The Contact Hour Lie

from New Hampshire Adjuncts United (blog)

Administrators in Claremont and Keene (New Hampshire) have demonstrated a growing hostility toward adjunct equity by way of clandestine Full Time hiring processes, cancelling over-enrolled Liberal Arts courses (without any explanation), perpetual chicken-without-a-head last minute section adds and drops, and zero pay scale improvements across the past five academic years, to say the least. However, in the lead for first place among this pack of problems remains local and state-wide administrative refusal to address the problem of contact hours.

Let’s accept that adjuncts are temporary contractors even though we know this is not accurate or respectful of the curricular and institutional support Adjunct Professors bring to their respective colleges. When the college hires a paving contractor, the company is compensated for the hours worked. If the contractor needs to put in more hours to finish the job, the billing total reflects the additional labor. The college pays the invoice. More importantly, this group of workers set the prices and, of course, compete with other contractors for the best bid. It’s a negotiation, in other words.

But, when it comes to adjunct contractors, the college does not compensate for the hours worked. The value of labor is set not by the market but instead it is dictated by a Human Resources division that retains far too much power over the sister colleges and a Chancellery structure that all but guarantees error, inequity, and dishonesty. We tried committees; we attempted to negotiate directly with the Vice-Presidents. Now, we have a union.

Here’s the news, my friends. Composition courses meet for three hours, require at least three hours of dedicated grading time. Student conferences, while often held in place of class, add another three hours plus during the submission deadline. Per week, an adjunct professor is required to donate more than half the labor it takes to teach a course with professionalism and consistency. Other faculty, part-time and full-time, are offered prep time. Faculty work week is a time when my colleagues were able to put their courses together (on salary). Some faculty even negotiate less contact hours for the instruction of new core and elective offerings. But, not Adjunct Faculty.

Why are some workers able to negotiate with transparency while others work in the dark without any hope of ever aligning their work with the professional, personal, and regional or national standards that bring about measurable successes? When did it become normal for the faculty of a college to not even receive the time of day from administrators on the subject matter of basic compensation? Something is very wrong here.

One group of workers receives the exact compensation for their labor; the other, Adjunct Professors, are expected to provide in-kind donations. One group cites market value for their labor; the other, is forced to accept the value of their labor according to antiquated charts and inconsistent wage distribution—not professional organizations, not the regional marketplace.

Like a sharecropping system, the owner class retains and fights for control of the workers. After so many academic years, then, it must be concluded that local and state administrators at CCSNH deliberately and falsely define three contact hours as the actual hours worked per course across a sixteen week term. It works to their benefit, like all owner-biased systems. As the Chris Rock joke goes: “If I could pay you less, I would; but it’s illegal.”

It is high time for the CCSNH administrators to stop perpetuating the contact hour lie. The local and System-wide excuses offered range from budgetary shortfalls (notice how administrators are always compensated and new staff are hired) to an excuse no teacher would accept from a student, let alone a superior: that’s just the way it is. I’m sorry, but our job is to encourage critical thinking and live our missions, all of which focus on fairness, industry standards, civic responsibility, and maturity. The response from CCSNH falls far below these expectations.

Faculty, students, administration, staff, and, more importantly, the people of New Hampshire benefit when we work together to create sustainable, fair, and transparent working conditions. We cannot meet the needs and high standards of our students when an Adjunct Faculty member repeatedly finds him or herself fiscally assaulted by administrative labor-robbing policies. To stop this insanity, Adjunct Professors must define the terms of their labor for themselves as the first step toward a fair and good faith negotiation with CCSNH. They must be compensated for their actual (not contact) hours.

Anything less than full compensation perpetuates a cycle of inequity that harms everyone, not just the Adjuncts.

Dr. Robert Craig Baum taught for River Valley Community College and the Keene Center from 2004-2011. He holds degrees from The Catholic University of America, Dartmouth College, and the European Graduate School (Saas Fee, Switzerland). With over fifteen years of higher education and Liberal Arts experience, Dr. Baum is now focused on creating “affinity” arts and education organizations that can anticipate the looming higher education bubble crisis. N1Theatre and N1Academy are first attempts to prepare students, faculty, and other collaborators for the Great Upheaval (2008-2050). He is also author of the critically acclaimed philosophical work Itself and is presently completing a co-authored book discussing education, philosophy, and activism: Requiem and Restitution (with Dr. Matthew Steven Carlos).

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