Why and How to Publish an Advocate's Guide

To advocate effectively for colleagues on contingent appointments, we must first know the facts.
By Caprice Lawless

The AAUP chapters of the Colorado Community College System (CCCS), together with the Colorado AAUP conference, have been advocating for nearly a decade to improve the working conditions of adjunct faculty in the CCCS. We led the charge on two pieces of state legislation that sought to address the problem, made a formal proposal for change through meetings with the CCCS chancellor and his staff, raised awareness by publishing facts about contingency in “The Adjunct Index,” wrote numerous editorials for local newspapers, were featured on a local PBS program, campaigned each year during Campus Equity Week, and hosted many events on and off campus.

Integral to this work, of course, has been research. We know things administrators wish we did not know. Activists are empowered by knowing the facts in a gaslit environment. As is the case with other oppressed groups, survival depends on close observation and study of the oppressors. The challenge is getting the mountain of information into the hands of those who can use it and presenting it in an easily digestible format. There is no shortage of detailed research reports describing the crisis in academic labor nationwide. There is a shortage of accessible reference books that advocates can use to challenge the problem locally. Is it chilling that ordinary facts about money and personnel in public higher education are hidden in Colorado and in other states? Absolutely. Is it trying to dig up the facts you need to counter the Orwellian statements that fall so effortlessly from the tongues of administrators? Of course. Aren’t college faculty trained in digging up that stuff, though, at the end of the (long) day? We are. Happily for us in Colorado, ten years of digging in the trenches has uncovered some rich veins of facts.

Last spring, I took some time to collect our previous findings, file some new Open Records Act requests for senior administrator salaries, research a few enrollment figures, and update information on adjunct wages. I published all of this information for the benefit of my activist colleagues in a handbook, The Adjunct’s Guide: Working in the Colorado Community College System. I had the time to take on this task—which required hundreds of hours of research—over several months. However, this same work, if spread across a committee, could enable you to publish an advocate’s guide that faculty at your institution could use to fight for better conditions for adjunct and other non-tenure-track faculty.

This article details how to undertake such a project, focusing on four steps: conception, creation, production, and distribution.


You may notice that many local AAUP members possess knowledge of only a tiny piece of the full picture at their institution. All advocates for adjunct faculty must have access to the same information and be able to share that information readily with peers, the press, and lawmakers. Think hard about the most specific and most powerful information you want to put into the hands of your advocates. Publishing an advocate’s guide will

  1. put all advocates on the same page, literally, with high-value information about the institution;
  2. help faculty members connect the dots about who is responsible for the structure of their workplace and how, when, and by whom it is changed;
  3. provide the faculty with a ready reference for the arguments they want to make in governing bodies, in writing letters to the editor, when providing testimony before legislative bodies, and so on;
  4. reveal deeply hidden, stubbornly evasive answers, which typically are unavailable without knowing how to use the Freedom of Information Act to make open records requests;
  5. shed light in many cases on hidden or disguised capital expenditures;
  6. expose salaries and recent raises that should be public information but are hidden by the administration;
  7. provide a reference with links to food banks and other social services adjunct faculty may need to access;
  8. normalize reliance on those services among adjunct faculty;
  9. provide transparency where it is purposefully withheld by administration;
  10. put the AAUP in the forefront of the push for transparency;
  11. further underscore the value of AAUP membership.

Focus the work by seeking answers to two dozen questions—no more. No doubt your committee will be overwhelmed by all the questions that rightly deserve answers. Remember, though, that your purpose is to develop, in this case, a comprehensive, easy-to-use, and easily quotable handbook for your advocating peers. The committee may want to consider these steps as members determine the questions your guide will answer:

  • Channel the classic line of inquiry as you consider your questions: who, what, where, when, why, and how.
  • Ask “what information will be the most powerful for the most advocates?”
  • Follow the money.
  • List the vacuums (information that is never shared).
  • Note the places, departments, and websites that have gone silent.
  • Question the meetings and events that have no minutes.
  • Challenge authority, question its purpose, and research its sources.
  • Avoid trivia. Focus on the larger design undergirding the oppression.
  • Avoid gossip. In broken systems there are no shortages of corruption and petty intrigues. Resist focusing on gossip and hearsay. Power lies in understanding the system that enables contingency, in mapping its origins and sources of funding, and in identifying the levers for change.
  • Embrace being outsiders. Those who hold power see the power structures only from within. Use your outsider perspective to pursue the obvious, to question the assumptions at work, and to challenge the current structure.

