Author: Henry Dickmeyer
Students and faculty gathered in Mosher 1 Wednesday for a screening of the film “Con Job: Stories of Adjunct & Contingent Labor” and a subsequent panel discussion on the inequities faced by adjunct faculty at Occidental. The event was part of a two-day teach-in to commemorate National Adjunct Walkout Day.
Approximately 20 students and several faculty members attended the event, which was hosted by the Non-Tenure Track (NTT) Committee.
The 50-minute film featured personal narratives from adjunct instructors across the country about the financial and professional pressures of being NTT faculty. It also detailed the growing presence of adjunct faculty on college campuses and the political tribulations in creating secure positions for them.
History Professor Paul Nam moderated the following panel discussion, which featured English Professor Eric Newhall, Theater Professor Jamie Angell, Classical Studies Professor Debra Freas and Carey Sargent, associate director of the Center for Digital Liberal Arts.
Newhall opened the discussion by commenting on Occidental’s drop in college rankings over the past several years, due in part to the large number of adjunct faculty.
“We are not becoming the institution which we would like to become,” Newhall said. “That can be quantified; way too many courses are being taught by highly qualified part-time, contingent faculty.”
The role of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in determining the number of hired part-time and full-time NTT faculty dominated the rest of the panel discussion. According to the film, colleges avoid the mandate to provide health insurance for full-time employees by scaling back the hours of NTT professors.
“If professors are teaching four courses with no benefits, the faculty need to tackle this from a moral standpoint,” Faculty Council President Nalsey Tinberg said. “We need to not talk about budgets and force the administration to do something about it.”
A new policy approved by Dean of Academic Affairs Jorge Gonzalez in October provides added medical benefits for full-time NTT faculty members; however, several panelists noted that the college has hired less full-time NTT faculty since the creation of the policy to compensate for the larger financial burden.
Similar discussions took place in classrooms across campus during the teach-in, which was also organized by the NTT Faculty Committee. Wednesday and Thursday, faculty were encouraged to dedicate a portion of their class time to discuss NTT-related issues at the college and across the nation. Occidental community members were also encouraged to wear red in support of adjunct instructors.
Angell felt uplifted by the conversation and hopes it will continue in the future.
“Given the relatively short notice given to the event, I was happy to see every part of the Oxy community represent by wearing red, from students and faculty to administration and staff,” Angell said. “We are all in this together and it makes you feel good to know that others recognize this.”
Nam shared Angell’s optimistic attitude.
“The teach-ins I conducted yesterday in all three of my classes were a great success,” Nam said. “The vast majority of my students had no idea of what was happening to the professoriate both nationally and at Oxy. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the emotions ranged from shock and awe to dismay and outrage.”
As an adjunct professor himself, Nam knows how tenuous the position can be. After four years as a full-time NTT instructor, Nam was demoted to part-time status last semester despite receiving the Loftsgordon Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2014.
His story, and the stories shared by other NTT professors on campus, struck a chord with students who participated in the dialogue last week.
“It made me really sad because someone who is making my learning experience so special is someone who doesn’t have financial stability,” Elena Sanchez (first-year) said. “I think that’s really unfair.”
Vinny De Bellis (first-year) echoed Sanchez’s sentiments.
“To hear [Nam] say that he feels almost inferior when he discusses his status as an adjunct professor makes me sad,” De Bellis said. “To think that there’s a stigma around being an adjunct professor is very disappointing for the students and really detracts from our learning experience.”
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