An Adjunct Moment From an Anonymous Adjunct

The following “adjunct moment” is the record of an adjunct dealing with the extra bullshit that adjunct professors deal with on a day to day basis in the service of the public good. It’s not me, but it could happen to any freeway-flying adjunct, anytime, anywhere.  I will point out that full-time professors do not face this bullshit, not to accuse them of anything, but to bring attention to the disparity in working conditions, which are student learning conditions. This disparity cannot be emphasized enough, in my opinion. It’s worth noting that no pedagogical changes are very likely to improve student “success” until we make radical changes in the way we hire college faculty, especially at the community college level. Community colleges are the most adjunctified corner of higher education. Until we have a new system of hiring, one that acknowledges the moral obligation of colleges to their adjunct faculty, especially the ones who have been hired multiple times, by hiring them full-time, students will face the same challenges that their adjunct professors (straight up 75% at community colleges) face. Short of hiring them full-time, which is the only moral solution, they might settle for equal pay.

I am publishing this for the adjunct professor who wrote it, who shall remain anonymous.

For your reading pleasure, a brief narrative in the spirit of the upcoming Campus Equity Week:

“The Word of the Day”
F***! is my word for the day. I just arrived at school and confirmed my worrying suspicion that I left my students’ essays in the adjunct faculty work room at Grossmont College. I searched for it in my car and my house, but I only found about 500 pages of the other 4 English Composition classes I teach. I am pissed that I left it in the office because to go get them is a REAL pain in the ass. If it were not for the integrity I have, I would tell the students that they will not have an opportunity to revise this essay that is to be submitted in a portfolio to the English department as a requisite to enter into transfer level college English. I also will have to tell them that as opposed to my declared plan for their preparation for the portfolio that I am contradicting myself and shortening their instruction (that they cannot trust me at my word).
I am sure many times this occurs and a teacher has no choice but to shorten the quality of their instruction. I am sure many of them have pangs of conscience when they relinquish under the fact that they are not prepared. I am fraught with stress and anxiety because I want to be good at what I profess. For me, teaching brings out my perfectionism, an ethical obligation to teach well. My word of the day is deeply felt in this moment!
I am sure you are thinking that I am being dramatic, that I should simply walk over to the workroom before class and retrieve the papers. I would say the same of any professor on campus, but here is the issue. Technically, while I do the very same thing a professor does for considerably less pay, I am not a full-timer not for lack of credentials or of trying. I am an adjunct, a position that does not garner an office and which is underpaid and restrictive in that each college limits the number of hours to part-time. So, to make a living professing English, composition, and the social merits of the humanistic endeavors of higher education, I teach at 3 institutions. So the word of my day is F***.
F***! I left my English 49 Essays from San Diego Mesa College in the work room at Grossmont College 20 minutes or 15 miles away by freeway.
Rather than shorting my students, I have decided to sacrifice my sanity. It is no question that I will be on the freeway for 40 minutes, plus 20 minutes of running from office to car and car to office. One hour of my day and 5 dollars of gas, to fetch papers. However, it in not merely the fetching that is causing such problems. I had planned to be grading during that hour, and I had arrived 2 hours early to grade those very essays before my 11:00AM English 205 Critical Thinking Class and to continue grading after my 205 class at 12:35 and before my 4:00pm 101 class, so I can deliver them to the 6:35pm English 49 class. In the bag was another class’s essays that I need to read by tomorrow.
All in all when I arrived to school today and realized that I was having an “adjunct moment,” I thought about the consequences of not having one office and one campus to work at. If I was full-time, none of this would have happened, and my classes would not suffer. But, having multiple campus workrooms creates opportunities for one to get mixed with the other. I have never lost any papers, but I have heard of other instructors losing some. I immediate can sympathize with them because of the way my car trunk looks with student papers. For the majority faculty, at least in English, our car trunks are the closest filing cabinet for our work.
F***! This little “adjunct moment,” really pisses me off because most who read this will not understand that the problem is endemic and that it hurts instructors and students regularly. Underpaid, restricted, disunited faculty working out of the trunks of their cars to turn Americans into citizens capable of participating effectively in the economy and politics is a laughable indignity, as Aristotle would classify this comedy that we call “Higher Education.”

