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A New Deal for College Teachers and Teaching

Faculty equity = student success.
By Mia McIver and Trevor Griffey

 

Professor in front of class

The campaign for a New Deal for Higher Education in the United States must address the fact that more than two-thirds of faculty members in higher education today are temporary employees working in demoralizing gig-economy conditions, and that too many of them suffer from low pay, large class sizes, and excessive workloads that punish rather than reward excellent teaching.

Though the story of the transformation of college teaching from a profession to a gig is generally well known, recent statistics still provide a powerful indictment of the current state of American higher education. According to the AAUP’s Report on the Economic Status of the Profession, 2019‒20, only 31 percent of all faculty members in the United States are tenured or eligible for tenure. The other 69 percent are, in effect, temps. Though some of those non-tenure-track faculty members classified as “full time” may have some semblance of job security in the form of multiyear contracts or easy contract renewal, this group makes up only 18 percent of the faculty. More than 50 percent of all faculty members, and 75 percent of those ineligible for tenure, are classified as “part time” even though they may teach full time or as “adjuncts” and despite the fact that the US higher education system could not function without their labor. During the 2018‒19 academic year, the average per-course pay for part-time faculty members reported by institutions participating in the AAUP’s Faculty Compensation Survey was a pathetic $3,532, and only a third of part-time faculty members received any contributions to their retirement plans or to health insurance from their employers. This has produced an ironic situation in which a majority of the teachers responsible for helping their students enter the middle class have themselves become part of the working poor. In 2015, a study by the UC Berkeley Labor Center found that 25 percent of all part-time faculty members in the United States are in households that qualify for federal assistance—food stamps, Medicaid, welfare, or the Earned Income Tax Credit. More recently, a 2019 survey of predominantly community college faculty by the Hope Center found that 33 percent of instructional staff experienced housing insecurity, including 8 percent who experienced homelessness in the previous year.

Providing decent, sustainable work and living standards is essential, and closing the pay and professional-status gaps within the faculty would stimulate the US economy, but the primary reason to promote equity for college faculty is to support and enhance educational quality for college students. As we teachers say, “Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions.” Like K‒12 schools, colleges and universities that commit to quality in student instruction have to invest in the hiring, retention, and professional development of excellent teachers and provide those teachers with the pay, resources, and reasonable workload standards necessary to promote and reward teaching quality. Without this commitment, even a federal bailout for higher education would leave most colleges and universities wedded to an educational model that relies on a low-wage, precarious college workforce that promotes student tracking and credentialing rather than real student success.

 Federal and state governments have a range of policy options to ensure that higher education institutions receiving government funding reinvest in college teachers and teaching. These include

  • legal changes requiring faculty salary parity across rank;
  • encouraging collective bargaining based on region instead of institution;
  • providing part-time faculty members with access to unemployment insurance between terms; and
  • requiring universal faculty representation in shared governance.

These are not our ideas as much as a collection of changes that teacher-activists have been demanding for decades. If fully implemented, they could also contribute to a cultural change in higher education administration that would place educational quality, and not educational quantity, at the center of the higher education mission.

The expansion of labor rights to promote quality in college instruction draws from what we consider the best of the legacy of the New Deal. It recognizes that social inequality and volatile boom-bust economic cycles are made worse by workers’ lack of bargaining power, and it encourages support for low-wage contingent faculty members as part of a broader project of improving the salaries and working conditions of all working people. It sees collective bargaining as an effective and desirable way to increase workers’ bargaining power against the financial pressures to impoverish and exploit them. It acknowledges the complexity, diversity, and decentralized quality of the US higher education system by promoting collective bargaining as an alternative to one-size-fits-all mandates for particular pay scales, student-teacher ratios, or other standards for excellence. And it proposes that faculty members have a crucial role to play not just in reviving our economy but also in reforming our higher education system in ways that increase public access while maintaining academic rigor and teaching quality.

Divesting from Teachers and Teaching

Low faculty salaries encourage high teaching workloads that reduce the ability of faculty members to provide the kind of personal instruction that students deserve. The courses that students most need to succeed at college—basic reading, writing, mathematics, and language courses—are the ones most often assigned to low-wage temporary instructors (either instructors ineligible for tenure or graduate student workers or both). Someone earning poverty wages in a temporary job that usually lacks health or retirement benefits faces enormous financial pressures and personal challenges. It is difficult to keep these challenges from interfering with one’s job performance. Those part-time faculty members not living near or below the poverty line are likely to face overwhelming workload challenges, because to boost their income they must take on excessive teaching workloads (teaching hundreds of students per term) at multiple institutions or work additional jobs outside of teaching altogether.

