Will National Adjunct Walkout Day Succeed?

If you haven’t heard, this Wednesday, February 25 is National Adjunct Walkout Day. An anonymous professor at San Jose State University has organized support for a national walkout to highlight the plight of adjunct faculty in the United States. Part-time faculty in Canada are also joining the movement. I’ve written previously about adjuncts lacking health care, living from contract to contract, and even qualifying for food stamps.

The goal is to highlight a flawed business model that universities have used for decades.

Approximately 75 percent of instructors at two or four-year-colleges are working part time, opposite the percentages of 20 or 30 years ago, when 75 percent had tenure-track positions. Adjunct Alan Trevithick notes that this switch comes not because universities want to save money, but because they want to spend more on ballooning administration, star faculty, massive new buildings, and technology. Universities do not pay fair wages to adjuncts simply because they don’t want to, not because they can’t.

Nobody knows how many adjuncts will join in the walkout, but many who aren’t are contributing in others ways. There are grade-ins. Adjuncts meet at a central location on campus to hold “office hours” and highlight that they are given no offices to hold these in the first place. Here they address their concerns to students and let them know that, yes, most of their instructors are not tenured and exist on a contract-to-contract basis.

The question is, will National Adjunct Day accomplish anything? Will it be the first of an annual tradition, or will these walk-outs simply be one group in the long parade of campus protestors holding up signs on the quad, handing out pamphlets to confused passer-bys? The movement has already faced difficulties even though the event hasn’t happened yet. According to The Atlantic, under some state laws governing unions and strikes, adjuncts and faculty can’t actually walk out of their jobs without risking them since they do not have full legal protection for a strike. To counter this, some groups are hosting alternative activities. The California Part-Time Faculty Association, which represents the interests of 40,000 adjunct community college instructors, is organizing an action day in Sacramento.

But a big question is what tenured faculty think of this event. Adjuncts have long criticized tenured faculty for ignoring them and treating them as second class citizens in the university system. Some adjuncts have tried to scare tenured faculty into supporting them, since compassion apparently hasn’t worked. Jordan Scheider argues in The Chronicle of Higher Education that faculty will always be in retreat as long as a vast majority of teachers are held powerless. This hurts tenured and non-tenured instructors alike. When a full-timer retires, the tenure line disappears and course assignments go to two or three adjuncts. Department committees have one less member, the department has one less researcher, the union has one less voice, and the administration gets more power over faculty.

How are faculty associations, which largely represent tenured instructors, approaching the day? From what little we’ve seen they are offering symbolic support but little more. Here’s an example from Canada. Rob Kristofferson, president of the Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty Association (WLUFA), sent out this message to faculty on February 19 concerning the walkout:

From: Rob Kristofferson, WLUFA President

How can you support your American Colleagues in their National Adjunct Walkout Day?

First of all, we must make it clear that WLUFA does not advocate or support or condone in any way a “walkout” to mark National Adjunct Walkout Day, and we must remind you that if you do not teach your regularly scheduled classes on February 25th, you will be violating your Collective Agreement and could be subject to discipline.

But – there are ways you can provide support for our American colleagues – and Contract Faculty in Canada and here at Laurier. Buttons and posters are on their way – wear them and post them! Speak to your colleagues and students about the issues that face Contract Faculty. Read more about the North American phenomenon on theNational Adjunct Walkout Day Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/National-Adjunct-Walkout-Day/340019999501000).

So – we encourage you to talk the talk, just don’t walk the walk!

On February 20 WLUFA’s faculty committee sent a message to its tenured instructors offering much stronger language in support of adjuncts. They didn’t support a full walkout but supported symbolic solidarity with the movement:

Dear Permanent Faculty:

National Adjunct Walkout Day on February 25th is a call from our American colleagues to fight for better conditions for contract faculty across all geographical borders. As tenure track or tenured faculty we can easily forget how we too are subject to the same systems and practices that do damage to our contract colleagues. We will undoubtedly feel it more personally in the coming years if public pressure isn’t placed on our administrations and governments now.

We are not suggesting a walk out but we are hoping that we use this day to speak with one another, and with our students about the unjust conditions our contract faculty colleagues face every day. Let us know about your discussions, and we’ll get your message to a sister school in the U.S. It’s critical that we note our participation in a system that places our contract faculty in a precarious situation and how we can and should work to change it.

This is an invitation to join in an international movement.  Posters and buttons have been sent to your programs and departments. And a fact sheet is appended to this message. Please use these resources as we stand in solidarity with our colleagues throughout the academic world. 

February 25th presents an opportunity to make a strong international statement about the direction that education systems have taken. Let’s take advantage of that opportunity. 

Put a poster on your door!

Wear a button in solidarity with your colleagues!​

Discuss the facts with your colleagues and students!

Let us know what you did by writing a short message on our WLUFA blog: https://advocatewlufa.wordpress.com/. We will tweet a link to your blog to a sister school in the US.


WLUFA Communications Committee

cc. Contract Faculty

Other academics are not sure if the walkout will translate into any sort of long-term success. I talked to Christopher Chase-Dunn at the University of California-Riverside, and he thinks that the movement will succeed only if the walkout is the first step toward unionization of faculty or part of a larger anti-austerity movement. Even that won’t be a fix-all solution.

“[Unionization] won’t fix the big problems but it will make for better conditions for adjuncts. The problem is a lot the online operations will be very hard to unionize. It will happen in big universities and colleges but not in smaller operations and online operations.”

Talk of unionization has reached a level among adjuncts never seen. “I go to meetings and there’s a lot more discussion about it than there was even two years ago,” said Dan King, chief executive of the American Association of University Administrators, to the Wall Street Journal. “Now, it’s a very sober conversation…because as adjuncts organize, personnel costs are going to go up, and we are going to have to deal with that.

Chase-Dunn adds that the adjunct movement could be part of a larger anti-austerity movement that could challenge the whole model of education and help the larger struggle for workers rights for the “precariat” (a term that I, a researcher ignorant of labor studies, had to look up: it means a social class formed by those suffering from an existence without predictability or security.)

What have you seen or heard in the run-up to National Adjunct Walkout Day?

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