Thursday, April 14, 2011

Coffee with Richard Boris: Adcons aren't Kids, Separate and Unequal Part II

I came into the CUNY graduate center on Tuesday, about 8:30 in the morning, for the panel on Contingent Faculty: Issues at the Table, which started at 9, and met Richard Boris, Professor of political science at York College (CUNY) and executive director  of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions, which is the organizer of this annual powwow, now in its 38th year. Professor Boris is a nice man and a good New Yorker, which means among other things that he was keen that everybody eat from what was laid out at the breakfast buffet.
Professor Boris had also been keen, in the planning phase of this meeting, to see that adcon faculty—that’s my current term for faculty who are non-tenure-track, of all varieties—be more represented at this year’s conference than at last years, and he was personally kind to me and others in seeing that various extensions be granted so we could get our act together.
So he’s a nice man and now I am going to give him a hard time because I decided I don’t like his sound bite which involves thinking of adcons as unfortunate children in the sense that the system is “like condemning these kids to a succession of foster families rather than real families.”
Actually, Dr. Boris tried that one out on me while I was swilling coffee, and he actually asked me what I thought of it, and I said it’s ok, not bad. I also said I liked mine better which was, more or less, this: “You can’t continue to have faith in higher education when a high proportion of the most highly educated people in the population can’t make a living.”
Ok, so you can see versions of these little bits of wisdom in an article “Separate and Unequal” in Inside Higher Ed, where you’ll find that my little gem is quoted before his, so I win! 
You’d think I’d be satisfied, but I’m not, because, thinking about the whole foster kids idea has made me more and not less grumpy.
I mean, I’m 57 years old for god’s sake! I have a freaking doctorate from a very famous university on a river in New England! If I can stop obsessing about adcons for a bit I might be able to finish a chapter for an invited collection on a North Indian temple, something—what?—to do with my research life of many moons ago.  
Wait, that last thing didn’t have an exclamation point. Here we go-I've been in this damn foster home for more than 20 years! And I was't even a kid when I got sent here in the first place! I have two kids myself! One of them is ready to have children of his own! Why are you talking to me about kids in foster homes?! I don't want anybody else's real family! I've got that covered!
Ok, here’s the scene: the adcons are in the basement? And there are a lot of us, though nobody really knows how many? But whatever, we can see, down here, that there are termites working their way in from somewhere, and working their way up, through the walls. They have briefcases and lawyers, and expensive software, and sharp toothy hardware in their hard managerial mouths. They’re coming up! We know, we can see! And all the faculty, the adcons, the majority, and the non-adcons, the minority, we’re all in the same building: the “real family” isn’t living somewhere else, they’re just living upstairs.
So let’s get with the program, ok? It’s quite true, as a brave Marist adjunct has just Utubed, that “Your-average-college-professor-earns-less-than-a-sanitation-worker,” but for now I guess we need to make the point that sanitation workers aren’t kids. 
And let’s get at least one other non-kid into this piece-Jack Longmate, of Olympic College and New Faculty Majority, who has had the courage and drive to fight back against attempts by his local NEA affiliate—his real family?— when they tried to retaliate against him for advocating adjunct rights. Also, if I may pile on a bit (you were waiting?), the foster kids are not the majority population in real kidworld, thank goodness, but in adcon world, adjuncts and contingents and whatever other categories of non-tenure-track faculty are the majority, and the continuing inability or unwillingness of traditional faculty to deal with this fact in an open and collegial way is one of the main reasons that some people decided, not long ago, that an organization like New Faculty Majority: The national Coalition for Adjunct and Contingent Equity, was necessary.
Now, Professor Boris, really, thank you for the coffee and the sandwiches and I will be back next year.

And what follows is a rehash of something I posted two days ago:


4-13-2011- We had a terrific panel at the 38th Annual National Conference on Collective Bargaining yesterday at the CUNY Grad Center in NYC. Here’s a very good article on our particular panel and on another in re adcon issues—“Separate and Unequal” in Inside Higher Education:

Now I wonder what will appear in CHE?

Briefly, while I just jumped up and down and yelled “adcon exploitation, bad, bad!” others, particularly Holly, Brenda, and Juliette, had really well supported arguments for the different ways that a bad situation has been/might be ameliorated, and that was wonderful.

