It has been over a year now that adjunct professors in conjunction with SEIU Local 1021 have been negotiating a first contract at California College of the Arts (longer for those at San Francisco Art Institute). We turned in a full set of proposals last August that detailed 1-3 year contracts (most of us are semester to semester) job security (we can be let go at any time) and healthcare benefits (only available to those who teach a certain number of classes), and although we have made some progress, we are still waiting for management's response to those substantive issues. We are told they will come soon.
The Open Engagement conference, with a pre-conference symposium co-sponsored and held at CCA, was held last weekend at the Oakland Museum of California, and many adjunct faculty, students, and alumni turned out to voice support and to point out the hypocrisy of art colleges that speak of social justice, yet don't follow up at home. Ironically, the topic of the conference was "power."
In the book The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide To Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job by Karen Kelsky (2015), she writes in a chapter called, "Leaving the Cult" that all the work an adjunct does: the service to the college, the devotion to the students, the loyalty, "will be rewarded with permanent employment at that institution (virtually zero possibility)." She is right. No matter what we do, we are expected to keep doing it, but are rarely rewarded for it. We love our job, we love the students, we have a passion for our subjects, and universities exploit that love. Most of us are asked to do work beyond normal prep and teaching and student conferences for no additional pay. We are not compensated for overtime; we are asked to work for free. Kelsky writes, "Unionization is one critical alternative in this process…virtually the only thing that has ever effectively intervened in adjunct exploitation at a collective level." There is power in a union.