Using the Internet for contingent faculty organizing
by John Hess
I am an organizer. I work for the California Faculty Association which is the union and bargaining agent for all the faculty in the huge California State University system (CSU). The CSU has 23 campuses, about 23,000 faculty and nearly 450,000 students. The CSU is separate from California’s University of California system that includes UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz. The CSU includes San Francisco State, San Jose State, LA State, San Diego State, Fresno State, and Sonoma State. The CSU offers mostly undergraduate education plus some important professional masters degrees in area like education, nursing, engineering, social work, etc.
I am an organizer. In one part of my job I work closely with the CFA Lecturers’ Council. Lecturers, full and part time, have term appointments that are contingent on enrollment, budgeting, and other factors. They are now nearly 60% of the system’s faculty. In the last three or so years, the Lecturers’ Council has become deeply involved in the international movement of contingent faculty. I use the Internet to stay in touch with various individuals, groups, and organizations. A large network of discussion lists and websites has grown up around the movement and has become an important organizing medium locally, nationally, and internationally.
It is not
uncommon for contingent faculty to find out about activists or activities
on their own campus by reading about it on a website on the other side
of the country or in Canada. The most difficult part of organizing contingent
faculty has always been finding them. They are usually isolated from each
other, distant from their departments, marginalized by the university,
which counts on their isolation to keep them from organizing. The Internet
has become one way to overcome this isolation. This little resource study
is for anyone interested in the how the Internet can work as an organizing
tool or with an interest in this issue, but it is particularly meant to
help contingent faculty find their way to activists on their campus and
also to encourage them to become active themselves.To begin with CFA has
its own website.
interest is the Lecturers Handbook which gives some history of CFA and
its work with lecturers. Most importantly, it sets out the rights that
lecturers have won in our system:
have been greatly influenced in our work by the community college part
time faculty activists. In the mid-1990s, they formed an organization,
the California Part time Faculty Association (CPFA) to lobby all the unions,
senates and other organizations involved in the community colleges on
behalf of the part time faculty. They have done a tremendous lobbying
job. Their organizing skills, thoughtful development of issues and, perhaps
mostly, their wonderful irreverence have been a major inspiration to CFA
major intellectual center for the contingent faculty movement has been
the Association of American University Professors. This page and its links
will give a good sense of what is going on in this movement and collects
AAUP’s numerous statements on contingent faculty:
central document of this movement is an article by Rich Moser of the AAUP:
“The New Academic Labor System, Corporatization
The most important non- or quasi-organization for this movement is COCAL (The Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor). It is more than anything an Internet organization, that is, it exits mostly as Internet/email connections between various activists in the US and Canada. I am telling a little of its history to give a sense of how much this movement has grown in less than a decade.
December 1996, the first National Congress of Adjunct, Part-time, Graduate
Teaching Assistants and Non-Tenure Track Faculty was held in Washington,
D.C. Concurrently, the Graduate Student Caucus of the Modern Language
Association held a panel on “Making the MLA More Proactive”
in part-time faculty issues.
The 3rd Annual conference was be held the following year in Boston (April, 1999), hosted by activists from the University of, Massachusetts, Boston (UMB) Part-time Faculty Committee of the Faculty-Staff Union (FSU). For a moment COCAL came to rest in Boston as Boston COCAL.
of the California Part-time Faculty Association (CPFA), linked with their
East coast colleagues through Internet list serves and e-mail, hosted
COCAL IV, the first West Coast National Conference on Contingent Academic
Labor, in January, 2001, in San Jose. COCAL –Chicago was formed
later that year:
V took place at Concordia University (CU) in Montreal. The CU Part-time
Association successfully hosted the conference in Montreal. This was the
biggest COCAL meeting yet and included a march against the host university.
It was there that California attendees suggested founding COCAL–California.
CFA played a helpful role in its formation in fall, 2002. It is a coalition
of organizations representing contingent faculty in the UCs, the CSUs,
and the community colleges. We put on a large conference on the UC Berkeley
campus in May, 2003, to bring together activists from the UC system, the
CSU, and the community colleges.
COCAL sponsors the most important listserv where contingent faculty issues
are discussed. To subscribe to the COCAL listserv, send an e-mail to:
the following command in the body of the message (not the subject line):
important Internet organization is the North American Alliance for Fair
Employment, an informational and solidarity network of unions and that
links contingent workers from all sectors of the economy.
NAFFE is an alliance of a great range of organizations who deal with temporary workers in a variety of fields.
is important because it makes the connections amongst all forms of temporary
workers, whether cleaning offices or teaching in universities .Currently,
all these people and organizations are working on Campus Equity Week (October
27-31, 2003). It will be a week of protest against contingent working
conditions and also a week of celebration of the contributions that contingent
faculty make to their students and their universities.
In many ways it could be said that across the country, and in Canada too, it is the contingent faculty who are fighting to save higher education, while most of the tenured and tenure track faculty seem oblivious to the ever accelerating corporatization of higher education, with its attendant undermining of faculty working conditions (more for less) and academic freedom.
AAUP has also published considerable information about Campus Equity Week
along with practical ways to get involved.:
other major education union, the National Education Association (http://www.nea.org/)
with which CFA is affiliated, boasts that it represents more higher education
teachers than any other union. However, from its website’s home
page it is nearly impossible to gather that NEA represents any contingent
faculty. Only by accessing “Publications and Multimedia” on
the sidebar navigation tool and then going to “Higher Education
Advocate,” an NEA magazine for higher education members, and then
using the search tool to find “contingent faculty,” will you
find out that NEA has sponsored several of the COCAL meetings and supports
CEW. Looking under higher education policies, I was able to find one on
On the more academic side, various of the disciplinary organizations have done various sorts of research, hand wringing, and moralizing about the situation of contingent academic labor, especially as it affects their own graduate students. An example is the Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW) (established in 1997) by disciplinary associations in the humanities and social sciences. CAW states it purposes as:
In fall 1999, CAW commissioned a survey of staffing in higher education:
has done some valuable research on this issue and its impact on young
faculty and students, but they seem unable to imagine, much less recommend
any sort of collective action. Without that, it’s mostly hand wringing.
The results of the survey may be found at <www.theaha.org/caw/>.
you will find “A Review of Web Sites for Contingent Faculty,”
by James C. McDonald of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette:
By following links on the sites described here, you will find a wealth of information and further links. Email and the Internet are invaluable tools for reaching out to and organizing contingent faculty. It also helps the organizers stay informed, work together over great distances, share and develop ideas together. The dilemma we face, however, is that face to face conversation is by far the best way to organize, create relations with people and get them involved. Yet, the difficulty of doing that on college and university campuses is very great. Reaching most contingent faculty that way is nearly impossible and certainly very time consuming. That, of course, has always been true. The Internet and email have greatly improved our ability to organize people in an effort to bring about change.
If you are faculty at all, please join us for Campus Equity Week.