“The Song of the Tenured (recently or long ago)”

Before reading (or singing) please remember to be your best Self.

“The Song of the Tenured”

I once was an adjunct,

And now I am not,

But I feel your pain,

The adjunct lot.

Your cries of dismay, though

Loud, I cannot

Allow them to mar

The joy of my song,

I once was an adjunct,

And now I am not.


Remember: your best Self.

Adjunct Pay and Anger

Here is another important discussion moderated by Joe Fruscione. Adjuncts Katie and Shondra discuss important issues about the adjunctification of higher educations and shed light on the inherent classism that separates not only professors from facilities and staff, but full-time faculty from adjunct faculty. In order for full-time faculty to avoid a sense of superiority requires a great deal of self-fknowledge as well as self-awareness. Most full-time faculty are not honest enough with themselves to reject such psychological wages; likewise, most adjuncts lack the self-honesty to admit to themselves that they are being exploited. Hence, they are willing to play a status game, like at Grossmont College, and take a label as a wage.


Adjunct professors fight for crumbs on campus

It’s time to begin a serious discussion about funding the adjunct revolution. Where will the equality funding come from? Colman McCarthy, in “Adjunct Professors Fight for Crumbs on Campus,” suggests trimming the salaries of top administrators. I agree, but everyone needs to pitch in, including full-time faculty, who need to be willing to use any new state funding for salaries strictly for equal pay for adjuncts. And, why not a special funding proposition? If we can afford new buildings, why not equal pay for the majority of faculty, who actually do the teaching? It’s time to ask the question asked by Florence Reece: which side are you on?


Why Are Faculty Complicit in Creating a Disposable Workforce?

Jennifer Ruth, from Portland State University, raises the most important question facing higher education faculty. http://utotherescue.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/why-are-faculty-complicit-in-creating.html?m=1

This is the question that compelled me to speak out about reversing adjunctification. Adjunctification is the first step in the corporatization and privatization of higher education. Jennifer Ruth, in this piece, addresses our complicity in this woeful trend. We are complicit because it is easy. Tenured faculty do not wish to risk their comfortable position. Adjunct faculty lie to themselves. We are all complicit together. And it is together that we will need to reverse the trend. But we will not be able to do it within the same paradigm. That ship has already sunk. Or is sinking. Adjuncts are swimming and tenured faculty are watching (or looking the other way) in their lifeboats. If we want to reverse adjunctification and thereby reverse corporatization, we need to prioritize the empowerment of adjuncts. The best way to do this is for tenured faculty to pull adjuncts into the lifeboats. The old-fashioned, labor intensive search for the “best candidate,” is a lie. The “best candidates” are already teaching at the institution. Why shouldn’t adjuncts be transitioned to full-time, tenured positions? At community colleges, it is obvious that this should be the way things work. Otherwise, we must conclude that adjuncts are not as good as tenure-track faculty, and students, and therefore society, is being cheated. Even at universities where research agendas play a role in the selection of tenured faculty, the institutions owe contingent faculty  full-time status.

I will go further than Ruth, and assert that we need a radical paradigm shift which should be the priority of our unions and professional associations. For this to happen, tenured faculty need to be willing to rock the boats at the risk of capsizing all the boats.

The Day After

The Day After


First, coffee. Then, file for unemployment, the absurd moment, dreaded…a vision of the dead end. How many times have I applied? 40? 50? Who’s counting? It’s just part of the “job.” Once the tentative agreement expires, and I have no reasonable assurance of being rehired, I am unemployed. The shame. It is absurd…I must embrace the absurdity, stifle the nausea and…collect the pittance I am due, which I have earned already. Seemingly, in some meager attempt to compensate for the inequity of my pay (to make it ok?), a California court awarded me and my adjuncts across the state in 1988 the right to file for and receive unemployment wages, once the semester ends and the tentative agreement expires.


Then what? Oh, to work. Final compositions of introductory and advanced students, lengthy, researched tomes, about 5 dozen to evaluate. And calculate and assign a grade for each student. One sent me a paper on Google docs. Some requested that I make comments on their papers. Shall I take odds on how many will return next fall for their comments? How closely should I mark them? What wisdom might I impart to my erstwhile students, at this moment, after the tentative agreement has expired?

Ah, the absurdity. I must embrace it, and take the pittance, for the lean times ahead.

And now, to work.

Late Night Questions

How much good has civilization lost as a result of adjunctification?

How many brilliant teachers have left or are leaving higher education because they have been disenfranchised?

How many brilliant teachers have struggled and are struggling to live while struggleing to work two or three jobs, whose professional practice must be parceled out itinerantly from place to place?

