Adjunctification, Militarization, Absurdity: An Adjunct Moment

ImageAdjunctification, Militarization, Absurdity: An Adjunct Moment

This is about an “adjunct moment,” not only for an individual adjunct, but also for the most adjunctified discipline in higher education, English Composition. At Mesa Community College in San Diego, where student demand increases annually, there is a shortage of classrooms. There is a new Math/Science building, a new medical technology building, a new continuing education building, as well as a new Social Sciences building, which is still under construction. The classrooms in these new buildings are “secured” classrooms, with alarm systems that have to be “disarmed” each time the door is unlocked. The Humanities building (now old and not LEED), mostly office space (but not enough), formerly included social sciences, as well as many kinds of humanities disciplines, including English. When Social Sciences moves out, there should be plenty of office space, since about 70% of the English department is adjunct, who, of course, have a shared office space already, but it has very few classrooms for hundreds of classes. The English department must take whatever classrooms it can find.

This semester, I am teaching in one of three “temporary” buildings located in a parking lot, at the bottom of a steep hill, below the ridge on which the main campus sits, one of those trailer-boxes that public education relies on when it can’t afford actual rooms.  I, and many other English professors, both adjunct and tenured, have taught in these rooms many times. As a matter of fact, these dilapidated, disposable rooms are, I think, among various discarded-by-other-departments official English department rooms. They have been “temporary” for about a dozen years. Sounds like an adjunct professor: dilapidated, disposable, and “temporary” for many years.

I teach two sections of English 101 in this ‘temporary” room (designated T-2), between 11:00 and 2:00, two days a week. An English colleague of mine teaches before my time and, as the first to arrive, unlocks the door, and “disarms” the room. This “arming” of rooms is, it seems, a part of the recent movement to increase security on American college campuses. In recent years, the Mesa campus police force, like campus police forces all over America, has been undergoing a process of militarization. They, too, have a new building, replete with a super-secure “inner fortress” to which only police officers are permitted entrance. They also have a new sense of “security,” a new mission which, as far as I can tell, considers faculty and students as “enemies” who need to be controlled. In line with campus militarization, at some point in its long story, grungy T-2 was armed, I suppose, to prevent theft. In addition to the typical industrial-type desks and carpet, T-2 contains two rolling whiteboards, an overhead projector, a twentieth-century TV cart, a warning sign and a clock.

One day, a couple of weeks ago, my colleague was ill and did not come to school. For the first time in the numerous times over many years that I have taught in this room, the door was locked. I have a few keys for different rooms on campus, so I was hopeful that one would fit the lock for T-2. One did. But, as I opened the door, like a banshee, the alarm sounded. I had been issued a security code, some years ago, but have never had an occasion to use it; I have kept it in the bottom of my bag. As it turned out, I had 30 seconds to disarm the alarm before it alerted the police that a breach in security had ensued. In short, I was unable to input the security code in due time. After the thirty-second window expired, the alarm began to shriek panic mode.

The police cruiser arrived; the officer approached and the re-securing process began. As my students watched, I was questioned and carded. When the officer, his voice in serious cop-tone, asked if I had identification, my inward response was “Seriously? We’re gonna do this?” I understand the officer was doing his job; but when faced with the absurdity of being carded to get into a broken down classroom substitute just to teach, I had to, as I carelessly flashed my bi-fold wallet, in the most nuanced mocking tone I could muster, opine “this is quite absurd, is it not?” Of course his reply, in serious, cop-tone, was the explanation that the alarm was a burglary alarm, to which I replied, inwardly of course, “so, your assessment of the situation was this small, bald, gray-bearded man in casual ‘business’ attire, in the middle of the day, with two dozen students watching, might be trying to burgle a whiteboard from a rusty, fast-decaying trailer-box classroom with a warning sign?” I didn’t say this because, for all I knew, he would have shot me, tasered me and arrested me for breach of security.

At first, I had the impression that he was going to carry out a truly absurd series of actions; perhaps he would even search my bag and my person?  To his credit as a human being, discrete from his conditioned role as campus police officer, his tone, and the expression on his face, altered subtly in response to my observation that we were experiencing an absurd moment, an “adjunct” moment. He said a bunch of stuff about the importance of the security of the room, and told me to be sure to lock the door and re-alarm the room after my class. I didn’t pay close attention. I’m not sure if a tenured professor, commonly indistinguishable by sight from an adjunct professor, would have been carded, or would have responded with “I’m the chair of the department,” or some other assertion of power available to a tenured professor not available to an adjunct. Probably, most English professors would have smiled and complied, as mild-mannered as we are, in general. Perhaps it is easy to take advantage of our generally agreeable disposition.

Afterwards, my class had a lively discussion about the adjunctification, militarization and corporatization of campus: a teachable moment. Students have a right to know where they are and what is happening to them.

English and the Humanities in general has long been a primary site of adjunctification. English gets the adjunct professors and the adjunct rooms. Both are maintained by acquiescence to corporatization, and enforced by the militarization of campus.

