Professors on Food Stamps

Professors on Food Stamps

Several Years ago, as a union rep, I had to seek emergency funding for one of my fellow colleagues, (a Ph.D. holder) who had three kids aged from 8 to 17 and was living out of a station wagon.  I have had serious discussions with adjuncts on several occasions about buying professional-looking clothing at thrift stores like Amvets and the Salvation Army, and had the pleasure of waiting for an hour in front of a free clinic holding my then sick and crying four-year old waiting to get him checked because I didn’t have insurance covering him.  This may be old news, but it’s a current and growing problem.

Adjunct. The modern indentured servant.

modern disappointment.

full classroom

By Sinnamon Rohl

I’m an adjunct. That means that when I am in the classroom with you, I’m your professor. But when I am in the company of other faculty or administration in the educational institution under which I am employed, I am a second-class citizen.

Recently, the title “adjunct professor” came into the public vernacular with the death of an adjunct French professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. Margaret Mary Vojtko, who had taught for the University for 25 years, was found lying on her front lawn after suffering a heart attack at the age of 83.

Although tragic, on the surface this story seems garden variety. Old people die, and they have to die somewhere. But it’s the back story that makes this narrative especially tragic. She was living in poverty. She could not afford to maintain the home in which she lived, and was struggling to…

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Just Call Me…Exploited

Over the past few years of attending numerous union, academic department, and adjunct advocacy group meetings I have listened to debate and put forth ideas as to what, we, the members of the Adjunctiverse or Adjunct Nation should be called.

I have in fact seen some strong debates over the issue of what we should be called, at the same time overshadowing the fact that during the past few years, some schools have cut adjunct teaching sections by over 40 percent.  I presently teach at one school where not only have I not received a raise in the last seven years, but was asked to take a five percent pay cut on the last contract, only to watch the class sections the cuts were supposedly going to preserve cut like the prices on Halloween candy in November.

I come from the time when adjunct instructors were called part-timers—No. Wait. We still are called part-timers, aren’t we? Hmmm…

I don’t know when the term “adjunct” first started getting used, nor do I really care.  When people stopped calling me a part-timer, I actually felt like adjunct kind of prettied things up a bit too much.  After all, I only receive part of the wage of a contract/full-timer, I only get to participate in part of the activities of a full-time instructor, and although I am lucky to have full health insurance for myself and my family, most “adjunct” instructors only have part of the health benefits of a full-timer, along with only part of the respect, part of the same union representation, hence part of the bargaining power.

Now I’ve heard that people feel the term “adjunct” is demeaning, in that it simply means “A thing added to something else in a sort a supplementary way,” kind of like the guy who puts the French tickler on his…well, I guess it could be said that we adjuncts are that tickler in the world of higher ed. (except that we’re the ones being screwed).  The new term for us that’s in vogue now is “contingent” meaning, among other things “chance”, “accidental”, “haphazard”.

My God! That’s so much fu**ing  better! I’m on the road to feeling better! I ain’t gonna cry no more no more, I ain’t gonna cry no more…

Let’s be a little real here, shall we?  Being called an adjunct, or part-timer, or contingent is bad because first and foremost, we are being treated like we are “adjuncts,” “part-timers”, or “contingent” faculty.  Sanitation Engineers and Administrative Assistants are still trash collectors and secretaries the last time I checked.

Just call me “exploited”,  then let’s get on with addressing the real source of our injury.

However, since we’re talking terms and definitions, my fellow “good”adjuncts, I now bequeath to you and the world the “The ‘Good’ Adjunct List of Professional Terms: Part I”

Part-Time Instructor:  Refers to a person who worked very hard in school and got good grades so he or she could go to school and work harder and get more good grades for many more years.  May have accrued more than 100,000 dollars in debt, but is certain upon graduation that he or she will be rewarded with a good job.  Is later surprised to learn that isn’t the case but then takes a job teaching one or two classes for much less than half of what a full-time employee makes, except with little or no benefits, job security, or perks beyond a key to the staff restroom (if he or she asks for it nicely).  To supplement his/her meager income he/she will find other institutions to teach multiple classes, often more than what a regular full-timer teaches, at just a fraction of the salary.  He or she does this initially thinking it will get him or her a full-time job, which it rarely does. He or she will then, with no small amount of irony, exhort his or her students to work hard as it will bring them success.