How many lives have not been touched by these brilliant teachers who have been disenfranchised by a system that exploits their wish to do good, whose scramble from campus to campus and semester to semester denies them the opportunity to work deeply with students and to touch their lives, and to change the world with the same force as if they had been fully enfranchised by the institution of higher education?

How much good has been lost, in spite of the brilliance of these teachers, who have for decades taught most college students, as a result of adjunctification?

How can this loss be measured or grasped? In loss of soul?

Will civilization survive the adjunctification of higher education?

Equal Pay for Adjuncts: What is May Day For?

Equal Pay for Equal Work: What is May Day For?

Imagine working at one job for fifteen years and then spending three days filling out an extraordinarily rigorous (read: ponderous and obtuse) application (last time I completed one, I clocked myself at about 60 hours) so that you could have the outside chance of being hired to work the job that you already work. If you win the hiring lottery, you are paid fully; if you lose, you are paid about half or less of what the winners are paid.

Does that sound reasonable? Does it sound like justice?

This is a common scenario for most college faculty, adjuncts who are committed to one (or more) institution(s) and who, whenever there is enough funding for one or two tenure-track positions, get to “compete” with hundreds of applicants from all over the world, as search committees spin the lottery wheel.

And, no, it isn’t reasonable to expect someone who already does a job, and has been relied on to do this job for many years, and has been deemed excellent by all measurements, to go through this process, the effect of which, perhaps inadvertently, but nevertheless, is to maintain two-tiers of employees, one tenured, the other adjunct, who essentially do the same work, but whose pay by comparison is excessively unequal.

This situation can end if we do one thing: pay all college faculty on one pay schedule: equal pay for equal work. Pay parity.

The objection that tenured faculty do more work is specious. Seriously, one reason some do so much committee work is that there aren’t enough tenure-track faculty. More to the point, what is the most valuable part of faculty work-time? Is it teaching? Do you spend any more time teaching than I? Many adjuncts, hustling about to make enough to survive, easily spend more time on teaching tasks than many tenure-track faculty (And I ‘m pointing this out only as a fact. I make no judgment). Forty hours a week is the expected workload for tenured and tenure-track faculty. Adjuncts often work more than forty hours a week because they teach at two or more institutions, even more than a full-time load, to make only a portion of a full-time wage.

Tenured faculty, please do not be offended; rise above an egocentric response. Adjuncts (most, anyway) do not think this situation is the fault of tenured faculty. But it is a fact that tenured faculty enjoy privileges which adjuncts do not, and which adjuncts deserve. No one expects tenured faculty to give up their privileges (maybe only a few perks). Of course tenured faculty have earned this privilege; but then so have adjunct faculty.

In the San Diego Community College district, adjuncts have things that most adjuncts across the nation do not. Most do not have rehire rights, health benefits, office space with computers, or unemployment compensation rights. At my primary site, adjuncts who teach in the English department are fortunate: tenured faculty in the department invite them to meetings of all sorts, let them vote on most issues, and encourage them to pitch in as much as they wish. I often tell people that if you are so unfortunate as to find  yourself an adjunct professor in the early 21st century this English department is one of the best places to be in the universe.

But still, my pay for teaching six classes is about 40% what it would be if I were paid on the same schedule as full-time faculty. My expertise, my skill, my commitment is equal. My pay should be equal.

Nationally, contingent academic workers, or adjuncts, are organizing and mobilizing for justice. The national media is beginning to cover the exploitation of adjuncts on a regular basis. The New Faculty Majority has organized and is advocating for justice.  The AFT, FACCC, AAUP, and other faculty organizations are talking about the exploitation of adjuncts. It is time for unions to walk the walk. Since adjuncts are the majority everywhere, unions should prioritize adjuncts’  interests. No more across the board pay raises until there is pay parity. No more advocating for tenure-track funding until there is pay parity. The adjunct crisis is the crisis of higher education, tenured faculty, adjunct faculty, students, and staff. This is the moment for us to stand together and to demand equal pay for adjuncts, to demand one pay schedule for all college faculty.

May Day, the annual, global celebration of  economic and social justice for workers, should be about the justice of equal pay for adjuncts. And we should have both.

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.

Psychological Wages: No One Becomes a College Professor to Get Poor

Since our actual wages are so inadequate, we adjuncts rely on psychological wages.

A part of our psychological wages, common to all college faculty, tenured (and tenure-track) and adjunct, indeed, to all teachers, is the fulfillment we receive from working with students: when a student learns, a teacher is fulfilled.  Sharing knowledge, teaching skills, drawing out a student’s potential are rewards for which there is no monetary equivalent. We don’t teach so we can get rich or because it’s easy money; we teach because it increases the meaning in our lives as well as in the lives of our students, and in the world at large.