 

Any ;adjuncts out there who have any experiences you want me to share and who want to remain anonymous, I’m very happy to oblige. It’s high time we get real.

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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.

Breakfast.

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.

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

Just Call Me…Exploited

Over the past few years of attending numerous union, academic department, and adjunct advocacy group meetings I have listened to debate and put forth ideas as to what, we, the members of the Adjunctiverse or Adjunct Nation should be called.

I have in fact seen some strong debates over the issue of what we should be called, at the same time overshadowing the fact that during the past few years, some schools have cut adjunct teaching sections by over 40 percent.  I presently teach at one school where not only have I not received a raise in the last seven years, but was asked to take a five percent pay cut on the last contract, only to watch the class sections the cuts were supposedly going to preserve cut like the prices on Halloween candy in November.

I come from the time when adjunct instructors were called part-timers—No. Wait. We still are called part-timers, aren’t we? Hmmm…

I don’t know when the term “adjunct” first started getting used, nor do I really care.  When people stopped calling me a part-timer, I actually felt like adjunct kind of prettied things up a bit too much.  After all, I only receive part of the wage of a contract/full-timer, I only get to participate in part of the activities of a full-time instructor, and although I am lucky to have full health insurance for myself and my family, most “adjunct” instructors only have part of the health benefits of a full-timer, along with only part of the respect, part of the same union representation, hence part of the bargaining power.

Now I’ve heard that people feel the term “adjunct” is demeaning, in that it simply means “A thing added to something else in a sort a supplementary way,” kind of like the guy who puts the French tickler on his…well, I guess it could be said that we adjuncts are that tickler in the world of higher ed. (except that we’re the ones being screwed).  The new term for us that’s in vogue now is “contingent” meaning, among other things “chance”, “accidental”, “haphazard”.

My God! That’s so much fu**ing  better! I’m on the road to feeling better! I ain’t gonna cry no more no more, I ain’t gonna cry no more…

Let’s be a little real here, shall we?  Being called an adjunct, or part-timer, or contingent is bad because first and foremost, we are being treated like we are “adjuncts,” “part-timers”, or “contingent” faculty.  Sanitation Engineers and Administrative Assistants are still trash collectors and secretaries the last time I checked.

Just call me “exploited”,  then let’s get on with addressing the real source of our injury.

However, since we’re talking terms and definitions, my fellow “good”adjuncts, I now bequeath to you and the world the “The ‘Good’ Adjunct List of Professional Terms: Part I”

Part-Time Instructor:  Refers to a person who worked very hard in school and got good grades so he or she could go to school and work harder and get more good grades for many more years.  May have accrued more than 100,000 dollars in debt, but is certain upon graduation that he or she will be rewarded with a good job.  Is later surprised to learn that isn’t the case but then takes a job teaching one or two classes for much less than half of what a full-time employee makes, except with little or no benefits, job security, or perks beyond a key to the staff restroom (if he or she asks for it nicely).  To supplement his/her meager income he/she will find other institutions to teach multiple classes, often more than what a regular full-timer teaches, at just a fraction of the salary.  He or she does this initially thinking it will get him or her a full-time job, which it rarely does. He or she will then, with no small amount of irony, exhort his or her students to work hard as it will bring them success.

Adjunct Instructor: See Above

Contingent Instructor: See Above

Uncontracted Facilitator: See Above

Unsecured Educator: See Above

Educated Grade Slave: See Above

Geoff Johnson–A “Good” Adjunct

Adminstrators’ Low Regard of Adjuncts and Their Students

I don’t know whether to call this an “adjunct moment”, or rather a simply an incidence of educational neglect and mixed up priorities, but at any rate, it’s not one of those “happy” moments.

As an English adjunct at one of the institutions I teach at, I am afforded the benefit of an office I share with at least 20+ other adjuncts in fields ranging from English and Art History to Psychology and Sociology.  It’s not a bad office as adjunct offices go. Most adjuncts don’t have any space at other campuses.   The office has a number of partitioned spaces, a small conference room, and two computers for adjunct use.