What are we to do? I don’t know; this is just a story of adjunctification, of an adjunct moment.

Note: the warning sign was determined to be a prank, and was removed.

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

Today’s “Let ‘Em Eat Cake” Award

Today’s “Let ‘Em Eat Cake Award”

Good Adjuncts

This little gem, titled “If I Were an Adjunct…” by an Administrator known simply as “Yuri from Youngstown” offers up a simple solution to the adjunct problem–just quit. Right.  I hadn’t thought of that.  Now if I can just tell the bank that holds my car loan and mortgage company that this is the reason I have no income, surely they won’t let me default on my loans. After all, I’m just standing up for what’s right!

Read Yuri, and the comments that follow…

In case you missed the link above:

Still not realizing how much I suck yet.

Geoff Johnson

A “good” adjunct

The Silly Season: Applying for that Full-Time Position

Hello “Good Adjuncts”

With the slow but steady uptick in the nation’s economy, more revenues have been drifting into community college budgets, meaning we’re getting fired/laid off/left off the schedule less and, joy of joys, getting shots at the coveted full-time position. Er…maybe “shot” isn’t quite the right word, but rather, “long shot”.

A colleague of mine, Dennis Callahan, may he rest in peace, was one of the lucky few who after years of toil as an adjunct managed to secure himself a full-time position.  When speaking of getting the position, he didn’t say, “I earned it,” or “I was clearly the best candidate, “or “I simply gelled with the department.” Instead, he described his getting the job as, “having won the lottery.”

I would tend to agree with this analysis, and I’ll discuss why later, but what’s being left out is this distinction.  A lottery winner simply buys a ticket for a chance shot at a glorious prize.  The would-be full-time position applicant, by contrast, will be asked to write pages and pages of applicant questions, beg full-time colleagues for letters of reference, revise and ever so tweak a curriculum vita,  go through a battery of disingenuous interviews being asked often abstract or obtuse questions by people who are coached to being largely smiling robots, wait for a response, which may not come for months, if then selected, go through a largely ceremonial interview with three other candidates when in truth, one of you has been chosen already, and then finally be anointed as full-time instructor.  This for a job that, while clearly better than being an adjunct, usually pays around 40,000 dollars a year to start.

Welcome to the “silly” season.

Every time in the past that I had the opportunity to apply for a full-time position at one of the local colleges (I am bound in part due to my wife’s work to the area), I have dutifully applied, spending a great deal of time and a bit of emotional angst over putting together the application, and going over the prospect of an interview in my head.  I have been luckier than most in that I’ve always managed to make it through the written application process, but stall out after the first interview.  Each time after that interview, I would wait, and wait, and wait, sometimes for up to two months before I heard a decision was rendered, usually by getting that fun little thin letter in the mail saying effectively “thanks, but no thanks.”

I would then spend the time between that interview and the next application process going through my head what I should have said or not said, talk with other full-time faculty, and ”strategize”.

And I did this knowing that everyone else who was interviewed and failed did the same, along with the other applicants who never even made it to the interview. Oh, and but of course, you would tell yourself, along with the other well-meaning full-timers who you’d talked to, “Buck up!  You just have to keep trying.”

It’s interesting to think that for the last 11 years of teaching that I have worked hard to be seen as a good adjunct to put myself through this process of self-flagellation.  The fact of the matter is that honestly, getting a full-time job is more about being a good applicant than being a good teacher, and to some extent, more about luck than it is about skill or talent.

The byzantine application process in California is largely the result of Equal Opportunity guidelines, which are meant to level the playing field in terms of which sexes and ethnicities are present in full-time positions.  These guidelines have been in place for over 20 years.  And how effective have they been?

Well, I teach in English, which at community colleges are the largest departments.  I can say that in terms of full timers, at the two schools where I teach, among the 40+ or so full-timers, there is one African American, three Asians, and perhaps maybe ten Latinos, which is notable in that one of my campuses is located approximately ten miles from the US-Mexico border. In what may be perhaps a more progressive sign, the majority of faculty are women, primarily white and non-Hispanic.  At both campuses, the ethnic diversity is slightly higher among the adjunct field, but I do notice, and maybe it’s just me, that many minority adjuncts will simply disappear.  My presumption is that the prospect of living paycheck to paycheck means that they, like many of my white, non-Hispanic colleagues, simply move on to other professions.

What I mean to say, in short, is that if EEOC guidelines were really meant to address the problem, they’re doing a thoroughly crappy job of it.

Now in truth, the biggest problem with the application process is that there are, even in the “best” of times, remarkably few positions available in comparison to possible applicants.  When you have sometimes up to 200 people applying for one position, and at least half if not more of those applicants are serious contenders, there are going to be losers, and a lot of them.

Clearly, the easiest solution to this problem would be for more full-time positions to be offered.  This is a no-brain answer, which can be addressed by doing something equally simply from a monetary standpoint, but difficult from a political one—give more to higher ed. with the stipulation the money be used exclusively to make more full-time positions.

