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Re-Enacting Martin Luther's Protest

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther's posting of his 95 Theses on the door of Wittenberg Cathedral sparked the Protestant Reformation. Luther's action was a campus protest.  He was teaching at the University of Wittenberg as an "ordinary lecturer."   Nailing the theses to the door was a traditional way of inviting other faculty members to engage in an intellectual debate about an issue of concern.  

Historical Reenactment

Historical Reenactments are excellent lesson plans and fun actions that draw attention.


Read about the exhibit,  Embracing the FARB: Modes of Reenactment, that was at Columbia College in Chicago in 2012.

View videos of artist, Mark Tribe's Port Huron series, reenactments of New Left political speeches staged at their original sites.

Check out  Jeremy Deller's reenactment of a labor struggle, "The Battle of Orgreave"

And here is Tina Fey performing Sarah Palin's endorsement of Trump. No one says this has to be serious! 

To create your own reenactment, research and identify an memorable protest that you can adapt to your situation. There are countless models of activism to look to: 

Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, Cesar Chavez, Elizabeth Cade Stanton, Alice Paul, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Angela Davis, Mario Savio, Dorothy Height, Nelson Mandela . . . .


Get your campus' theater faculty on board with scripting out roles

and sourcing costumes. 

CEW 2017 steering committee member Andy Davis's interest in October 31st being the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's protest against the Catholic church was part of the inspiration to focus on the arts this year. It turns our he was not the only one. Faculty in a first contract fight at Notre Dame de Namur in Belmont, CA staged an historical reenactment of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Church.

Watch the video for inspiration and then see Doc Davis's instructions for a reenactment of this same event.

Luther's theses were a series of claims he was prepared to defend. They drew attention to corrupt practice of selling "papal indulgences" which guaranteed remission of penalties for sin. The debate never took place, but that didn't matter because the 95 Theses in Latin were picked up by the new medium of Luther's day – the printed pamphlet –  translated into the vernacular, and passed all over Germany, sparking what came to be known at the Reformation.


500 years later, academia is in need with a new reformation. We invite faculty to re-enact Luther's protest by posting a new set of demands/challenges/ debate points, inviting college administrators to debate the degradation of our profession. 


We encourage contingent faculty at universities across the country – and their allies among students, tenured faculty, staff, administrators, and members of the public – to put a new set of demands on the doors of administration building on campuses across the country. And since it is Halloween, let's do it in costume!

Adaptation of the first 25 of Martin Luther's 95 theses as they apply generically to contingent employment

Consider creating your own adaptions for your school.

Title: Disputation of Unsustainable Employment Practices in Higher Education

Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the ordinary lecturers at American institutions of higher education intend to defend the following twenty-five statements and to discuss them in public during the Campus Equity Week campaign of 2017, in particular in person on October 31st, the mAsk4CampusEquity day of national action. We ask that those who have the power to reform contingent academic employment practices engage in this debate in the name of all that is sacred.


  1. When any higher education institution declares its mission is to prepare students for lifelong learning, leadership, and careers in a dynamic multicultural world, it wills that the life of the university be dedicated primarily to teaching and learning.

  2. This word "learning" cannot be understood as referring to non-instructional facilities, amenities, or other actions designed to improve a college's ranking in national polls.  Nor does it refer to the measurement of learning, that is, the constant standardized testing and grading, enforced by accrediting organizations or government agents.

  3. Yet "learning" does not mean solely inner knowledge or understanding; such inner learning will go unappreciated unless and until it produces various outward demonstrations of such learning, which may not be apparent for some time after students have left the instituion.

  4. Student loan debt is effectively the penalty that both students and faculty incur for their college education.  That penalty continues well beyond the college years, until the debt is paid off or forgiven, for it cannot be discharged through bankruptcy.  It is unique form of indentureship in that respect.

  5. The university administration neither desires nor feels itself able to assist employees struggling with the burden of student debt.  Instead, administrators ensure that non tenure-track teachers will languish in precarious part-time work that does not pay a living wage.

  6. University administrations cannot rectify the historic exploitation of contingent faculty except by regularizing employment structures through provision of equitable wages, benefits, job security, and full-time work. If they continue to disregard opportunities to restore our profession, their transgressions shall remain unforgiven.

  7. University administrations will not be held harmless unless at the same time they humble themselves in all things and make themselves submissive to the service of their faculty and staff who serve the students.

  8. The obligations inherent in the social contract of tenure are imposed not only on the tenured faculty but upon all faculty, yet according to the principle of a contract itself, the requisite obligations exchanged for tenure should not be extracted from those who are not afforded the privilege of tenure.

  9. Therefore those rare institutions where the administration is kind to us insofar as its decrees makes exceptions favoring certain contingent faculty with celebrity salaries or other perks cannot be seen as virtuous but rather only responding to necessity as they perceive it.

  10. Those administrators act ignorantly and wickedly who, in the case of the destitute and desperately circumstanced adjunct faculty member, withhold the humane assistance that would cost little but mean everything.

  11. The decades long transition from a tenure-track workforce to a piece-work model in higher education evidently took place while the faculty themselves were focused on their own careers rather than the profession as a whole.

  12. In former times, criteria for tenure and promotion were far more relaxed and allowed for faculty to participate wholly in the life of the university as true self-governing scholars.

  13. The non tenure-track faculty are freed from responsibility for the trajectory of the university by virtue of their oppression and coercion, are already non entities as far as university governance is concerned, and therefore have a right to be released from any accountability.