Listed below are the questions set forth in the table of contents of The Adjunct’s Guide. Note how straightforward the questions are. They are disarming in their simplicity.

  • Where is the CCCS?
  • Who governs the CCCS and how are those people chosen?
  • How can adjunct faculty members communicate with the State Board for Community Colleges and Occupational Education?
  • What is the enrollment of the CCCS?
  • How many people are employed by the CCCS, and how many are adjunct faculty?
  • How are adjunct faculty hours calculated?
  • How is my so-called “professional rate” calculated?
  • Can my department chair cut my course load, claiming “new CCCS policy” or “declining enrollment”?
  • Will I lose classes or be fired from my job if I raise a complaint about working conditions in the CCCS?
  • Don’t all CCCS employees receive regular cost-of-living adjustments?
  • What percentage in pay increases have the approximately 1,100 CCCS full-time faculty received since 2014?
  • Have there been any pay raises to any CCCS employees in 2019–20?
  • How much does the CCCS spend to pay its adjunct faculty?
  • Won’t my Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association benefit add to the Social Security benefit I have earned elsewhere?
  • Who sets personnel policies and wages at each college?
  • Who determines wages for adjunct faculty?
  • What is tiered pay for adjunct faculty?
  • What is the average wage per class for CCCS adjunct faculty?
  • Who advocates for improving CCCS adjunct faculty wages and working conditions?
  • What are the CCCS executives paid?
  • What are the guidelines for shared governance in the CCCS?
  • Is the CCCS broke, as administrators always tell us?
  • Could the CCCS use some unrestricted reserves to pay adjunct faculty a higher wage or an annual bonus?
  • Where can CCCS adjuncts get help with food, housing, and other essentials?


Committee members can divide the work among themselves, with different people focusing on different questions, conducting research on them, identifying sources, filing Open Records Act requests, and handling the various aspects of production and dissemination. Consider the strengths of committee members. Some enjoy making phone calls, interviewing officials, and networking to find resources. Some are skilled in Excel or want to refine their rudimentary knowledge of it. Some are skilled in graphic design and enjoy culling images from online sources. Consider whether you want to announce an anticipated publication date to keep the work focused. Think about the lead time printers and web developers may need to distribute your publication when you announce your anticipated publication date.

As work progresses, the committee will become a resource itself as members begin “power mapping” the institution. Create a folder for each question and add all bits of information to it, big and small, as the picture becomes clear. Conduct the work as carefully as you would any research you planned to publish. The guide may appear breezy and candid. Even so, it is a complex research document. Make note of the day you find the information and whether the source is a website, email, conversation, meeting you attended, newspaper or journal article, budget document, state statute, policy document, faculty handbook, labor law, or other legislation. You should include this citation information in a list of sources at the end of your guide.

Many questions will overlap. Answer each briefly and directly. Avoid the temptation to create a research paper with long narratives about the overlaps. The advocate’s guide is a novel publication, focused on providing short answers to specific questions the committee has identified previously. Some sources contradict others; make brief note of those in your narrative. Your aim is to provide a concise and accurate answer to each question. Keep in mind what the audience needs. Don’t name department administrators, just their titles or the departments. This makes your publication more timeless, as employees change positions or new administrators are appointed. Share the information with committee members and meet regularly on Zoom or in person to stay on track.

