Statement on Student Loan Debt Cancellation

15 April 2022


President Biden, Dr. Biden, and Secretary Cardona: 

The Executive Committee of Tenure for the Common Good, a national organization of tenured faculty advocating for adjunct and contingent faculty equity, writes to add our voice to a growing chorus of higher education unions and advocacy groups calling for you to forgive all federally held student loan debt. You have both the authority and public support to do so. Please use it. 

We know you know the big picture numbers; as of the end of 2021, there is approximately $1.75 trillion in student loan debt, approximately 92% of which is federally held. We know you understand the consequences of struggling to repay that debt given your repeated extensions of the repayment moratorium. We are grateful for those, and hope you see the move to cancel them permanently as a short step from what you’ve already been doing, for the same reason you’ve been doing it. This debt is crushing people. 

Among those people are college teachers. As you may know, approximately 70% of college courses in the United States are taught by faculty whose positions are adjunct or contingent, and whether part-time or full-time, they earn much less than tenure-track colleagues. According to a report from the American Federation of Teachers, about 64% of adjunct and contingent faculty earn less than $50,000/year, about half of those earning under $25,000/year (and that includes a sizable cadre teaching full-time). Twenty-five percent of the respondents to AFT’s 2019 survey of adjunct and contingent faculty reported applying for federal food or housing assistance, and we expect the pandemic has driven that number up. Many have no access to healthcare from their employers and thus have to pay for it from their low salary. Keep in mind, because the overwhelming majority of adjunct and contingent faculty have at least one graduate degree if not two (occasionally even more), their debt burden as individuals is significantly higher than the students they teach. 

In short: you already recognize the burden student loan debt puts on students; we’re asking that you extend that recognition to non-tenure-track faculty – that is, to the majority of faculty who teach them. Rather than simply extending the repayment moratorium, make it permanent. Among the millions of people who would benefit from this decision are tens of thousands of college teachers whose situations are especially dire, and we ask you to act on their behalf. 



Tenure for the Common Good, Executive Committee Members 

Dr. Carolyn Betensky, University of Rhode Island

Dr. Rachel Sagner Buurma, Swarthmore College

Dr. Seth Kahn, West Chester University of PA

Dr. Talia Schaffer, Queens College and CUNY Graduate Center


Statement in Solidarity with Howard University Nontenure-Track Faculty

22 March 2022

Dear President Frederick and Provost Wutoh:

The Executive Committee of Tenure for the Common Good, a national organization of tenured allies of non-tenure-track faculty, writes to express our strong support for your non-tenure-track lecturers and adjunct instructors, who find themselves with no alternative but to threaten a strike. Their demands for compensation, stability of employment, and long-term job security are eminently reasonable, and we urge you to listen to them with compassion and in good faith.

We stand with dozens of your own tenured and tenure-track faculty who have signed a letter in support of the non-tenure-track faculty and their demands. We agree that it is unjust to ask non-tenure-track faculty to educate your students without adequate compensation and without job security.  These faculty members are some of your most experienced, hard-working, and committed instructors, and their contributions to the success of Howard are not in dispute.  Treating them as the professionals they are – and that you clearly trust them to be, given the fact that you hire them to teach two thousand course sections a year – requires paying them an adequate salary and giving them employment stability–whether by multi-year contracts, preferential hiring, the elimination of the seven-year cap on employment, or offering promotion pathways that entail longer-term positions. The union has asked for those, and as we understand, have gotten no response.

At a time when institutions of higher learning are coming increasingly under attack, Howard’s underpaid and under-appreciated faculty model the qualities of dignity and respect for learning.  We ask you to reach out to your non-tenure-track faculty and meet their demands so that they are not forced to strike.


Carolyn Betensky

Rachel Buurma

Seth Kahn

Talia Schaffer


Statement of Solidarity with ALL Faculty

Tenure for the Common Good was founded on the premise that tenure-track faculty had more security than our contingent colleagues and could consequently play an important role, speaking out in ways that tenure made possible. 


The economic carnage wrought on US academia by the COVID pandemic, has made it clear that now we are all, in some sense, contingent. And yet, although tenure-track faculty are now more vulnerable than ever to furloughs, retrenchments, and firing, there are still important differences between the status of those hired month-to-month or semester-to-semester, on the one hand, and those of us who retain relatively, if temporarily, secure positions. We remain committed to the principle of using tenure to work toward the good of all.


In this moment of shared threat, we want to make three statements:


  • Attacks on higher education implicate all of us. We all stand together, or we all fall. Tenure-track faculty must not stand by idly as contingent faculty fall to the budget axe. If we allow administrators to see us as disposable – any of us – all of us will be disposed of.


