Adjunct faculty aim for union

Graphic Credit: Kevin O’Keeffe | The Los Angeles Loyolan

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: Adjunct faculty aim for union – The Los Angeles Loyolan.

Chiara Sulprizio, a visiting professor at LMU, adopted a baby in March. The adoption had been in the works for quite some time, but the child, Evan, arrived earlier than planned.

“My husband and I had intended to get the baby in summer,” Sulprizio said. “But as is the case with most babies, they come when they want to come.”

Evan arrived in the middle of spring break, when Sulprizio was visiting family in Reno, Nev. Coincidentally, Evan was also in Reno – serendipity Sulprizio said she couldn’t ignore.

She got the call Sunday and picked Evan up on Wednesday. Due to technicalities with the adoption, Sulprizio couldn’t leave Nevada until into the school week, cancelling her class the following Tuesday.

“And that was all the time I took off,” Sulprizio said. “One day. Just one day.”

Ordinarily, someone in Sulprizio’s situation would have colleagues informally cover for her. But Sulprizio is one of three professors in the classics and archaeology department and teaches four classes. Finding a cover for maternity leave is impossible – and as a non-tenure track professor, Sulprizio was confused as to whether she had the right to take time off.

“Admittedly, I did not demand anything,” Sulprizio said about petitioning for leave. “But even if I did, it doesn’t mean I would have gotten it. It’s not that anybody said to me, ‘No, you cannot take a leave.’ But realistically, how would that have worked?”

Sulprizio is in her third year, often the last for visiting professors at LMU. However, unlike other part-time professors, she has four classes, instead of just one or two. She is still a member of contingent faculty – the broader term used to describe those who must reapply for their positions on a semester-by-semester or year-by-year basis. And it is those contingent faculty members who are now considering unionizing.

As of 2012, 51 percent of LMU professors are employed part-time, according to Andrew Dilts, a political science professor on the tenure track. A former adjunct professor at other universities, Dilts has a strong interest in the trend of what he terms “adjunctification” – the shift towards more part-time professors versus full-time – not only at LMU, but nationally.

“In the 1970s, 70 percent of everyone who was teaching at an institute of higher education was on the tenure track,” Dilts said. “In 2011, 30 percent of instructors at institutions of higher education were on the tenure track. So it’s reversed in the course of a 40-year period.”

According to Anna Harrison, a full-time professor in the theological studies department, contingent faculty are ineligible for health care benefits and can’t buy in to a group plan. No part-time faculty are permitted to sit on committees. Additionally, according to Harrison, the academic freedom touted by University President David W. Burcham during his Convocation address this year is put in jeopardy when part-time professors lack the job security of tenure.

Teaching a course at LMU pays approximately $5,000 – limited to two classes a semester, part-time professors make just over $20,000 each academic year at maximum. Many part-time faculty take other jobs, often at other universities, to supplement their income. One such professor is Emily Hallock, a part-time political science professor both at LMU and UCLA. Because she’s teaching in two places, her students are shorted on available time in office hours.

“I simply cannot be here when I’m teaching another class,” Hallock said. “The students lose out if the person that they see and interact with is not a permanent member of the department.”

She’s also unable to devote time to research, something that affects the viability of the “teacher-scholar” model mentioned in LMU’s Strategic Plan. In the Strategic Themes section of the Plan, one of the objectives is to create “an educational environment that fosters lifelong learning for both students and faculty.” Because teachers like Hallock are taking part-time jobs elsewhere, they cannot focus on building the scholar aspect.

As a result, many adjunct faculty members are making strides towards a change. First, they created an online network for the Bellarmine College of Fine Arts (BCLA) adjunct faculty – designed to improve the work environment for adjuncts. Now comes a move towards unionization, thanks both to motivated faculty and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), representatives of which have slowly begun building a presence on campus.

For their part, members of the University administration are aware of the efforts, according to Rebecca Chandler, LMU’s vice president for human resources. Because this is LMU’s first brush with potential unionization, the administration has no official position on the topic.