It also has a printer, and well…this is the issue.

The college has a longstanding fear teachers wasting resources, which, more plainly put, means “they make too many photocopies for their classes.”  No teacher on campus, whether contract (full-timer or adjunct) has access to a copy machine unless they’re willing to put 20 cents per copy into a library copying machine.  This means submitting copies to the campus reprographic center which demands 24 hours advance notice on any order.

I teach English, and, as any English teacher will tell you, often there are either those moments of inspiration when you see something in a magazine, newspaper, or an article on the internet that you want to use at the last minute, or because, as an adjunct teaching at multiple institutions, you may have simply forgotten to place a last-minute order.

As repro isn’t about to do last-minute orders, this means either going to Kinko’s Fed Ex and sometimes dropping over 20 dollars on copies for a class, or trying to print it out on the adjunct office computer.  Needless to say, most adjuncts head for option #2.   This means the printer, and hence its toner, gets used a lot, and will in fact eventually run out.

Because the school is ever diligent to save money on instruction, (but not necessarily on flashy activities like conferences, which I’ll get to later) anything needed by an instructor, down to a paperclip, must be requisitioned at the school supply room, down to even pencils, staples, and paperclips.  Toners, especially ones for 10+ year old Hewlett Packard hand-me-down printer from the Business office that our office uses, have a special category all to themselves.  Not only do you need to submit a form to get one, but because it’s a “big” ticket item (costing over 30 dollars), both the Dean and Department Chair need to be notified.  Then, because it’s a “special item”, they don’t keep one in stock, and then special order it from a supplier who will usually take a week to deliver it, despite this college is located in the middle of San Diego, California.

The whole process usually takes about two weeks if you’re diligent and apparently have nothing better to do that walk halfway across campus to submit the request then later pick up and install the toner yourself, and email both the Dean and Department Chair.

Unfortunately, the only warning sign one is given when the toner is running out is when the printer stops working, usually when a teacher is time pressed and in the middle of doing a print job.  This is to say nothing of the next two weeks where you either tell all your students to get the material off blackboard, or do the equivalent of that Old Testament practice of making bricks without straw.

Remember that 30 dollars I mentioned before?   At my college this is also your limit for copy orders submitted to repro.  About a month ago, I made an order for 80 copies of 16-page document I did not have an electronic copy of for two of my classes containing approximately 40 students each.  Several days after submitting the order, my assistant chair asked me, slightly annoyed, “why are you making such a large order of copies”?

This week, the school’s newspaper reported that the Associated Student Government spent over 16,000 dollars for a relatively small group of students to stay overnight a high-end seaside resort not 20 miles away from campus, and enjoy relatively lavish meals as part of a leadership conference.

I guess they must be grooming them to be administrators.

My takeaway from all this is that the administrators at my institution care very much about putting out a strong public face using their elite students, but really don’t care that much about meeting the needs of the average students, or at least students taught by adjunct instructors.

And you know what? I’m still waiting for the toner cartridge.

Geoff Johnson, a “good” adjunct.

Powerlessness in the Face of Heartlessness

It is now the end of Week 10 of the 16-week semester and I am reflecting on last year’s crisis and wondering if it will happen again this year. My Union representative has assured me that the problem has been taken care of, but I am afraid that a similar disaster will occur. Perhaps, I don’t understand how the union could solve the problem so easily since adjuncts are not really part of the bargaining agreement process.

Although the union has assured me, that the same financial fiasco that most adjunct faculty fell victim to last spring will not occur this spring, I am still a bit unnerved and filled with trepidation.  Last Spring the majority faculty on my campus were hit with a financial crisis. Many faculty members, a majority in my district, were ill informed and unprepared for the impact of a change in the number of pay warrants.

A week before the Spring 2013 semester at the three campuses of the San Diego Community College District, a few adjuncts receive a clear message that their expectations of a pay warrant on the 10th of February was false and that the 1st pay warrant for Spring Semester would be March 10th.

