Moving and Shaking with the Adjunct Project

The Adjunct Project wishes to welcome new and continuing students to the Fall 2012 semester at the CUNY Graduate Center! The AP co-coordinators—Zoltan Gluck (Organization and Planning), Conor Tomás Reed (Education and Advocacy) and Alyson Spurgas (Labor Relations)—look forward to working with all of you on a range of exciting projects ahead. Connect with us in Room 5498 at the Graduate Center, online via email, or visit our website at

Our mission:
The Adjunct Project seeks to empower GC student-workers by serving as a resource to:

  • raise consciousness about academic labor issues inside and outside CUNY
  • educate GC adjuncts about ways to address these issues
  • activate GC student-workers to improve their collective position as workers at CUNY.

Furthermore, the Adjunct Project seeks to organize its resources for graduate students around two areas: 1) labor issues and concerns, and 2) teaching resources and pedagogy. Both of these elements are key dimensions of empowerment at the workplace for graduate student workers.

While the Adjunct Project seeks to help graduate students address their immediate labor issues, a long-term goal of the project is to create a new culture at the Graduate Center that challenges the individualistic, atomized, competitive atmosphere of academia. By working together to improve our collective position as adjuncts at CUNY we can promote a culture that emphasizes a different set of values, replacing the academic culture of competitive individualism with one of support and solidarity.

Our Recent Work and Semester Focus

As part of an effort to re-emphasize labor organizing and worker solidarity through #OccupyCUNY and the Graduate Center General Assembly, some of us have begun to put together an adjunct rights workshop or “mobile teach-in” to be debuted at the Free University Week this September 18-22. This adjunct rights workshop/teach-in will potentially reinvigorate many of the resources that the Adjunct Project and the Graduate Center General Assembly have been gathering over the years, particularly those that were produced during the 2007 and 2008 Campus/CUNY Equity Weeks and also materials that were produced within the last year, for the first #OccupyCUNY teach-in at Washington Square Park in November 2011 through the initial Free University occupation at Madison Square Park on May Day 2012.

As the labor force within universities across the country has become more and more segmented and public institutions are increasingly privatized, we have consistently amassed data and produced information, art, and theater to expose these issues, educate ourselves and other students about them, and mobilize our energies against these trends. Some of these materials include the CUNY Edu-Factory poster, the Occupy the Octopi infographic, a variety of powerpoints and informational handouts on the adjunctification of the university in general (and the specifics of the situation within CUNY), and the two CUNYtime zines (all of these resources are available at

Recently, terms such as “neoliberalization” and “corporatization” have become increasingly popular within universities around the world, and have become pervasive in spaces outside of the university setting, as well; part of the project of this adjunct issues workshop will be to not simply use these terms and take them for granted, but to creatively get at the heart of what these concepts mean, in addition to opening up a space for serious conversations about educational policing, the perpetuation of a stop-and-frisk culture in our schools, and the school-to-prison pipeline. We hope to engage creatively and usefully with these discourses, and to provide a forum for pushing forward—which includes providing a space to think about what we can collectively do as workers and as students to change our world through education.

This collective work might mean many different things in different contexts to different people—and this is why an adjunct rights workshop or mobile teach-in could be implemented in a variety of places (from a Free University pop-up at a PSC/CUNY bargaining session to the upcoming Northeast Student Power Convergence) and could be a research-gathering, as well as an information-disseminating, tool. It is particularly vital in this moment that we condense our resources and build organizing models that will prevent burnout—honing a workshop such as this one (and utilizing the Free University itself as a flexible tool or a framework that doesn’t need much humanpower to run) will be a way to revitalize university activism along a diverse spectrum of issues and political perspectives, spread information and educate, and thus bring more and more students and workers into the fold of organizing.

Models such as the Free University and a mobile adjunct rights workshop/teach-in may be the perfect tools for our current moment and landscape, as these also bring together labor and education and put workers front and center. In the midst of #OWS, occupy-style organizing, a new and exciting focus on student unionism around the world, and, on the other hand, the PSC leadership’s lackluster contract “campaign,” some CUNY contingents have—over the last year or so—decentered our role as the largest and most exploited constituency in our union’s bargaining unit; but a renewed organizing focus on our contingent worker status and our own exploitation as workers within CUNY does not mean we have to compromise our ideals or kowtow to union bureaucrats.

