One Administrator’s Convenience is Many Adjuncts’ “Insecurity”

Happy New Year my “good” adjuncts! I trust that as many of you were enjoying your unemployment, er…I mean end-of-term break, you had a good time grading 300+ tests and essays before the grading deadline so that you could celebrate your utter exhaustion, er…I mean good cheer, as you sat and reflected on how you were going to make your last paycheck stretch, er…I mean the tremendous bounty that you have to be thankful for…

Who am I kidding?

One of the schools at which I am teaching, which shall go nameless, is after some two years of negotiation, going into arbitration with the local teacher’s union after more or less a year of stalling and outright obstinacy. The “greedy” teachers, including the full-time faculty, have not only not seen a pay raise in seven years, but in the last contract were cajoled into taking a 5% pay cut. Adjuncts, who tipped the scales in approving the previous contract, did so under the fear that if they didn’t do it, then class sections would be drastically cut. In reward for their sacrifice, the school cut 30% of its class sections anyway, all taught by adjuncts, then turned around and gave its three vice presidents a 25,000 dollar-a-year increase each.

But being a vice president is hard work…

Anyway, one of the present sticking points in the present contract has to do with what we call here vesting. The idea of it is simply this: After a period of two years, if an adjunct’s evaluations have been good (and not once or twice, but always), he or she will be given consideration for the assigning of “one” class over another adjunct who has taught at the school less than two years. After two years, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve taught for two years or 25, you have no priority over another adjunct who has also taught for more than two years, and the scheduler, usually a department chair, can assign you whatever he or she wishes at wherever and wherever they wish without any reason or justification. This vesting policy is supposedly a great benefit to adjuncts, and a shining example of how they are valued.

The union, to its credit is trying to change the language of the policy, not so much to establish anything that would even remotely resemble a true seniority hiring policy for good adjuncts, but to allow them a one-semester break in service in the event that they get ill, must take care of an ill or aged loved one, etc. In one recent case brought to the union, one adjunct with 14 years of outstanding evaluations lost all rehire rights when she had to take off one semester due to illness.

School management has responded by emphatically saying “no”, with the rationale that it will make it “inconvenient” to schedule classes. What exactly does “inconvenience” mean? Well, one can suppose it means that administrators would have to spend a little more of their relatively well-paid time working on the schedule, that they may have to recognize that individual adjunct instructors have certain talents and skills and are an indispensable part of the institution. It may also force them to see over time, that a continuity of instruction might aid in student retention and completion rates, but I digress…

By making things “convenient” for administrators, what does this mean for adjuncts? Well, it means hoping to hell one of your other family members, if you have one, will take care of your elderly mother or father who can’t take care of themselves if the need arises. The same applies if an adjunct has a sick child or spouse. It also means that you’d better not get seriously ill yourself, or if that if you do so, that you had better “gut it out” until the end of the term, and hopefully recover over the break. Of course, you could just die, which might bum out yourself and your family, but at least an administrator won’t have to worry.

Now that the union and management are at impasse, there are several full-time faculty that have had the nerve to say, since vesting is the real sticking point here, that the union should just drop it from the contract language. One could confer that that this push for a minor improvement in the vesting language is “inconvenient” to them to.

I’m not willing to simply be “convenient” in this way, and I hope, my fellow “good” adjuncts, you won’t be either.

Geoff Johnson

The Good and Inconvenient Adjunct

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