Dear Unions Representing Adjuncts

Here’s a short but important note from fellow activist Lee Kottner. She has some thoughts about unions, professional organizations, and other groups with conferences or meetings that are prohibitively expensive for adjuncts and other NTT faculty to attend. When I was an adjunct, I spent thousands of never-to-be-reimbursed dollars to attend professional meetings for research sharing, networking, and other things that I hoped would get me on to the tenure track.

Yes, unions have helped many adjuncts with collective bargaining, job security, and representation for wrongful termination…but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hold them accountable when their events contradict adjuncts’ financial realities.


 

Dear Unions Representing Adjuncts:

If you want us to participate as equals with you, you’ve gotta be more attuned to the financial realities we live with.

Here’s what I mean: I’ve been designated by our Local’s VP (a great guy, very attuned to the problems of adjunctification) to go in his stead to the joint NEA/AFT conference in Orlando this March. Frankly, I’m thrilled. I managed to scrape together the cash to go to the Detroit national AFT meeting a couple of years ago (a process that involved cashing in all my spare change for traveling money), but my financial situation has changed significantly since then. My credit cards are maxed out and I’m behind on the payments, so all I’ve got left is my debit card. Unless we make some reality-based changes in local financial policy in the next couple of months, I’m going to lose this opportunity–which might be kind of awkward since I’m running for VP of the new national Contingent Faculty Caucus.

You see, while the national AFT is happy to bill my local for my registration fees, the conference hotel (not unreasonably) wants a credit card to hold my room. But with just a debit card, they reserve the right to tie up the cost of the room for the entire four days of the conference from the moment I make my reservation until up to thirty days after I check out. That’s a problem in a couple of ways. First of all, I’m still waiting for my first paychecks of the semester and I still have rent coming up. Secondly, I cannot afford to have $600-$800 of my own cash flow tied up from now until mid April. Not only that, but I’m also expected to pay the costs of traveling there as well.

That $100 ticket on Amtrak might be doable, but it’s a 20-hour trip. Flying is probably out of the question.

Our union local has no provisions for funding adjunct participation in the executive processes of our national union, because it was originally formed in the days when adjuncts were just that: part-time teachers from the world of commerce who weren’t fully invested faculty members. There was no need for that kind of funding structure because the majority of its members made a comfortable living and could afford to wait for reimbursement.

Times have changed.

Frankly, even new tenure-track faculty, already loaded down with debt, are too cash-strapped to participate in pay-as-you-play academic events like luncheons and on-campus conferences. It’s even more unrealistic to expect adjuncts making $24-32K/year to be able to fork over in advance for national conference expenses, just as it’s unrealistic of the MLA and other professional organizations to expect adjuncts and graduate students to be able to afford conference expenses for interviews. Get. With. The. Program.

Reimbursement does not work for us. We have no money. If you want us to come, we need funding. Up front. Since you don’t fund us up front, it seems clear you don’t value our presence or input in your comfortable, vacuum-sealed world of tenured privilege.

So if solidarity and equality really matter to you as a union, put your money where your mouth is.

No Love,

Lee Kottner, Adjunct Professor
New Jersey City University
AFT Local 1839 Recording Secretary

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2 thoughts on “Dear Unions Representing Adjuncts

  1. I left academia years ago – adjunct occasionally because I like to teach. Still remember being young assistant professor and having to pay my way to events and get reimbursed months later. As CEO I now see that we pay our staff travel up front because I remember the feeling o WTF I’m broke why am I loaning the university money to pay operating expenses?

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