Irrationality and Ignorance on Both Sides (As if There are Sides)


Hello Good Adjuncts and to the Good Contracts as well who might happen to read this.

Rather than simply just being a disgruntled adjunct speaking out against the tenuous, exploitive,  inequitable, and hypocritical nature of my employment, I sit on the executive councils of two different faculty unions, and spend not a small amount of time dealing with any number of adjunct/full-timer issues. 

On the one hand, this means dealing with full-time or contract employees who, as some of you who may imagine, are ignorant, callous or misinformed as to the adjunct condition.  On the other hand, it also means dealing with a number of understandably frustrated and angry adjuncts who are impatient, suspicious, unaware of process, and who often work against their own best interests.

Dealing with one side or the other is hard enough, but to deal with both is a real challenge.  It’s not too much fun being called “whiner”, “complainer”, or “negative” by contracts—it’s also no fun being called a “kool-aid drinker,” “sycophant”, or simply “distant” by those who don’t understand why you’re not effectively tearing into your fellow contract union members.

Anyway screw me. I signed up for the criticism.  The issue here isn’t me.  It’s about trying to get things done, and the fact of the matter is when you have two groups like this, the only groups that win are the groups that benefit from adjunctification.

Since I’m writing mostly to adjuncts first, I’ll address my issues with the more negative aspects of the contract crowd.

First of all, there are a few of you out there, who, when you let your guard down, have told me things like “well, it’s easy to see why a lot of these people are adjuncts” with the insinuation that these people are adjuncts because they 1) aren’t good enough teachers 2) don’t truly contribute enough to the department 3) don’t do enough professional development 4) haven’t figured out that winning strategy to get a full-time job 5) complain too much and make waves. The implication is also that you, dear contract are 1) a great teacher 2) are a real player for the department 3) are constantly working on your professional development 4) are simply more savvy and plucky than those other long-time lowly adjuncts 5) are positive and go with the flow, or simply that most adjuncts, should, more or less “shut the f**K up!”

Well, 1) Many of us adjuncts may have better student and peer evals than you 2) have sat on committees, academic senates, done unpaid tutoring, etc.  3)  spend as much time as we are able, or can afford to participate in professional development despite the loss of several hours a week going to and from our respective campuses, and making often half as much as you 4) weren’t lucky enough to say the right thing against the other 100+ applicants for the job, and 5) Some of you contracts are the biggest whiners in your respective departments, and if you don’t believe so, ask your other contract colleagues.

Sometimes other rather ignorant or irrational things come out of contract mouths, like, “if you don’t like your situation, you should just quit.”  Yeah, thanks for letting me know after I already dedicated 7-10 years of higher ed., racked up student debts, and spent years working for a full-time job that never came.  I’m sure that with my low salary, lack of time, family to support, and poor financial resources that I can simply retool within months and get one of those entry-level STEM jobs they’re giving to recent college grads (who are 20 years my junior). There are yet others of you that complain, “Why should we give rehire rights to adjuncts? …it’s like giving them tenure.” Well, now why do YOU want tenure? Is job security a priority for you?  Tell me, doesn’t the person who generally makes ½ as much and often lives paycheck to paycheck have the right to at least desire, if not deserve some job security? 

Oh and please, for the umteenth time my contract colleagues, don’t tell me (drumroll please) that you were once an adjunct!!!  Would you try to console someone with a broken leg by saying, “I had a broken leg once?”

I could go on, but for now, I’ll stop “whining”.  It’s time to talk about part-timers/adjuncts/contingents (please choose whichever name salves the pain you feel from being exploited, then realize you still are being exploited, then move on).

First of all, fellow adjuncts, contract employees, however some of them piss us off sometimes, are our colleagues.  Like you many of them work very hard, care about their students, community, and will often have extra work such as doing program review, accreditation, student learning outcomes, transfer articulation, and shared governance, to name a few.  Some of this you may never have to deal with. 

While it’s right for adjuncts to complain about pay disparities, there needs to be recognition and a degree of compensation for these additional tasks.  (And I might add that if adjuncts do these tasks, they should be paid for them too.)  Further, getting tenure in many places is no walk in the park.  I had one full-timer telling me that he felt his tenure process was like “trying to take first place in a poop-eating contest.” 

Tenure is one issue I often read adjuncts claiming as the main source of evil and inequity in the education system.  Really?  I don’t think tenure is the problem, anymore than adjuncts getting rehire rights is a problem.  The problem is that more people are not getting full-time positions that pay benefits because the powers that be (usually politicians who have no experience with education beyond being a student) want to provide education on the cheap off of our backs. 