Contingent Faculty: Issues at the Table
Holly Lawrence, Secretary, Clerk, Massachusetts Society of Professors/Massachusetts Teachers Association/NEA,
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Brenda Appleton, Vice President, Vancouver Community College Faculty Association
Audrey Williams June, reporter, The Chronicle of Higher Education
Juliette Romano, President, UCE of Fashion Institute of Technology/NYSUT/AFT/NEA
Alan Trevithick, founding member, New Faculty Majority: National Coalition for Adjunct & Contingent Equity, Fordham University & Westchester C.C.
Manfred Philipp, former Chair, University Faculty Senate, CUNY
Moderator: Caryl Schiff-Greatorex, Director, Member Services, Connecticut State University/AAUP

The other splendid panel, that I saw, was:

Dual Labor System: Can Higher Education Endure with Such a System?
Mayra Besosa, Campus Lecturer Representative, Co-Chair, Committee on Contingency and the Profession, CFA/AAUP/CTA/NEA/SEIU,
California State University, San Marcos
Barbara Bowen, President, Professional Staff Congress, City University of New York
Robert Samuels, President, University Council/AFT, University of California
Ron Norton Reel, President, Community College Association of California/CTA/NEA
Frank Brooks, Treasurer, Roosevelt Adjunct Faculty Organization/IEA/NEA
Adrienne Eaton, President, Rutgers University, AAUP/AFT
Moderator: Larry Gold, Director, AFT Higher Education, American Federation of Teachers

The answer to that question, BTW, was, yeah, sure, but that would suck, wouldn’t it? I really enjoyed listening to everyone, particularly Frank, who gave a very personal view of what adjunctivitis does to a strong intellect—it makes it more incisive and more amusing—and Mayra, who managed a link to broader human rights values that was both low-key and passionate, which is a marvelous combination—and Bob, who did a lightening quick and absolutely convincing report on how adcons actually enable the whole university and advocated strong adcon (that’s not the right term in his neck of the woods, but close enough) organizing as the only way forward. I also really enjoyed Ron’s deadpan and dead-on analysis of the costs of “for-profit” education, which focused on students but somehow silently highlighted the plight of adjunct and contingent labor in the public sector as well. Neat trick.


  1. The answer to the Dual Labor System question is really Yes, it has, and that sucks, but academia, sucking has become the status quo: sucking is the new learning, we might say. Like Dr. T., I'm in my fifties and have been adjuncting (w/some unavoidable sucking) for decades, and from this vantage point I can see how ingeniously the two-tiered system works. Young adjuncts are honored, eager, passionate, and far to uncertain to object to their learning condition until it's too late. And talking about and treating adjuncts like unfortunate children is key: it confirms that uncertainty and keeps young adjuncts trying extra hard to be validated by a system that's designed never to validate them, only to keep grudgingly assigning them sections. Talk about your neat tricks.

  2. Is this going to come through and why or why not?

  3. Richard Boris was the Unity Caucus candidate to lead PSC-CUNY back when the UC was finally overtaken by Barbara Bowen and the New Caucus. Unity had been in place for so long that I don't think it had ever occurred to RB that he could lose.

    He'd spearheaded the movement to get rid of a thoroughly corrupt President at York, and, were the faculty in higher education still 80% or more tenure-track, with the rest either grad students in training or professionals moonlighting from other careers, he'd be a pretty good union leader. I think he once dreamt of becoming union leader of the AFT--and if everything had taken place thirty years earlier, he might well have done so and overseen a sell-out of higher education identical to the one that took place.

    He is a nice man, or tries very hard to be one, even when receiving justified criticism for his inability to conceive of the higher educational world that he actually find himself in. But unfortunately, he believes that if virtually all of the adjuncts would just quit teaching and do something else instead, the job market would fix everything. There would be so few people willing to teach at universities that universities would be forced to offer tenure and high salaries to keep professors. And in the interim, he will fight for the tenure and high salaries of those like himself, who got while the getting was good in the expanding higher ed. job market of the '60s and '70s.

    If Dr. Boris had to choose between an attractive one-time buy-out package for tenured professors in their 60s or later and another item on the table involving a number of additional pay steps for adjunct faculty, I have little doubt that his choice would be quick and decisive--for the one-time buyout package.

    It would be impossible for him to connect the dots between this and the exploitation of the adjunct faculty hired to cover the courses of those bought out.

  4. I remember Richard Boris from the 1990s when the PSC's President, Irwin Polishook, selected him as successor. Boris's old Unity Caucus worked very hard to keep CUNY's adjuncts *in* the bargaining unit and *off* the union's membership rolls.


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