“Program for Change: 2010-2030″ (A Proposal for Discussion)

This version was published on 8/12/10.  For a slightly updated version, see Version 9.28.10 at this site.

A Program for Change: 2010-2030 (Version 8.12.10)

1. Introduction

1.A  The dysfunctional state of faculty employment in post-secondary education in 2010 is well documented and well known.  Over the last few decades, corporatization has fragmented faculty.  It has resulted in a caste-like structure with primarily two tiers.  The majority of the faculty occupies the lower tier and is recognized as performing only a portion of the job, classroom instruction; these faculty tend to be compensated at a rate of pay in violation of the principle of “equal pay for equal work,” often resulting in a poverty-level income.  They work in complete insecurity.  They are left to draw upon the satisfaction of working with students as their chief inspiration to continue because of their dismal working conditions and the equally dismal prospects for improvement.

1.B Yet despite decades of activism, widely published and publicized issues, and Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor (COCAL) gatherings and other conferences, the movement for reform has not been able to coalesce around a focused set of goals that, as they are achieved over time, will lead to the correction of the current system and its discriminatory structure.  As activists within NFM, we, with input from many involved in the movement, have developed such a plan, called a Program for Change.  It is being circulated among the NFM Board and current membership for feedback, which is still ongoing.  We are sharing it with the NFM Board and membership in the hope of eliciting further suggestions and support, and plan to submit it for official NFM endorsement according to the procedures set out in the NFM Bylaws.  To that end we have included a response form for your convenience.  We believe that it’s time to begin.   It is our hope that the Program for Change will inspire higher education stakeholders to set in motion campaigns of action designed to achieve incremental change in the short term and build upon successes over time resulting in the transformational change for the system as a whole.

1.C The Program for Change will benefit contingent faculty to be sure.  But it will also benefit the whole of higher education and, most significantly, students and our collective future.   Higher education is key for achieving social mobility for the individual and growth and wellbeing for society.   Yet when the majority of teaching faculty face disincentives at every turn to staying professionally commitment to their discipline and their teaching because their jobs are not assured but contingent on factors outside of their control, the country’s long-term economic and social wellbeing is put at risk.  Indeed, the dysfunctional two-tiered system defies American ethical values related to fairness and equal pay for equal work and decency.  “A healthy, well-funded, democratic, and accessible system of higher education,” says Joe Berry, “requires both a decently treated workforce to operate it and a broader society that values schools over warfare and prisons.”   U.S. higher education requires a coherent, reasonable strategy for progress, which the Program for Change aims to be.  Because it may take a generation to transform the dysfunctional system to arrive at a workplace free of discrimination based on employment status, it’s vital that the process start now.

2. The Program and Incrementalism

2.A The Program for Change is a strategic plan that we feel is necessary to establish true and healthy normative standards that would revitalize the integrity of the post-secondary teaching profession over the next generation.  The Program has both short-term and long-term goals but, mindful of the difficult nature of change, proposes accomplishing these goals through incremental steps.   It is modeled on actual practices in places like California, Quebec, and particularly British Columbia.  Successes in those jurisdictions were achieved mostly through traditional collective bargaining.  However, in recognition of the fact that circumstances differ around the country, the Program supports the use of any means available in addition to collective bargaining: negotiation with progressive administrations, legislative changes, informal direct action and protest, and/or court rulings.

2.B The Program for Change identifies over thirty aspects of post-secondary work and suggests incremental improvements to each, usually over five-year time frames.  However, it is not meant to be prescriptive or proscriptive.  It is hoped that activists working for change can find some aspects to work on and start to achieve measurable successes.   Of course, the wider the approach, the more equity could be achieved; the faster the approach, the quicker equity could be achieved, but those achievements depend on local conditions.   Goals, strategies and tactics have to determined locally where activists know what’s needed most, what’s achievable with reasonable risk, and how best to achieve it.  The Program for Change is not meant for employers or those who would resist change; it is meant to provide ideas for those fighting for change.

2.C. The essence of the Program for Change is normalization, by which we mean that after a faculty member has undergone a defined probationary period, he or she becomes a normal employee whose status is no longer probationary or contingent, with the attendant rights and protections that accompany non-probationary status.  The Program proposes no-cost measures, such as establishment of a seniority system and seniority rights, a defined period of probation, fair evaluations subject to due process, protection of academic freedom provisions, and termination only for just cause with due process.  It also proposes measures that do involve costs, such as a single salary scale for all faculty, health insurance, paid leaves, compensatory rights if layoff or termination does occur, and opportunities for professional development.