Taking out tenure might be satisfactory for some adjuncts in that it would supposedly level the playing field in terms of job security, and lead to a firing of older teachers who either lack or haven’t developed their teaching skills, but pulling your colleagues into the toilet with you isn’t going to make your situation any better. 

More importantly, you’re going to alienate a person or persons you would want to be your ally, and many of them want to be, dare I say it, because they appreciate you, have lived on your salary, identify with your condition, and want it to end.

I’ve run into other adjuncts who say, in light of the pay inequity between adjuncts and full-timers that what needs to happen is that full-timer should give up part of their salaries so that my salary is more equal to his or hers.  I admit that sometimes I’ve felt this sentiment, but honestly, this is just so problematic on a number of levels. 

First of all, while there are extreme examples of high full-time salaries for instructors, most full-timers receive salaries that are comparatively modest compared to people with equivalent or even lesser educational backgrounds working in private industry.  There is also the issue of ballooning administrator salaries, along with the additional hires of administrators or monies spent on facilities or programs of questionable need. 

Moreover, it is rare indeed to find an often overworked individual, as many full-time teachers are, who is willing to endure financial duress in his/her life to lower his/her salary.  On the other hand, there are certainly administrators who wouldn’t mind slashing full-timer salaries and either giving adjuncts a pittance of a salary increase, or more likely, none at all. Building success and equity for part timers should be about lifting up part-timers, not tearing full-timers down. 

However, let’s say that maybe that forcing full-timers to give up some of their salary was the right way to go.  Well, most faculty unions are lead by full-timers who are also the most active members of the union. 

How likely do you suppose the chances of doing the above are?  I’m thinking of a snowball in hell…

Some adjuncts then argue, let’s have a separate union for adjuncts.  You know who loves this idea even more than adjuncts?  Administrators, who can play the old “divide and conquer game.” I see this happen in one of my districts where the classified staff and faculty are in separate unions.  You hand a real crappy contract to one group, scare the hell out of them with potential layoffs if they don’t sign, and then tell them that cuts are still going to go through because the other unit won’t see reason and take the same cuts.

In California, where I’m at, the adjunct unions that were formed happened because there were greedy full-timers didn’t want to collectively bargain with them in the unit.  Were the units together, ultimately the full-timers would have to see adjunct interests as part of their own, not a world away.

Another bit of adjunct irrationality is the old “let’s secretly hate the adjunct who now got the contract job I applied for but didn’t get.  I’ll admit to sometimes feeling this kind of resentment, but I’ll also say it’s wrong, stupid, and petty.  The adjunct who got that job you wanted worked hard too, most often suffered like you, and sometimes even more.  What do you possibly gain by being resentful?  When an adjunct like ourselves gets a job, we possibly have a bridge to the more hard-headed full-timers who don’t see us.  One of my department’s recent hires, when she first told me about getting the fulltime position, swore she’d do what she could to fight the plight of adjuncts, and as much as I can, I’m going to hold her to it.  By the way, I’m happy she got the job (Of course, I want to be full-time too, but it isn’t on her I that didn’t get one yet).

Finally, there are some things adjuncts accuse full-timers and faculty unions of that are just not happening.  One of these is the assertion that (and this happens on the community college level) “so and so scheduler will not give me extra classes because I have a Ph.D. and if they did, they’d have to pay me more.”  First of all, when I lived in Japan I was in fact an administrator or scheduler for small university-articulated program which hired people with advanced degrees. The outfit I worked for was one of the most money-grubbing outfits imaginable, and yet never, when it came to hiring personnel, was I ever pressured to hire people with cheaper qualifications. I was to hire people who could teach to the schedule, accomplish objectives, and if it cost a little more (which it did in the big picture) I was to hire them. 

As for public institutions, the separation between salaries and scheduling is far greater.  Most schedulers have to fill tens or hundreds of sections in a limited time frame.   They don’t have the time to look over everyone’s salaries and see what they make, and in most cases will have no idea because they can barely read the scattergram to understand their own salary.  The Dean, if he or she is not the scheduler, is more concerned about the numbers of students in your class.  Above the Dean, the Vice President of Instruction is concerned about class numbers and in particular, if too many or too few sections are being offered.  Why would, or how could he/she focus on the individual salary of a teacher among teaching faculty which will often exceed 1000 teachers?

What does all of this mean good adjuncts?  Well, it’s this.  If you want to be more successful in making things better for yourself and fellow adjuncts, recognize your full-time colleagues as colleagues who need to be educated and enlightened, not defeated.  Two, come up with ways in which adjuncts and full-timers can grow together.  And lastly, as much of the funding and policy imposed on adjuncts is driven by state governments and politicians, direct your energies there rather than targeting your local unions who, if you actually try to dialogue with them in a positive manner, may you show that they are on “your side”.

Geoff Johnson

An Adjunct Working for Change


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