Another part of the psychological wages adjuncts collect, along with tenured professors, is the joy of being scholars.  Reading and writing about our subjects is a passion.  Scholarship, as well as teaching, is a calling for us. Whether we teach at an institution where “publish or perish” is still a mantra or one where the primary mission is teaching, we attend conferences, give presentations, publish, read, and study. We receive such personal gratification as professionals that we sometimes don’t find it necessary to draw a line between personal time and professional time. Between semesters, we read books and essays about education, and we have great teaching ideas while on a run.

And there is the psychological wage of belief in the myth that, if you are a “good adjunct,” if you demonstrate your excellence, you will be rewarded, in time, with that coveted tenure-track position. Adjuncts rely heavily on this myth. Never mind that the demonstration of excellence shades into your willingness to be exploited, and does little to ensure reward. At least some tenured share in the belief in this myth as well, as it explains why they are in the place of privilege.

Adjuncts don’t just enjoy these wages, though, especially the “good adjunct” wage; we rely on them because, without these wages, the impoverishing actual wages that shape the quality of our lives would suck out our souls.

We adjuncts depend on these psychological wages to get us through not only the day but also the “lean times.” Conversely, the financial struggle adjuncts endure, from meeting rent to paying bills, to paying for the unexpected, is a psychological burden that threatens body and soul.  For many, to ensure that there is enough food for the children, every check is budgeted carefully to last until the next. When extra cash is needed, the credit card comes out, or friends and family get phone calls. The end of every month is “lean.”  Winter and summer are “lean.” For adjuncts, the “lean time” is always near.

We pretend psychological wages are sufficient, although they are not.  The pretence that our wages do not impoverish us leads some to delude themselves with rationalizations. To explain poverty wages, a common rationalization I hear from adjuncts is, “I didn’t become a college professor to get rich.”  This rationalization creates a rose-colored lens through which some view their oppression as a “personal choice.”   The idea that one chooses to be an adjunct, except in rare situations, deftly transforms the burden of financial struggle into willing self-sacrifice, and the oppressed become those noble martyrs who sacrifice themselves for the good of the community.  Of course, no one becomes a college professor to “get rich.”  No one becomes a college professor to get poor either.

The truth is psychological wages for many adjuncts become part of a web of rationalizations that keeps us from recognizing our exploitation for what it is. We take the psychological wages and endure the burden. We lie to ourselves.

Psychological wages contribute to the illusion of “separate but equal” and the higher education meritocracy, thereby maintaining higher education’s caste system and adjuncts’ indenture. It is true that tenured and adjunct have the same professional interests, if not the same professional opportunities. Economically, however, adjuncts definitely are unequal.

We need to recognize that adjunct wages are inadequate. If we lived in an idyllic ivory tower where monetary wages were disdained, psychological wages would be enough.  Perhaps, there wouldn’t even be psychological wages, only a common sense of higher purpose. But the actual economic circumstances which define our lives are not idyllic. They are merciless.

We carry the burden, the shame, of being adjunct, which, finally, is the inability to earn a decent living and support our families.  Across America, many adjuncts are struggling to gain guaranteed unemployment compensation, since we are unemployed periodically and repeatedly as a matter of course. Speaking as one who “enjoys” this “benefit,” filing for unemployment, counting on it year after year, becomes a burden as much as a benefit.  It’s never enough.  You hate it. But, you are thankful for the pittance.  Even with healthcare and priority re-hire rights, not having enough money to pay for the needs of your family weighs you down.

Additionally, we carry the burden of the huge student loan debt we incurred paying for the privilege to earn our advanced degrees, so we could serve in the maintenance of civilization.  Adjuncts’ student loan debt is a great irony.  The irony gets thick when students are encouraged to attend our classes and “achieve success,” which of course means attaining the ability to make a decent living, an economic privilege denied adjuncts, who are expected to lead these students to this “success.”

It is the burden of fear, however, which keeps many adjuncts from facing the structural conditions of their oppression as well as from speaking out about these conditions. Among many other things, adjuncts fear offending tenured colleagues, retaliation from administrators, cancelled classes, and not one day arriving at tenure. The most insidious fear though, as Maria Maisto of New Faculty Majority has noted in “Adjuncts, Class, and Fear,” is deep, “unspoken” and “fraught with complexities.” She points out that this fear comes from the “tension” between adjuncts’ “nominal professional status” and their “actual workplace conditions.”  As Maisto so perceptively claims, it is fear rooted in status and identity. This deep fear leads to denial.

This denial is one of the biggest barriers to achieving adjunct justice. Both tenured and adjuncts indulge in denying the oppressive conditions of exploitation which adjuncts live and teach under. We need to stop accepting psychological wages as a trade-off for poverty wages.

