Aug. 6, 2014
Contingents roar at COCAL
UUP Executive Board member Beth Wilson asks a question at the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor conference in Manhattan.
Contingent faculty from across North America gathered at COCAL Aug. 4-6 to share successes and challenges, and discuss ways to effectively organize and advocate.
They also agreed that if contingents want more rights in the workplace, they can’t be complacent. They must act, and they must act together.
“We are now employees, so we have to follow what AFT did in the 1960s—don’t act like teachers, act like auto workers,” said Stanley Aronowitz, a Professional Staff Congress/CUNY member and professor of sociology and urban education at the CUNY Graduate Center.
“We have to stop asking permission to organize ourselves,” said panelist Maria Teresa Lechuga, right, of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, during a panel discussion on “What’s Going on in Higher Ed? A Trinational Perspective.” “We will have to do something about this.”
Also pictured are panelists Maria Maisto, New Faculty Majority president, and Sylvain Marois, vice president of the Federation nationale des enseignantes et des enseignants du Québec.
The way forward
Nearly 300 people, many of them unionists and some from as far away as Mexico, Canada, Oregon and California, attended the biennial conference, dubbed COCAL 11. The theme: “Shaping an Equitable and Democratic Future for Higher Education: The Way Forward.”
UUP President Fred Kowal was one of more than a dozen UUP members who attended the three-day seminar at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. UUPers took part in plenary discussions and broke into smaller groups for in-depth discussions on ways to push the contingents’ agenda. The topics included media organizing and narratives, building national agendas, bargaining, and legislative advocacy.
The event was truly international; attendees used wireless translation devices to hear translations of speakers in English, French and Spanish.
“COCAL is an exchange of ideas, a place where we can support each other and share each other’s successes and struggles,” said Wilson, officer for contingents at UUP’s New Paltz Chapter. “This isn’t just a problem in the states.”
“This is really unique, the idea that educators from across North America are getting together to share concerns and how to deal with those common interests,” Kowal said.
Cortland Chapter and statewide Executive Board member Anne Wiegard announced the creation of the Steve Street Award for Extraordinary Faculty Activism. The new award, given by the New Faculty Majority, honors Street, a longtime adjunct and UUP member who passed away in 2012. UUP also has an award honoring Street, the Steve M. Street Social Justice Project Award.
“Your position as a contingent is precarious,” she said. “At any moment, you can fall off of your appointment.”
Hecho en Mexico
Lechuga said that 76 percent of professors in Mexico are contingent faculty; unions also face legislation that bars them from engaging in collective bargaining over anything but salary.
Instead of sitting still, Mexican adjuncts have decided to take matters into their own hands by forming the Coalition for the Unity of the New Academic Majority in Mexico. The group, set to launch this year, is the Mexican equivalent of the New Faculty Majority.
Alyssa Picard, assistant director of AFT’s Higher Education Department, said that the federation has a “long-term commitment” to contingents. Half of the more than 200,000 higher ed faculty, staff and graduate employees represented by AFT are contingents; of those, 70 percent are part-time.
“All of that points to contingents growing in AFT,” she said.
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