In order to address the ever increasing costs of running institutions of higher education while experiencing a reduction in government support for public higher education, colleges all across the nation have shifted from relying mostly on full-time tenured faculty to teach the majority of the courses to relying more on adjunct faculty. At Glendale Community College, only a little over 200 faculty are full-time tenured or tenure-track, while nearly 600 faculty are adjunct.
Although it must be recognized that the circumstances of any given adjunct faculty member varies (e.g., some may have full-time jobs while teaching part-time, etc.), the fact that many of the adjunct faculty depend solely on their wages from teaching, often at several colleges, cannot be ignored. Regardless of what the particular circumstances of an adjunct faculty member may be, colleges across the country, including our own, are able to survive based on the exploitation of adjunct faculty. It is not my intention to point fingers at our administration for this situation because it is largely a systemic problem that must be addressed at the systemic level.
This does not mean that the Administration cannot work with the Guild to ameliorate some of the problems that exist. In fact, unions, including our union local (Glendale College Guild, AFT 2276), have worked tirelessly at the district level to improve the situation for our adjunct sisters and brothers. The difficulty lies in the fact that we cannot ignore the decisions that are made at the state and national levels. This is the primary reason why our union local, in addition to negotiating for changes at the local level, has been advocating for change at the state level. For example, in October of 2014, the Guild wrote a letter to Governor Jerry Brown and copied six key legislators and Chancellor Brice Harris with the subject heading, “Dignity, Equity, and Fairness for Temporary Community College Faculty to Promote Student Success.” Our effort was part of a larger campaign by our union, the California Federation of Teachers, to increase funds to improve salaries, obtain or increase office hour pay, and work on the conversion of existing adjunct faculty to full-time faculty status. Moreover, Guild leaders either individually or as a group have lobbied key legislators to advocate on behalf of adjunct as well as full-time faculty.
I mention this to highlight the importance of a strong, united, and active union that can be galvanized to have an impact on state level decisions. Our effort to pass Proposition 30 was an example of what can be done when we get together and focus our energy. Unfortunately, Proposition 30 was necessary but not sufficient. Moreover, it will end on December 31, 2016. Needless to say, the California Federation of Teachers is hard at work to come up with reasonable and effective ideas to ensure much needed resources after Proposition 30 expires.
This is where we all come into play. The power of the union lies in its members. However, to exert our power, we must not sit on the sidelines and be passive observers. We must become informed and active members who effectively participate as individuals as well as part of a larger organization to bring forth the changes that we know are necessary for a fair, just, and democratic society. In essence, we must, like in the past, become a workers’ movement.
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