2.D  Normalization means raising the rights, salary, and job security of the bottom tier to a level of normal equity.  It enables educators to have a good career without the necessity of being tenured.  Normalization is based on what is termed “regularization” in the post-secondary system of British Columbia, where it exists in actual practice.

2.E  The program assumes that regardless of the length and full-time or part-time status of the initial appointment that faculty start with probationary status or in a probationary phase.  They are subject to summative evaluation during this time.  This probationary period lasts either for a defined time or for a defined full-time equivalent (FTE) period.   During the probationary period, the faculty member has rights to reappointment based on his/her seniority.

2.F After successfully completing a fair and timely evaluation process, an individual faculty person will be converted to normal, regular, or non-probationary status regardless of their time-status.  If part-time, they can then continue to work up to full-time status, but only when they wish to, based on a seniority right of first refusal to additional work.  With this status, they will accrue further seniority on an equal basis with full-timers.  Job security means that they and their institution fully expect them to continue working at their time-status until retirement.  It means that they have layoff protection rights; that is, layoff is only for a defined cause and after due process, including grievance process protection, notice periods, and transfer rights.  If layoff does happen, they also have transfer rights, severance, and/or recall rights.  Job security means they have a career.

2.G At present, not knowing if they will be offered an appointment the next term, even with a decade or more at their institution, contingent faculty routinely suppress inclinations to exercise or claim what should be their right to academic freedom.  The lack of job security and appropriate pay often leads to the necessity of taking on multiple jobs, which can lead to having to compromise their commitment to their students, or an aversion to wider participation in the affairs of the institution or the community.  They may be unable or reluctant to speak their mind or join their union, fearing that doing so could cast them in a negative light and thus undermine their chances of future work assignments.  The program calls for Academic Freedom protection provisions for all faculty from first hire, regardless of their status, and provisions protecting faculty members with the due process protection of grievance rights and/or institutional process rights.  It also calls for unions and departments to democratically include all faculty members as full members with all the attendant rights and obligations.

2.H A further consequence of a perpetual probationary status and discounted pay for contingent faculty is the erosion of their ability to maintain their dedication to their teaching discipline and the reading, writing, and research that are phases of post-secondary teaching.  However, when their jobs are no longer contingent but regularized or normalized and protected by due process, when pay is based on the same salary scale as other faculty performing the same type of work, with equal recognition and reward for professional development, and when seniority is accrued that contributes to their job security, such faculty are empowered to exercise their academic freedom and dedicate themselves to high standards and excellence in their teaching.

2.I   A key feature of the program, as an examination of the accompanying table will show, is that such advances cannot usually be attained wholly-formed.  They need to be broken down into smaller incremental gains that will over time lead to the ultimate goals.  The program does not envisage its presentation as a whole but that advocates would focus on the suggested set of immediate goals and build upon them in future campaigns by focusing on the subsequent sets of goals.

3. Program for Change and Tenure

3.A The Program for Change does not threaten the institution of tenure or propose to replace it.  Tenure protects academic freedom and the jobs of faculty vulnerable to cuts, such as those in small departments.  Tenure is extraordinary job security not evidenced in the wider world of employment.  But as of 2010, with only the minority of faculty being tenured, the strength of tenure as a protection for the faculty voice and collective power has been effectively circumvented through the dependency on contingency for the vast majority of appointments.

3.B Tenure can and should continue as the extraordinary level of job security and academic freedom that it is.  However, we propose that eventually tenure be delinked from salary and time-status.  This does not imply a reduction in compensation for currently tenured faculty or those on tenure track.  In the future, however, tenure would be granted without significant cost impact.

4. Scope, Timeline, and Implementation

4.A In setting forth goals with a timeline, some may feel that a twenty-year period is too long, fearing that such a distant goal will discourage change.  As the table below shows, the majority of the Program for Change’s milestones are proposed within the first five to ten years.  Arguably the most important of all relate to job security and seniority, which are proposed as being effected as soon as possible at the institutional level, as they require little to no funding or legislation.  These changes, indeed, should encourage contingent faculty who stand to benefit from their accomplishment.  We feel, however, that it is not realistic to suppose that the two-tier employment system, and the funding patterns which have evolved over decades to support it, can be fully transformed in a shorter time span than 20 years.

