benefits or administrative support for their teaching.”

• Employ another 230,000 as full-time adjuncts with slightly better salaries and possible some weak benefits, but are still far behind their tenured peers financially and in terms of support and status.

• Pay adjuncts mostly for the hours they are in the classroom and not for hours spent preparing lessons, grading papers, pursuing professional development, etc.

• Compensate adjuncts at a rate of $1,800-$3,000 per course on average, with most adjuncts averaging about $20,000 per year. [Note: The federal poverty level for a family of four is $22,350 and the National Center for Children in Poverty sets the annual income at twice amount just to cover basic expenses.]

• Force adjuncts to teach at multiple institutions to survive, which in turn, lessens their ability to give quality instruction to students.

• Deny adjuncts some academic freedom, bargaining rights, dismissal appeals, etc.

• Foster a sense of fear that impedes the sort of risk-taking and creativity that is a characteristic of true teaching because part-time instructors must worry about offending a student(s), a resulting low evaluation, and possible non-renewal of their teaching contract for the next term.

• Take complete advantage of adjuncts. The part-time faculty makes up 80% of the community college faculty in the U.S.

• Cater to top executives like the 24 college presidents in the U.S. who make more than $1 million per year plus benefits.(6 May, 2010)

Given the situation that Eisenberg describes, is it any wonder that he refers to adjuncts as “untouchables” (6 May, 2010) or that I have often heard part-time faculty call themselves “adjunk” and “indentured servants”?

The glimmer of hope Eisenberg offers is to share that in 2009, the New Faculty Majority (NFM) was founded with the goal of righting the wrongs of the adjunct situation (6 May, 2010). The organization is a non-profit 501 (c) (3):

“dedicated to improving the quality of higher education by advancing professional equity and securing academic freedom for all adjunct and contingent faculty. For this purpose, NFM engages in education and advocacy to provide economic justice and academic equity for all college faculty. NFM is committed to creating stable, equitable, sustainable, non-exploitative academic environments that promote more effective teaching, learning, and research” (NFM, Mission Statement, 2012).

Over the last few years, the NFM has made progress, offering virtual and face-to-face resources and communication opportunities to help unite disenfranchised adjunct faculty voices. Likewise, the NFM continues to network with other part-time faculty advocacy groups like the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor.

The NFM and other such movements clearly need more support to succeed in their non-profit mission to help adjuncts. One only needs to read Modern Language Association (MLA) President Michael Berube’s recent remarks about the NFM gathering in Washington, D.C., on January 28, 2012, at the very same time and hotel as the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) to understand the monumental work and assistance needed from adjunct faculty and their supporters (January 2012).

Similarly, having been a faculty assembly president at a large community college who worked hard to improve working conditions at our institution for part-time faculty, I have two main concerns. Very few adjuncts got involved with the faculty assembly for fear of reprisals by the administration in spite of their long list of concerns and passionate speeches about the way they should be treated. A similar aura of intimidation may be plaguing other organizations like the NFM in terms of participation and membership. Also, while waging this long war to win better working conditions for adjuncts, part-time faculty need to survive. They deserve more immediate relief.

Given the immediacy of adjunct faculty working in poverty level conditions, and the constant threat that they may face employment gaps of various durations, adjunct faculty must form local and national (perhaps global?) foundations with the mission to help their group survive. Going back to the legal definition of a non-profit as well as the ideal characteristics cited at the beginning of this post, adjunct faculty certainly possess the talent needed to pool their respective areas of knowledge together and form non-profit organizations to help their specific group. For example, adjunct faculty in legal studies could assist with the laws to establish and set up a 501 (c) (3) while composition faculty could assist with writing grants and proposals for donations. Marketing faculty could assist with promoting the cause. Generally, part-time faculty focused on helping to provide for the basic needs—food, clothing, and shelter—for adjunct faculty and their families should not feel afraid that administrators will view this activity negatively.

While the larger war is fought by groups such as the NFM, other foundations are geared toward helping adjuncts survive must be established. Generals wouldn’t launch a battle without a strong supply line, and adjunct faculty must create their own if their situation is going to get better. The Foundation Center provides an easy step-by-step guide toward establishing a non-profit as well as a searchable database of potential donors. Most public libraries also have a non-profit center that includes access to this database as well as support in establishing a non-profit organization.

The need and the talent are there. The time is now for adjunct faculty to establish their own foundation(s) to aid their survival. Hopefully, in the near future, part-time faculty will be living well above the poverty line, fully engaged in the life of the university community, and respected by society.

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