An Adjunct by Any Other Name

An Adjunct by Any Other Name

Recently, the Academic Senate at Grossmont College cowered and resisted addressing the exploitation of adjuncts.  Instead, they presented a plan to give adjuncts “academic ranking,” an official title of “professor”.  At first, when I heard the Senate’s announcement, I thought it was a joke because adjuncts are institutionally disenfranchised, but as I read through the documents, I began to see the real significance of the Senate’s proclamation. The ranks are available to adjuncts according to seniority and other criteria as stated here. The  ranks are.

A. Adjunct Professor: Twenty semesters and 2 criteria from a list. (here)

B. Adjunct Associate Professor: Twelve semesters and 1 criterion

C.  Adjunct Assistant Professor:  Eight semesters and 1 criterion

These three ranks are new, but there is a forth rank that exists which is not certified and technically not a rank but should be on the list of statuses.

D. Adjunct Faculty

The Academic Senate states that, “Each person who is awarded academic rank will be accorded the benefits and recognition of rank. A Certificate of Rank, signed by the President of Grossmont College, the President of the Academic Senate and the Chancellor, will be presented to the Adjunct faculty member.”  

It sounds wonderful. I want a rank, too, but what does the rank give me?  At Grossmont College, adjuncts will get a certificate of recognition, but that is it. There are no specific, concrete benefits.  An adjunct receives a signed certificate, period.  There are no pay raises (thus, adjunct marginalization is still prevalent). There are no benefits other than what we might call “psychological wages” to make adjuncts feel better in their mistreatment. The Senate put a band-aid over the corruption, so the festering doesn’t look so bad. Psychological wages do not put food on the table.

I don’t blame the Senate. I know that there are pressures not to be strong on principles, I’ve met and conversed with many of the members and they also swim in the same currents of the dehumanization of higher education.  The Senate, after all, has to face the administration, which treats faculty as they would silly children. It is hard to act on principle when doing so is not inline with the “business first” mantra that trickles down from boardrooms of business, government, and governing boards.

This business first model has turned the Senate into placating advisors to the growing administration, who in turn wave their staffs and says yay or nay to the Senate’s recommendations and who are gainfully rewarded with business kudos while students languish under languishing professors. We are seeing the slow decay of shared governance in Academia and one of the signs is a weakened Senate that cannot publically declare that faculty marginalization is student exploitation. Why doesn’t the Academic Senate stand up? Perhaps, fear is a good answer? To state the truth that we cannot have the best possible education for our students if we abuse the majority faculty who are on the frontline of the educational experience is, perhaps, too offensive or disagreeable for those who sing the mantra of business first. It is not like the intuitional business model is eager to treat this large group of professors equitably; it is not economically prudent in the business model of college governance, a model where sports bring in more and gets more than the academics that produce higher functioning citizens and labor for our society.

The University of Illinois Chicago had a faculty strike a few weeks ago on this principle. Other Academic Senates, if they are worried about the success and credibility of their educational programs must recognize, stand up, and clearly state to the administrations that good academic institutions cannot continue to damage the students’ learning by giving students low wage, disenfranchised instructors who are harried with the stress of contingency, poverty, and multiple employers to pay the bills, all of which distract the majority of instructors from doing their best for the students, the college, and the community.  If the Senate would lead, we all will stand up to the bullying and perhaps regain the awareness that education is not business.  The faculty at UIC are our brothers and sisters in the fight for justice for our friends, family, and children. Academic senates around the country can look at UIC and see a strong academic senate, a senate that is really focused on the best possible academic environment for students, a senate that stands on principle.

I understand that there are some good intentions coming from the Grossmont College Academic Senate. Perhaps, they heard the adjuncts’ voices that are calling for dignity? Perhaps, the Senate at Grossmont thought that Academic Rank would give adjuncts that overdue dignity?  Someone might call it maverick that the Grossmont Academic Senate gives a title to adjuncts as “professors” rather than just “faculty.”

