“I believe it is [fair.]” -Laurent Pernot, on the new contract proposed for the adjunct union. The Vice Chancellor Round-table, Part 1: Adjunct Compensation.

If Executive Vice Chancellor Pernot or anyone else in attendance believes I have misrepresented the events of the Monday meeting here, I will include disputes or contrary reports in this post. You may e-mail me at bswanson1@ccc.edu, or kamranswanson@gmail.com. I will strive for fairness, truth, and the free-flow of information and opinions. 

“We offered the adjunct union our ‘Last, Best’ contract proposal a while ago, and the adjunct union will be voting on it soon,” stated Laurent Pernot, in response to a question on adjunct compensation. [These words are likely not exact, but I am making my best fair effort to represent his words and meaning accurately.]

“I hope it is a fair one,” I replied.

“I believe it is,” he returned.

On Monday, nine Vice Chancellors and other senior administrators hosted two round-table discussions, first with students, and second with faculty. Twelve faculty were invited, including myself. Many of you have attended similar discussions in the past. Invitations were selected, I am told, based on randomly choosing some of the faculty who are not scheduled for class at the scheduled time. All attending faculty were asked to bring one positive and one “challenge” that they would like to address.

There is a lot to say about the meeting, and I hope to write more about my experience in the coming week. But one thing that strikes most clearly:

As one of my “frustrations,” I stated that the adjunct faculty at our institution are unjustly compensated. I recall saying something like, “We cannot call ourselves a moral institution given the state of our adjunct pay. We cannot claim we are treating our employees fairly. We cannot believe we have done our best to support those who serve our highest mission most directly. Our adjuncts are receiving poverty wages. An adjunct, teaching four classes per semester, who holds a PhD, and who have taught with us for more than seven years, are still making less than $25k per year, without health insurance, without dental insurance, and with very low job security. They have no compensation if they become ill, no way to support themselves. How can we claim–how can we state on the billboards around town–that if you attend the city colleges and earn a degree, that you will earn a good income, when the very instructors who teach them, who hold advanced degrees, are surviving, in many cases, on food stamps. It is shameful that we allow this. Disgraceful.”

Pernot prefaced his response that because the contract is in ongoing negotiation, he is unable to respond directly to the specifics of my statement. But that he could say the “Last, Best” contract proposal had been made, and that adjuncts would be voting on it soon.

Because we could not have a discussion, I simply responded, “I understand. But simply because it can’t be discussed here, it doesn’t mean its not a problem, nor one that shouldn’t be addressed.” He consented, reiterated that the proposal has been made.

Then, I simply said, “I hope it is a fair one.”

And he responded, “I believe it is.”

I noticed today that CCCLOC–the adjunct union–had placed their summary, analysis, and recommended vote in 1600 faculty mailboxes today. Here, you can see what these “fair” proposals are.

There is a raise. In my humble opinion, I believe a 100% raise with benefits would be the fair raise. That would still put adjuncts underneath full-time pay, but perhaps at a more reasonable level. But I knew in my heart that the proposal wouldn’t approach this dream of 100%. Full-timers have many duties in addition to teaching, and part-timers do not. Equal pay for equal work. Commensurate pay for commensurate merit.

I hoped for a mere 20% raise, with some benefits. Surely, Pernot may be restricted from speaking, but surely this man understands the inhumanity of the current level of pay. Surely he understands the injustice that has perpetuated.

“I believe it is.”

There are no benefits.

There is no 20% raise. It’s lower than 10%.

It is an average 1.85% raise over a 7-year contract period for the base pay. Combining this with the other bumps, it is an estimated average total of 5.75%, according to the CCCLOC committee’s analysis.

“I hope it is a fair one,” I said.

“I believe it is,” he responded.

According to the pamphlet, 1.85% is less than the rate of inflation/cost of living.

Steps are being frozen or eliminated, depending on the employee.

Elimination of mandatory “Ethics training” pay. (Hey, who is writing this “ethics” test anyway, asks this ethics professor.)

Elimination of MA +30 Lane (Lane 2).

There is more. Check out the packets in your mailboxes.

My Opinion: In short, this cast in clear relief the morality of our leaders. For years, faculty who I would describe as cynics claimed our leaders lacked a moral goal. I always thought they might be right, but no clear evidence was ever presented. Some called themselves “realists,” but they never showed me they were more than cynics.

Well, even rank speculation can be right sometimes.

For years, as I’ve wrestled with the current state of adjunct compensation, I wanted to believe that our leaders understood the perpetuated injustice. At a similar roundtable two years ago–February of 2014, if memory serves–I brought up the same issue to Chancellor Hyman and Vice Chancellor Pernot. Then, as now, they told me that they could not speak about the negotiations. After that conversation, Pernot approached me, shook my hand, and said something like, “if we ever sat down for beers, I’d be happy to tell you my opinion about this. But legally, there are things I am unable to say.” He said it with a smile, and I was hopeful that he and I felt the same, and that he was more bound by his position than his morality. As a former US Marine, that is something I can sympathize with, at least to a point. I continued my criticism because I believe it is important not to be silent about the things I believe are important.

If Pernot had said, instead of “I believe it is [fair],” that “I don’t think it is fair. But let me show you why we just can’t do anything more than what we’re doing,” that would have left me in disappointment, but saved me from joining the cynics. But this was significant. “I believe it is [fair],” stating this with full knowledge of the current shamefully unfair proposal, shows us that our administration is unwilling or unable to understand that their method of evaluating fair pay is morally and philosophically bankrupt.

Solidarity with our part-time colleagues and partners.

3 thoughts on ““I believe it is [fair.]” -Laurent Pernot, on the new contract proposed for the adjunct union. The Vice Chancellor Round-table, Part 1: Adjunct Compensation.

  1. Copied from my comments when I reposted this on Facebook:
    Not to put too fine a point on it, but this exact issue could drive me out of teaching. Becky and I are nearing 30, have manifold bills to pay, and want to start a family sometime in the next few years. I can’t do it on poverty wages, though. If the college I’ve taught at for over 5 years values me this little, then I don’t know what choice I have.

  2. Excellent. Thank you. The response that “we cannot talk about this issue because it is in negotiation” seems to be a way for the administration to avoid having a productive discussion about an important issue. Adjunct faculty are underpaid. As you say, we would need a 100% raise to make our salaries per course proportionately equitable with full time faculty salaries. Perhaps it is unreasonable to expect that salaries will be equivalent. I am fine with that. We are not, however, looking at a need for an incremental raise. We are looking at a need for a complete salary readjustment for part time instructors – a salary readjustment that would be similar to the one that upper administration at CCC got a few summers ago when their research concluded that their salaries were not market competitive. Adjunct faculty at CCC are making poverty level wages and have been working without a contract since 2012. The district needs to negotiate with its adjunct faculty in good faith – not because they are trying to resolve a negotiations issue, but because they truly want their faculty to be supported. The current situation does not reflect support of the faculty or of the students we teach.

  3. Kamran – Thank you for calling this a moral issue. It surely is. We, representing the adjuncts, presented the administration with a detailed 5-year plan to achieve “pay equity” – equal pay for teaching, factoring out the other duties full-time adjuncts perform. At no time in the 2 1/2 years that I was involved in the negotiations did the administration ever present a reason why they would not, or could not, pay us fully for the work we do. They even acknowledged that CCC has the funds to do so; this is also obvious from looking at the budget and observing all the other new expenditures that have been occurring since Reinvention began.

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