5 Feb 2013
Updated 14 Feb 2013
Civil Disobedience, 21st Century Style: Tarrant County College District and Keller Independent School District Exposed by Ana M. Fores Tamayo
Teachers have been called the “priests of our democracy,” in that it is our task to make students think, to make them critically inquisitive, to make them search for that big picture: what is the larger meaning behind it all? Yet in this search for meaning, the overwhelming majority of teachers, the 70% and counting of the new faculty majority, cannot speak at all. We are virtually invisible and unaccounted for, purposely so.
Here’s a little history lesson on the teaching philosophy of what’s going on at Keller Independent School District (KISD), in relation to their Dual Credit Program, which is administered through Tarrant County College District (TCCD), Northwest Campus. With this program, senior high school students were able to acquire both high school and college credit. I was hired by TCCD as contingent faculty three weeks before classes began, and I taught from the fall of 2009 to the beginning of the fall of 2012, when they dismissed me, supposedly because of my “negative interactions with students.” Yet today, on January 28, 2013, 5 months to the day since they told me I would no longer be teaching, I received this email from an old student:
I got accepted to Bryn Mawr! Thank you so much for all of your help. I really couldn't have made it if it wasn't for you. Annndddd, I got like 45,000 dollars in financial aid!
I was so thrilled for her I posted it on my FB account. A student from two years back wrote on my wall:
“U are an amazing teacher!”
Negative interactions, you think? Like these students, most other of my students would say the same. Administrators? Now that’s another bone of contention.
Anyway, high schools in Texas have offered dual credit classes as far as I can remember; senior students receive credit for their high school classes while at the same time receiving college credit. In any case, it has become a booming business for both high school and colleges now. In 2005 or so, the program was much smaller; students then could get college credit if they paid the college; at the same time they would get high school credit. (I believe in California, the state pays for students to take college credits even if they are in high school; it’s not a good business for the state, though it is for parents and students. In Texas, however, it is up to the individual to pay for college courses taken at the high school. While it is a better deal for California parents, it still proves a good deal for parents in Texas to pay county college fees for college credit, especially when they send their kids off to state universities later on, or better yet, to private institutions.) These dual credit classes are administered in conjunction with one of the branches of our local community college, which has now become a county college, and who knows what the next stage will be, as its growth is phenomenal, even with the funding cutbacks by the state. Measured by today’s standards, TCCD is a large behemoth of a school, with five campuses throughout the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, with approximately 50,000 students, and still growing. As such, the college is experiencing growing pains, but the income generated from this virtually untapped font of money —dual credit, where not much internal investment is needed, as most teaching is done on outside campuses—is too large to be ignored.
In the past, high school teachers usually taught these adjunct classes. They taught their regular classes, paid for by the high school (at approximately $50K/year), but then they were hired by the college to teach the supplementary dual credit classes, so that they could make a little extra cash (approximately $1800/course). It wasn’t a bad deal as a supplement, especially because they were already teaching these classes, and all they had to do was add a bit to make them “college ready.” Keller High School, part of the Keller Independent School District (KISD), where I went to teach, originally used this system and its high school teachers. They also used TCCD, although the Northeast Campus. But essentially, these teachers were double dipping: while they were being paid high school salaries, they were also paid by TCCD. I guess this was untenable for whatever reasons administration on both sides decided on and we can only speculate, so after a few years, KISD changed over to the northwest branch of TCCD and no longer used their own high school teachers to teach dual credit, but had TCCD's instructors teach the class. Once the northwest campus of TCCD became involved, they only hired outside contingency instructors, and if they could not find enough, they would use their own fulltime faculty for the few courses they had left over. But adjunct instructors, hired at minimal compensation, with no healthcare benefits and draconian contracts to sign each semester, taught the bulk of dual credit courses. Remember the difference now: a fulltime high school teacher gets, on average, $50K a year. What does a college instructor make? At TCCD, depending on rank, teachers make anywhere from $52,557 to $68,004 (http://www.educationnews.org/career-index/tarrant-county-college-district/). As an adjunct instructor teaching fulltime classes, with a Ph.D. ABD in Comparative Literature from New York University, I was making $14,400/year. Need I say more?
Now I ask: is there some type of competition going on between the different campuses of TCCD? Why did they have to change from one campus to the other in order to change who taught the classes? Why did they not want to hire the high school teachers anymore? And is it just one of the factions of the TCCD campus who is guilty, or is KISD playing the game too? In any case, it worked out beautifully for everyone: TCCD got all those individual student tuitions without having to hold classes on their campus, alleviating the growing population of students entering TCCD after the financial crises of the past few years; they also paid exploitative salaries to the bulk of their instructors, making their own profit margins better. The high school, strapped for money in the budgetary woes our Texas education system is suffering, was happy to pass off the students to instructors it did not have to pay; at the same time, the students were delighted that after a year of English in high school, they would complete not only their high school degree but also hold 12 credits of college English: that's a year's worth of credits, accepted by all Texas institutions of Higher Education and many other state colleges elsewhere, as well as some private ones too. So of course, everyone was happy: high school teachers (their teaching load was lessened when they gave up students to TCCD), both college and high school administrators, students, parents. It seemed a perfect union.