Financial Statements, Compliance Audits, and Open Records Act Requests

Your institution’s annual financial statement and compliance audit will list expenditures and explain decisions made by administrators and governing boards regarding those expenditures. To begin fully to understand your institution’s annual audit you would need to take the AAUP Summer Institute’s stellar workshops on higher education finance. However, by making a practice of comparing detailed columns of information from one yearly audit to the next, even those of us doing well just to balance our own checkbooks can readily recognize patterns and trends, such as discrepancies in revenues and expenditures from year to year. If someone on your committee is an accountant or knows one, all the better. The management narrative sections are a gold mine, so to speak, of spin. These sections are good places to start looking for (and usually not finding) the detail you need. That, in turn, requires you as researchers to file Open Records Act requests to get the information. Learning how to do so is helpful for advocacy in numerous ways. These requests get you what is usually damning information, such as administration salaries, and it also annoys administrators to no end that you are seeking what ought to be publicly disclosed information. Furthermore, by then publishing what you uncover in an advocate’s guide, you are providing to peers and taxpayers some of the information that governing boards so often conceal. In so doing, you add to the prestige of your AAUP chapter’s advocacy and become, for peers, a go-to source of elusive facts.

Audits are different from budgets. Even so, make it a habit to read your institution’s audit. The audits of the CCCS have been a rich source of dubious “facts,” because an audit shows lawmakers where the CCCS has parked money without providing much detail. In reading between the lines of the document, even the casual observer will have dozens of questions about the funds assigned to employee categories, divisions, and programs. Those questions are not answered in the audit, or anywhere, ever, that we have found. Having answers is always a source of power. Having good questions can be an altogether different source of power. Look at the narrative sections that allude to the various foundations, the breezy description of expenses by division, and especially how the category of “instruction” is undefined. For us, these sections raised questions such as the following: Which employees are included in the largest percentage of funding? How much is each of them paid? What, exactly, is the state’s largest and most financially secure institution paying its faculty majority of approximately 4,500 unnecessarily impoverished adjuncts? Why must the state spend $40,000 per day on wages to the sixty-four presidents and vice presidents of the CCCS? Evidently, such questions are of little concern to the annual CCCS audit readers. They are powerful, however, for faculty advocates. 

National Center for Education Statistics Data

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) of the National Center for Education Statistics covers hundreds of interrelated aspects of higher education. However, using IPEDS as a data source is complicated, and the information in it can feel esoteric. The point of an advocate’s guide is to give context to the deeply hidden data. You don’t want to overwhelm readers of the guide so much that they have to make double espressos and buckle down for an evening of wonk work. That being said, including a hyperlink to a fact or two from IPEDS is useful if the committee member writing that section can shape the narrative around the statistics to bring them to life for readers.

Your Institution's Website

Likely because published facts can point to programs, processes, and people, their collection and dissemination through your college website is subject to more changes than the weather. Consequently, your institution’s website is likely contradictory, clunky, irrelevant, self-aggrandizing, duplicitous, and telling. Have some fun by using Google to search for institutional web pages dated a few years ago, and then compare the long-lost (hidden) facts on those pages to those on recently updated web pages. This is how we discovered that our college system routinely and quietly raises tuition whenever it likes to do so. In fact, it has increased tuition more than 100 percent since 2008, even raising it during 2022, when system brass threatened in the press that a pay raise to adjunct faculty would spark a supposedly rare tuition increase.

Governing Board Meeting Minutes

The mission statement of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges proclaims that “college, university, and foundation board members are indispensable, strategic partners with institutions to fulfill their unique commitments to society, advance student success and well-being, and enhance institutional vitality.” Cite instances where your governing board has fallen short of that lofty mission and note the information vacuums. If your governing board, like so many, meets mostly in executive session, might that be construed as a sign of disdain for faculty members in terms of the aforementioned partnership, well-being, and vitality? For example, the members of the Colorado State Board for Community Colleges and Occupational Education are identified and recommended through unknown processes and then appointed by the governor. Faculty have nothing to do with their selection or appointment, and this appears to be a license for the board to have nothing to do with faculty, alas.

Lobbyist Disclosure Reports

Most states require lobbyists to submit periodic disclosure reports. Contact your secretary of state’s office to find the names of your institution’s lobbyists and how much your administration has paid them to press for initiatives that affect your academic labor. We discovered, for example, that the CCCS paid its lobbyists $132,000 to defeat our 2014 equal-work-for-equal-pay bill (HB 14-1154) and a similar 2015 senate bill (SB 15-094). Look at the reporting requirements for your state, as listed on the website of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Internal Memoranda and Emails

Memoranda and emails can be rich sources of the kind of spin, fluff, and contradictory statements that advocates find useful. As you read these materials, look for examples of tone-deafness, equivocations, and misstatements. Call attention to these as necessary in your guide. Be sure to properly cite the sources at the end of the guide, including the date, subject, author, and recipients of memoranda and emails. 

