Adjunct faculty worked with their PSC chapters to organize campus actions during National Adjunct Action Week, February 23-27. Through local events across CUNY, organizers sought to make the university community more aware of the PSC’s contract demands on behalf of part-time workers, to increase adjunct membership in the union and to educate adjuncts and continuing education teachers about their rights and benefits.
The week was inspired by the call for a National Adjunct Walkout Day on February 25, advanced early last fall by an adjunct writing instructor at San Jose State University. Inside Higher Ed was reporting that the idea “is gaining traction on social media,” particularly via the hashtag #NAWD.
New York State’s Taylor Law bans strikes by public employees, including CUNY faculty, and imposes steep penalties on those who walk off the job. So here and in some other areas across the country, organizers broadened the call to a “National Adjunct Action Week,” planning events and actions from teach-ins to tabling, from speak-outs to tweet-a-thons.
That last idea was taken up by the PSC chapter at Hunter College, where activists invited students and full-timers to take to Twitter in support of adjunct equity. “Demand better pay, job security and respect for your adjunct teachers and colleagues,” the Hunter PSC’s flyer stated, urging that tweets on these themes be sent to CUNY Chancellor J.B. Milliken. “My English professor for the past two semesters is an adjunct, and I have never had a better teacher. @jbmilliken #AdjunctsNeedARaise” read one of the resulting messages, all of them pro-adjunct and anti-austerity.
At the Graduate Center, activists from the GC’s growing PSC chapter and the Adjunct Project of the Doctoral Student Council leafleted colleagues and the public with a flyer condemned CUNY’s two-tier labor system and called for change. An eye-catching banner prepared by the Adjunct Project laid out some basic statistics about the two-tier labor regime: “Adjunct faculty = 59% of CUNY faculty….But adjunct faculty earn only 29%-39% of what full-time faculty earn per course.”
“We had about 30 folks out there, with a good mix of people,” said Luke Elliott-Negri, a member of the PSC chapter’s executive committee and an Adjunct Project coordinator. “Graduate employees, adjuncts, full-timers, HEOs – and a few members of other AFT locals who came in support.” The banner helped draw attention to flyers prepared by the union and the Adjunct Project, he said: “We made a good impact.”
The banner used at the GC raised consciousness in a different way at Hostos Community College later the same week. Adjunct activist Emelyn Tapaoan took it around to nearly a dozen classes, and took pictures – perfect for posting online – of adjuncts and their students holding the banner up together (see photo at left).
When students read the stark facts laid out on the banner, “they just said, ‘Wow!’” Tapaoan told Clarion. “They were really shocked. I think even their teachers were surprised at the students’ reactions, at how sympathetic they were.” Then Tapaoan delivered her message: ‘OK,’ I would tell them. ‘Now I would like to request for you to come out in solidarity with us, and come to the event we are having later this week.’” Tapaoan herself could not attend the event – because she was scheduled to teach at another CUNY campus at the same time.
Taking the banner around “helped create an awareness of ‘who we are,’” Tapaoan told Clarion. “And people got more actively involved than if I just made an announcement.”
At other CUNY campuses, PSC chapters hosted town hall meetings or set up tables to distribute leaflets and buttons. Some even handed out roses (following the time-honored union slogan, “We Want Bread – and Roses, Too”). Across the University, the events for National Adjunct Action sought to raise awareness – not as an end in itself, but as fuel for action.