We can organize as students and as workers and stand in solidarity in both of those domains and reinvent our power in them simultaneously. It is important that we are creative as we move forward, especially if our union leaders are not. Scaffolded, flexible, and mobile organizing tools such as the Free University-as-pop-up-occupation and a mobile adjunct rights workshop/teach-in are examples of how we might creatively and efficaciously work toward our goals in the future.

Towards a Free University Week

The upcoming September 18-22 Free University Week in Madison Square Park demonstrates a critical continuity of the various Free U efforts since our May Day coming out party, such as a Washington Square Park teach-in on the Quebec student strike and energetic solidarity march, and a collaborative community event Free Bed-Stuy this summer. Without a doubt, the success of the Free University Week, along with the September 17 one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, will inform the confidence and scale of NYC radicalism for this year and beyond.

To be sure, a several-day event this time around is much more ambitious, and has garnered a few critiques from folks among educational left. It’s imperative to address these, as the value of a Free University Week may not be immediately apparent, even for those who may wish to support the general idea. After all, what’s the purpose of having a Free University Week in a general situation of precariousness, low pay, and heavy workloads? How do conversations and activities in a park challenge tuition hikes, student debt, campus militarization, and all the rest that we face?

Such questions and doubts about what alternatives to the educational crisis will work are understandable, given how much we in the US are usually mired in the most immediate defensive positions. But in envisioning another university system, we need to figure out why and how to build a bridge from our abilities to our aspirations. In CUNY, we currently don’t have a movement strong enough to stop tuition hikes, administrators’ pay raises, and police brutality on campus. CUNY is over half a million students strong, but this potential power won’t inherently be realized—a culture of extensively shared radical lessons is needed.

The Free University model is about creating educational space as an expression of informative directional action (action can’t just be direct, it has to know why and where it’s going). It’s about highlighting the necessity for serious political education in all that we do as the foundation for a mass movement. Two recent NYC summer reading groups on student unionism and direct action have demonstrated a thirst for political clarities and organizational models. Now multiply that by dozens of workshops, skills-shares, classes, speeches, performances, and activities, and then multiply that by several hundred (potentially thousands!) participants, and we see how transformative a mass outdoor free educational forum can be.

The Free University schedule will highlight, across these several days, a workshop series on radical student and faculty organization models from the past and present. A Friday, September 21, 4pm panel will feature Tina Weishaus and Jackie DiSalvo, who will share the history of Livingston College in New Jersey, a place that was directly run by students and faculty in the 1970s, and “probably the most radical college that has ever existed in the US before it was dissolved” into Rutgers. Also Friday at 4:30pm, a former member of CLASSE’s executive committee will discuss how Quebecois students coordinated a mass strike to overturn tuition hikes and oust Premier Jean Charest. A Saturday, September 22, 11am panel will introduce how the groundwork for student union models from Quebec, Chile, Puerto Rico, and California can be precisely laid here in New York City across its public and private universities over the next few years.

More generally, we will delightedly expand the notion of what it means to have a “radical conversation.” Daily workshops and activities will focus on arts, culture, and health as powerful vehicles for community education and mobilization. Regular art-shop spaces in the park will create book shields, banners, and screen-prints. We’ll host political theater, poetry readings, learning through tangible play, sex education, and conflict resolution. For us to envision and enact fundamental social change, we need to open up a wide view of mutual engagement and growth. If not, we will be continually banished to the dustbin of lost possibilities in waging the same parochially persnickety debates with ourselves, while calling this “political action.”

Ultimately, coordinating days of actions alone isn’t enough to challenge the crisis in higher education. Nor is, in isolation, being well-versed in various political frameworks. Given the scope of the crisis we are facing, students desperately need to get organized. We need to create political structures that are durable and democratic. With dialogues at the Free University, we can begin to envision—among many possibilities—how building a NYC Student Union over the next few years can present a long-term, sustainable view committed to developing organizational solidity and capacity at a time when student union models have demonstrated considerable power in other countries. The recent victories in Quebec show that immense social gains are possible when infrastructure is in place. The Free University Week can be the starting place for such exciting and necessary projects.

The CUNY Graduate Center is our home base for much of this work that extends outwards into the city and beyond. Developing an intellectually dynamic, politically principled, and mutually nourishing relationship—between GC students, faculty, staff, offices, programs, centers, the communities around our building and where we live, and across the broader CUNY communities that constellate our polyversity system—can generate the potential actuality in our call that another CUNY is possible. Let’s get moving together!


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 Supported by the CUNY Doctoral Students Council.