When Student Have No Advisors (2013)
I have been teaching for nearly 10 years at San Diego Mesa College in the English Department. I enjoy teaching, and I am thoroughly committed to students and to the mission of improving both their personal English skills and their ability to function in the world with others. I have often taken initiative to create community outreach programs. One program I created and ran for 4 years was a service learning writing project focused on community outreach to help align the curriculums between local high schools and community colleges.
Last semester, my students were reading and investigating food issues in the United States. There is overwhelming evidence that our food supply is contributing to the obesity epidemic, rising rates of allergies, and rising rates of diabetes, and that giant corporations are governing the public federal agencies of the USDA and the FDA as well as contributing heavily to lobbying for their advantage over the health of our children. My students researched and debated in class and in their writings about what roles kids, parents, corporations, and the government play in the obesity epidemic. After numerous discussions, the students decided that it would be a good idea to start a club that is focused on food issues to raise awareness and to empower the community through education. They went out and gathered signatures of fellow students who were interested in starting a food sustainability club. It was obvious that it was very popular and the students and myself understood that it would benefit the school, the students, and the larger community of San Diego.
It was impressive to see how motivated and inspired they became. I heard them talk about creating educational workshops that they could create on campus and to take to local grade schools. They spoke of “planting days” on campus and sharing knowledge about how to grow healthy organic produce. They even thought of finding healthy alternatives to the cafeteria foods that are certifiably unhealthy. After the signatures and the brainstorming, it came time for the students to file the official papers to start the club. As their professor, I was honored that the ideas came from my class and that the students thought that I should be their advisor. I signed the papers and the student leaders of the club in waiting went to file them, and this is where the adjunct moment struck.
One of the highly motivated students leading the charge to start this club returned to my class looking a bit distraught. I could see confusion and sadness in his expression as he approached me and told me that I could not be his advisor. He seemed to look at me like I was not qualified or that I had misled him. I was sort of taken aback. He proceeded to inform me that the administration does not allow adjunct faculty to be advisors to student clubs. I thought it strange, and quickly, I was engulfed in the same confusion. I couldn’t understand why an instructor that has been teaching religiously at the institution for nearly 10 years could not serve as an advisor to a student club, a club that would bring value to the campus. Why on earth would the administration not want faculty to be more engaged and invested in the well being of the students, the campus, and the community?
I decided to investigate why adjuncts are barred from advising student clubs by approaching my dean. The dean was curious and had no answer for me, so he told me that he would investigate and get back to me. Through my Dean I learned that the administration does not want adjunct faculty to be advisors because they do not want to have to compensate them for the time they serve the students. Adjunct instructors cannot have more than a 67% load, and adding time as an advisor is not permitted. I also learned through my dean that the school has had cases where an adjunct gained over 67% and it led to the full time hiring of that adjunct on technical contract grounds. The administration learned their lesson and closed the loophole that allowed adjunct faculty to gain full-time employment. Thus, the administration, rather than helping students to flourish in leadership roles, finds it more prudent to keep adjunct faculty in their dead-end positions. I learned that it doesn’t pay to be a good adjunct when trying to do the right thing for the students.
I offered to be an advisor as a volunteer, but the school is highly skeptical of such altruism and does not want to take a chance. Learning that the school only wants me to be an expendable low paid instructor, I proceeded to do justice for the students and petition full-time faculty to be an advisor to the Food Sustainability Club. None have stepped forth. The fact is that there are not enough full-timers anymore and full-timers are already stretch too thin with committees and classes that a student club that is highly needed and valuable to the students and the community is dying before it sees a day of life.
What happens when students no longer have advisors? The innovative leadership qualities these students demonstrate are callously circumvented by a unjust business model of education. The students suffer because their energies and intelligences are brushed off as unimportant. The school suffers the loss of prestige as the students no longer represent excellence, and the majority faculty remains powerless to improve their student’s, and their own exploited position. What happens when students don’t have advisors? Firstly, it creates a system where students remain passive and unengaged and professors give up on trying to herald a progressive education rounded fully in quality. I hope that we can all see the negative consequences that come from the adjunctification of our institutions and see the dismantling of avenues for top end quality education. Student clubs are important to students and to all of us and to kill them through adjunctification is an abhorrent assault on our students and communities.
Some have said that you can see how the administration thinks of the students by how they treat their professors.
A Good Adjunct!
John. D. Rall