  • The problem of university budget crises will not be solved by cutting adjunct faculty, the worst-paid and most precarious of our faculty. Sacrifices should be shared, and they should be progressive. Universities must work from the top downwards, first cutting the salaries of the best-paid employees, including administrators — and reducing the salaries of others in proportion to their income.


  • The key to repairing higher education is to invest in the workers whose labor sustains the institution and the students who come to learn from them. Casualizing the profession by emphasizing at-will short-term hiring threatens our institutions. An academia worth saving respects and sustains the people who fulfill its primary functions: learning, teaching, and making knowledge. 


Tenure for the Common Good stands against any cost-cutting effort that eviscerates the people who work and maintain academia. And we call on all of our colleagues to join together to combat such attempts.


Unemployment claim template


Sample Chair Letter to Adjunct Faculty to Support Unemployment Claim

We are posting this for department chairs who want to support adjunct faculty in their pursuit of unemployment benefits.

Dear [faculty member]:

I write to let you know that due to COVID-19, at this point in time, we are not able to guarantee any faculty member off the tenure-track reasonable assurance of continued employment in the fall.

I encourage you to look into your eligibility for unemployment. You can find a link to information about the process in our state by going to the Department of Labor, finding our state, and clicking the link for “Apply for Unemployment Benefits.”

I will have more information for you about the fall as enrollments become clearer. In the meantime, if you can get unemployment benefits, I hope that helps. 



Contingency Is Worse, Pandemic Edition


Re-re-re-redux: Contingency Is Worse, Pandemic Edition

Seth Kahn

Earlier this week, I talked with a reporter researching a story on the impacts of COVID-19 on higher ed. Among a flood of things I said to her, the one I’m left still thinking most about is: right now, universities are understandably nervous about what’s going to happen with enrollments in the upcoming year. But too many of them are reacting to that nervousness by hammering even harder than usual on the precarity of their contingent faculty members. The list of universities that has announced cuts to their adjunct/contingent/NTT staff is growing every day: Rutgers, Miami of Ohio, Ohio U, UMass-Boston, several Cal State University system campuses, St. Edwards University, and those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head.

For years, managers have been saying they need more “flexible” (read: contingent) faculty. Crassly paraphrased, their rationale is because they never know when they’ll need to let a bunch of people go because of enrollment dips, or [reasons]. Ironically, at this moment, they still don’t know whether there will be enrollment dips, so they’re making decisions about people’s livelihoods based on guesses. And they can do it because contingent positions are designed for this exact move.

Even in less fraught times, as I’ve been arguing for years, contingent teaching positions are more stressful than secure positions. Coupled with low pay and crappy working conditions, the possibilities of suddenly losing work, or having your schedule shifted capriciously at the last second, are always hovering and palpable if not actually happening (and they do happen quite a lot).

The COVID-19 pandemic is exponentially increasing the problems of contingency. Social media (including several closed FB groups I follow, which is why I’m not linking to them here) is full of examples:

Lecturers with multi-year contracts that are supposed to roll over automatically learning that those renewals are not forthcoming.

Layoffs like the institutions I listed above.

Fears among some non-renewed faculty that after soaking in some desperation, their universities will offer to rehire them at lower wages into less secure positions. The more I think about it, the more I’m concerned that this is a baked-in part of the strategy. Corporations have fired workers, let them stew for a little while, and then “generously” offered to give them their jobs back for less money, dozens of times, and that kind of corporatism has certainly found a foothold in US higher ed.

Threats of pay reductions [which is awfully nasty to people who are already severely underpaid, y’know?] and paycheck delays.

Classes cancelled weeks, if not months, earlier than they’d usually be, or taken from adjunct faculty and given to tenured faculty as overloads.

Adjunct faculty being told they can teach enough courses that they’d ordinarily qualify for health insurance they’re denied, but not being given access they’re almost certainly legally entitled to.

Mixed messaging, at best, about unemployment insurance claims and whether their institutions will fight them.

Out-of-pocket costs for equipment/access to accommodate the move most of us have made to remote/online teaching. As an example, I know at least ten people who teach in multiple institutions, who all wound up paying for their own private Zoom accounts because their various school accounts were conflicting.

Two more things I’ll say about this list: (1) it could be a lot longer, but you get the idea; and (2) you get the idea because almost nothing on here is actually new–it’s just a whole lot worse because (pardon the French) we’re in a [bleeping] pandemic.

As part of the series of posts this re-re-re-redux is re-re-revisiting, I once wrote:

For years now, I’ve been arguing that a first principle in the campaign for contingent faculty equity/equality is:

Don’t abuse the contingent status (i.e., the ability to hire/fire at will) of your contingent faculty as a tool for solving other people’s problems.

