This week I’m very excited to introduce Chris Higgenbotham to the broader adjunctiverse. Chris is a High School history teacher and community organizer. We met during #NWAD 2015 when he had a second job as a fast food worker and was an organizer on the Fight for $15 campaign. Amelia Bunch, one of the most effectual and intelligent organizers I know, connected Chris with the adjunct union campaign at California College of the Arts. Chris was an amazing asset. He jumped in with both feet, showing up to actions and events; inspiring the students and the adjunct professors alike.
Chris was also fundamental in making the No Justice No Service art event a success. He represented fast food workers, he participated in a Black Brunch style roll call reading the names of black cis and trans folks who had been killed by state violence that year, and he wrote and performed spoken word pieces. During one of our planning meetings, when I asked him if he knew anyone who did spoken word or if he did, he replied, “Sure I can do that.” We slotted him in between Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Keith Hennessey, creating a dialogue between more established and newer artists. Chris handled it. He captivated the room and held his own beautifully. It wasn’t until after he performed that he told me it was his very first time on stage.
I’m a huge fan of Chris’. Every time we are together I learn more effective ways of being an adjunct organizer. Such as the last time we facilitated a workshop where he had me pause and asked the student organizers in the room “Do you know what an adjunct professor is?” Then spot on defined the adjunctification of higher ed and the personal consequences it has on the majority of faculty.
Myth or Fact: Higher Education = Higher Pay
“Do you know what a adjunct professor is?” That was my question I asked every person I knew in 2015. It was the question of the year for me! Why? Because I just learned that a part-time PhD college professor, aka adjunct, can work and get paid the same poverty rate as a fast food worker!!!
See at that time I learned this information while organizing with the Fight for $15. As a organizer I constantly heard from the opposition, “Why don’t these fast food workers get more education, so then they won’t have to work these low paying jobs?” For a minute I was kind of seeing their point to be honest, even though I was a fast food worker with a college degree. But then I went to a meeting at California College of Arts (CCA) and actually met with some adjuncts. They were working on trying to unionize. They explained to me how broke-down colleges took advantage of professors who weren’t full-time and they explained how adjuncts now make up most of the work force compared to the late 80’s.
I was mind blown at this! I ended up helping out with a few events with CCA adjuncts and met more adjunct professors from there on out. Their stories had me like, “what the fuck! You can go to school all of your life and still come out not making any money!” These people had PhDs and were very well versed in their craft but still weren’t getting paid justly. Organizing with adjuncts enlightened me to how much fast food workers and adjuncts actually had in common: working conditions, living from check to check, not knowing what your schedule might be for work. We shared these realities though many people in the world would think a Phd graduate would not have anything in common with a fast food worker. I confess I thought the same thing, but I was so wrong.
This brought me back to my opposition, posed in the title, about higher education equaling higher pay. Its complete bullshit! So from then on after every time I heard those opposing our fight for a $15/hour minimum wage say, “Fast food workers just need to go get a higher education to get a better paying job,” I would ask “Do you know what a adjunct professor is?”
After doing this organizing I realized that the idea my high school friends and I had of starting a clothing company called Brilliant Minds at Work (BrilliantMindsatWork.com) as a way to support K-12 education was too limited an idea. We had to think bigger! My crew and I knew we wanted to change the education system within secondary education through our company, but with my new found information about adjuncts we realized we also needed to make change within higher education too! Brilliant Minds at Work wants to be a place where create change and where we also support people fighting “The Man” to get what they deserve. We, at Brilliant Minds at Work support adjunct professors in their fight because we do know what an adjunct professor is and we understand firsthand everything they’re going through.
Keep the fight for your rights going!!! We’re with you!!!!
Photos by Jennie Smith-Camejo. Top San Francisco Art Institute #NAWD 2015; Bottom 4.15.15 day of action, Berkeley, CA.