These workload issues are even worse for women instructors. According to studies by the TIAA Institute and the AAUP, while the majority of tenured and tenure-track college faculty in the United States are men, the majority of both full- and part-time non-tenure-track faculty are women. Women in non-tenure-track positions, in addition to being paid less and having less secure appointments than their mostly male tenured and tenure-track colleagues, are more likely to bear a disproportionate share of unpaid family care and household labor that add to the existing workload challenges that all non-tenure-track faculty face. In this regard, the limiting of professional opportunities associated with the gendered divisions between temporary and tenure-track faculty reflects broader patterns in the US economy, where, according to the Department of Labor, women make up 43 percent of all full-time employees and 63 percent of all part-time employees.

Workload issues also disproportionately affect faculty of color. At the very time that the share of Black and Hispanic students in higher education has been rising, the employment standards for their teachers have been falling, and those best positioned to serve these students have been undermined. We suspect that the low pay provided to temporary college faculty has stunted the ability of colleges to hire a diverse faculty workforce that more closely reflects the demographics of their students and surrounding communities. The slowly increasing racial diversity of faculty members over the last couple of generations has been accompanied by the rapid decline of the profession itself. This has meant that most nonwhite faculty have temporary appointments. A recent TIAA Institute study found that 58 percent of underrepresented minorities who are college instructors teach part time, and another 17 percent are full-time faculty members ineligible for tenure. But the fact that 66 percent of tenure-eligible faculty members who haven’t yet earned tenure are white, while 72 percent of all part-time and 75 percent of all full-time non-tenure-track faculty are white, suggests that the low pay and job insecurity of non-tenure-track work have pushed many qualified nonwhite candidates out of the college teaching profession entirely. Those who remain are likely, as the California Faculty Association has pointed out, to experience the unpaid “cultural taxation” of extra service to mentor students of color.

When colleges and universities do not sufficiently invest in their teachers, they do not sufficiently invest in teaching either. As temporary employees, part-time faculty members are usually hired in ad hoc ways; they are provided little or no training; their teaching is not observed by their peers; there are few, if any, formal standards for their reappointment; and their institutions do not invest in their professional development. Add this lack of professional support to the financial incentive provided by low wages to teach too many students per term and you have a higher education system that is more interested in the number of degrees granted to students than in the quality of the education provided.

Though administrators have over the past decade demonstrated an increased interest in promoting active learning and student retention, any such reforms are radically constrained by the low wages, high workloads, and lack of professional standards in the hiring, retention, and promotion process for the majority of college teachers in the United States.

Reinvesting in Teachers and Teaching

Reestablishing professional standards for college teachers and teaching is more challenging than reversing employers’ widespread abuse of the independent-contractor model to create a gig academy, because the faculty tenure system presents unique challenges to incorporating temporary employment into college teaching. The hollowing out of the academic profession has come less through the abuse of the independent-contractor system and more through the establishment of a permatemp system of ongoing short-term contracts in which most faculty teaching is not even observed or evaluated by peers. The most common alternative to short-term contracts for college teachers—from the community college to the research university—is the faculty member whose academic freedom is secured through a system of tenure that can extend for the entirety of one’s working life. Though we support the AAUP’s call to convert teaching-intensive non-tenure-track appointments to the tenure track, in our view it would be difficult, if not impossible, to make all faculty members eligible for tenure. Total elimination of adjunct faculty status could make sometimes-appropriate short-term and visiting faculty contracts untenable. (Occasional term-limited appointments within a high tenure density context may be appropriate; their exploitation such that they become the rule rather than the exception is not.) Conversely, the abolishment of the faculty tenure system—as has already been achieved in some for-profit colleges and universities—would threaten to accelerate the commercialization of the curriculum and the deprofessionalization of college teaching.

We therefore call for economic parity and professional equality between ranks of college teachers. Parity allows for both short- and long-term faculty employment to continue while radically reducing the financial incentive that administrators have to replace faculty members who have professional status (as full-time, tenure-track, or tenured employees) with temps. Professional equality provides an incentive to tenure-track faculty to prioritize excellence in hiring, retention, and evaluation standards. Extending the right to participate in college and university governance to all teachers—through labor rights and shared governance—is a linchpin for achieving this recommitment to higher education teaching quality.