I received the message and was shocked that I would not have the much-needed funds to feed my family and pay rent. I was shocked too because I wrongly assumed that because for the past 2 years we were receiving 10 pay warrants a year that we would receive 10 warrants this year.  In my shock and utter indignation at the easy manipulation of my subsistence by the district, I emailed my union president and asked why adjunct faculty were to receive only 4 pay warrants this Spring. The AFT president in a short, curt reply said that it was a contract thing from 10 years ago (thus, nothing can be done). I had signed the contract for hire in 2004. Admittedly, I am at fault for the financial crisis because I did not read carefully enough Appendix –IX 2 that states that the number of pay warrants was dependent on when the semester begins. It says that if a semester starts after the 25th, then 4 warrants will be given with the 1st to come on the 10th of the month after the 1st month of class.

So, the consequence of this contract rule is that adjunct faculty work from Jan 28th to March 10th without a pay warrant.  Six weeks of labor without a sign of pay is abusive in most other fields and illegal in the state of California, but the practice is perfectly acceptable when it comes to a work force like Adjunct Professors.  What is really painful is that Adjuncts do not receive pay for the interim between semesters, so many adjuncts are really going from January 10th to March 10th without a paycheck even though they are working. What professional goes 2 months without pay? Some of you might scream, “Get into a new line of work!”  I too scream this in my thoughts. It is no wonder that the profession of teaching is a profession that our society generally tells us to avoid.  I love teaching, but I do not love the economic abuse the profession faces.

I am reminded of the emails that spread through the district that were generally ignored by administration. One instructor had sent out bills before she realized that there was no money in her bank. Other adjunct professors slid further into debt to pay their rent and to buy groceries over the 48+ days of no pay.

Pain was dispersed generally and widely across the majority faculty at the three campuses and the union gave no sign that it was going to take up the issue or help get some emergency relief. We are usually reminded that the Union can get us food stamps or emergency funding for rent. But, a loan from the union is debt too.

I can understand some thoughtful onlookers of this situation saying to themselves that,  “since it was in the contract, adjuncts have no one to blame but themselves for the financial pain. Adjunct professors should have known that their contract allowed for their pay warrants to move from 8 or 9 or 10 warrants a year depending on when the semester starts.”  I can understand that the onus is on adjunct professors, but what I can’t understand is how the district can morally, ethically, or legally withhold pay from work done for 48 days. Or how the union could have agreed to this type of pay manipulation by the administration for its majority members.

Here-in lies the problem. Adjunct professors have very little power in the bargaining agreements. The fact that Adjuncts have not had a say in whether they would like to receive 10 pay warrants rather than 8 warrants points to the fact that their interests have not been fully represented by the union.  This is wrong.  While the AFT 1931 can be credited with providing one of the best packages available for Adjunct faculty (i.e. health insurance & priority assignment), there still remains a great amount of misrepresentation.  What Adjunct faculty want is parity, they want to work, work hard, and to not be exploited, yet exploitation is apparent and the union is making little headway in changing the ethics of San Diego Community College District’s business model. The business model of SDCCD allows for an unethical exploitation of the majority of its employees through unrepresented negotiation.

In the meantime, many adjuncts have lost savings or incurred debt as a result of the delayed pay warrants.  Others simply ignore the issue and turn their heads with a refrain suggesting that it is the status quo for adjunct faculty.  In conversations with adjunct faculty about the pay warrant manipulations, it was suggested that the administration pay some kind of compensation. A retainer fee ought to be part of the time period where adjuncts are not being paid for class hours. In the months of December, January, June, July, and August there ought to be a price that the colleges pay to keep Adjunct faculty afloat in the periods between semesters so that the faculty can put their energies to their profession and not to the dire economic situation that the business model of education has placed the majority of faculty into. A retention fee is a minimum of decency to offer the faculty that keep the institution moving in its success. Without quality faculty, the institution fades into obscurity as a valuable resource for the well being of the community. I refuse to let this happen.

Who cares?

This is the question of the hour. I truly want to who cares about the fact that our education system is seriously in shambles. Who cares that we are producing citizens without the skills necessary to participate effectively both in a modern democracy and in the job markets of the future? Who cares that high school teachers face more demands from the administration than from parents themselves or that our education system is moving towards govermental authoritarianism? Who cares that higher education has a number of crises forecasting the demise of the humanistic agenda that has been the task of higher learning since the time of Socrates? Who cares that our health and prosperity is sliding toward chronic disease and poverty? In the face of  heartlessness, we seem to be powerless.