But instead of taking care of the valuable middleman, the person who was really performing the function of teaching the bright young minds of tomorrow, greed got in the way, and the high school kept adding more and more classes, with an eye toward their profitability factor (this year, about two thirds of the senior class is taking dual credit) and lessening their overwhelming budgetary woes (http://www.star-telegram.com/2012/10/21/4352358/school-funding-trial-starts-today.html). Because the high school needed more instructors, too, TCCD did not really think about these badly paid instructors but about their overall profit share. They only cared about keeping the administrators at KHS happy and thus forgot about the adjuncts in the trenches. What else is new? TCCD in fact denigrated us, or at least me, because I questioned their ethics. What were their real motives, after all? Was education at all what they purported to support, as they claimed at each and every faculty meeting at the beginning of the semester? (I can’t believe the dope I was, going to these, even though I was not paid to do so; after all, my “salary” only included their so-called contact hours.)
In this, both high school and college were guilty. To be fair, KISD is under a boot load of trouble financially, and they are trying to save in every way they can. Everywhere they turn they get hit with more of these newfangled orders for testing initiatives or budget cuts, and they don't know from where to get the money: http://www.star-telegram.com/2012/12/10/4474359/tight-budget-continues-to-be-strain.html. I still think, however, that although the high school is definitely complicit, TCCD is as much a culprit. Moreover, I do not know what financial arrangement they have between the high school and college, but when the program started, the high school may have had 2 or 3 classes at most. This year, they had 9. Of course, to get rid of me, they cut one out, making that 8, a better factor for TCCD. (Not so for KHS, as they now have the same number of huge classes I struggled to get rid of last year.) Instead of having 9 instructors teaching smaller classes, the classes loomed large again. But in every other sense, I am sure the high school has been happy with the turn of events. They replaced me —a person who kept them on their toes— with a retired teacher from both the KISD and TCCD systems. TCCD then threw its exploitative contract language at me, in this at-will right-to-work state, basically saying I had no rights and I was out of a job. I still thought KHS was better than that (a naïve thought on my part, I should add). After all, my children had gone to their schools. I asked them to call me. I emailed them to see me. Yet nothing happened. They have washed their hands off the matter, Pontius Pilate style.
Now, as far as getting rid of me specifically, I am not so sure where I fit in and how I threatened that marriage between the high school and college. Last year, TCCD gave me two of my four Writing Composition classes per semester with 35 students each (and every year, it was completely unbalanced in this way: my classes always had many more students than other instructors' classes, especially if they were fulltime). I complained to deaf ears until I had to tell them I would not take the larger classes unless the numbers were reduced; the chairperson at the time even had the gall to say that students must really like me better (they were placed blindly into classes by high school personnel; you know, we were all Professor Staff). But there was tension between the high school and college because of the number of students and instructors assigned, the lack of communication between parties, and the confusion everywhere, so each was angry with the other. Guess who the scapegoat was? At this point TCCD answered me back, too, after quite a bit of back and forth, by removing me from two classes per semester. Thus last year, because I stood up to them, because I tried to do right by my future students (how can you really teach well four classes of writing comp with that many students?), they cut my course load by half. Even then it took some time to let my blood curdle, my innards rumble. I began seething, quietly rebelling; it was at this moment I decided to begin my petition against adjunct exploitation (http://signon.org/sign/better-pay-for-adjuncts.fb1?source=c.fb&r_by=426534). I kept it apart then, off the radar, and of course, that was easy. You do remember: I was invisible. But it grew slowly, too slowly at times, and I have almost given up on it on many, many occasions.
So we arrive to present time. This year, because TCCD had so many more slots to fill, they offered me four classes per semester again. I guess they decided I had learned my lesson, and I would stay quiet like a good little adjunct should. Be calm; be afraid. Ah, I forgot to mention that because of my stance last year —of which I had told the high school— the high school demanded that TCCD hire more instructors so that the number of students might not be so overwhelming in each class. They did not want to panic at the last minute again, to go in search of a new instructor like last year. So I began this school year with 20 – 25 students, a respectable number for my composition classes. Over a side argument I believe was used only as a pretext, I was called by phone the afternoon of my second day of classes and told not to show up the next day. Granted, because the “complaint” against me involved testing, the high school may have been overly sensitive already, given its history with testing initiatives; still, TCCD never mentioned this or anything when giving me reasons as to my "termination." Let me be clear: they denied me all access, gave me no reasons as to my summary dismissal, and to this day, they have never followed through on their own grievance policies. I am still waiting to get one phone call or an answer to my questions, as stipulated in TCCD’s own grievance policies [DGBA(LOCAL)] (http://pol.tasb.org/Policy/Search/436?filter=dgba).
