Working together for more than a year, faculty activists with backgrounds in the visual, literary, and performing arts have designed a website that offers eleven different kinds of interactive arts projects that do double duty–getting out the message about the need for equitable terms and conditions of academic employment, while even more importantly, serving as an organizing tool to build power in the contingent academic labor movement. The campusequity2017.com website for the mAsk4CampusEquity campaign demonstrates what can be achieved by a grassroots collaboration of artistic faculty activists who keep their eyes on the prize.
A cross-section of faculty who have taught off the tenure track for many years at different institutions all across the U.S.–Natalie Barnes, Andy Davis, Sue Doe, Jessica Lawless, Cara Romano, Jennie Shanker, Lydia Field Snow, Rebekah Tolley, Anne Wiegard, and David Wilder–spent countless hours co-creating mAsk4CampusEquity. Some of us are represented by unions, but some are not. What brought and kept together people from California, New York, Ohio, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Colorado? The strong relationships forged within the network of New Faculty Majority’s social justice work over the past several years.
Is there anyone in higher education who has not heard of Campus Equity Week (CEW), the biannual week of action in late October? The original “Campus Equity Week” activities of some community colleges in California in 1999 resulted in the creation of the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor (COCAL), a grassroots coalition of non tenure-track faculty activists. Fueled by internet listservs and email communications, various faculty leaders across North America agreed that the model of loosely coordinated but locally motivated and controlled action was worth attempting in the form of a national campaign throughout higher education.
CEW has been held in odd years ever since 2001. In both 2013 and 2015, COCAL selected New Faculty Majority (NFM) to coordinate the national CEW campaigns. Highlights of the 2013 and 2015 campaigns have been Congressional Briefings and the October 2015 release by Brave New Films of Professors in Poverty https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kbWFcqbefMs. For 2017 CEW, NFM’s very limited resources did not permit the non-profit organization to do more than support the development of the mAsk4CampusEquity campaign.
In April of 2016 at the National Education Association (NEA) Higher Education Conference, Judy Olson (California Faculty Association and New Faculty Majority) introduced Anne Wiegard (United University Professions and New Faculty Majority) to Andy Davis, one of Judy’s CFA colleagues. Andy was interested in using parallels between current adjunct activism and the revolutionary protest of university lecturer Martin Luther on October 31st, 1517. Over dinner, Andy and Anne explored the possibility of using the 500th anniversary as an opportunity to draw attention to the movement for campus equity while highlighting it within the context of historical protest that has won landmark reforms related to human rights through creative collective action.
Anne had collaborated with Jennie Shanker (Temple Association of University Professionals) in 2015 to develop NFM Foundation’s National Arts Project website page that included ideas for arts activism related to Campus Equity as well as downloadable graphics for posters and flyers that depicted the theme of the “indiVisible Campus.” The 2015 button followed suit.
They believed that art has a unique ability to provoke awareness and inspire change, so Anne was predisposed to integrate the performance potential of historical reenactment into a broader framework of performing and visual arts-based actions.
Over the summer of 2016, Andy and Anne formed a planning group with Jennie and Jessica (former adjunct now working for Service Employees International Union) to conceptualize an arts-based campaign. More members of the planning group were recruited. By August we agreed on a theme of “mAsk4CampusEquity.” The word mask combines CEW Halloween timing with the recognition of the need to both conceal (to protect precarious workers) and reveal (to recognize how contingency affects workers’ lives) the complex identity of faculty working off the tenure-track.
The word “ask” embedded in “mask” allowed us to display the letter “a” in the form of the “Scarlet A” that had been designed by David Wilder for PR materials for the 2013 Campus Equity Campaign. The scarlet “A for Adjunct” has come to signify the shameful branding and treatment of adjunct faculty and their refusal to be shamed by their marginalized status within the university.
In the fall of 2016, the planning group refined its concepts for the website and the various projects that would be described there. Members volunteered to collect and post relevant materials on a shared google folder. Jessica stepped up as the website designer. Jennie said she would manage the social media components of the campaign (a Facebook page “Campus Equity Week 2017” and a Twitter handle, “@2017CEW.” Rebekah (United University Professions) offered to design the 2017 logo and website masthead, which allude to the silhouette in the 2015 images.
Anne volunteered to register the domain name, license comics from Matt Hall, and set up a virtual store for buttons and stickers. Andy committed to adapting Martin Luther’s “95 Theses” to the context of higher education and designing historical costume. Sue (American Association of University Professors and New Faculty Majority) procured a website subscription and recruited colleagues (Lydia Page and Sarah Austin) to help with building the website.
In late March 2017, we learned of the tragically premature death of David Wilder in Cleveland, Ohio. We decided that we would dedicate the campaign to him and create an “In Memoriam” page in his honor. David had been an amazing labor activist and teacher for many years, most recently working selflessly alongside NFM’s Maria Maisto to organize adjunct faculty in Ohio. The memorial page features biographical information and some of his paintings.
In early April of 2017 we announced the mAsk4CampusEquity campaign over various list servs, urging people to save the date, October 31, 2017, the national day of action. We continued to work on the website and published it August 8th along with the social media sites. We worked with NYSUT (600,000 members), AFT (1.7 million members) and NEA (3 million members) to publicize the campaign. The National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions has announced our campaign as has the COCAL Digest.
We are hearing that events are being planned across the country, including the interactive art exhibit, performance of For Profit, and “Chalk and Talk” events at Colorado State University. We encourage everyone reading this blog entry to plan an event and let us know about it at our Facebook page (“Campus Equity Week 2017”) and Twitter handle (@2017CEW). If you aren’t sure where to start, visit the campusequity2017.com website and check out the Projects page.
Social justice work is a struggle. Adding art to the mix makes the struggle easier to bear; sometimes it’s even fun! A righteous cause always seems to ensure that participation endures even if the roster of participants changes. We’re certainly seeing endurance and a growing momentum in our movement for equitable employment practices in higher education. New Faculty Majority in particular has made its mark on the public discourse about contingent academic employment. Its existence has facilitated collaboration cross-organizationally and enabled individual activists to use the inside-outside strategy to leverage gains both within and beyond their local organizations. In time, NFM will surely be replaced by other organizations that take this cause in directions we can’t even imagine now. May future movers and shakers be blessed with creative and cooperative comrades in arms as I have been blessed with during the planning and implementation of the mAsk4CampusEquity campaign.
Anne Wiegard is a full-time non tenure-track faculty member of the English Department at SUNY Cortland and member of United University Professions (AFT Local 2190). She was recently appointed to the AFT Higher Education Program and Policy Council. One of the founding members of the New Faculty Majority board of directors, she served as the chair of the NFM Foundation board from 2011-2016.
Photo: Wiegard (left) thanking NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, at the 2016 NEA Higher Education Conference, for her staunch, persistent advocacy of the unemployment insurance policy letter initiated by NFM as part of the national coalition effort which succeeded in securing the guidance letter from the U. S. Department of Labor on December 27, 2016. Photo by Judy Olson, author of the original draft of UIPL 05-17 for NEA.