Updated: Jun 13, 2020
Recently Sandra Baringer, one of American Federation of Teachers Adjunct Contingent Caucus’s members with UC-AFT, had a chance to deliver the letter below to Jill Biden, Joe Biden’s wife, and notably a former adjunct and now full-time instructor at Northern Virginia Community College. Because of both her work experience as well as her obvious connection to the 2020 Presidential Campaign, we have approached her to make her aware of the contingent struggle and ask for her to advocate for change.
Jill Biden, Ed.D.
Professor of English and Reading
Alexandria Campus, Northern Virginia Community College
Re: Contingent Faculty and Student Success
Dear Dr. Biden:
As a fellow community college English professor, I salute you in doing the hard work of teaching in an environment where the work we do, among some of the most diverse, yet economically and educationally challenged students, can have the greatest impact. I’m sure that for you, as it is for me, a labor of love.
I’m reaching out to you now, in this time of challenge, and with a presidential campaign at hand, to speak of a significant challenge to the US Higher Education system and its main objective of student success.
According to the AAUP, approximately 73% of American College educators are off the tenure track. As a former adjunct yourself, you are aware that with few exceptions, they are paid significantly less than their full-time counterparts, and lack the job security of tenure, as well as health and retirement benefits.
In fact, to simply say this is an understatement. In a recent nationwide survey of 3,076 contingent faculty conducted by the American Federation of Teachers, the following statistics were revealed:
64% of contingent faculty make less than 50,000 dollars a year, and 31% report making less than 25,000 dollars a year, placing them below federal poverty guidelines for a family of four.
40% of contingent households struggle regularly, or during Summer and Winter breaks, to pay the bills.
26% are at some level of food insecurity.70% of contingent faculty are hired term by term, and most were notified of their employment in any term less than two months before its start.
65% of contingent faculty have worked at their respective institutions for 10 or more years.
Only 43% of contingent faculty receive some form of health insurance from their employer. This has led to 18% postponing care, 12% cutting pills in half.
Close to 45% put off seeing a doctor, and over 65% have foregone dental care.
38% of contingents, many of whom do not pay into or receive social security, have no idea how they will retire.
These are all academics who believed in the promise of education, have made personal sacrifices, as have their families, and go into the classroom to instruct and show the potential of that promise. Consider that as we have placed primacy on student learning conditions, it only stands to reason that the poor working conditions of these faculty limits their potential to set the proper working conditions these students deserve.
To do the proper thing by these faculty and their students, we ask that you support:
The efforts of college faculty locals to negotiate pro-rata pay (i.e. equal pay for equal work).
Key provisions of the “AFT Recommendations for the Higher Education Act Reauthorization,” namely those concerning the overuse and poor working conditions of “temporary” contingent faculty, and the cancelling of existing student debt, which severely affects contingent faculty.
A repeal of the WEP, or Windfall Elimination Provision from Social Security, which reduces the social security benefits of contingents receiving meagre and often inadequate state or local pensions.
Additionally, I ask that you encourage your husband, Vice President Joe Biden, to speak to these issues within the context of the current presidential campaign in hopes of creating larger awareness of the issue. Further, should he achieve the presidency, I ask you encourage him to work towards a change in contingent academic working conditions that these faculty and their families need, which will in turn create the learning conditions American Higher Ed students deserve.
AFT-ACC Executive Committee