In the meantime, when pressed, the dean of the college told me they did not have to answer to me as to why they were hiring someone new to replace me if they were only rearranging classes, or why they were getting rid of me altogether, who had been there four years, and not someone they had just hired. She also kept going back to the "contract"; I am sending you a copy of this, just so you see how exploitative the language really is. I’ve looked at other adjunct contracts, but never have I seen such draconian syntax. Only in the South!
Moreover, when I told the dean I had not signed her so-called contract, and I had not done so conscientiously last year as well, first she told me she had a copy in her possession, and then when I explained that it must be forged because I never signed any such paper, she cut me short and sent me off to Human Resources, by giving me their number, of course. (She probably wanted to talk to the director there first!) I never received a phone call from anyone there. I also never received any mail from them. I have an email in my possession, which I received from the Open Records Request I made (which they fought against, and for which I still have not received all correspondence), from the director of Human Resources asking the dean what he should tell me, or state, if I should contact him. Doesn’t he know? Are they making this up as they go along?
As you might guess, HR never answered my phone calls or emails. Thus I have now sent TCCD five certified letters addressed to the President. Furthermore, the AAUP sent the president and others two letters, so they finally agreed to send me over 1000 pages of Open Records, but I am still waiting to get full records, as many of the things they have sent me are duplicates, and they do not tell me anything I did not already know or send myself. I have filed a complaint with the Attorney General of Texas, so the college should be taking things more seriously, but they received the last letter almost two weeks ago, and I have heard nothing. Lastly, I never found out the status of my proprietary materials. Last I knew, the new instructor had used my work, though TCCD categorically denies this. They never gave anything back to me, and even in their letter to the AAUP (I received this letter as well through Open Records), TCCD is completely vague about this point. The college’s legal counsel states her perception of the return of my materials in a roundabout manner; in other words, TCCD does not say anything at all: it is pure semantic hogwash. As an interesting aside —though it may not have anything to do with my case— the director of Long Distance Learning, the head of IT at TCCD, is also suing TCCD on charges of discrimination and retaliation (on the other hand, it could have a lot to do with my case: the head of IT is suing, and TCCD can’t tell me where my intellectual property rights are or why they are missing? Isn’t that just a little bit strange?) Fascinating twist of fate, don’t you think, that this coincides too neatly with my own case against TCCD? Of course, this is only my presumption. I have not been able to find out anything else on this other case.
One last bit of information before I finish with this little history. Besides my contract, I am enclosing here one of only a few revelatory bits of paper I received from my Open Records Request. I have been reading up on the fact that Texas is unbelievable at hiding everything from its constituents. Higher Ed is no different, and I suppose in other states this holds true as well. But my bit of advice for our 21st century civil disobedience is this: go to your Open Records departments, and ask for whatever pertains to you. It is your right as a citizen. In this way, we can fight. We do not have to stop teaching, we do not have to leave our classrooms (though it’s too late for me!), we do not even have to stand outside on a picket line, or call on one special day of armistice (though it would be nice if we coordinated our actions to coincide on the same day, so that a technological avalanche would hit the viral waves). I posted my contract on my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/AdjunctJustice), and we began a TUMBLR account to publish all contracts, if you are so inclined to show the world the exploitation of your employers (http://adjunctjustice.tumblr.com). But the next step can cause them even more embarrassment, focusing sharply on what it is the corporatized university really does, in black and white.
I received the compensation table for dual credit courses that the TCCD-NW English department people taught, both fulltime contracted faculty (in the county college setting, tnure or tenure track is really not “talked” about per se) and adjunct, part-time faculty. Of course, my beef is not with individuals, so the names of faculty are all blacked out; what I want you to notice is the number of courses, and the salaries for them: the money spent by the college for adjuncts versus fulltime employees. Now, why do you think Higher Ed wants to silence us? Why do you think they want to keep us invisible? Don’t let this happen. We keep speaking about strikes, about action, about movement. Well, this is one way to do it without leaving the classroom. Write a letter to your Open Records Request person, and hound them if you have to: it is your right. Then when you have your papers, publish them. Shame them. If you do it, if I do it, if we all do it, eventually, the dominoes will start toppling over, the wall will crumble.
So let’s begin a little Civil Disobedience then, 21st Century Style.
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