“We do recognize and respect that it is an individual’s legal right to participate in unionization efforts, or equally, to refrain from such activities,” Chandler told the Loyolan via email. “We respect an individual’s right to speak and/or meet with union representatives.”

Similar unionization efforts have occurred at other universities – successfully at schools like Georgetown University and George Washington University with the assistance of SEIU. While there will be obstacles along the path, including different adjunct faculty needs and the lack of a central communication system, professors passionate about the issue are ready for a shift.

“I would like to leave this place in a better state than I found it for people working off the tenure track,” Sulprizio said. “This place can afford … to do a little bit better and a little bit more for its contingent faculty.”

Trying to make a living

“My biggest mistake, had I wanted to pursue a teaching career in academia, seemed to be that I didn’t marry well,” Elizabeth Quiros-Loe said with a laugh. “Which pissed me off.”

Quiros-Loe came to LMU’s theological studies department last year on an externship from getting her graduate degree at Vanderbilt University. She taught one course to get some teaching experience. When it became clear that adjunct work wouldn’t be enough to live on, she moved to her current position as the program administrator at the Bioethics Institute.

“I was planning on continuing teaching, but this position became available,” she said. A much more secure job – year-round versus semester-by-semester, 20 hours per week – Quiros-Loe said she was grateful to be able to go to the dentist and not worry about future employment. While she could have found work elsewhere, LMU is important to her; her parents met in Malone when they were students here, and she said she felt connected to the campus.

“I want to work at one institution, and I want to work at LMU,” she said. “The only reason I’ve been able to teach here was because it’s subsidized by student loans. So the moment I get a Ph.D., I wouldn’t be able to teach here. … I did not want my Ph.D. to be my pink slip.”

The path to a union

Efforts to make working conditions better for part-time professors have been in the works at LMU for some time. Contingent faculty like Sulprizio and Quiros-Loe started the Contingent Faculty Network (CFN) last year with a web page that included resources like a guidebook for contingent faculty that with information on everything from contract renewal to where to park. According to its own website, CFN wasn’t a unionization effort in and of itself; rather, it was a more general effort to support contingent faculty.

“We just wanted to reach out to other people in our situation and not feel so isolated,” Sulprizio said.

The CFN was designed with BCLA professors in mind, and was received well by then-Dean Paul Zeleza’s office. The long-term goal of those who created the network wasn’t a union, but when Zeleza left LMU at the beginning of this year and the CFN went “by the wayside” in the transition, according to Sulprizio, things changed.

Enter SEIU, an organization that has worked in Washington, D.C. and Boston to unionize part-time faculty as part of their Adjunct Action program. They’re now in L.A. and at LMU specifically. How they came to campus isn’t quite clear – according to Jesse Yeh, an organizer for SEIU, they were invited when they spoke to over 200 adjunct faculty on campus. Yet when asked about which professors in particular formally invited SEIU on campus, Yeh hedged.

“I guess ‘formally invited’ wouldn’t be the case,” he said. “It’s that we see there’s a lot of really strong support here … to organize.”

For her part, Quiros-Loe was curious as to why SEIU was the right organization to get involved versus an organization like the American Association of University Professors. The answer: It came down to resources. “SEIU had the ability to make a local campaign and a metro-wide campaign,” she said, the latter half of which was deemed important. “We’re metro workers – we work here, we work there … so having union representation at one place isn’t quite as helpful as having it across the place where we work.”

Additionally, according to Dilts, the tenure track political science professor, SEIU has “a track record of working with existing organizations” on a city level. “They’re one of the few unions that’s seen that what’s happening with higher education has this particular quality in cities that’s different than in rural areas or in suburban areas,” Dilts said.

‘I’m not going to skimp on the students’

So where do students fit into the unionization equation? According to Hallock, the professor who teaches part-time at both LMU and UCLA, students are the most important aspect.