4.B While nothing prevents accomplishing goals ahead of the incremental timeline proposed herein, real change cannot and will not come spontaneously, since even the most benign proposals could likely encounter resistance from those asked to relinquish control that has been assumed for several decades. We strive in this Program for a realistic framework for change that is coupled with a timeline so that progress is attainable and visibly part of a continuum of action, all leading to an ultimate goal, normalization.  By 2030, it will seem obvious that it was the right thing to do.

4.C  In proposing this Program, we do not imagine that the New Faculty Majority would by itself have the capacity to effect such transformative changes.  However, NFM can be a force in keeping the issue at the forefront of local and national conversations about the future of higher education.  It can communicate the collective voice of those who are demanding change and provide resources to support those working for change. It can challenge those who do have the mandate and wherewithal to fight for change— including faculty unions and other associations of faculty—to commit to achieving as many of these reasonable goals as they can and as soon as they can.  It can encourage the commitment of progressive administrations, accreditation and state oversight agencies, legislators, and government at both the state and national level.  We imagine that NFM would join with others in celebrating accomplishment of specific goals and milestones, but that it would not be NFM’s mission to be the accuser of failure  nor to be the sole judge of progress.  Stakeholders will have to be accountable to their own mission: achieving a just and equitable workplace committed to providing students with the highest possible quality of education.

4.D It bears repeating that the Program is not meant to be prescriptive or proscriptive and that we could not imagine seriously presenting the Program in its entirety for immediate adoption anywhere.  Nevertheless, it provides both a detailed action plan on over thirty aspects of employment and it provides a holistic vision of what an equitable workplace would look like.  Future generations of faculty should not have to endure the unfairness of the current system.  The faculty workplace has to become more normal.  That is why we feel a sense of urgency; and again to repeat, because it may take a generation to transform the dysfunctional current system, it’s vital that the process start now.    If at some local workplace it was determined that only one aspect, say evaluation, could be effectively worked on, progress on even that one aspect would greatly improve the worklife of the faculty affected.

5. Overview of Program

5.A To the greatest extent possible, the Program relies on ending the distinctions between full-time and part-time employment and the resulting discrimination from those distinctions.  Distinctions may remain.  They should only be dictated by the nature of different duties and disciplines, not simply because one happens to be full-time or part-time.  The program would extend enforceable protections of academic freedom to all faculty.  It would restrict probationary status to a reasonably short period, with increasing job security through the probationary period into one’s career.  A key point is the conversion in status of the person without further job interviews and competitions.  Achieving salary equity would mean delinking tenure from salary considerations.

5.B We believe that teachers and scholars, reunited into a single community, are the last best hope to restore integrity and public confidence to system of higher education deeply threatened by decades of corporate-style mismanagement.  The moral and political compass of our movement should guide our day-to-day efforts toward a common end for the next generation and those to follow: the normalization of the academic profession and the abolition of the multi-tiered labor system.

6. Specifics

6.A The following table lays out the Program for Change and is segmented into four parts: no-cost, cost, union and association rights, and legislative changes.  The first two are relative to employers, while the third address unions and faculty groups that are non-union.  The table is structured in five-year increments.

7. Conclusion

7.A  Those who claim that this vision of a future U.S. higher education workplace is too idealistic to offer any hope of ever being realized need only consider the colleges and universities of British Columbia which are under the aegis of the British Columbia Federation of Post-secondary Educators (FPSE).  The faculty unions of FPSE have attained collective agreements where faculty, regular and non-regular, full-time or part-time, are compensated according to a single salary schedule; newly hired probationary faculty, after teaching for a prescribed length of time, become regularized or normalized, with job security based largely on seniority.  For its new universities, FPSE is adopting the policy of delinking tenure from salary.  Whether ultimately successful or not, the current situation cannot go unchallenged. It is not acceptable for the majority of those who deliver U.S. higher education to be without job security and academic freedom, to receive pay that is not commensurate with their academic and professional training nor the effective set of responsibilities they execute, and to be denied the professional dignity that is warranted by their station as educators.

7.B  The next generation of faculty should see real change and the generation after it should see this discriminatory period as a thing of the past.  Whether we as individuals personally stand to benefit or not, it is long past time for a critical mass to commit to ending this situation and through collective action to do what is necessary to start progress down the road for change to restore normalcy and equity to the post-secondary workplace.

Authored by Jack Longmate & Frank Cosco

Posted in Program for Change | 37 Comments