Project ACCEPT: A dream deferred—but not for long

This past Wednesday, February 25, 2015 was National Adjunct Walkout Day, a day for contingent faculty across the country to walk out of class to increase awareness of the plight of part-time college instructors across the country. PCCFFAP asked its members not to walk out; instead we and sympathetic PCC employees wore buttons and stickers with “76%” on it to show support for the 76% of PCC instructors who are part-timers.

On that same day, PCC’s Project ACCEPT was scheduled to deliver their report to the EAC, after many months of discussion and deliberation, for approval and forwarding to PCC President Jeremy Brown.

Instead, Chris Chairsell, PCC’s Vice President of Student and Academic Affairs, announced moments before the meeting that PCC’s lawyers had examined the report and decided that the EAC should not vote to put the report on Dr. Brown’s desk while contract negotiations were ongoing.

Coincidentally, those negotiations had just begun the previous Friday.

Additionally, she forbade all PCC managers (which included many at the EAC meeting) from not only voting on the matter but also discussing the issues at all. Some hesitant dialogue about the report—but not its contents—ensued, including several who stated their support of adjuncts and the work of Project ACCEPT. Then, the EAC voted to table the report until the end of contract negotiations. In the meantime, it will remain on the Action Item section of the agenda for each meeting so that it is clear that the report would not be forgotten.

PCC’s lawyers had examined the report many times. In addition, Chairsell had been involved with the drafting of the report, affecting its final language and shape; several recommendations were rephrased as “findings,” and language was inserted in order to avoid any appearance of bargaining outside of contract negotiations.

She could have brought this particular issue up many times, either in her private discussions with Project ACCEPT or in the EAC meetings during which the Project’s report was discussed. Her move was timed to be dramatic and surprising, and it certainly involved a generous reading of labor law surrounding this matter.

The timing was also ironic for PCC’s part-time instructors, since it came on Adjunct Walkout Day. On the same day that PCC’s part-time instructors showed their support for PCC by not walking out of our classes, the PCC administration reciprocated by blocking progress towards greater inclusion and acceptance of the adjuncts who represent the majority of their faculty.

We, the part-timers, offered reconciliation and support; the administration offered obstruction and silence.

While it’s easy to get discouraged by the news that the report will be deferred, it’s also clear that Chairsell and the administration are concerned that the EAC will vote to support this report, which would force the administration to take action on adjunct matters—or to at least acknowledge that PCC isn’t helping the majority of its faculty, and the students whom we teach, succeed.

PCC, it should be noted, treats its part-timers better than comparable institutions in the Portland area. (And, yes, that’s thanks to the efforts of PCCFFAP in contract negotiations). Our pay is better, and the benefits are easier to obtain, but more can be done, particularly in the area of job security.

Even assignment rights, our only assurance of ongoing job security, only guarantee us one class per quarter on a rolling basis, and that class can still be cancelled, or we can still be told “We have no classes for you” with little notice at all. One-year or two-year contracts would be a great step in the direction of job security and increased respect.

Whenever contract negotiations are concluded, the report will be again brought up for a vote. Indications are that it will be approved and forwarded on to Dr. Brown, who will then have to act on its recommendations—or explain why he cannot.

In the meantime, there’s plenty you can still do about adjunct issues. Come to EAC meetings to voice your support for Project ACCEPT or for adjunct instructors, or speak at PCC board meetings about adjunct rights.

Most importantly, if you’re a part-time instructor at PCC, be sure that you’ve joined PCCFFAP. Your voice and vote are always vital, but they are never more important than during contract negotiations—which are happening right now. Even though PCCFFAP always represents every member of the faculty, its power is magnified when it has more members.

In the case of adjuncts, low membership numbers diminishes your federation’s power at the bargaining table. When PCCFFAP tries to put forward a proposal that might benefit part-time faculty, the administration can just point to low PCCFFAP membership numbers for part-timers and say, “What do you know about part-timers? They are saying you don’t represent them.”

So increase awareness of the plight of adjuncts however you wish—speak to your students, your colleagues, to the administration—but please join us at PCCFFAP, your federation. Your voice matters.