“I think a lot of students don’t realize that the people who are teaching them are being paid basically a tenth of what one student pays for their tuition and everything for the year,” Hallock said. “If I were a student and I was paying $50,000 to go to school, I would wonder why half of the people that were teaching me were making so very little when I was paying so very much.”

For Quiros-Loe, the whole reason for the vicious cycle is because professors care about their students. “We tend to be complicit in our own exploitation,” … she said … “because we love the students. And it’s not their fault. So we do more than what we’re paid for, going above and beyond, and we do this … because we feel committed to our students.”

“I’m not going to skimp on the students, because that would be wrong,” Hallock added. “But the result of this is that I don’t have much time for anything else.”

Deadline: December

The goal is to file for an election by the end of the semester, according to SEIU organizer Cindy Flores, which will allow for a vote to unionize. To file before the end of the semester is important, according to Quiros-Loe, because of the turnover in adjunct faculty – in other words, the part-time professors on staff now aren’t necessarily the same professors that will be on staff come January.

Still, the group seeking to organize faces some obstacles. For one, as Quiros-Loe sees it, there is a deep-seated feeling that being passed over for the opportunity to move onto the tenure track is somehow merit-based. Additionally, when it comes to attempts to organize, according to Dilts, management or administration obstruction can be one of the most difficult obstacles.

“At LMU, I have incredibly high hopes, though, that our administration will understand that this movement is coming as a response to the shared goal of the administration, faculty and students, which is to find a way to increase the quality of our educational program here and support all our members,” Dilts said.

Should a union come to pass, Chandler, LMU’s vice president for human resources, said there would be significant change. “Human resources and the administration will, for the most part, not deal directly with individual part-time faculty members,” Chandler said via email. “Part-time faculty will have the union as their ‘voice’ and exclusive representation.”

Whether or not the vote can be mobilized, for Sulprizio, the issues with part-time faculty at LMU aren’t going away.

“I don’t think this is the worst place to work as a contingent faculty member,” Sulprizio said. “But the time has come to deal with the problem.”

@SummerBreak: Inside the Social Media Reality Series Starring L.A. High School Students

Photo Credit: Maddie Cordoba

Originally published in LA Weekly. For original, please refer to: @SummerBreak: Inside the Social Media Reality Series Starring L.A. High School Students – LA Weekly.

Trevis is sweating. It’s in the 90s at Brooklyn Projects, a skate shop on Melrose with a half pipe behind the store. Though Trevis isn’t much of a skater, he’s suffering the heat to watch his two friends, Zaq and Connor, as his best friend Ray shops inside for a new shirt.

As his friends skate, Trevis tweets a photo of the two on the pipe. The photo goes out to Trevis’ almost 2,000 followers. He’s a popular Santa Monica High School graduate who was point guard of his high school basketball team and president of his student body, so it’s not unusual that he’d have a lot of followers. What is unusual is that his tweet has to get approved before it ever sees the light of day.

Connor and Zaq, drenched in sweat, get off the half pipe and prepare to leave. They sit and chat with Trevis for a bit. He tells them he tweeted a photo of them, and they eagerly go to check it out on their own phones.

They don’t go back inside to meet up with Ray yet, though. They can’t. The film crew’s not ready to shoot their exit.

Trevis, Ray, Zaq and Connor are not just regular L.A. teenagers. They are four of the principal cast members on @SummerBreak, a new summer reality TV show, though that’s technically inaccurate. There’s no TV channel airing @SummerBreak.

@SummerBreak is the first major series to unfold on a combination of online video and social media. Designed with the mobile experience in mind, the series is a collaboration between the Chernin Group — the production company run by Peter Chernin, the former No. 2 at Newscorp — and AT&T.

Executive producer Billy Parks first came up with the idea of having viewers take part in a full social experience — which made it perfect for teenagers.