The Myth of the Good Adjunct

The Myth of the Good Adjunct

To All Adjuncts, Full-Timers, and Administrators:

            Having taught as an adjunct for approximately 11 years now, I’ve undergone, as I feel all adjuncts eventually do, an evolution in how I see myself and other adjuncts, and while I have always felt that I held my colleagues in high esteem, and certainly still do, early on in my career, I was sadly a believer in the myth of the “good adjunct.”

What, you may ask, is the myth of the “good adjunct”?  Well, it’s essentially the belief that simply by the demonstration of great teaching skills and or performing extra service for a given department, school, or institution, that an adjunct will be inevitably awarded the coveted full-time or contract position.  In truth, the path to becoming a full-timer is often Byzantine, narrow, and as one full-timer who happened to become the local union president once told me, “akin to winning a lottery.”

The problem with this myth is that it creates tension and disunity among adjunct communities, grows serious self-doubt and depression in adjuncts, and creates both chronic social and institutional barriers between adjuncts and contracts.

To see this, let’s take the example of Jenny.  Jenny was, through most of her educational career, an outstanding student.  When growing up, Jenny would often not only meet, but exceed the academic expectations put upon her.  Jenny may or may not have gone to a top flight academic institution, but she went to one with likely a very solid academic reputation, and there she did very well, and then went on to graduate school.  She may have done well enough to have even gotten a Ph.D., or perhaps because of marriage, children, other professional interests, or simply, because she ran out of money, had to “settle” for a Master’s degree.  When in grad school, she may have been one of the top students who was “lucky” enough to get a graduate teaching position, which privileged her to teach classes for less than a living wage, which also meant she couldn’t quit her bartending gig, but hey, it was an opportunity…

Anyway, Jenny, with degree in hand, sets out to a get a job teaching in a subject near and dear to her heart.  This may be at a four-year institution, but more than likely, it is at a local community college.  She may have tried to initially apply for a full-time position, and upon not getting the position, decided to apply for one of the many adjunct positions available in comparison to the full-timer openings, which themselves seem like distant, yet attainable shiny diamonds to her.

Now a new adjunct, at maybe not just one, but maybe even three institutions, Jenny plunges into her work with great vivacity and self-assurance.  While maybe not religious, she’s a firm believer in at least one notion of the protestant work ethic that if you simply work hard enough, show great initiative, and are just plain plucky, that coveted full-time position will be yours.  She faithfully attends department meetings, and has a great rapport with the full-timers in her department. Her students, for the most part, like her.  She might go on to join the school academic senate, take on committee or task force work, or do extra time in an academic center helping students, for all of which she is uncompensated, but told she is “appreciated” or “valued.”  She’ll even try to spend hundreds of dollars to go to some out-of-town professional conference with the idea that the knowledge gained therein will make her more “marketable”.

All this work is a real challenge for Jenny, because she may be doing this at multiple institutions and have to either juggle or forgo dealing with family, friends, or even addressing her own personal health.  This may lead to very serious issues for Jenny down the road, like divorce, alienation from her children, depression, diabetes, or heart trouble. Still, Jenny knows that a full-time position for her department at at least one of her schools will be coming up, so she perseveres.

Now and again, Jenny will talk to other older adjuncts, who to her seem either burned out or bitter.  They’re always griping about those “no good students” or bemoaning things from crazy scheduling, to poor classroom facilities, to odd administrative requests.  She may even find herself thinking that the reason they’re still adjuncts is because they’re simply not as competent, or just have “a bad attitude.”  Every now and then, some adjunct will talk about how other adjuncts need to organize, and she’ll maybe agree in principle, but think they’re too radical, undiplomatic, disorganized, and marginalized to get anything done. And anyway, there’s a full-time position opening up at one of her schools.   Certainly, she’s been working hard and will have a shot at getting the position as opposed to those “whiners”.