I would agree that’s one solution to the problem, but only part of it.  Part of the problem is also a process which is cumbersome, unwieldy, artificial, and creates a hyper-competitive environment where people strive to escape the world of the have not’s to be among the haves.

In the third paragraph of this essay I gave a loose description of the process as done for community colleges in California.  Consider that including question responses, transcripts, letters of recommendation (optional at some places), and a fully developed curriculum vita, you’re most likely talking close to 20 pages of information to be perused for each candidate.

This means every committee member will have to go through literally thousands of pages of documents to assess who should even be interviewed.  The committee members are all too likely not given release time for their work, and the time they have to spend winding their way through the applications could be time better spent on curriculum, instruction, or professional development.  Moreover, are they really going to be able to make an honest assessment of the candidate under these conditions?

Then there is the interview process itself, which will also take the committee members out of the classroom as they need to go through hours of interviews asking tightly refereed questions.  Much of the time, the committee members are not even allowed to interact with the candidates except on the most perfunctory level.  You could just as easily put the candidates in an empty room and have them respond to the questions submitted over an intercom.

After that, the committee members will have to score the candidates on the basis of their direct responses to the questions, pretending, if one will, that the information given in the application packet didn’t exist.  The committee members then also have to pretend as if they don’t even know these people, even if they have been working alongside them for years.

From there the committee members will usually submit three choices to a vice president for further review.  Often the committee will have the candidate they want in mind, so this part of the process, is for the most part, a formality, but again, the Kabuki Dance must continue.

One might ask, “How a vice president, who may not only have no knowledge about the subject being taught, but have never really taught a class, should be a final arbiter in deciding the who is right for the position?” It would be a good question. The answer is that it makes no sense, other than that the vice president or president wants or needs that power for largely emotional or psychological reasons.

And for anybody who fires back, “it’s in the Ed. Code”, let me just ask, “Who made the Ed. Code, and what was their motivation?”

I’m always struck by people who say that schools should operate and manage themselves more like private corporations.  I ask, “Where in the corporate world would such a process be used to hire one candidate for an entry-level position?”   If you can tell me this, can you also tell me when they’re filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, because no company would be able to function effectively if it dealt with personnel and hiring in this way.

As for all the good adjuncts out there toiling away in the hopes of getting a job, 95% of them will be out of luck until, next year, when another 95% of them will be out of luck again, and at this point, the inevitable self-doubt, refection, and bitterness sets in.

And as for the lucky winners of the full-time position?  Well, they’ve been anointed the best.  They are a cut above.  Why of course, the system works, because after all, they made it, and if people were just like them…

Sometimes, these lucky few go on to view the adjunct condition as merely a temporary transitional period which effectively separates the wheat from the chaff, and therefore there is no “adjunct” problem, but rather, a problem of old adjuncts who just haven’t figured out that they suck and need to quit the profession.

I’d be curious to know that if they had to go through the same process on an annual basis if they in fact would get the job again year in and year out.  My bet is that nine times out of ten, they would not.  In fact, this actually happened at one of my institutions.  A full-timer took a year off for family issues, reapplied for the position, and didn’t make it past the first round of interviews.

What can, could, should or should be done about the process?  That my good adjuncts, will be the subject of my next essay.


Geoff Johnson

A “good” adjunct who hasn’t figured out yet that he sucks.

Con Jobs: Stories of Adjunct and Contingent Labor

Con Jobs: Stories of Adjunct and Contingent Labor

This is awesome work. It is time to act. It is time to occupy higher education. It is time to unionize and for unions to prioritize the plight of the majority faculty, the precarious, and expose the dirty little secret of higher education. We, the precarious faculty, are the core of higher education. We make it happen. Our interests should be first.

The whole documentary here:

First Year Commodity: The Adjunct Professor Labor Crisis In Composition Departments

First Year Commodity: The Adjunct Professor Labor Crisis In Composition Departments

This post, from Order of Education, is a couple of years old, but, as a summative critique and report of the recent national movement for adjunct justice, it is excellent. It offers a some insight into what adjuncts have been doing across the country, especially in affiliation with New Faculty Majority. Although the viewpoint is from composition, the insights apply, needless to say, across disciplines.

Here I go, SJW-ing it up again!


When, oh when, will I get rid of the “female chip on my shoulder” and stop being such a goddamned anti-racist feminist–you know, someone who believes women & PoC are people, and worse yet, acknowledges structural bias (some of which has quite recognizably aided me in my life)?!?!?!?

My latest column on Slate is about how in the corporatized, adjunctified university, nobody knows what to call their instructors anymore, and so it’s important for said instructors to spell it out and be patient when they forget (and, also, to make sure the disrespectful know when they are being disrespectful, intentionally or not).

I, personally, prefer “Dr. Schuman” in most contexts (I didn’t spend 7 years in Evil Graduate School for nothing), but “Rebecca” if the institution has a first-name policy (such as the Pierre Laclede Honors College!). If a student calls me “Rebecca” off the bat, that doesn’t actually bother…

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