“Obviously, with Millenials, this is the way they’re talking,” Parks says. “It felt really organic to who they are.” Though the production team flirted with the idea of doing a scripted series, reality felt fresher, and cast the show with high school students who just graduated or are on the cusp of graduating.

On this particular day of shooting, Trevis and Connor had gone to breakfast before joining Ray and Zaq for shopping and skating. While the guys ate and talked, an on-site production team member transcribed every word, conferring with producers after the guys moved on — and the cameras moved on with them. That morning’s conversation, apparently about the guys’ ex-girlfriend troubles, wasn’t as good as the previous night’s conversation between Connor and Zaq. After a brief discussion, producers decide that night’s episode will be of last night’s conversation, which dealt with Connor’s romantic past, present and future.

The cast members themselves are clueless as to what will appear in each day’s episode — and how much they’ll appear. Though the producers choose snippets of the kids’ lives to shoot, not every segment makes it in, and if they do, it won’t necessarily be in chronological order. That morning’s breakfast — and all the footage of the guys shopping — has yet to be used in an episode of @SummerBreak, and might never see the light of day.

Originally, episodes were set to be approximately one minute long and posted six days a week, with no episode on Saturday. The rest of the show would play out on Twitter and Instagram, where each member of the cast regularly posts updates on their lives and interacts with viewers. However, viewers clamored for more in the form of longer episodes — and they got it. Now, daily episodes are three to four minutes each Monday through Thursday, with Sunday episodes being longer anchor episodes that tell more story.

The social media aspect is still huge, though. Cast members use programs like HootSuite to post to their social media accounts, and a team hired by the producers works 20 hours a day to approve these messages. Not all the cast members are super engaged, but some — especially Ray, the son of former champion boxer Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, and Clara, a female cast member headed to culinary school — take the time to respond to fans constantly. It’s all part of a greater theme of engagement — a word Parks and the cast use constantly.

So far, the cast has proven pretty engaging. The core cast is made up of eight L.A. kids — six who just graduated high school, two headed into their senior year. Three girls, five guys. Four Santa Monica High School students, four Pacific Palisades Charter School students. Zaq, Ray, Trevis and Kostas are from the Samohi half, while Clara, Lena, Alex and Connor are Pali kids. Nia, the original ninth cast member, is also a Pali girl, but she’s not with the show anymore.

The show follows the kids through their daily lives during a summer that is (for most) their last before moving on to college and other opportunities. In many ways, @SummerBreak is a throwback to Laguna Beach, the 2004 series that chronicled the lives of Orange County high school kids that pioneered the use of serial narrative in reality shows versus a documentary-style format.

Laguna Beach (and its successor series, The Hills) were known for manipulation behind the scenes, something Parks says the production team is eager to stay away from, pushing for an authentic feel. That’s been a detriment to the show in some ways, as the narrative wasn’t easily frameable early on. Worse even, when the first six episodes went live on June 16, the cast “lost their minds,” according to Parks.

“We had a little viewing party,” Trevis explains. “I walked in [late], and you could feel the tension. Everybody was being so real on the camera.”

That realness transformed into awkwardness off-screen. In a particularly tense example, the three parts of the love triangle from those first episodes — Zaq, Clara and Connor — were all sitting right next to each other as they watched.

Connor had a particularly bad reaction to his romantic entanglements being aired on the show. “I just wasn’t used to having my personal life being broadcast,” he says. “It was just different.”

Connor and the barely-featured Nia didn’t appear again in any major capacity until the cast’s trip to Catalina Island. That trip was an effort on producers’ part to get the kids together, both bonding them and creating more potential storylines in the face of a rapidly growing audience but a lack of substantive plot. (Typical YouTube comment on the first 12 episodes: “This show’s kinda boring.”)

After they got back from Catalina, producers laid down the law with the cast about opening up.

“If you don’t like what you see, change it,” Parks says the producers told them. “You have a luxury that no other reality cast member has ever had. The show is in your hands. But with that responsibility, doesn’t mean if you don’t like what you see, you can go sneak off camera. That’s bullshit. You have to now open yourself up more.”