That’s exactly what’s happening right now. The people who earn the least, have the least job security, and face the most stressful versions of the job we do are being treated the worst because their positions make it easy, by design.

If you’ve gotten this far and aren’t sure what you might do to help, there are lots of efforts happening all over the place. One place where a lot of them circulate is the Facebook page for Tenure for the Common Good. It’s not hard to find people doing good work with contingent faculty for academic labor equality. If for some reason you haven’t taken the time to join us, the middle of a [bleeping] crisis seems like a good time to fix that.


Statement on Equity and Teaching During the COVID-19 Pandemic

For Immediate Release: Statement on Equity and Teaching During the COVID-19 Pandemic


The COVID-19 pandemic presents significant challenges to higher education. Tens of thousands of faculty are suddenly moving into teaching online, often with little preparation and inconsistent support. The austerity environments many predict, in which enrollments fall and hirings freeze across institutions, will affect contingent faculty first and most harshly. It is crucial to focus on the situations of these colleagues. Their positions, already more precarious than most, will likely worsen more quickly than those of the tenured and tenure-track faculty.

To their credit, universities have wisely assisted by revising tenure clocks and eliminating elements of evaluation regimens because those evaluations cannot be done reliably or fairly in such emergency circumstances; centers for teaching and learning have been working in overdrive to offer faculty their expertise in online learning. Libraries are finding ways to provide access to research resources while faculty are locked out of campuses.

Yet, as happens all too often, contingent faculty, including graduate students, who constitute approximately 70% of the American professoriate, are generally included in these efforts only in piecemeal ways. Despite active participation in the herculean effort of bringing our curricula online, many contingent faculty are receiving little support from their institutions. This is particularly worrisome. Online classrooms, for example, especially ones established hastily under the conditions of stress, are vulnerable to abuse. Some, who seek to identify and punish instructors they believe engage in inappropriate “indoctrination,” can abuse this shaky new structure, creating a significant threat to academic freedom. 

As stay-at-home and lockdown orders reduce the number of options for online-accessible workspaces, contingent and other non-tenure-stream faculty face challenges beyond those of their tenured and tenure-track colleagues. Access to the equipment necessary to teach well online can be spotty; some lack adequate access to the internet. Not even equipment and access solve all the problems that many poorly-compensated faculty face working at home: lack of space; sense of safety/security; and so on.

All faculty, whether on or off the tenure track, face real struggles at this moment, and all need support. Many of the issues and recommendations in this statement are true for faculty of all ranks and statuses; however, every one of our common struggles is significantly more difficult for our colleagues who are the most precarious and worst compensated. We hope that professional organizations will recognize these needs and provide whatever help they can.

If the pandemic does have the effects on education many of us fear, we may see serious reductions in student populations. Many contingently hired faculty may see their jobs disappear. Their hard work helping make the transition happen now will not help them.

Solidarity demands that we support and protect our contingent colleagues just as we are working to protect and support our tenure-track colleagues. We should always do so, but the current situation amplifies the need.

We therefore call on institutions to act on the following recommendations, which rest on the central principle that contingent faculty should have the same resources, assistance, and protections against financial and professional damage that tenure-track faculty have, and due to poor compensation and working conditions, may have even more acute financial needs. 

Support for teaching while social distancing

Make sure contingent faculty are included on all contact lists concerning policies toward faculty and institutional support for remote/online teaching.

Offer emergency technical support and equipment to contingent faculty as well as students and tenure-track faculty.

Recognize that contingent faculty may need flexibility that tenure-track faculty do not . Do not promote synchronous over asynchronous scheduling. Do not require contingent faculty teaching at multiple institutions to use multiple video conferencing apps or technology platforms.

Compensate contingent faculty for the unexpected additional labor of converting courses to remote/online platforms. While all faculty should be compensated for the additional labor, contingent faculty are generally not eligible for other forms of compensation (e.g., comp/reassigned time, service credit).

Changes to evaluation/renewal/hiring processes

Suspend student evaluation of teaching for this semester.

Suspend teaching observations for the current semester.

Suspend annual evaluations, especially for non-tenure-track instructors, for 2019/2020. If your reappointment protocol demands evaluations, consider asking faculty to self-evaluate.

Extend multi-year or rolling contracts for one year, especially for faculty whose appointments end in Spring 2020. For faculty on shorter contracts, grant renewals unless financial exigency makes doing so impossible.

Assure, in writing, that renewal decisions will not be negatively affected by current disruptions.

Resist using the current crisis as an opportunity to exploit contingency further by hiring more contingent faculty into precarious positions.