Faculty Salary and Benefits Parity

Salary and benefits parity, recommended by the AAUP for decades but still far from reality, is the key to not just eliminating the poverty wages for college teachers but also eliminating the incentive to replace tenure-track faculty with temps. Our California Federation of Teachers (CFT) colleague Bobbi-Lee Smart, part-time vice president of the Cerritos College Faculty Federation (CCFF), has led the way on bargaining for salary “parity factor.” Cerritos College’s collective bargaining agreement established a minimum wage for non-tenure-track faculty at 54.5 percent of the base salary for tenure-track faculty. Even though this low parity level leaves Cerritos College faculty earning about half of what the Modern Language Association (MLA) recommends as best practice, it still had dramatic effects: in one year, it provided a more than 50 percent raise to the roughly six hundred part-time instructors teaching at Cerritos College, who make up 69 percent of all teachers there. Following closely behind the CCFF, the Peralta Federation of Teachers (another of our fellow CFT affiliates) recently won 100 percent parity for the part-time faculty at the lower end of the salary scale.

The limitations of the faculty parity systems highlight the need for a more robust model to be taken to scale—in California and across the United States. First, when non-tenure-track faculty earn roughly 50 percent of what their tenure-track colleagues earn, far too much financial incentive remains for administrators to replace full-time with part-time faculty. Second, faculty parity at Cerritos College does not apply to health benefits—while each full-time faculty member receives the equivalent of $24,000 of health-insurance coverage per year, part-time faculty members receive $1,000 stipends each term to cover their out-of-pocket health-insurance costs. Finally, even this limited victory for part-time faculty at Cerritos College applies only to one community college district in one state. Without legislative change, achieving 50 percent parity requirements for the more than forty thousand part-time faculty members in California would require negotiating a different collective bargaining agreement with each one of the state’s 115 community college districts.

We therefore recommend that state governments establish parity factors for all public college and university faculty. This parity would immediately set a pay floor for college instructors of at least 75 percent, and ideally closer to 90 or 100 percent, of the per-course salary of a beginning assistant professor on the tenure track. The federal government should also consider making its funding of higher education contingent upon faculty and staff parity factors. Determining what percentage of tenure-track faculty salaries go to teaching, service, and research would present a challenge to creating this system, but hardly an insurmountable one. The greater the parity between pay scales of employees doing roughly comparable work, the more college employees will be lifted out of poverty, and the more colleges will lose their financial incentive to abuse the temporary employment classification’s function to avoid paying college teachers and staff a living wage. Because white men occupy a disproportionate share of professional faculty positions, such parity would also increase gender and racial equity. We believe that parity will change regional labor markets substantially, without dictating or micromanaging pay scales. We are excited to see that legislation to establish 75 percent parity was recently introduced in New Hampshire, and legislation to establish 100 percent parity was recently introduced in Illinois. We hope that this model quickly finds its way into national policy.

Regional Collective Bargaining

Regional collective bargaining is another essential tool for addressing the race to the bottom in college teaching in the United States. As the labor economist Daniel F. Jacoby has argued, “multi-employer unionization can level the playing field for contingent faculty.” Regional bargaining can address the fact that colleges and universities are not labor markets unto themselves and can arrest or reverse the professional decline that has continued even where college faculty are represented by labor unions. Jacoby and Jonathan Boyette hypothesize that the “supply of graduates within a commutable distance of institutions is closely correlated with part-time faculty utilization rates.” Based on this analysis, lawmakers should consider proximity to graduate degree–granting institutions as a basis for creating collective bargaining regions for faculty (as well as other campus workers). Absent legal rights to do so, greater regional coordination among campus labor unions seems essential, especially for faculty and graduate student labor unions seeking to increase their bargaining power in regions with comparatively high levels of educational attainment. Faculty unions including the AAUP have been proposing metropolitan bargaining for years, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has been a recent leader in attempts to implement it. We hope that the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the AAUP, and the National Education Association can better support this strategy in their organizing and in their lobbying.

Access to Unemployment Insurance

A federal rule passed more than fifty years ago to prevent “educational employees” with “reasonable assurance” of future employment from collecting unemployment between terms currently prevents temporary college instructors with no contract for future employment from collecting unemployment in forty-eight of fifty states. The rule was created in the 1970s and assumed a norm of tenure-line faculty employment even though tenured and tenure-track faculty made up less than half of the instructional workforce in 1975. Even in supposedly labor-friendly California, it is not uncommon for colleges and universities to challenge their teachers’ unemployment claims simply to make the process more onerous. The University of California, for example, contracts with the credit reporting agency Equifax to dispute its lecturers’ unemployment claims: Equifax handles the filings and appearances at the California Employment Development Department, arguing against unemployed faculty before administrative law judges and even clawing back benefits that were legitimately disbursed years earlier. In better news, the Colorado AAUP conference recently won a commitment from the Colorado Community College System not to contest the unemployment claims of adjunct faculty during winter break 2020‒21.

