Somewhere in the top drawer of my dresser is a metal insignia that reads Savoir C’est Pouvoir–Knowledge Is Power. That insignia was given to me by my uncle years ago when he left the 82nd airborne to return to civilian life. He had served for several years as an intelligence officer with his unit and that service was reflected on the insignia he wore on his maroon beret.
What is true for the armed forces is often equally true in other areas of life. In this case the quest to reform the conditions of teaching and learning in higher education. To achieve any kind of victory, it is first necessary to understand what exactly you are up against. Good data can save lives on the battlefield and it can shape for the better (or worse) the future of students and teachers in the college classroom.
The task to gather accurate intelligence on Adjunct labor conditions began with a vengeance last week as Josh Boldt, an Adjunct Professor of English at the University of Georgia and fellow attendee of the New Faculty Majority summit, created a Google docs spreadsheet where Adjunct faculty can list their salaries, benefits, and working conditions. Here for the first time the general public can see in one place how much Adjunct faculty make at institutions throughout the United States and (in some cases) the world. I’ve added my information to the spreadsheet. I’d encourage you to do so as well.
Reading through all the information on the spreadsheet is a bit daunting and at some point it will need analysis and visualization to work as an organizing tool, but I anticipate some great coalition building campaigns emerging from out of this data. Administrator’s can easily dismiss claims based on ethos and pathos but they can’t dismiss the logic of numbers. A quick scan of the data on this sheet shows that the median salary for Adjunct faculty is well below the suggested MLA guidelines and is far lower than the amount needed to sustain oneself let alone a family.
In a recent post to her Inside Higher Education Blog, College Ready Writing, Lee Bessette extols the benefits of this “crowdsourced” project on behalf of Adjuncts everywhere and I am inclined to agree with her. My only quibble is with her use of the word “hero.”
At the New Faculty Majority summit I was frequently the annoying pragmatist who pointed out the need for data and clear talking points not simply to push our adversaries back on their heels but also to energize the people we hope to form into a coalition to change higher education. Call it lamenting, kvetching, carping, whatever you like–the fact remains, I have been witness to and participant in ALOT of failed organizing campaigns. I’d like to think that I have learned something from those experiences and what I was saying came from that perspective.
We don’t need heroes in the quest to reform higher education. Instead we need patience, perseverance, and clarity of vision. These are the qualities that inspired Srdja Popovic in his campaign to topple Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic and later guided uprisings in places such as Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya.
Let’s not kid ourselves. The status quo works for the people in power. If it didn’t, contingent labor wouldn’t be expanding and it wouldn’t be invisible to the general public. To make it stop working will require thousands of micro-strikes against it rather than one dramatic lunge. We are small but mighty. Non-violent guerilla war against corporate higher education has begun.