Jenny applies, and in fact, she’s one of the lucky few to get an interview.  She knows that there were probably more than 100 people who applied for the same job—now it’s down to some 15-20 candidates.  She goes to the interview, head high and proud, eager to show her talents, and she does.  She feels confident after the interview, and so she waits for that call, for perhaps another interview, or the prized job offer.  It never comes.  Another person has been chosen for the job, and in some cases, it may be someone who has never worked at the school before.

Disappointed but not defeated, Jenny repeats this process several times, to no avail.  Increasingly depressed, she complains to one of the old-timers and discovers that they have gone through even more interviews.  Some may have even made it to the final three candidates twice, and yet they’re still sitting in the cubicle next to Jenny in the adjunct office, if in fact, the department or school even has one.  At some of the institutions in which even such recognition is given, she will find that some of her “bitter and burned out” adjuncts have won awards like “adjunct of the year”, and are still serving in academic senate or curricular committees and going to conferences.

Jenny then begins to think about things which she knew about all along, but over time have gotten to her.  She will sometimes have a larger cumulative teaching load at her various schools and make half as much as her full-time colleagues with the same level of teaching experience.  If she’s lucky, she might have insurance, but is often more likely to have only a percentage of her health care plan paid for if she has insurance at all for herself, let alone any children if she has any.  During the summer months, when there is limited work, depending on the state she lives in, there is no pay.  She also sees that she’s been working for years at a job in which she is employed semester by semester, and at some institutions be fired without cause.

However, if she is fired, it’s more likely to be because of budget cuts or low enrollment, because full-time positions are protected first, no matter what.

When she confides in her full-time colleagues about her feelings, they sympathize, because after all, they were “once adjuncts too”.  She’ll also begin to think of things a bit differently.  When she hears how Rob, one of her full-time colleagues, went on a trip to France over the Summer, or how another full-timer, Jane, and her husband just bought a new home in a good section of town, she’ll be happy for them, but at the same time, a bit sad.  She recalls the conversation with other adjuncts of how it’s easy to get good professional-looking clothing at the Amvets Thrift Store, or how one adjunct colleague with three children just got evicted and is living with them in her station wagon.

Disheartened, and perhaps needing to catch up with the rest of her life, she stops going so often to the department meetings, or when she goes, says a little too much about one thing or another, which makes the full-timers in the room quietly resentful of her.  Sensing this, she stops going to meetings altogether, and both she and the full-timers are quietly pleased.  She also scales back her involvement in other work-related activities, doing only those things that she feels are of intrinsic value to her psyche.

In spite of all this, she still loves to teach, but a bit less so over time, and increasingly entertains the possibility of doing something else.  As one full-timer put it to me once,  if she quits she will have “gotten the message.”

However, the problem is that Jenny by now is maybe over 40 years of age, has been an academic for 20+ years, so her options have narrowed considerably. The other problem is that Jenny’s work is still in demand.  Her classes are almost always full and the various schools still want to offer her as much as they can—they just don’t to offer her benefits, job security, or official recognition of a career.

The fact of the matter is Jenny is a “good adjunct”, but it’s highly likely she’ll never become a “good full-timer”.

To all adjuncts, if you have managed to survive at least few rounds of student and teacher evaluations, hold your head high always, you are a “good adjunct”.  At the same time, while taking positive stock of your own self-worth, recognize that the people you work with are “good adjuncts” too.  Moreover, whether you achieve the goal of the full-time position, you are not only a “good adjunct”, but a good teacher, and in this regard, no different from your full-time colleague, who is in fact, a good teacher too.

And to full-timers, as we recognize that you are good teachers, do the same to us in kind, not simply with kind words and paper recognitions, but with concrete steps to either reduce the adjunct nation, or tangibly improve the working conditions of adjuncts, from salary and benefits, to job security, professional development, and departmental inclusion.

Sincerely,

Geoff Johnson

A “Good Adjunct”

 

When Students Have No Advisors

When Student Have No Advisors (2013)

 

I have been teaching for nearly 10 years at San Diego Mesa College in the English Department. I enjoy teaching, and I am thoroughly committed to students and to the mission of improving both their personal English skills and their ability to function in the world with others.  I have often taken initiative to create community outreach programs. One program I created and ran for 4 years was a service learning writing project focused on community outreach to help align the curriculums between local high schools and community colleges.