However, it seems apparent that the dignity is quite superficial.  Did they really think that adjuncts would say, “Yay, now I am an Adjunct Assistant Professor” and not in the next breath think aloud that, “I am still not able to pay the bills,” or “That doesn’t change the fact that I must find another two or three jobs outside of Grossmont to pay rent,” or “I am still excluded from full acceptance and participation on campus?”

Sadly, many adjuncts who have served for 20, 30, and more years will not be eligible for Academic Rank because they do not have one of the criterion that will give them a title, even though they have been rehired 60 times.  Also, many veteran adjuncts will find no need for a title because to the students, the community, and in their own minds they have been “professors” for a very long time already and are reliable and effective professors even without an arbitrary official title. Further, a title will mean nothing to a good number of adjuncts who are content only with part-time teaching.

I want to think that there is something good about adjunct ranking and I can see that it may have the effect that an adjunct can apply for a position at this or another institution and remark that they do have “a rank.” Younger adjuncts will line up to distinguish themselves in job hunting. Sure, I can see it now, an adjunct will indeed use it with some ultra limited effectiveness to help them land a full-time job. I am sure, shortly, there will be adjuncts boasting of their rank in their competition for limited (statistically improbable) full–time positions.  We may hear, “At Grossmont College, I gained the rank of ‘Adjunct Assistant Professor’” with an air of superiority over other adjuncts who don’t have titles, over adjuncts with more experience and better credentials.

Obviously, Grossmont College administrators will boast about their “decorated” adjuncts to the media, the accreditation boards, and other oversight committees.  They will say, “Of the total adjuncts that we have here at Grossmont College,  30% are Adjunct Professors, 10% are Adjunct Associate Professors, and 3% are Adjunct Assistant Professors,” with a ringing crescendo,  “a testament to the high quality of instructors we have on campus.”  We should all be curious about what happens to the other 57% of adjuncts who are not decorated with a rank. We should also ask, what does rank mean when an adjunct is an Adjunct Professor, but a full timer is an Assistant Professor (lower ranked)?

To be fair, another positive is that getting a title might help with gaining some personal pride and a feeling that the district respects you as an adjunct faculty member. An adjunct will receive the official title and they can hold their heads up knowing that when a student calls them professor it is real and not some painful and shameful reminder that they are living a lie.  However, the other 57 percent will still be pained and shamed by the fact that they do the same things and have the same credentials as a professors, but are living the oxymoronic existence in a non-professorial professorship career. An equivalent analogy is hard to find because when someone performs the duties of an office, they have the title of that office. We never call the individual preforming the duties of a president a clerk. There is no real justification to call those who profess, adjuncts, and new rankings are merely missing the point of the problem with adjunctification.

The ranks will also affect the psychological well-being of those lacking ranks, revealing further to them their tenuous professional existence, degrading further the adjunct’s ability to perform their job. I can see many disenfranchised adjuncts feeling even more disenfranchised as they watch some adjuncts (more privileged adjuncts) attain rank while they, the less privileged are occupied by their divisive loyalties to various campuses.  They are the 57%, the new untouchables below Adjunct Professors. What will we call the non ranked adjuncts?

Providing academic rank will help many adjuncts escape living an oxymoronic existence. Many adjuncts with rank will think, “I am not ‘just’ an adjunct, I am an ‘Adjunct Associate Professor.’”  And, many might think, “The district will surely appreciate that I have accomplished this distinction and I bet they’re having some feelings of loyalty towards me.” (Don’t forget to cross your fingers and ignore that you are abused! Forget that you are paid a third of a full-time faculty member for the same work done, the same hours of teaching and grading for that third. Forget that you are relegated to less than full-time in the part-time limbo with no honest paths for advancement into full-time status other than though an insufficient, immoral, and unjust number of job openings in the state and country.)

