How to Screw an Adjunct Part III: Creative Scheduling

Good Adjuncts,

So now that you’ve got “priority of assignment” and a degree of seniority, think you’re safe? Well, get on the wrong side of a dean and or scheduler and you might find there’s yet another way to screw an adjunct—call it “creative” scheduling.

Now any adjunct who has worked at an institution for more than five years is no stranger to the odd schedule or two. What I’m talking about is when the schedule is used against you like a weapon.

Perhaps the most venal example of this I’ve seen of late was the case of a few adjuncts who their dean, as I have mentioned before, had unsuccessfully tried to remove by effectively questioning their equivalency status. As it turned out, the dean had previously scheduled them for classes that would have worked with their schedule, which like most adjuncts, is an interesting patchwork of classes all over the place.

When their equivalency status was put into question, they were pulled from those classes. Resolving the equivalency issue with these adjuncts actually took over a month. During this time, some of the teachers’ classes were re-assigned, while another, fearing the loss of income, took classes in her previously scheduled time slot.
The union managed to prevail on the equivalency issue, but by this time, the damage was done, and two of these adjuncts were given offerings at times that were either highly inconvenient, or simply impossible to take due to a scheduling conflict. One adjunct was able to make it work, the other had to refuse the assignment, which along with the lost classes meant the loss of her hiring priority. In the end, the dean got her wish—this adjunct wasn’t going to be working at the college anymore.

All of the adjuncts I mentioned here had “Priority of Assignment.” In theory, they have a guarantee for work. Still, contrary to popular notion, “Priority of Assignment,” which is sometimes also called “Vesting” at some colleges, is not, as some deans, department chairs, and VP’s of Instruction try to define it, “tenure for adjuncts.” A full-timer with tenure is more or less guaranteed a job for which they are evaluated once every three years, and then must be absolutely appalling in order to get fired. And when I say appalling, I could speak of such teachers who taught strictly from books, would go months without returning any student work, and were either confusing or extremely condescending to their students.

An adjunct with “priority of assignment” is a teacher that is only promised a certain number of classes in a following term provided there is a need for the classes. There’s nothing which says that dean can’t effectively offer you classes at a different time or location. This means the dean, should he or she have the notion to, can schedule an adjunct where they will because a guarantee of load is not the same as a guarantee of specific classes.

Before I go further, I don’t want to make all deans or schedulers (usually department chairs) out to be devious, agenda-driven people. In fact, this is generally a very small number of deans and schedulers. Most dean and schedulers, quite frankly, are very busy and have other things to do, and prefer consistency when scheduling, and so they want to keep as many people in predictable and preferred places as possible.

Still, this doesn’t mean that they can’t or won’t use the schedule as a weapon.

In many ways, the bigger problem with a schedule is that once a scheduler has put you in a certain place with certain classes, you can be sure that you will always get those classes, or have to tread very lightly in requesting changes. This is how people who are qualified to teach a variety of classes may get forced to languish with a certain class or classes with no real hope of change.

What can be even worse is if you’re put into an off-campus assignment, you may find yourself effectively removed from departmental culture for years, particularly if the department chooses to schedule its meetings midday and midweek. And without that departmental connection, one can get hurt in the evaluations process, or lack the information to present oneself as a credible candidate for a full-time position.

Perhaps worst of all in this regard is if you’re teaching a lower level basic skills class that gets converted to self-study or is simply eliminated. This is in fact when deans begin to get devious as they realize they may not have the classes they want you to take, and realize that they must displace less senior teachers in order to absorb you into classes you have never taught.

As I’ve said here, even with priority of assignment, a union’s hands can be tied. What’s a solution? Well, to a degree having priority of assignment with senior adjuncts getting their load before less senior adjuncts helps. What’s more important is for an adjunct to keep connected with their deans and schedulers, and by this, I don’t mean, kiss their ass. Check in with them now and again. Be friendly, and stay connected with the department. Let them know when you can be flexible, and when you can, be so, without being a doormat (i.e. taking that five week-class taught at a hog plant for five hours a meeting on Saturday afternoons.)

Sometimes Good Adjuncts, the only weapon we really have is to be proactive.

Geoff Johnson
A “Good” Adjunct


3 thoughts on “How to Screw an Adjunct Part III: Creative Scheduling

  1. Dear Geoff,
    The situation for even a measure of job security is much weaker than can be inferred from your post.

    I asked before, what happens to an adjunct who is fired because s/he supports unionization? There is no dramatic interaction with a Dean, etc. Your contract is simply not renewed. This is no skin off the back of a university, especially in the hard sciences. That is because the number of PhD-level scientists who are unemployed is much greater than the number of positions which are commensurate with their experience level.

    Along those lines, I have, indeed heard of specific adjuncts at specific universities who were simply fired for the attempt to unionize.

    Finally, some advice for you: I treat anyone who ascribes positive attributes to themselves with much suspicion. So please get rid of the monker of being a “Good” adjunct.

    Best regards


  2. Fenton:

    I don’t know where you work, but here in San Diego all the Public Community Colleges have unions, and priority of assignment has worked far more often than not to actually save adjunct jobs. You’re not going to get fired here for “unionizing,”as we already unionized. In fact, public employees at community colleges have been allowed unionize in California since 1976.

    Were a teacher with priority of assignment to simply not rehire someone someone would be seen as retaliation. The Dean has to at least offer a consistent class load. Granted, the Dean could offer classes at a time which the instructor might have trouble with, but even then, if the instructor is smart, he/she could at least appeal to the union to speak to the Dean. If the Dean is clearly going out of his/her way to give a faculty member a crap schedule when clearly there has been a consistent pattern of hire, this would be construed as retaliation and quite likely the faculty member would win in an arbitration.

    The adjuncts I spoke of in this case had been effectively let go, then brought back. During the interim, the Dean had already assigned their previous classes, so the Dean had an effective out. I wrote about this case not to make adjuncts live in fear of the almighty dean, but to be aware of how Deans and schedulers can in some cases stick it to us.

    The passage of AB 1690, which would add a seniority provision to priority of assignment policies statewide, would go a long way to make these practices go away.

    By the way, in regards to your previous comments, schedulers are not going to decide to hire or fire you on the basis of the salary you are owed. The person who looks at pay is either an HR Director or the Vice President of Instruction. The financial pressure the VPI will assert on Deans and Department Chairs is based on whether or not you have enough students in the class to make it viable. The funding they receive is based on the number of students you have in the class. On Community College campuses where there are hundreds of adjuncts who come and go at sometimes a rate of 25-30% a year, the VPI lacks the time and resources to get into the weeds on these issues, especially when dealing with adjunct salaries that are already significantly less than full-time pay. In fact, they’d much prefer to hire you over a full-timer, which is in fact what they do.

    As for why I use the word “good,” I suggest you read one of my earliest posts, “The Myth of the Good Adjunct”. And by the way, I will continue to use the moniker in the future. Whether to you choose to hold me with suspicion is entirely your prerogative.

    Geoff Johnson
    A “Good” Adjunct


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