Though the need for unemployment insurance for part-time faculty would be substantially mitigated by providing salary parity between tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty, until such parity is achieved, unemployment insurance functions as an important supplemental wage that mitigates the financial insecurity and in some cases poverty of non-tenure-track faculty without multiyear contracts. If state governments are going to rely on “just-in-time” professors who do not receive contracts to teach until after the term has begun and who can lose classes and even their jobs at the last minute as a result of fluctuations in student enrollment, the very least those states could do is ensure that faculty are eligible for unemployment insurance like everyone else. And if states won’t make temporary college instructors eligible for unemployment, the federal government should require it.

Universal Faculty Representation in Shared Governance

At many institutions, the declining number of faculty eligible for tenure has transformed shared governance into a means through which administrators enlist a comparatively privileged strata of faculty to participate in and manage their own profession’s long-term decline. Some academic senates that do still exist fight hard to keep contingent faculty out, failing to see that divisiveness serves administrative interests and ultimately contributes to their own rapidly declining influence.

As the AAUP stated in its 2012 report The Inclusion in Governance of Faculty Members Holding Contingent Appointments, “Faculty members who hold contingent appointments should be afforded responsibilities and opportunities in governance similar to those of their tenured and tenure-track colleagues.” And because non-tenure-track faculty often perform most of the teaching at their institutions and do a disproportionate share of introductory and remedial instruction, extending membership in faculty governance bodies to them would bring the faculty members who often have the deepest understanding of student needs into conversations about what and how they teach. Excluding contingent faculty from governance deprofessionalizes college teaching by keeping most college teachers out of the spaces where the profession is formed. Compensating service work, understanding it as a form of professional development, and making contingent faculty eligible for the procedures that protect academic freedom would improve shared governance.

Inclusion of non-tenure-track faculty in institutional governance would also create a powerful incentive for tenure-track and tenured faculty to implement and uphold professional standards for the hiring, retention, and professional development of their non-tenure-track colleagues. And contingent faculty should have a role in developing and enforcing those standards. When non-tenure-track colleagues can vote on departmental policy, tenured and tenure-track faculty in those departments are far more likely to take an interest in the qualifications, abilities, and professional development of their non-tenure-track colleagues. This recognition of non-tenure-track faculty as peers rather than subordinates could help tenured and tenure-track faculty develop the political will to end their own complicity in the creation and maintenance of an “adjunct underclass.”

Labor Unions as Partners

The labor movement is one of the most important sources of policy innovation in higher education today and an essential partner for the development of a New Deal for Higher Education. For instance, community college instructors in Vancouver, Canada, have been able to win through collective bargaining a system in which fixed-term contracts must be converted to ongoing, indefinite positions after a certain number of renewals. If adopted as legislation in the United States, either by state governments or by the federal government as a requirement of institutions that receive federal funding, such a system could quickly and dramatically regularize adjunct employment by prohibiting the fracturing of full-time, benefits-eligible positions into multiple part-time jobs without benefits. A true New Deal for Higher Education would include direct interventions such as these.

An uprush of pandemic-era antiausterity activism by college teachers in 2020 against a “coronavirus shock doctrine” highlights both the development of new ideas for change and growing willingness to support change. The wildcat strike over cost-of-living adjustments by academic student employees at the University of California, Santa Cruz, spread to other UC campuses in early 2020 just as COVID-19 was beginning to spread across the globe. Soon after, our lecturer colleagues and fellow UC-AFT leaders at UCSC argued that contingent faculty must also organize with militant purpose. More recently, the delegate assembly of the AAUP- and AFT-affiliated Professional Staff Congress at the City University of New York passed a resolution committing to strike readiness in part because CUNY management laid off three thousand adjuncts at the end of the 2019‒20 academic year.