Adjunct Instructor: See Above

Contingent Instructor: See Above

Uncontracted Facilitator: See Above

Unsecured Educator: See Above

Educated Grade Slave: See Above

Geoff Johnson–A “Good” Adjunct

An Adjunct Speaks His Truth

Adjunct Joe Fruscione speaks eloquent, bitter truth about the burden of being adjunct and the possibility of leaving the profession. His story personalizes the myth of the adjunct. So many of us know this truth. The question is, what viable, reasonable options are there for him? But another, deeper question is what would it be like to leave? Fruscione contemplates that it would be “bittersweet.” I wonder how many times in life we actually experience that emotion? If you’re an adjunct, you live it.

Adminstrators’ Low Regard of Adjuncts and Their Students

I don’t know whether to call this an “adjunct moment”, or rather a simply an incidence of educational neglect and mixed up priorities, but at any rate, it’s not one of those “happy” moments.

As an English adjunct at one of the institutions I teach at, I am afforded the benefit of an office I share with at least 20+ other adjuncts in fields ranging from English and Art History to Psychology and Sociology.  It’s not a bad office as adjunct offices go. Most adjuncts don’t have any space at other campuses.   The office has a number of partitioned spaces, a small conference room, and two computers for adjunct use.

It also has a printer, and well…this is the issue.

The college has a longstanding fear teachers wasting resources, which, more plainly put, means “they make too many photocopies for their classes.”  No teacher on campus, whether contract (full-timer or adjunct) has access to a copy machine unless they’re willing to put 20 cents per copy into a library copying machine.  This means submitting copies to the campus reprographic center which demands 24 hours advance notice on any order.

I teach English, and, as any English teacher will tell you, often there are either those moments of inspiration when you see something in a magazine, newspaper, or an article on the internet that you want to use at the last minute, or because, as an adjunct teaching at multiple institutions, you may have simply forgotten to place a last-minute order.

As repro isn’t about to do last-minute orders, this means either going to Kinko’s Fed Ex and sometimes dropping over 20 dollars on copies for a class, or trying to print it out on the adjunct office computer.  Needless to say, most adjuncts head for option #2.   This means the printer, and hence its toner, gets used a lot, and will in fact eventually run out.

Because the school is ever diligent to save money on instruction, (but not necessarily on flashy activities like conferences, which I’ll get to later) anything needed by an instructor, down to a paperclip, must be requisitioned at the school supply room, down to even pencils, staples, and paperclips.  Toners, especially ones for 10+ year old Hewlett Packard hand-me-down printer from the Business office that our office uses, have a special category all to themselves.  Not only do you need to submit a form to get one, but because it’s a “big” ticket item (costing over 30 dollars), both the Dean and Department Chair need to be notified.  Then, because it’s a “special item”, they don’t keep one in stock, and then special order it from a supplier who will usually take a week to deliver it, despite this college is located in the middle of San Diego, California.

The whole process usually takes about two weeks if you’re diligent and apparently have nothing better to do that walk halfway across campus to submit the request then later pick up and install the toner yourself, and email both the Dean and Department Chair.

Unfortunately, the only warning sign one is given when the toner is running out is when the printer stops working, usually when a teacher is time pressed and in the middle of doing a print job.  This is to say nothing of the next two weeks where you either tell all your students to get the material off blackboard, or do the equivalent of that Old Testament practice of making bricks without straw.

