Adjuncts Rising

As Arizona Stands Once Again as a Pinnacle of Repugnant Public Policy, University of Arizona Adjuncts Decide Enough is Enough.

This time it's not a barbarous law meant to menace undocumented migrants, or the mulish refusal to give driver's licenses to DREAMERS, or outlawing inspiring ethnic studies programs in high schools. In 2015, as Republican Doug Ducey settles into the governor's chair, he looks to make Arizona into a buccaneering trailblazer stealing money from higher education and sending it to private prisons. Ducey recently announced that he plans to spend an additional $70 million a year to lock up more inmates in Arizona. According to the Arizona Daily Star, that would raise the Department of Corrections state budget to one in every eight dollars of state spending.

(It's little surprise that Ducey's campaign received generous donations from PACs and organizations closely associated with the private prison industry.)

In times of continued post-recession woes for Arizona, where does the governor plan on getting the money? From the classroom. Ducey plans to cut $75 million dollars in aid for state universities.

Groups of adjuncts, graduate student teachers, and other contingent faculty members at the University of Arizona (UA), however, are deciding to stand up to the Scrooge-like coterie of lawmakers and administrators pulling the plug on higher education. Though the final straw may have been Ducey's classroom-to-prison funding shift, adjuncts have been on the brink for years, and not just in Arizona.

In the UA English Department, where I am on a single-year contract to teach Fiction classes, adjuncts haven't received a pay raise in over ten years, not even a cost-of-living adjustment. Only 24% of revenue at our (I may have only a few months left to make use of the pronoun) university is spent on instruction, an 8% decline since 2003. Meanwhile, in the last 10 years, in-state tuition and fees have increased 188%. Nationally, universities are banking more and more on adjunct labor (70% of university teachers nationwide are adjuncts or contingent faculty), exploiting them to teach our next generations while paying them poverty wages, affording them zero job security, and offering minimal benefits. This overworking and underpaying of our educators jeopardizes the very concept of higher education.

As adjuncts at the UA organize against budget cuts and exploitative labor conditions, we join a national movement calling for a reinvestment in higher education. We will walk out and teach-in on February 25 to help drive home the obvious but often overlooked link between teaching conditions and learning conditions. When adjuncts are underpaid, have no offices, restricted access to university resources, and are sometimes assigned to classes mere weeks before the start of the semester, the students suffer.

There is, however, a rapidly accelerating nationwide campaign of adjuncts asking for multiple-year contracts and $15,000 dollars a class (the figure includes benefits). Though administrators may bristle at the size of the raise, we should remember that many adjuncts have terminal degrees (PhD's or MFA's) and many have gone into debt to fund their own education. $15,000 per course (most of which would be less raise and more redress for years of stagnant wages) would still keep annual adjunct incomes at a mere percentage of many administrators' salaries. UA President Ann Hart, for a bit of shudder-worthy perspective, is up for a $170,000 dollar bonus in 2015 on top of her $600,000 a year salary. A full-time adjunct salary at the UA is $33,000.

So Arizona Governor Ducey decided to cut University funding and dole out more money to private prisons? Well, AZNTT (Arizona Non-Tenure Track) adjuncts have decided to fight back. On February 25 we call adjuncts, administrators, graduate teaching assistants, tenure-track faculty and students to take a stand for education. Arizona students deserve better than Ducey's $75 million dollar axe-chop at education, and we all deserve better than spending another $70 million on private prisons.