Last semester, my students were reading and investigating food issues in the United States. There is overwhelming evidence that our food supply is contributing to the obesity epidemic, rising rates of allergies, and rising rates of diabetes, and that giant corporations are governing the public federal agencies of the USDA and the FDA as well as contributing heavily to lobbying for their advantage over the health of our children. My students researched and debated in class and in their writings about what roles kids, parents, corporations, and the government play in the obesity epidemic. After numerous discussions, the students decided that it would be a good idea to start a club that is focused on food issues to raise awareness and to empower the community through education. They went out and gathered signatures of fellow students who were interested in starting a food sustainability club. It was obvious that it was very popular and the students and myself understood that it would benefit the school, the students, and the larger community of San Diego.

It was impressive to see how motivated and inspired they became. I heard them talk about creating educational workshops that they could create on campus and to take to local grade schools. They spoke of “planting days” on campus and sharing knowledge about how to grow healthy organic produce.  They even thought of finding healthy alternatives to the cafeteria foods that are certifiably unhealthy. After the signatures and the brainstorming, it came time for the students to file the official papers to start the club. As their professor, I was honored that the ideas came from my class and that the students thought that I should be their advisor. I signed the papers and the student leaders of the club in waiting went to file them, and this is where the adjunct moment struck.

One of the highly motivated students leading the charge to start this club returned to my class looking a bit distraught.  I could see confusion and sadness in his expression as he approached me and told me that I could not be his advisor. He seemed to look at me like I was not qualified or that I had misled him. I was sort of taken aback. He proceeded to inform me that the administration does not allow adjunct faculty to be advisors to student clubs.  I thought it strange, and quickly, I was engulfed in the same confusion. I couldn’t understand why an instructor that has been teaching religiously at the institution for nearly 10 years could not serve as an advisor to a student club, a club that would bring value to the campus. Why on earth would the administration not want faculty to be more engaged and invested in the well being of the students, the campus, and the community?

I decided to investigate why adjuncts are barred from advising student clubs by approaching my dean. The dean was curious and had no answer for me, so he told me that he would investigate and get back to me.  Through my Dean I learned that the administration does not want adjunct faculty to be advisors because they do not want to have to compensate them for the time they serve the students. Adjunct instructors cannot have more than a 67% load, and adding time as an advisor is not permitted. I also learned through my dean that the school has had cases where an adjunct gained over 67% and it led to the full time hiring of that adjunct on technical contract grounds. The administration learned their lesson and closed the loophole that allowed adjunct faculty to gain full-time employment.  Thus, the administration, rather than helping students to flourish in leadership roles, finds it more prudent to keep adjunct faculty in their dead-end positions.  I learned that it doesn’t pay to be a good adjunct when trying to do the right thing for the students.

I offered to be an advisor as a volunteer, but the school is highly skeptical of such altruism and does not want to take a chance.  Learning that the school only wants me to be an expendable low paid instructor, I proceeded to do justice for the students and petition full-time faculty to be an advisor to the Food Sustainability Club.  None have stepped forth. The fact is that there are not enough full-timers anymore and full-timers are already stretch too thin with committees and classes that a student club that is highly needed and valuable to the students and the community is dying before it sees a day of life.

What happens when students no longer have advisors? The innovative leadership qualities these students demonstrate are callously circumvented by a unjust business model of education. The students suffer because their energies and intelligences are brushed off as unimportant. The school suffers the loss of prestige as the students no longer represent excellence, and the majority faculty remains powerless to improve their student’s, and their own exploited position. What happens when students don’t have advisors?  Firstly,  it creates a system where students remain passive and unengaged and professors give up on trying to herald a progressive education rounded fully in quality.  I hope that we can all see the negative consequences that come from the adjunctification of our institutions and see the dismantling of avenues for top end quality education. Student clubs are important to students and to all of us and to kill them through adjunctification is an abhorrent assault on our students and communities.

Some have said that you can see how the administration thinks of the students by how they treat their professors.

A Good Adjunct!

John. D. Rall

jrall@sdccd.edu