Protecting academic freedom, intellectual property, and professional autonomy

Relax departmental supervision of individual instructors for the current semester except in extraordinary situations. Contingent faculty should not undergo supervision that tenure-track faculty do not.

Defend the academic freedom of all faculty, including contingent faculty. This means supporting faculty who face online harassment for their views, and rejecting attempts to discipline faculty expressing allegedly controversial ideas.

Protect contingent faculty ownership of course materials they create as they revise/remake courses to teach online. Contingent faculty frequently develop courses/curricula that programs take over without compensating them. As faculty redevelop courses en masse, this risk is heightened.

Compensate non-renewed contingent faculty for curriculum they have developed that remains in use after their non-renewal.

Mutual care and support for precarious faculty

Establish sick-day banks, or similar support mechanisms, for faculty who cannot meet their teaching responsibilities due to personal or family illness.

Establish systems of support for contingent faculty that can help provide food, housing, and money for other costs.

Give contingent faculty who want more credits priority when assigning teaching that would be overload for tenure-track/tenured faculty.

Include contingent faculty when assigning other compensated work (e.g., assessment), and strongly consider giving them priority. 

Prioritize the redirection of funds saved from cancelled/postponed events and travel disbursements in spring 2020 towards the needs of contingent faculty.

Agree not to contest unemployment insurance claims by contingent faculty for Summer and Fall 2020 terms.


In support of UCSC grad students

Letter from Tenure for the Common Good Executive Committee in Support of Fired Striking Graduate Students at UCSC


March 6, 2020

Dear Governor Newsom, President Napolitano, Chairperson Perez, and Chancellor Larive,

We write on behalf of the membership of Tenure for the Common Good, an association of college and university faculty that advocates for fair wages and stable employment. We wish to register our dismay at the termination of fifty-four graduate student workers at the University of California-Santa Cruz on Friday, February 28, 2020.

We do not dispute that you have a legal and contractual right to this decision; the termination letter makes the grounds clear. However, we find your decision ethically bewildering. The students have been asking, nearly begging, for help affording housing for months with no substantive reply from management. Not until the strike actually began did university leadership offer even to meet with them, though the results of that meeting, at least as reported by the students, were insufficient to call off the strike. The implicit recognition by leadership that the students have a legitimate claim makes clear that your decision to fire them has nothing to do with solving the actual problem.

The decision to fire the striking graduate students helps nobody. Doing so does not get the withheld grades distributed any more quickly. It does not bring housing prices down. It does not reduce the number of complaints to deans and department chairs. This decision, instead, actively harms the institution and the entire system. The students you fired will almost certainly leave the university; they no longer have income or tuition coverage. The students who remain have to wonder if they will be next when they dare to ask for a basic necessity. The media coverage of this situation, along with the attention it is garnering on social media, will not encourage prospective students to apply to, much less attend, UCSC–and as more campuses follow, as have Santa Barbara and Davis already, the optics will worsen.

We know that you have power to help resolve this situation in a way that advances the interests of institution and system, as well as the graduate students in your programs. Resolution is certainly better than erasing students and hoping attention dissipates. We are calling on you to use your power well. We call on you to revoke the termination letters immediately. Ideally, you would issue an apology, but call it a clerical error or whatever it takes. The important point is that the students, who were already in a terrible situation, are now being treated in a way that they do not deserve. You can fix that with a stroke of the pen.

You can easily enter good faith negotiations with the students, via their union, toward meeting their financial needs. They have done careful analysis, reaching the figure of $1412/month, the amount that they demand, and we have seen nothing that disputes the reasonableness of their calculations. Our organization represents faculty at institutions ranging from two-year/community colleges to small liberal arts colleges to regional comprehensive state universities to large research institutions. Until you agree to reinstate the students you fired and to work in good faith with them to solve the housing problem you have agreed is serious, we will actively discourage students from applying to your graduate programs, and discourage our graduate students from applying to open faculty positions; we will recommend that speakers decline invitations to appear on your campuses; we will continue to work together with graduate students and faculty across the nation to publicize your harsh treatment of the striking students; where possible, we will work with other graduate programs to offer spots to UC graduate students whose dismissals are retaliatory.

The power to fix both the firing mistake and the financial distress that caused it is largely in your hands. You have already demonstrated that you are willing to use the power you have. We call on you to use it again, but productively and ethically.


Tenure for the Common Good Executive Committee

Aaron Barlow, New York City College of Technology

Carolyn Betensky, University of Rhode Island

Rachel Sagner Buurma, Swarthmore College

Seth Kahn, West Chester University of PA

Talia Schaffer, Queens College and CUNY Graduate Center