I try to be patient and understanding, so I want to think that this push to give academic rank was well thought out and was set with good intentions, but I am far too critical to be gullible in the face of the facts that the ranks do not actually do anything to extend equity to the majority faculty on campus. Adjuncts receive inadequate wages; they lack job security, and are underrepresented in shared governance, in academic senates, in the unions, and in the departments. They are the silenced majority on campuses scattered to the winds, and where they fall, no one cares.

With ranking, the institution gains doubly from adjuncts and exploits them further.  First, the institution pays adjuncts nearly a 1/3rd of a full-time faculty member for the same work done, and now, with ranking, they will gain more hours of service from adjuncts without having to pay them.  Many adjuncts will scramble to attain a certificate signed by the Senate, President, and Chancellor in the hopes that they will win the lottery of a full-time position, a position that adjuncts don’t realize is statistically improbable to attain.

Truthfully, an adjunct is an adjunct, and all adjuncts by any other name remain exploited and disenfranchised.  Adjunctification is a major injustice to the adjuncts, the students, and our communities. We don’t have to go far in critical thinking to see that it is unwise to diminish the quality of our academics with a majority of part-time faculty.

What the titles will do is differentiate adjuncts from one another based on years of service and whether the adjunct has had the freedom (privileged leisure) to gain extra experiences like publishing, serving on committees, serving an educational programs etc.

Academic rank for adjuncts prejudicially favors adjuncts who are single, adjuncts with no children, adjuncts who are not the breadwinners with dependents, adjuncts that are working only in one college because their spouse covers the bills, and adjuncts that have well paid professional side practices.  Certification of Adjunct Academic Rank will occur more for the economically privileged members of the exploited group, those that have leisure to volunteer their time to attain the titled rank.

If we want to have a ranking system for adjuncts, then at least some avenues toward pay raises and job security in full-time employment would legitimize the ranking a bit better, but to give rank without real compensation is to give a title only, like “putting lipstick on a pig.” It is merely beautifying the ugly truth with a false impression, with the impression that you have better adjuncts because some have enough privilege to work for free to gain a title and a false sense of superiority.  Academic rank should equal full-time employment. It should not be an empty certificate signed by disingenuous administrators who ignore the exploitative business model. As stands, it looks like a pat on the back and a boot to the rump.

Academic Rank for adjuncts entices us to go against our conscience. It entices us to sacrifice our families, our dignity, and the dignity of our brother and sister adjuncts everywhere with lipstick to cover the swine.  Academic Senates everywhere must stand up and act justly and on principle by speaking the truth, the truth that adjunct working conditions are student-learning conditions.

“A Good Adjunct”

John D. Rall

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4 thoughts on “An Adjunct by Any Other Name

  1. My first response to the news that the Grossmont Academic Senate had instituted an adjunct faculty ranking system was: “seriously?” I thought it must have been a post on CronkNews or Modern Disappointment. Grossmont’s Senate is indeed putting lipstick on a pig. Academic rank, the ranking of professors by “merit,” is a labor control mechanism (have you heard of Marxist critique?). Sure, it is the longstanding convention at the university system, and if one accepts the premises, it distinguishes “merit” in the world of “publish or perish.” but seriously, in a world where Oprah gets honorary degrees, and no one (practically) reads serious scholarship, am I to take academic rank at the university that seriously? And if I question the legitimacy of university faculty ranking, can I even for a moment countenance community college adjunct faculty ranking? With tenure almost dead at this institution, surely, it is a comedy to offer adjunct faculty academic rank. To any adjunct who apply for this rank, I have to say: seriously? Will you wear your rank proudly, like a shiny name tag? This is supposed to confer dignity? To the Grossmont Academic Senate, I have to say: seriously?

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  2. Pingback: What’s in a Title? Are New Titles for Adjuncts Just Lipstick on a Pig? | The Adjunct Crisis

  3. Pingback: Adjunct Pay and Anger | The Adjunct Crisis

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