Friday, March 1, 2013

Ten Questions: March 1, 2013

Ten questions change-seekers must ask
By Caprice Lawless

Constant themes in the literature of change are accumulation and aggregation. Rarely is change engendered by an event. More often it begins with a shift in awareness, imperceptible at first. As even small groups of people begin to share with one another their changing perspectives, small shifts collect into an unstoppable movement. The adjunct movement across American academia is already in the secondary stage, necessitating new attention from the Internal Revenue Service, the National Labor Relations Board and the Department of Labor, to name a few oversight agencies at the federal level. 

As teachers, we know firsthand the need to ask the right questions to get a discussion started. To that end, consider these ten questions from the Harvard Business Review. According to writer Bill Taylor (co-founder of Fast Company magazine) lasting change traces its lineage to those who move from powerless complaining to empowering action. He urges change-seekers to ask themselves ten provocative questions. Here are his prompts, with replies from the perspective of Colorado Adjuncts:

1.  Do you see opportunities the competition does not see?
Unfortunately, we work under the illusion that adjunct faculty are in competition with other adjuncts. Is this true for you as a CCCS adjunct? Consider for a moment what type of power this illusion has given administration, what power it has taken away from you, and from all of us.

2. Do you have new ideas about where to look for new ideas?
The vast workforce of approximately 3,500 adjunct faculty labor within the Colorado Community College System (CCCS); a pattern sustained by old arguments and old designs. The CCCS, in turn, operates under the direction of the nine-member (governor-appointed) State Board for Community Colleges and Occupational Education (SBCCOE). This model of subjugated labor has flourished across 45 years of CCCS history. People who are invested in maintaining old models are not in a position to entertain any new ideas. That work will be up to those seeking change to the status quo.

3. Are you the most of anything?
Since adjunct faculty comprises 70% of the faculty, teaching more than 70% of all classes, we’ve got this one in spades.

4. If your company went out of business tomorrow, who would you miss and why?
Consider this for a moment. Your answers may surprise you. Then, think again, but this way: If the way the CCCS functions were to change tomorrow, what would you miss, and why?

5. Have you figured out how your organization’s history can help to shape its future?
The argument for affordable education can be rebuilt to more accurately reflect the needs of a changing society. The CCCS has maintained its model of an adjunct underclass, but the reasons for doing so are now subject to scrutiny. The model through which we teach must better reflect the humanitarian ideals we are charged to teach. We need to identify the fault lines in the existing model and re-frame our work to address them.  

6.  Can your customers live without you?
There are numerous “customers” adjuncts serve. Of course we see our customers as our students, whose needs draw on our deep reserves of service. We know firsthand they could not “live” or, rather, learn, nearly as well without us. This is a challenging job; we serve some of the most beleaguered students in the state, by institutional design.

Other “customers” are the leaders of our campuses, officials of the CCCS, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE) and the SBCCOE who have proven, for nearly half a century, they can easily live without an adjunct teacher who can afford to quit teaching. For those customers, we are a dime a dozen. Their annual reports to legislative bodies, their sourcebooks distributed to the general public, internal and external salary surveys, presentations to prospective students and parents, and numerous other administrative tools document that history.

A third “customer” is the Colorado taxpayer, who has been hoodwinked into thinking cheap teachers under the Wal-Mart model of higher education is a win-win. However, the model is eviscerating the professoriate and poses a real threat to academic integrity. The CCCS is faltering in its ability to attract and retain quality faculty. More importantly, it has been unwilling to see -- for nearly half a century -- what might have been if only adjunct faculty had been given a seat at the table, financial security, benefits in proportion to their massive contribution, and a role in shared governance of the institution. We are all aware (or should be) that many adjunct faculty rely on state-subsidized health care, utility bill relief and food stamps. Taxpayer dollars have been used to rob Peter to pay Paul. The taxpayer – our third customer base – has not been aware of this situation to date but is beginning to awaken to it through the advocacy of Colorado Adjuncts.

7. Do you treat customers differently?
Given the three categories of customers listed above, which among them can we treat differently? Previously, our silence seems to have been misconstrued as consent. We are changing this by raising awareness about the adjunct cause, and thus engender the legislative change we have been requested to make at the behest of our own campus president. Remember that when asked for improvements to our working conditions, he has said repeatedly that we need to work with the state legislature. This is what we have been doing for nearly a year now.  By speaking up, we are treating our customer groups very differently indeed.

8. Are you getting the best contributions from the most people?
Because it is imperative we call on those outside our organization for help, we are establishing support in the Colorado legislature, state-wide agencies, expertise from the American Association of University Professors, the New Faculty Majority and the Chicago Coalition of Academic Labor, and others. As we address tough problems, we maintain the humility that we don’t have all the answers. We realize our strengths are as educators in the community college setting. We are not administrators with the inside track on budget figures, nor are we skilled in writing legislation. Over the past year we have researched the adjunct/contingent labor issue and are sharing our findings in the pages of Adjunct Network, our extensive website, an online, 20-page bibliography , an ongoing Film Series, , and other advocacy measures. Strong shoulders among lawmakers, journalists, professional organizations and supportive community groups have already stepped forward and are willing to make further contributions.

9. Are you consistent in your commitment to change?
We are staying the course because we care about the long-term quality of education provided by Colorado’s community colleges. We believe working conditions are also learning conditions. Thus, we remain consistently professional in our work while unrelenting in our charge.

10. Are you learning as fast as the world is changing?
Getting together to gripe about conditions feels good in the short term, but to engender lasting change, we need adjunct teachers to learn about the issues – and quickly. Attend our meetings. Visit our Web site regularly. Take part in our anonymous book blog. Commit the time. Learn the sometimes startling facts while staying focused on the goal of equity for adjuncts. True empowerment requires you to show up for meetings that will make you uncomfortable; to take on the perceived risk of job loss; to become familiar with the research on our Web site; and to tap into the deep need for change you feel but perhaps didn’t know you could use. As educators, we empower students every week and are way-finders for them. In this movement, we must also serve as way-finders for one another, educating ourselves about the issues and holding the possibility of lasting change for adjunct faculty.

            Taylor, Bill. “The 10 Questions Every Change Agent Must Answer.” Harvard Business Review Blog, June 18, 2009 HBR, Web 28 Dec. 2012.