Other Sources

You will discover answers to some of your questions by monitoring local academic labor issues on social media. Facebook groups often post links to useful federal, state, and local government documents.

Many of us are reading books on academic labor and higher education issues. These are natural sources for you, perhaps, but because faculty peers are so consumed by work in their particular fields, they may not have come across them yet. Don’t assume that all your colleagues know what you know or that everyone has read what you have read. As you come upon details related to each question, add them to the folder for that question or send them to the committee member working on the question.

When working on a mystery, the gumshoe naturally pays close attention to information shared haphazardly in a conversation at the office copier or coffee station. Email threads, tweets, and social media posts may not in themselves provide the reliable evidence you need for the publication, but they may lead you to those sources.

Throughout the creation process, you and your peers will discover you are among the few reporters in your state, or perhaps the only ones, connecting the dots.


The questions you identify and the answers you uncover are the heart of your advocate’s guide, but you will also need to consider other elements of the publication.

Excel Spreadsheets

Your ability to transform the casual figures listed in audits, faculty handbooks, compensation charts, and other “administrivia” that pose as definitive can be elevated with ordinary Excel tools. Make sure that at least one person on your committee knows how to crunch numbers using the magic of Excel formulas.

Excel is a powerful tool for transforming ordinary data about wages, revenues, expenditures, and work hours into pie charts, graphs, and other visualizations that illustrate the points you make in your narrative. Once you populate the cells in the spreadsheets you create with data and formulas, it is easy to update or expand your spreadsheets in the future, helping your committee readily grasp the truth behind the bloviation of administrators. For example, our AAUP chapters’ 2021 Campus Equity Week poster used data to show how a breathlessly announced 5 percent across-the-board pay raise for all employees amounted, for lowly paid adjuncts, to two loaves of bread, on sale, per week, or cleaning for three teeth—and this was before the recent surge in inflation. A 15 percent across-the-board pay raise for all employees in our institution would mean, for many of them, a European vacation or a second car, but for three-quarters of the faculty it would pay for one half of one tank of gas per week. Use Excel to calculate such granular data, and then make compelling arguments about spending in your institution.

In Excel, you can use formulas to capture various figures from audits and other published reports you find. The precision of Excel formulas allows you to use it to easily break down what a semester contract is paying a faculty member per month, per week, per day, and per hour. Likewise, you can compare data on enrollment trends, revenue patterns, funding for professional development, technology, various categories of employees, and so on. Make sure you have a skilled proofreader in your group double-check your figures and the narratives you shape around them.

To determine adjunct hours, for now, you need the baseline 2014 IRS guidelines. Those guidelines have given administrators a tool to calculate adjunct hours at a scandalously low rate that bears little relationship to the time adjuncts actually spend preparing for class, lecturing, grading, and communicating with students and administrators throughout the term. To calculate adjunct hours per week as administrators do, add just 1.25 hours for each hour in the classroom. Ask your readers to contemplate that rate in your guide.


Look for lively, free, or inexpensive photos to illustrate text. We find images on photo-sharing websites such as iStock, Morgue File, and Pixabay. I purchase several dozen high-quality images per year from iStock. You can use these later in other advocacy publications (bookmarks, fliers, invitations, newsletters, and posters). The purchased photos are not inordinately expensive. The top-notch image on the cover of The Adjunct’s Guide cost only $12 from iStock. The national AAUP also has a large collection of photographs from AAUP events available for free at https://www.flickr.com/photos/aaup, and Flickr and other sites have options for searching for photos with Creative Commons licenses allowing for reuse.

Frontmatter and Backmatter

Our Adjunct’s Guide includes an explanation of the book on the inside front cover. It is important to introduce the purpose of your guide and describe how readers can use it. Include contact information for a primary author; don’t talk about gaslighting and then be vague and evasive yourself. Also take this opportunity to promote the work of your AAUP state conference or local chapter. Remember that not everyone who reads your guide will be familiar with the AAUP and the work of your chapter. Many are unfamiliar with the academic labor movement altogether. You should also include a copyright notice at the beginning of the publication, listing the book’s title, the author, the year of publication, and the name of the AAUP conference or chapter publishing it.