Other notable recent organizing efforts include a petition by the San Francisco State University chapter of the AAUP-affiliated California Faculty Association that connected its opposition to layoffs to demands for reduced workloads to improve teaching quality. The Rutgers AAUP-AFT proposed an innovative work-sharing program (discussed elsewhere in this issue) that would not just prevent permanent layoffs during the pandemic but could be a model for handling recession-driven austerity in public education in the future. Protests by United Campus Workers against a proposal to save $6 million per year by replacing tenure-track positions in the University of Colorado at Boulder’s College of Arts and Sciences with non-tenure-track positions highlighted how campus workers are resisting deprofessionalization during the pandemic. It also illustrated how campus workers in some states (including many “right-to-work” states such as Tennessee and Mississippi) are building solidarity across professions as a wall-to-wall organizing strategy that connects the interests of students, staff, and faculty in developing a new financial model for higher education.

University Campus Workers of Arizona Local 7065 provides an example of how new kinds of faculty labor activism are developing new forms of solidarity and new politics in “right-to-work” states. The local developed out of the Coalition for Academic Justice at the University of Arizona, which itself was formed in April 2020 to research and dispute the university’s purported need for furloughs and pay cuts. Its formation followed on the heels of a wildcat strike by K‒12 teachers in Arizona—part of the #RedForEd movement in 2018—and took off during a year when the state’s electorate flipped from Republican to Democrat after years of Latinx and labor union organizing. Local 7065 connects all campus workers’ struggles together and is a “statewide higher education union” that encompasses both the University of Arizona and Arizona State University.

The research wings of campus labor unions have highlighted issues that demonstrate the need for a New Deal for Higher Education. In particular, they have analyzed and demanded alternatives to the unsustainable financialization of higher education through the selling of bonds to offset government budget cuts or changes in enrollment—a trend that has become worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. At Salem State University, where full-time faculty declined by 11 percent and part-time faculty declined by 23 percent between 2017 and 2020, the Massachusetts State College Association (MSCA) led protests against budget austerity in 2020 and formed a “capital assets working group” to analyze its root causes. MSCA members were astonished to discover that roughly 10 percent of their higher education system’s budget was dedicated to servicing the institution’s debt, which is considered a fixed cost whose payment can require tuition increases or staff and faculty layoffs. They responded by developing an alternative “growth plan” based in public reinvestment in public higher education. At the San Francisco Art Institute, SEIU Local 1021, which represents the school’s faculty, has played a lead role in resisting the closure of the institution after its administration took on too much debt, and it has successfully demanded that the state of California investigate SFAI’s fiscal mismanagement.

At the University of California, where we teach, the radical student protests against tuition increases in 2009 were partly informed by the public letter from Bob Meister, president of the Council of UC Faculty Associations, stating that “they pledged your tuition” to service institutional debt and that the 30 percent tuition increases students were facing were partly going to Wall Street. Yet despite those protests, the UC system doubled its debt burden between 2009 and 2016 to offset budget cuts and has sold billions of dollars of new bonds since the pandemic began. In 2015, the system was already paying $2,200 per student just in interest payments. We shudder to think of how much that figure might be for the 2021‒22 academic year.

Representatives from SFAI and Salem State helped organize a January 2021 teach-in, “Revealing the Invisible: Universities and Institutional Debt,” cosponsored by the Public Higher Education Workers network and the Debt Collective, which sought to share their research methods with higher education activists across the country. And on March 18 of this year, the AAUP and the AFT hosted a webinar on organizing against financialization in higher education that featured faculty activists from the University of Wisconsin and West Chester University, in addition to activists from Salem State. With the Wall Street Journal reporting in December 2020 on a higher education “bond boom” that provides short-term relief from COVID-19-related budget shortfalls while promising long-term labor austerity and student debt to pay off Wall Street creditors, this is a situation that requires immediate attention. Our hope is that similar, ongoing research into university finances will further publicize the negative consequences of the systematic underfunding of higher education and demonstrate the need for government reinvestment in, and the financial reorganization of, the US higher education system.

Connecting Teaching and Learning

Contingent faculty retention, pay, benefits, and appointment percentages should be part of the equation by which we measure student success. Student success has rightly become a buzzword of many higher education administrators. None other than Dr. Jill Biden, the First Lady of the United States, wrote an entire dissertation on the subject. But student success is too often reduced to narrow, uncontextualized parameters (graduation rates, time to degree, first-year retention) that don’t reveal what kind of education students are receiving. A more robust understanding of student success would link teaching and learning closely together.

Since Dr. Biden completed her doctoral degree, a significant body of research has demonstrated that faculty precarity negatively affects students’ experiences. Because faculty working conditions and student learning conditions are so interwoven, measures of student success must include a faculty counterpart. Ideally, tracking such information would help policy makers and college administrators prioritize increasing the ratio of faculty FTEs to faculty headcount, so part-time faculty can at least move closer to full-time appointments.

