A solidarity spell led by the Oracle of Los Angeles, Amanda Yates Garcia. Photo: Concrete Walls Projects.
On Sunday, October 12, Human Resources in Chinatown was bustling with the energy of solidarity. Art, Education & Justice! brought together all types of art laborers: teachers and students, art handlers and artists, to meet and start a big conversation across Los Angeles and the country. It was both a social event and a short informal conference with several speakers, a few performances, and an endless supply of Chinese food, which was nice. The main purpose of the event was to raise awareness of the poor treatment many art faculty have to live with. Poverty wages and lack of job security has led many to organize with the intention of forming a union with the Service Employees International Union. But the room was also filled with numerous related and allied organizations.
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There are a lot of problems in higher education these days. It’s a complicated organism, and each school has its own unique issues, but the general trend is that schools have gradually adopted a corporate operating model. Administrations continue to grow along with their salaries while full-time faculty positions are disappearing. To make up for this, part-time or adjunct faculty have been taken on in droves. In some cases, adjuncts outnumber full-time faculty—a severe irony since “adjunct” means “additional but not essential.” Of course, part-time faculty are paid less and don’t receive benefits, but what is most troubling is that in many cases, adjuncts live from class to class in a state of complete precariousness with no assurances for the next semester.
“In one day—a 24-hour period—I was let go by two schools simultaneously, without any kind of respect,” recalled Jessica Rath. The crowd at Human Resources immediately responded with a chorus of boos. A poignant statement for the first speaker to stand in front of the eight-foot-tall silver letters spelling “UNION NOW.”