Adjuncts and Unemployment Blues

The following is a email I received from Anna M Flores Tamayo, a Texas adjunct. While the situation regarding getting unemployment pay is better here in California (we are entitled to it during Winter break and the Summer), the situation is a bit more sketchy in other states. At the same time, she also points that students need to be made aware that the large sums they’re doling out for tuition are not going to pay for high or in most cases, even adequate salaries for adjuncts.

My Dear Friends,

Many adjuncts cannot get unemployment benefits, not because we should not —as we have no reasonable assurance of work from semester to semester— but because universities arbitrarily decide it is not in their best interest to let us get such. But as an unemployed adjunct, I thought I was lucky for once. I receive a bit of pay every couple of weeks from Unemployment Insurance, even though that’s been cut now with this insane sequester. I still had to file for that little amount every two weeks, and I had to look for jobs constantly, even when there are no jobs to be had. It ran out too, so even though they make me —and every one of us— grovel each time to get a few more dollars, they tell us in the end there is no money to be had. I now have to wait until September 2014 to reapply, unless I get a job, of course. Can you see my future as an adjunct?

A few days before the end of the year, to boot, I got the shocking news that I would not collect the measly amount of unemployment for November I usually do get. So I called the folks at the unemployment office, and after waiting for what seemed an eternity, someone came on and told me I had lost that entire month because I had missed sending my claim in on time, due to the Thanksgiving holiday.

Now mind you, they never told me this on the phone; they thought it best to inform me that I would not be getting any money right before Christmas through a form letter (work for their government buddies). I called back when I received it, and of course I left a message once I finally got through to the other side. At first I sounded matter of fact, but as I went along my voice began to tremble and my anger at the injustice of a system that lets us absorb all the abuse began to crack and break, until I could hardly get my phone number out. At last I hung up, crying tears of frustration, realizing I would never be called before the New Year.

But for once I was actually surprised by one individual’s kindness. On December 31st, 2013, a compassionate man returned my call, most likely his last phone call of the day before calling it a year, probably after hearing an adjunct’s cry for help. He decided to show some mercy.

With that phone call, and with this New Year, 2014, things are beginning to change. I received November’s back pay. I have published a couple of articles in January concerning adjuncts, but more importantly, others are also publishing, getting their voices heard. My colleague Keith Hoeller from the west coast just published an important book, Equality for Contingent Faculty: Overcoming the Two-Tier System (http://www.vanderbilt.edu/university-press/book/9780826519504), while Jack Longmate & Frank Cosco’s excellent Program for Change is finally receiving the attention it deserves: http://vccfa.ca/newsite/?page_id=587. Another colleague in the east is uniting people together at universities in New York State through SEIU’s Adjunct Action. Colorado adjuncts have a good chance to pass the Equity Pay Bill 2014, HB 14-1154: https://sites.google.com/site/coloradoadjunctswiki/home/equal-pay-bill-2014. I wish all much success. In the south, I keep doing what I can to raise our voices high. Please check out all these links!

But this is what we must do, all of us: become aware, talk, write, expose Higher Ed, tell our students —whoever pays their education— that the money they are so dearly paying is not going to faculty; it is not going to teach students well. We must come out from the shadows, write our editorials, speak to our legislators, tell everyone and anyone who will listen. We must come together and fight back.

And in the meantime, sign and share my petition: http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/better-pay-for-adjuncts?mailing_id=18942&source=s.icn.em.cr&r_by=6358896. Keep making it grow. Tell everyone that our education is worth it, our future as knowledge seekers is worth it: we need everyone to stand with us. The dominoes are falling… let’s make them topple fast.

In sol(idarity),

Ana M. Fores Tamayo
Adjunct Justice
Petition: http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/better-pay-for-adjuncts?mailing_id=18942&source=s.icn.em.cr&r_by=6358896
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/AdjunctJustice

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10 thoughts on “Adjuncts and Unemployment Blues

  1. Oh, give me a break. Seasonal workers should NOT get unemployment insurance off-season. UI is for full-time workers who get laid off, not for seasonal/contingent/temp workers whose contracts expire in due course! Any contract adjunct who claims UI between terms is a fraudster.

    I realize adjuncts don’t wish to give up their insane fantasies of tenured full-time academic employment, but it is time for each adjunct to get real, kiss off the college whose administration treats him/her so vilely, and GO GET A REAL JOB!

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    • (Oy vey, I replied to the wrong thread below….)

      I’m replying to this in case anyone stumbles upon this in another year or so:

      I’m here to bust your prejudices and assumptions.

      I never dreamed of an esteemed professorship. I just wanted to teach ESL to international students who wish to study at American universities. Ah, but guess what? Full-time instructor (or “lecturer”) positions are increasingly rare, and there are many teachers in my profession who are adjuncts.

      Sure, you can laugh off the people with PhDs in Shakespeare, but do you really think there’s no demand for English as a Second Language?