The lecture affected each cast member differently. While Nia stopped being filmed (in what creators described as a “creative decision”), others like Lena and Connor opened up in new ways, the former even letting her dad’s battle with throat cancer be chronicled. Since then, the show has gained new narrative life, with Lena and Clara getting into the series’ first out-and-out fight and Alex and Kostas’ uneasy flirtation being disturbed by L.A. transplant Raina’s introduction as another love interest for Kostas. The new plotlines have sparked major interest among fans — and the kids have become much more natural, saying they forget the cameras but also, according to Parks, remaining acutely aware of being on a reality show.

One big aspect of that awareness are cast attempts to change the storylines. Lena openly voiced frustration on Twitter about her lack of screentime in Catalina, while at one point during shooting Zaq even questions a production team member about why the guys are being filmed shopping when there’s not much going on. (Since this is the same shopping trip that never made it to air, he might’ve had a point.)

This desire to control their appearance on-screen gives the show a meta level, and presents the production team with what Parks calls “Season 2 problems,” though they’re merely weeks into Season 1.

After finishing their shopping trip, Zaq, Trevis, Ray and Connor sit down to lunch at Baby Blues BBQ in Venice. The cameras are gone, and the production staff is buying, so the guys become more relaxed. After almost immediately hopping on their phones, they begin to chat about topics ranging from the early days of the show to the previous night’s episode, featuring Alex and best friend Karli driving and gossiping about guys, which Zaq bluntly dismisses as having “sucked.”

“I got frustrated. I was like, ‘Yo, what the fuck is this episode? Where am I? Where are my boys?'” Zaq complains. “There’s so much other shit they could have shown.”

“They want to see drama,” Ray says, acknowledging producers’ desire for meatier plotlines. “But that’s just the two of them in the car.”

The guys were clearly frustrated with the drama. Yet stats don’t lie: Each member of the cast has well over a thousand followers on Twitter now, as opposed to far lower numbers before the Catalina trip. The more emotionally open cast has created opportunities for more dramatically fulfilling stories.

Later, while driving back to where shooting began, not half an hour after expressing frustration with the drama, Zaq created some of his own. He gave Ray a gift — a T-shirt with his father’s name and likeness on it.

Ray clearly appreciated the thought, but quickly explained to Zaq that his family gets his dad’s merchandise for free all the time. Zaq, clearly insulted, proceeded to sulk for the rest of the ride. Ray apologized for sounding unappreciative. Zaq refused to respond as the van fell into an awkward silence. Ray looked around in stunned disbelief.

Parks was recording the interaction from the very start.

Hipsters’ popularity defies counter-cultural roots

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: Hipsters’ popularity defies counter-cultural roots – Los Angeles Loyolan.

Cartoon Credit: Ian Zell | The Los Angeles Loyolan

They wear skinny pants and TOMS shoes. They listen to underground music and embrace everything retro. They wear wayfarer glasses and consider independent artists the golden standard. These are the stereotypes surrounding hipsters in today’s popular culture.

The term “hipster” is firmly engrained in the mainstream vernacular of today. Hipsters have become so popular that advertisers are embracing the hip ideal as a marketable brand. The hipster, which was once considered an icon of the counter-cultural movement, is quickly becoming an immovable part of pop culture.

“Hipsters want to feel special and superior. That’s a huge thing, being superior,” said sophomore film production major Zoe Gieringer, who dislikes the ‘hipster’ label. “A lot of the culture is counter-mainstream. Hipsters almost have an aversion to the mainstream.”

“I think, for some people, it’s an attitude, a feeling of superiority,” sophomore film production major James Weber said of hipsters. “But I’d say that’s getting into the pretentious side of it … I would say a hipster would be someone who would wear trendy clothing, listens to independent music, is under the radar and has an eye for anything counter-culture.”