Social media is viral with the personal and institutional costs of the crisis of adjunctification. The mainstream media is beginning to cover adjunctification. A growing number of adjuncts (and some tenured faculty) are rejecting psychological wages and demanding justice. Yet, I suspect that this number is still a minority of the majority faculty. More of us, all of us, need to recognize the insidious class system that has colonized our souls as well as our profession. Personally, locally, as well as nationally, we need to face and resist our exploitation and oppression.

None of us ever aspired to be adjunct, tentatively connectied to the institution, but, rather, we aspired to be a fully vested, integral part of the institution. The institution owes us the respect of financial security, at least. This means adequate pay that reflects our professional status and allows us to live with the personal security and dignity of the middle-class enjoyed by our few tenured colleagues.

Reversing Adjunctification: Real Adjunct Justice

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” M. L. King

We the professors are complicit in our exploitation.

It is now a commonplace that higher education is in crisis.  Exactly what kind of crisis depends on your agenda.  The implications of California AB 955, as well as the recent California MOOC legislation, indicate that, if your agenda is privatization, you’re getting closer to your goal, despite the rejection of the MOOC initiative and the “dubious” future of AB 955.  The door has been opened more widely for the propaganda narrative of privatization, and I expect to hear more about it soon. In this “business model” narrative, professors are turned into producers, students into consumers, and learning becomes a commodity. If your agenda, on the other hand, is what’s best for students, what’s best for professors or what’s best for the public interest, then the crisis in higher education is first and foremost a crisis of justice.

The longstanding exploitation and marginalization of adjunct faculty is unjust to students. The marginalization of three-fourths of the faculty of higher education distances teacher and student. Adjuncts, “freeway fliers,” in search of a modicum wage, are forced to limit their time at any one campus; when students look for their teachers, they can’t find them. Even when adjuncts make themselves available and, through heroic efforts, provide the instruction and guidance students desire, their efforts are thwarted by an administrative bureaucracy that enforces adjuncts’ temporary and peripheral status, resulting in, for instance, no faculty advisors for new student organizations.

The shameless exploitation of adjuncts’ professional commitment does not serve the public interest. Among other goals, the privatization agenda aims to cut “labor costs,” as if the purpose of public education were to turn a profit. To this end, for decades, retiring tenured faculty members have been replaced by adjuncts until we have a professoriate which is now 75% adjunct. The status of this vast majority of faculty is perpetually tentative and, by definition, non-essential. The public interest in a healthy democracy is not served by a professoriate whose voice and power is thus fragmented and weak, and is therefore less capable of protecting academic freedom or of teaching students to innovate, make art and engage in democracy, three things which are in the public interest.

And, obviously, it is unjust to adjuncts: the exploitation of adjuncts’ commitment to students is bad enough, but the oppression which accompanies it and that so often invades the professional and personal lives of hundreds of thousands of adjuncts who struggle to pay student loans, pay rent, provide for children, and live their lives on an income immensely unjust in proportion to their education and their commitment to public service is the depth of injustice.

Perhaps this crisis of justice began with and is maintained by our inability to see ourselves, or what is happening to us. Because of this lack of clarity, we are capable of ignoring or rationalizing the crisis until it seems that there is no crisis and the crisis then becomes unquestioned business as usual.  How else can we explain the erosion of tenure-track positions over the last thirty years? How can three-fourths of college faculty be adjunct? There are many answers to this question, but our complacency in the face of adjunctification, I think, explains much.  Because the truth is too difficult to face, because the forces that compel us toward corporatization and privatization seem insurmountable, we appear to have accepted adjunctification.  Those who have descried these trends have been largely ignored and, although there has always been resistance, it never truly has been a unified and widespread resistance.

The crisis in higher education is an adjunct crisis, and the exploitation of adjunct is the exploitation of tenured. It is time we wake up and recognize what is happening. It is time we professors, all together, end our complicity with the efforts to adjunctify, corporatize and privatize higher education. At stake is not only a decent and humane life for the majority faculty, but the future of higher education itself.

We must reverse adjunctification; we must ask for more than pay equity for the second-class in a two-tiered system. From ourselves, and from those who are trying to reshape higher education based on free-market ideology, we must demand more.  We must demand the transformation of the system that is being used to dismantle the professoriate.  We must demand the restoration of a tenured majority by transitioning adjunct professors into tenure-track professors.  This would be real adjunct justice.

We, tenured and adjunct professors, must face the truth. Our rationalization is complicity. Our silence is complicity. We must speak our truth. We must speak truth to power. We must demand justice.

John R. Hoskins