Funding to promote student success must flow not just to noninstructional wraparound support such as counseling services, diversity initiatives, and career centers but to the classroom itself. State and federal funding ought to come with requirements, incentives, or targets for improving pay and working conditions for non-tenure-track faculty. Because first-year students are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of substandard faculty working conditions, funds should be earmarked for the foundational courses that non-tenure-track faculty are most likely to teach. This funding should support the twin goals of reducing class sizes and raising non-tenure-track faculty living standards.

Additionally, federal and state officials who shape policy for public higher education and vote on funding must improve their understandings of higher education teaching labor. The Affordable Care Act, for example, lowballs faculty labor by assuming that every hour of classroom teaching time requires only 1.25 hours of work outside the classroom. Advising students, preparing to teach, grading papers, and writing letters of recommendation too often go unpaid altogether, subjecting non-tenure-track faculty to wholesale wage theft. California’s Community College Part-Time Faculty Office Hours Program is a rare example of legislation that both authorizes and compensates the additional work that accompanies classroom teaching. We need more initiatives like it.

At too many research universities, teaching can be treated as an afterthought, a second-class activity relegated to second-class faculty. Premising funding and even accreditation on measures of teaching and learning equity could begin to alleviate the inequities of a two-tier faculty system. This entails a recognition that teaching and research aren’t siloed off from each other, that today’s learners are tomorrow’s researchers, and that the conditions in which knowledge is transmitted affect the creation of knowledge itself.

Conclusion

We are writing from a vantage point at the University of California where the stakes are high. As contingent lecturers, we have been bargaining with university executives and lawyers for nearly two years to stabilize 6,800 teaching faculty jobs through fair and transparent evaluation and rehiring processes, reasonable workload standards, and higher compensation. Most lecturers teach at UC for a year or less. Because of the pervasiveness of part-time appointments, the median annual salary for a UC lecturer is a dismal $19,067. In all this time, UC management hasn’t brought a single proposal to the table on lecturer rehiring, and it retracted the only proposal it made (on evaluation). What we hear during negotiations is absolute insistence on the sanctity of management rights to employ and dismiss arbitrarily. It’s a stunning refusal of any commitment to high-quality education.

The alternative to reform is not the status quo. Without decisive action to change the direction in which it is moving, the US higher education system is likely to get worse rather than better. After five decades of decline, we still don’t know where the bottom is, or if there is one at all. How many students do faculty members have to teach in a term for administrators to finally say that the number is too many? How low do faculty salaries have to be for administrators to finally say that they are too low? What percentage of faculty members have to become temps for administrators to say there are too many? It seems as if the answer is that there is no limit. Without government intervention, in partnership with organized faculty, the hollowing out of the teaching profession is likely to continue without end. This is why federal funding for institutions of higher education through a New Deal for Higher Education must come with clear rules for improving pay and treatment of non-tenure-track faculty. And where the federal government won’t or can’t act, state governments should.

Here in California, the recent passage of Proposition 22 in 2020 has opened up new possibilities for the downsizing of the middle class, including college teachers. The new law, which rideshare companies spent hundreds of millions of dollars to convince voters to support, not only prevents the state of California from requiring that rideshare companies treat their drivers as employees but also weakens Assembly Bill 5, which was intended to prevent employers from subcontracting essential work to avoid labor law. If other industries now try to build upon rideshare companies’ example, the use of independent contractors to replace a variety of temporary employment positions could accelerate dramatically. Aided by the development of digital course management systems and the expansion of online learning, colleges and universities in the future could turn contingent faculty members with labor rights into independent contractors with almost no rights at all.

Faculty members can and must be partners in a New Deal for Higher Education. Supporting the labor rights and salary parity of all college teachers, with a focus on those who are most precarious and earn the least, is a good way not just to ensure equity but also to improve teaching quality. We faculty members must organize to demonstrate the need for major change and help politicians understand the urgency of the situation we now face.

Mia McIver is a lecturer in writing programs at the University of California, Los Angeles, and president of the University Council‒American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT). Trevor Griffey is a lecturer in labor studies at UCLA, a lecturer in US history at the University of California, Irvine, and vice president of the UC Irvine chapter of UC-AFT. He is a cofounder of the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project and the coeditor of Black Power at Work: Community Control, Affirmative Action, and the Construction Industry.

Comments

Thank you for writing this excellent, comprehensive piece. I am sharing it posthaste across our social media here in Colorado. 

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