Remember that 30 dollars I mentioned before?   At my college this is also your limit for copy orders submitted to repro.  About a month ago, I made an order for 80 copies of 16-page document I did not have an electronic copy of for two of my classes containing approximately 40 students each.  Several days after submitting the order, my assistant chair asked me, slightly annoyed, “why are you making such a large order of copies”?

This week, the school’s newspaper reported that the Associated Student Government spent over 16,000 dollars for a relatively small group of students to stay overnight a high-end seaside resort not 20 miles away from campus, and enjoy relatively lavish meals as part of a leadership conference.

I guess they must be grooming them to be administrators.

My takeaway from all this is that the administrators at my institution care very much about putting out a strong public face using their elite students, but really don’t care that much about meeting the needs of the average students, or at least students taught by adjunct instructors.

And you know what? I’m still waiting for the toner cartridge.

Geoff Johnson, a “good” adjunct.

“Happy Adjuncts”

Hello Again “Good “ Adjuncts:

In the midst of all that has been written about the Adjunct Condition, from the years of toil with no contract/full-time position in sight, to the terrible economic, physical, and emotional toll that the Adjunct Condition imposes, I’ve never ceased but to be amazed by an interesting phenomenon I can only refer to as the “Happy Adjunct.”

At a recent union meeting for both a union and a community college that will go nameless, I was speaking to another adjunct rep like myself.  This, by the way, is a rep who has in many instances worked very hard to help adjunct causes.  As it was just a few minutes before the meeting was to come together, I began to speak to the rep about the sad case of Mary Margaret Vojtko, who as readers of the blog and most adjunct activists well know, was the 83-year old Duquense University adjunct, who after decades of teaching was fired from the school, and shortly thereafter died sick and destitute, only to be buried in a cardboard coffin.

When I mentioned the incident, largely to express the horror and anger I felt over the situation, my colleague’s response was “well, but that was a private college” (As we both teach at a public institution with a union, the implication was a sort of, “what do you expect?”).   My colleague then went on to further, “…You know some people complain about what they’re paid, but I was able to get by, and now I have a house…”  At that point the meeting had started, and taken aback by the response, I think I mumbled something about social justice and that was it.

Inside, I was stunned, disappointed, but maybe not wholly surprised.

You see, too many times I’ve been confronted by what I call “happy adjunct” syndrome.  The “happy” adjunct, whether truly happy or not, is the one, who despite of the lack of job security, being clearly paid less for the equivalent work of his/her full-time counterpart, and having little or no health and welfare benefits, presents themselves as having nothing to complain about, and in fact, looks upon others who complain as more or less “whiners”.

For the record, I like being a teacher, and no, I don’t do this job to make money, and yes, with the high rate of unemployment, I am glad to be working.

But I’m not going to play “Shut up.  Be Happy.”

First of all, is it not too much to ask or think about how other adjuncts, whether in our respective institutions or not are our brothers and sisters, and that an injury to one is an injury to all?  Our own division and distractedness allows us to be given less rights than contracts when in many cases we represent the 75% of college faculty.  Do not think that administrators aren’t well aware of this.

Moreover, equal pay for equal work has been a longstanding rallying cry for social justice, particularly for women workers who are still paid less than a man for equal work.   To not ask the same for yourself when you would ask and expect it of others is a moral failing.

And Adjuncts and their family members shouldn’t be receiving their only medical care from the emergency room.

Finally, even if you, as an adjunct, have been able to carve out a life for yourself, could it have been that you: 1)Had a spouse or partner that made more than you and provided the real support; 2) Had extended or parental family support; 3) Had established yourself from your previous career; 4) Don’t have children or parents to attend to and support; 4) Never suffered any debilitating illness or accident; 5) Are still relatively young and healthy?  Many adjuncts have not lucked out in the sweepstakes of life such as yourself.

If you’re not willing to think about yourself, think about them.

…. and stop being so fu**ing happy.

Geoff Johnson

A “Good”, but not a “Happy” adjunct