We invite you to participate in mAsk4CampusEquity by planning and taking an arts-based action in your campus community on Oct. 31, a national day of action.
For nearly two decades during the last week of October, college and university faculty teaching off the tenure-track have protested the inequitable employment practices that harm our profession and the students enrolled at our institutions. Because student learning conditions depend upon faculty working conditions, optimal educational experiences for students require equitable institutional support of all faculty.
As the Campus Equity Week (CEW) campaign has evolved nationally, more and more activists and organizations have become involved, intensifying the political pressure on administrations to do right by their academic workers. The broadly connected Campus Equity Week activities also create a strong incentive for state and local politicians to become visibly involved with the issues. Since its inception, the CEW campaign has served an important role in the movement for academic equity. We have seen rallies, petitions, congressional briefings, letter-writing campaigns, film debuts (bravenewfilms.org/professorsinpoverty), and some other very creative actions by union members in New York.
For example, a few years ago about 20 CUNY adjunct faculty, members of Professional Staff Congress (PSC) representing faculty and professional staff at CUNY, performed a skit in front of their graduate center. Ten of them wore elephant masks and accepted their salary in the form of peanuts to emphasize how paltry their compensation has been. Partly because of the CEW campaign, the general public now is more aware of the gross discrepancies in the salaries of teaching faculty.
For the past four years during Campus Equity Week, PSC Vice President Susan DiRaimo has handed out roses to adjunct colleagues to show her appreciation and to acknowledge that not enough "bread" has been provided in the form of salary parity, hearkening back to the historic "Bread and Roses" Lowell, Mass., strike demands of 1912: Workers should earn enough to not only pay for their daily bread, but to pay for "roses" occasionally, too. Full-time PSC members believe that adjunct faculty members deserve more job security and equitable wages.
Thanks to increasing activism among the rank and file, there is now greater public awareness that some adjunct faculty make so little they are eligible for public assistance, a message highlighted by another creative action undertaken last year by United University Professions (UUP) faculty and professional staff at SUNY.
The University at Albany chapter distributed "adjunct dollars" (food coupons), posters with messages such as, "Did you know most UAlbany adjuncts could qualify for public assistance?" and sponsored a "print-in" that took place in a public space where students were able to silk-screen T-shirts with the movement's rallying cry: "Our teaching conditions are student learning conditions."
On other SUNY campuses, contingent faculty displayed huge lists of all the sections taught that semester by non-tenure-track faculty.
Because arts-based actions such as these, especially interactive ones, can have a profound and lasting impact on participants, a group of artist activists from around the country has been working together for more than a year to develop a toolkit of arts projects for the 2017 Campus Equity Week actions on Oct. 31. The mAsk4CampusEquity initiative highlights the disconnections between the myths and realities of higher education today as well as opportunities to be theatrical and creative to get our message across.
We invite you to participate in mAsk4CampusEquity by planning and taking an arts-based action in your campus community on Oct. 31. Visit our website — CampusEquity2017.com — to find arts project ideas and examples as well as other resources to support your activities, such as downloadable graphics for posters and a two-sided bookmark.
You don't have to be an artist to undertake an art project. Start your planning now. Recruit colleagues, decide what you want to do, and identify who will do what when. Register your planned event at our website so we can also publicize it. Make a difference in October!
Anne Wiegard is a UUP delegate from the SUNY Cortland Chapter and a member of the UUP contract negotiations team.
Susan DiRaimo is the PSC vice president for part-time personnel. She currently teaches at City College of New York and Lehman College.