In a recent Chronicle article on part-time faculty salaries, a CNM marketing and communications officer defended the current pay rate with the explanation that the rates are competitive with those offered by other community colleges nationwide. The statement may be correct, but so what? That does not make the compensation rates fair, just or right.
The problem with inadequate part-time faculty salaries is a national one and is part of the trend that began decades ago, most notably in retail department stores, like Walmart, and in the fast-food industry with chains like McDonald’s. The goal was to reduce costs to become more “competitive,” i.e. more profitable, by reducing labor costs. The race to the bottom for cheap wages drove some businesses to relocate overseas. Where it wasn’t practical to relocate, the number of full-time employees in domestic enterprises was reduced in favor of more part-time workers, who were typically paid less and less likely to receive benefits like health insurance and pensions. The trend that began in the private sector spilled over into public sector; institutions of higher education like CNM are no exception. The logic of reducing costs in the public sector was not to ensure profitably, but to realize savings, in part, to offset reduced public and private support. The same downward trend in compensation in this corporate model excluded the salaries of the architects of cost-cutting, the top administrators or chief executive officers, who were typically rewarded, often ridiculously so, for eliminating jobs and/or reducing the salaries of their co-workers.
This trend helps to explain the growing disparity in income and wealth that ignited the Occupy movement and is effectively symbolized by the widespread view that 1% has immensely profited at the expense of the 99%.
Actions justified because “everyone else is doing it” are the refuge of conformists seeking to avoid or deflect personal responsibility. The labor movement had to battle these arguments in the late 19th century when it advocated for the “radical” notion that workers should be entitled to a two-day weekend, an eight-hour work day, or that children should be treated differently than adults in dangerous workplaces. “Everyone else is doing it” was the rationalization used by opponents of the Civil Rights Movement, which sought to end racial segregation and discriminatory practices that treated large groups of Americans as second-class citizens who deserved less. Exploitation today, when justified by the claim that “everyone else is doing it,” is as cowardly and gutless as it was then.
Seamus O’Sullivan, Ph.D.
PT faculty, political science and sociology
Member, CNM Employees Union