      As for the getting a “real” job thing, I’ve tried that and will continue to try. My heart won’t break if I have to stop teaching. However, in this employers’ job market, who would consider someone whose only training and experience is in teaching ESL? Yes, I’ve considered corporate training, communication, etc., etc., but those fields much prefer business training and degrees. I would love to get more lucrative job, but so far, that pursuit has proved very fruitless.

      Now, you were saying…?

      Like

    • Piper, it’s interesting that you think of adjunct teachers as “seasonal workers.” They make up nearly 75% of the classroom workforce on most college campuses nationwide. If you hold a college degree (AA, BA, MFA, PhD), you’ve likely benefited from the efforts of adjunct dedication without even knowing it. Which clearly is a public service in many ways.

      Typically, most “seasonal workers” expect to charge large sums of money to make up for the slow time of year. Not so with adjunct teaching. Perhaps you think adjuncts are similar to migrant workers? Day laborers? Unless you believe that adjunct teachers are landscapers, you are really off the mark and out of touch with your post.

      I’m always amazed by the vitriol people seem to reserve for those in the field of education. I’m assuming that you would reserve the same sort of response to university presidents who’s pay is $475,403 on average (http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2011/02/15/how-much-is-your-college-president-costing-you-college-president-cost-per-student). Make no mistake, this feudal system is going to crack because the backs its built on are starting to get cranky. It’s not so much an insane fantasy to want to teach, or to receive respect for a job well done. It should also, likewise NOT be classified as an insane fantasy to make a living wage and receive the same considerations as those who work the same jobs under the moniker of “full-time.”

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    • I’m replying to this in case anyone stumbles upon this in another year or so:

      I’m here to bust your prejudices and assumptions.

      I never dreamed of an esteemed professorship. I just wanted to teach ESL to international students who wish to study at American colleges and universities. Ah, but guess what? Full-time instructor (or “lecturer”) positions are increasingly rare, and there are many teachers in my profession who are adjuncts.

      Sure, you can laugh off the people with PhDs in Shakespeare, but do you really think there’s no demand for English as a Second Language?

      As for the getting a “real” job thing, I’ve tried that and will continue to try. My heart won’t break if I have to stop teaching. However, in this employers’ job market, who would consider someone whose only training and experience is in teaching ESL? Yes, I’ve considered corporate training, communication, etc., etc., but those fields much prefer business training and degrees. I would love to get a more lucrative job, but so far, that pursuit has proved very fruitless.

      Now, you were saying…?

      Like

  2. Piper:

    Adjuncts are not considered contracted, but at will labor. In fact, the very reason that this is the case if the the California Supreme Court has declared as such. If you happen to be an adjunct that does well and is liked by the department head and/or your immediate administrator (usually the Dean), you are given a “tentative assignment offer” and tentative is the word. The paper is merely an offer and has “not an official contract” more or less stamped on it. They are subject to change and often get changed, either due to lack of enrollment (extremely rare), because a full-timer wants the class (more often), or because the state has done a budgetary revision and now the school doesn’t have the money to offer the class (often if not usual). I had one TAO change on me three times, and have, on occasion, lost classes at the last minute, but then again, they were never guaranteed mine to begin with.

    By the way, I usually teach in Summer but didn’t for the last two years because guess what? My college had no money but to offer a few Summer classes that went to full-timers. I also used to teach intersession (one-month classes in January). Those went bye-bye too.

    By the way, if you actually knew anything about college teaching, when I kinda doubt, you’d know that while adjuncts only get paid for the hours we teach, we not only work far more hours outside of the classroom, but after and during school breaks as well. Ever wonder how it is that adjuncts mange to stay up-to-date or expand their knowledge? Do you think we sit around drinking Malt Liquor and watching Jerry Springer? We prep, and will spend sometimes 100’s of outside and unpaid hours doing it. You’re welcome! We also have to grade large stacks of final essays and tests which make take up to 60+ hours of additional work after classes end.

    You also fallaciously assume this is just whining about wanting a tenured position. Well, a tenured position might be nice, but the fact is that even if many full-time positions appeared, many people would still be adjuncts. If adjuncts were actually given yearly contracts that could be renewable, as is done for some full-time non-tenure faculty, then their ability to get unemployment would end? Do you want to know why this doesn’t happen? Because such contracts would more or less obligate the colleges and universities to give adjuncts serious health benefits that cost serious money that they don’t want to spend, or rather, would prefer to spend on administration, consultants, junkets with construction executives seeking contracts for campus buildings, etc.

    Get a real job? I got one buddy, and I’m no fraudster. Perhaps you should get a real clue.

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    • Thanks, Modern Disappointment, for your reply to Piper. I was a bit flippant in my response to him, but we should respond also with reason to comments like his because it is this kind of narrow, neoliberal ideology that is one of the root justifications for adjunctification and if we want to shift public opinion, we need to do more than simply dismiss them as stunted.

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