We explain the mission of the AAUP and the importance of membership again on the inside back cover. Be sure to include a sentence about why a reader should join the AAUP and the AAUP’s web address, www.aaup.org.

At the end of the main text, we include a section with links for finding food, subsidized health care, and housing. Research your state network of human services offices and include links to available services. Doing so exposes the impossibility of tasking the faculty majority with supplying food for thought when their wages are too low for them to feed themselves.

Tabulated data can be placed in an appendix to keep the narrative portion of the guide readable and engaging. You might also include other tabulated data in the appendix, such as the total number of faculty and nonfaculty staff at your institution or a list of unpublished donations to your institution’s foundation.

Including a list of sources cited at the end of the book marks your guide as a massive research project presented in an unusual form. Links to online sources allow readers to readily verify the facts you present. Because the facts collected in the guide are, perforce, public information, the detailed list of sources cited preemptively refutes any condemnation of your research by the administration.

It is also helpful to include suggested readings at the end. List the books that informed your work in the academic labor movement. Invite your readers to learn about the larger context of their dissatisfaction.


Work with a local printer—if possible, a union shop—and establish a relationship with the graphics department. In our case, the printer’s graphic artist helped us develop a final layout. Do not micromanage the graphic artist. Let the experts do an expert job. High-quality products will shine a positive light on the excellent work your chapter is doing to advocate for higher education faculty. Working with a local printer makes it easier to pass drafts back and forth, to ask for a last-minute change to page proofs, and to get the best price for the printing. And it’s important for those of us fighting the corporatization of higher education to walk the walk by supporting locally owned and unionized businesses.


When you send your guide to members of the press, to lawmakers, or to anyone else not involved with your organizing efforts, be sure to include a press release explaining why you have created the publication. A press release provides the context for your project and helps draw attention to your academic labor issues. Always keep in mind that while you and your chapter members are deeply aware of the issues around academic labor, and especially of how they affect your institution, lawmakers and members of the press are likely unaware of these issues. Use your press release to invite those readers into your situation, to explain why the guide was created, and to make clear how it will help to address the poor working conditions, lack of protections, and low pay of adjunct faculty at your institution.

Identify methods of distribution and specific internal and external audiences. Internal audiences typically include faculty peers, collective bargaining leaders, faculty senators, governing board members, and administrators. External audiences include the press and lawmakers. You may want to mail the press release and hard copies of the publication to some audiences—we sent the full-color version of our Adjunct’s Guide to legislators—and use email to distribute it to others. You should also post the publication to your AAUP chapter or conference website.

Use guerilla marketing techniques if needed. In the CCCS, our chapters are not allowed to put AAUP items in faculty mailboxes. For this reason, we printed some copies of The Adjunct Guide in black and white, with color covers, to save the conference money on printing. That way, we had plenty of copies to distribute on campus and at membership recruitment tables. We often put our publications in faculty workroom refrigerators and microwave ovens so that faculty colleagues find them as they retrieve their sandwiches or warm cups of soup. We also set copies near the computers in our adjunct workrooms and leave them at the faculty desk in some of the classrooms.

It may take several months for your committee to create an advocate’s guide for your institution. The work is worth the effort. The Adjunct’s Guide has been indispensable for our chapters when we have been called on to give testimony to lawmakers, as happened last winter in our statewide push to support a collective bargaining measure before the legislature. Colleagues use the guide to refute erroneous “facts” in faculty senate meetings, adjunct council meetings, and department meetings.

One employee on our campus who is always critical of the AAUP recently referred to The Adjunct’s Guide as “toxic.” That is perhaps the highest compliment an advocate can receive for a publication that is full of facts that challenge a gaslit status quo. Your guide can be equally “toxic,” useful, illuminating, and game-changing.

Caprice Lawless teaches English at Front Range Community College in Colorado, where she is copresident of the state AAUP conference. She chairs the AAUP’s Committee on Contingency and the Profession and is the recipient of the AAUP’s 2022 Georgina M. Smith Award. Her email address is [email protected].