  14. Marginalization on the part of the oppressed person necessarily brings with it great fear; and the smaller the university's integrity, the greater the fear.

  15. This fear or horror is sufficient in itself, to say nothing of other things, to constitute the penalty of contingent employment, since it is very near to the horror of despair.

  16. Adjunct status, full-time contingent status, and tenure-track status seem to differ in the same ways and to the same extent that despair, fear, and assurance of salvation do.

  17. It seems as though for those souls in the purgatory of contingency who have longer term appointment and relatively higher wages, fear should necessarily decrease and love increase, but the fear is stronger than love, so they must pretend that they feel they are treated fairly for fear of job loss.

  18. Furthermore, it does not seem proved, either by their performance or their economic value to the university, that contingent faculty are outside the state of merit, that is, unable to grow in ever greater value to the workplace.

  19. Nor does it seem proved that souls in the purgatory of contingency, at least not all of them, are certain and assured of their own eventual salvation, even if that hope is what enables them to endure their hardship and uncertainty.

  20. Therefore the administration, when it uses the word "faculty,'' does not actually mean "all faculty,'' but only those designated as tenure-track, even though most faculty today are not employed in tenure-track positions.

  21. Thus those complacent trustees and administrators are in error who say that they are absolved from every penalty and saved because they are just following mandates from higher authorities.

  22. As a matter of fact, we demand that administrators be held accountable for the actions they take toward those trapped in the purgatory of contingency, actions they should pay for unless they themselves are fighting for reform of these employment practices.

  23. If tenure could be granted to anyone at all and if tenure meant someone could never be fired for any reason whatsoever, certainly it would be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to very few.

  24. For this reason most people are necessarily deceived by the notion that achieving tenure is an indiscriminate and high-sounding release from responsibility, whereas tenure only conveys the right to due process, not a "job for life."

  25. That power which the university has in general over the purgatory of contingent employment corresponds to the power which any CEO has in his own corporation over the terms and conditions established for workers, but FLSA standards exempt teachers from being paid a minimum wage.

Adaptation of the First 14 of Martin Luther's 95 theses for Cal-Poly, Pomona

by Andrew Davis, PhD.

Example of a Site-specific Context

A New Set of Ninety-Five Theses

Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, Andrew Davis, Doctor of Philosophy in Performance Studies, and an ordinary lecturer at Cal Poly Pomona, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place. Therefore he asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter. 

1.      When the State of California established the Cal State University system with the stated mission "to advance learning and knowledge by linking theory and practice in all disciplines, and to prepare students for lifelong learning, leadership and careers in a changing multicultural world," it willed that the life of this university be dedicated to learning.

2. This word "learning" cannot be understood as referring to building of conference centers, sports facilities, special amenities or other actions designed to improve a college's ranking in national polls.  Nor does it refer to the measurement of learning, that is, the constant testing and grading like No Child Left Behind, as administered by the faculty or by accrediting organizations.

3.      Yet it does not mean solely inner knowledge or understanding; such inner learning is meaningless unless it produces various outward demonstrations of such learning.  Testing and grading is only one means of demonstrating such learning.

4.      Student loan debt is effectively the penalty that middle class students incur for their college education.  That penalty continues well beyond the college years, until the debt is paid off or forgiven, for it cannot be discharged through bankruptcy.  It is unique form of indentureship in that respect.

5.      The Chancellor or university president (the Trustees) has no control over student debt except while a student is attending the university, by lowering tuition or granting scholarships, or by assisting employees, struggling with their own student debt load. Instead, the Chancellor ensures that non-tenured teachers will continue to struggle by forcing them to accept part-time employment and cover their own health benefits.

6.      The Chancellor or university president has no control over student debt except while a student is attending this university, by lowering tuition or granting scholarships.

7.      The Chancellor cannot remit the student debt who have already graduated, except by influencing the lienholders; or by assisting employees in her employ, struggling with their own student debt load.  Instead, the Chancellor ensures that contingent faculty will continue to struggle financially by forcing them to accept part-time employment and buying insurance on the exchanges.

8.      College costs are imposed on the students…nothing should be imposed on graduates.  The true costs and penalties of a college education are made invisible to the 18 year olds who make up most of our entering students, hiding the true cost of a college education and preventing them from making informed financial decisions.

9.      The financial system is kind to us insofar as these as debt load is forgiven upon our deaths – but this is done not out of kindness, but of necessity.

10.      Educators in not-for-profit colleges act just as ignorantly and wickedly as those in for-profit colleges, when they encourage teenagers to take out loans as a means of financing their education without fully explaining the downsides and presenting other options. 

11.       Like weeds, the field of college teaching has been taken over by an underpaid and disrespected "part-time" workforce that now constitutes over two-thirds of college instructors, while the tenured faculty slept.  Thus the vast majority of college instructors have no vested interest in a tenure system that excludes them.

12.      In former times, students were able to earn money for college while going to school.  The penalties of a college education were imposed not after, but before graduation.  This helped to contain college costs and administrative overreach.

13.      Graduates should be freed from college debt through some type of bankruptcy rather than carrying this unique type of debt to the grave.  They have a right to be released from these debts, which they acquired when they were teenagers.

14.      Adjunct faculty members should be freed from their graduate school debt, for they are dead as far as the tenure system is concerned, and have a right to be released from them insofar as we are locked out of "leadership and careers" by that system.

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