The hipster culture first came about in the 1940s as what author of the Journal of the American Musicological Society article, “The Problem with White Hipness: Race, Gender and Cultural Conceptions in Jazz Historical Discourse” Ingrid Monson describes as a “hip subculture, comprising black Americans interested in Western artistic nonconformity and white Americans captivated by urban African American styles of music, dress and speech.” The word “hipster” became popular again in the 1990s as a term for who particularly invested in independent music.

Sophomore film production major Caroline Dunaway was less clear about the definition of the word thanks to the connotations that have been attached to it.

“The problem is it depends on how you’re looking at the word,” Dunaway said. “I feel like, a lot of times today, when someone calls someone a hipster, it’s derogatory.”

Perhaps because of that negative connotation, it’s difficult to find many who will define themselves as hipsters. Junior film production major Dan Fromhart is a rare breed: someone who seems to have a grasp on hipster culture while submitting himself to the label.

“I would consider myself a hipster,” said Fromhart, “but by doing that, I don’t think I am actually considered a hipster. I can call myself a hipster just because people would consider me a hipster. The way I dress is hipster, but the way I live my life isn’t.”

Today, however, the movement seems to be centered on retro fashion as well as with independent music. The stereotype also indicates a competitive nature among hipsters to discover small artists and wear unconventional fashion trends first.

“People associate being a hipster with trying to go against the grain as well as trying to find the super cool, underground bands that no one knows about and stay ahead of everyone else in knowing about things,” Dunaway said. “So I think in that sense, that’s where the negative connotation comes from.”

As the hipster label has evolved, however, it has increasingly  become part of popular culture, something Dunaway said was a contradiction of the very ideals behind the culture.

“People truly believe in the counter-culture aspect of it, but the hipster image reigns supreme in popular culture when it comes to our generation and what it means to look cool,” Dunaway said. “Advertisers cater to the hipster demographic. When you go to a store and say, ‘I’m going to buy this, it’s so hipster and counter-culture,’ thousands of other kids are doing the exact same thing … [and] you’re actually feeding the popular hipster culture. It’s not good, it’s not bad; it’s just popular.”

The marketing of the hipster image is what has caused so many to attempt to be hipster simply as a trend or fad. It is those people who have added a negative connotation to the word: the divide between real hipsters and posers.

“There’s a conceived true hipster and a conceived wannabe hipster,” Dunaway said. “A lot of people see a real hipster persona and a buyable, wearable hipster persona. You can buy the records, you can put on the clothes, but does that make you a hipster? I don’t know.”

“People go out of their way to dress the part of a hipster and make it look like they’re part of the culture because it’s becoming more popular,” said senior business major Brian Pede. “It’s cooler to be that way and dress that way.”

At LMU, according to Gieringer and Fromhart, hipster culture is a bit more limited, with most of the emphasis placed on the music scene versus the counter-cultural aspects.

“I don’t think there’s a strong hipster culture at LMU, but because there isn’t one, the people who have even the littlest tinge of hipster to them are immediately put into that box,” Gieringer said.

Fromhart added that LMU’s hipster culture was “suppressed, but growing,” largely thanks to the school’s population of wealthy students seeking a way to rebel against their upbringing.

“In regards to music, I think [the LMU hipster scene] actually has a lot to offer that you might not realize when you first come here,” Dunaway said. “As far as the bad hipster connotation goes, I don’t want to say sometimes people try too hard, but people can try too hard.”

As the hipster image continues to evolve, it will likely fall out of the popular culture once again. However, the culture of hip will continue on and possibly return to its counter-cultural roots.

“I think it’ll absolutely continue to evolve, but I’m interested to see where it goes,” Dunaway said. “Everything is influenced by something else. We can’t keep pulling out of thin air. It seems like we’ve gone through so many cycles – I’m interested to see what it’ll be. I’m certain it’ll be something from the past, just repurposed into something just a little different. Only time will tell.”