Last year, I went into my local art supply store and bought paper on the school account for my class. "You're a professor?" asked the young man who rang up my purchases. "That's my goal, it's the dream, right?" I told him I was not a professor exactly; I was an adjunct professor, which meant that I didn't know from semester to semester if I would be rehired. "How long have you been there, teaching?" I told him ten years. He was surprised. At the time, I told him I was lucky, in a way, because in the past four year I've been assigned a class each semester. Now, it seems reasonable to expect I'll continue, but still hard to know for sure. I told him that my first job out of college was in an art supply store. "What you probably want is to be a tenured professor." Those are hard jobs to get.
Fall 2014, the non-ranked faculty (all of whom are non-tenured) at our school voted to join the union SEIU Local 1021, and we are negotiating a contract in the hopes that we can be compensated for our unpaid work and time (prep, meetings, extra events, panels, exhibitions, etc.), health care, and can be guaranteed job security, among other things. Is this so much to ask?
When I worked at the art supply store, and later at a bookstore, I could pay half and get health care. I got a 40% discount on things I needed and/or wanted. I knew my schedule, got regular reviews and raises, and knew I would be working there as long as I liked, pretty much. I had more job security then. But that was in the 1980s.
Something has changed. Workers are not as valued: some are seen as interchangeable or disposable. Schedules are flung about. Human rights are not as important as profit. And many people can barely subsist on their pay. It's easy to ignore when it isn't you or someone you love. But it isn't right.
I'm thinking now about the future generation of teachers. What happens when art students want to become professors? What will their working conditions be like? Social Justice is touted as a new cause. Let's see it in action.