That Overload Thing

Hello Again Good Adjuncts

Sorry I’ve been away awhile in that world the adjunct (and full-timer) knows so well–grading hell. However, unlike the my full-time colleagues, because the districts that I work for either choose to pretend the other districts don’t exist, or ignore the fact that adjuncts may teach in other places, I got no Spring Break this year because there was no attempt on the part of either of the two districts I work for to coordinate their academic calendars. This of course meant that while my full-time colleagues got to enjoy a week of R&R and down time with their family, I got one extra day to hang with the family and go take them to see The Lego Movie.

But hey, what can I say? “Everything is awesome…”

Good adjuncts, I still owe you a column on how the hiring process needs to be improved, and it will be forthcoming, but for now I’d like to talk about something that is maybe a little bit dynamite in terms of the adjunct-full-timer dialectic when we adjuncts choose to complain about some issues we have with some full-timers.

And today’s issue is (drumroll please) …full-time overload teaching.

Some years back, I was sitting in a meeting of a room of union activists, all of whom, in fact, I think of as good people, and who have also done a lot of good. At the time, there was, as there is almost perpetually, a budgetary shortfall, meaning effectively a cut in sections.

Approximately two weeks prior to that meeting, I had been in a department meeting, where more or less the same issue was being discussed. To the credit of my full-time department colleagues, there was talk of limiting full-timers from taking on additional overload in that it would put many adjuncts out of a job. This didn’t mean taking away longstanding overload from full-timers that had been doing it for years, but simply not allowing more at the present time. The teachers at the meeting, a combination of full-timer and adjunct alike were in consensus that this is in fact what should happen.

On this day, several adjuncts had their jobs saved.

Anyway, back to the union meeting. Mindful of this precedent, I tried to broach this subject with the representatives in the room, and before I could get far there was the reply: “Well, we don’t want to be in the business of telling department chairs what to do,” followed by several harrumphs and stern nods of approval. A sort of frost seemed to settle. I saw at this point where this discussion was going to go, and so I shut up.

Notably, just after this incident, the state of California recently changed their 60% rule (that an adjunct could only teach a 60% percent load in any given district) to a 66% rule meaning, that in this particular district, adjuncts in my department could teach an additional class. Nearly all of the older adjuncts in the department, myself included, wanted to teach that additional class, yet all of us knew that doing so would put younger adjuncts out of a job. At that time, every one of these older adjuncts, mindful of this, refused to take the additional class at least for a semester or two until the budgetary situation stabilized itself.

By doing this, adjunct jobs were saved.

Now did any of us want to do this? Hell no. We’re adjuncts. We buy our clothes from Craig’s list or sometimes even the thrift shop, and not to be like Macklemore.

We did it because it was the right thing to do.

Anyway, after 2008, when the budget at the other college that I teach at plummeted, the on-site union, despite the screams and howls of some of its full-time faculty, put together a temporary M.O.U., or memorandum of understanding which asked full-timers to not take overload, when class sections were being drastically cut, to preserve adjunct jobs.

When this happened, adjunct jobs were saved.

Now that the economy and budget have rebounded, the concern over the full-time overload teaching has abated, though legislation in the California State House to control full-time overload teaching was briefly put forth, then either killed or withdrawn.

Unfortunately, for me at least, it’s still an issue.

To be fair here at the outset, I myself teach about a 120% load, but part of this is due in fact to how the credits are awarded the classes I teach. For me, this computes out to five classes per semester.   I’d like to say that I teach this much in part because I like the money, but when you make just around 40,000 dollars a year living in Southern California, I’d say need is the greater motivation.

I have some part-time colleagues who teach up to eight classes. When I see them, they’re exhausted. I had a similarly overloaded adjunct colleague who died at the age of 49 in the school parking lot a few years back (and no one ever created a memorial for him on campus unlike his full-time colleagues who had their careers cut short by death). When I see these overloaded adjuncts I understand that many of them have financial pressures to work, but I still try to suggest to them, gently of course, that this is maybe not the best thing to do for themselves.

Part of me also worries about what effect this will have on the students they teach and the families they are kept away from, and how administrators, who notice these “super adjuncts”, feel when we ask for more pay per sections, reduced class sizes, or course workloads.

So no full-timers, I don’t ignore the fact that adjuncts teach overload, or the fact that it’s problematic for them to do it as well.

What I have a problem with is how overload is dispensed out to full-timers as a sort of income enhancer that is awfully close to what is generally called “double-dipping”.

When the contract at one of my campuses was settled, for a rather measly 1.57 % COLA, one of my full-time colleagues complained of the deal, that after years of no salary increase she was only going to get an increase which amounted to little more than 100 dollars a month. This effectively meant she was making 90,000 dollars a year, and no, she wasn’t a department head or administrator or 20+ year senior instructor.

When I saw this, I about fell over. 90,000 dollars a year? If I made 50,000 dollars a year, I’d be dancing in the streets. Why, I might be able to have a car that’s less than 8 years old with under 150,000 miles on it. I might be able to put aside money for my son for college. Hell, I might even be able to buy a set of slacks from a department store rather than the bargain bin at Costco.

Now in no way am I assuming that all full-timers make more than two times what the equivalent adjunct makes, but come on people. You make a lot more than we do, so when you complain that you need to make more money by teaching overload, pardon us if we cry crocodile tears. I really feel bad that you’re having to shell out so much money for your kid’s private colleges, your European vacations, and those houses in the good neighborhoods.

While you may be complaining about how somebody’s dog crapped on your yard, I recently  had to deal with a drunk taking a piss on mine.

Still, I get it. You need extra money, so now what you’re going to do is get the institution to let you teach an extra class without the pleasure of hopping in a car and driving to another campus where you may not have an office to work in, like me, of getting the class at a funky time, like me, with sometimes minimal support or facilities, like me.

I’d say clearly you and me are not alike.

Here’s an idea. Unless the institution absolutely positively needs you to teach an additional class, or you’re not banking classes so you can have an extended sabbatical (look at me, I’m an adjunct and I support sabbaticals!), you can get in your newer car and drive to another district and do the same kind of gig that the great unwashed masses of adjuncts undertake.

My suspicion is that if all the full-time faculty had to do this semester after semester, full-timers would more eagerly seeking an end to adjunctification.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking: “I was an adjunct once.”

Yeah, well guess what? I was a baby once. I was also a teenager, and when I tell my teenage son this while trying to dispense sage advice well….well let’s just say he’s not so sympathetic, and why should he be? My angst and his angst may be similar, but they’re not fully relatable. Moreover, it doesn’t ease his suffering. Would you tell someone with a broken leg, “hey, relax, I had a broken leg once…”

Don’t tell an adjunct you were an adjunct once. One, they already know or suspect it, and two, it’s kind of like saying, “I know, now quit yer bellyachin’.”

Anyway, the practice of full-time overload teaching should be phased out over time. This doesn’t mean suddenly throwing people who have built lives around years of the practice under the bus. Rather, it should mean that for future hires, full-timers should only be teaching overload in the event of dire departmental need, or if the instructor needs to bank credits for an extended sabbatical leave. While full-timers who still choose to teach more classes elsewhere may be a little more stressed, you  full-timers will still be making a hell of a lot more than your adjunct colleagues if you choose to simply teach your regular full-time load. Moreover, your students will probably appreciate your ability to give them increased attention, and an adjunct will be able to pay for his/her rent.

Now, back to grading hell…


Geoff Johnson

A “Good” Adjunct


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