Me and my Doppelganger

Attached is a PowerPoint presentation that I created for a panel on adjunct issues at the San Diego Social Justice Conference held at San Diego City College in March. I got the idea for the presentation by trying to think of a way to illustrate an important difference between full and part-timers. I really wanted to focus on salary issues, but with the complexities of the salary schedules, it is difficult to figure out how to articulate such a comparison. The real breakthrough came when I decided to personalize things, and instead of trying to figure out how disadvantaged adjunct as a whole are compared to full-timers as a whole, I thought I would just focus on my particular circumstances. As I note in the presentation, I interviewed for a full-time position at Miramar in 2008. I didn’t get the position (I don’t think I would be blogging here if I had), but it set up a very interesting “What if?” scenario that served as the basis for my presentation. Since I have distributed this presentation to various groups, a number of issues have been raised, and I would like to address some of them. First, despite what some of my full-time colleagues seem to think, this presentation is not intended as an attack on full-timers. My goal is not to drag full-timers to the level of part-timers, but instead to raise part-timers to the level of full-timers, and then try to raise everyone higher. However, without a clear understanding of the issues ( which my presentation attempts to achieve) this would not be possible. Second, I don’t feel any resentment towards the person who did get that job. I work with that individual, and I have the highest respect for him as a professor. Furthermore, I think that one could argue that had I been given the job over this person, an injustice would have occurred. At the time I interviewed in 2008, I basically had no teaching experience at the Community College level. By contrast, the person who did get the job had been a long-time adjunct in the philosophy department at Miramar. I think this is what we ideally would like to see: full-time positions going to the adjuncts who have “put in their time” in the department in question, instead of bringing in outsiders simply because they have a fancy degree or something. Here is the presentation: SD SJC Presentation I hope you enjoy it, and if you have any questions or concerns please leave them in the comments or email me directly.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geoff Johnson

An Adjunct Working for Change

Pay Parity–Start Talking About Your Salaries

Hello Good Adjuncts,

Sorry I’ve been gone for over three months from the site.  Like the rest of you, I’ve been a bit busy, but I’ve tried to address the adjunct issue these past few months more directly through union and political involvement. 

This brings me to the thing that I think we, as adjuncts, can do to begin being effecting change immediately.

Start publically and factually talking about our salaries

This past Spring, a retired but returned former full-time colleague of mine began talking salaries, and told me, that in spite of his longstanding sympathy for adjuncts, he hadn’t really gotten the message of how our salaries are, to be polite, “deficient”, until he started getting paid in adjunct wages.

You see, my colleague, who retired from San Diego Mesa College as head of the English Department in 2003, was making $86,000/year in his final year.  He then went on for a number of years being paid “pro rata”, which meant he would teach two classes paid on a graduated scale proportionate to what he had made as a full-timer.  However, “pro rata” status doesn’t continue forever, and so eventually he saw his pay reduced to the standard adjunct rate for a person of his experience and educational attainment.  He saw his wages cut to almost a third of what he was making.

As an adjunct at San Diego Mesa College, I now make $67.10 an hour.  Because I have taught three classes a semester for over ten years, I am at the top of the pay scale for people with a MA and 60 Postgraduate units.  This coming academic year, I will teach six three-unit (3hr/wk) classes which run 16 weeks.  If one multiplies $67.10 X 6 X 3 X 16, this will come to $19,324.80.  If I were to teach a full-time load of ten three-unit classes, my pay for the year would be $32208.00. 

For a person of my experience and educational attainment, were I actually working as a full-time contracted employee, I would make, (being on Step M of Schedule A),  $6,290.00 a month on a ten-month contract for an annual total of  $62,900.00, excluding Health Insurance, which thanks to my union, I also receive.

In other words, I make approximately 51.3 % of what my comparable full-time colleague makes.  In fact, if I had  really started as a full-timer, I would have actually accumulated an additional 144 units putting me at Step X, which means I would receive $8,477.00/month for an annual salary of $84,770.00.  In fact, I really am getting paid 37.9 % of what my comparable full-time colleague makes.

As an adjunct at Southwestern Community College, I am paid better on an hourly basis, but receive no benefits with lesser job security.    At Southwestern I am paid $75.70/hr.   I teach two four-unit classes  per semester for 8 hours a week for two 18.5 week semesters.  My annual salary from Southwestern next year will be $75.70 X 8 X 2 X 18.5, which comes to $22,407.00.  If I worked I to work a full-time load at this rate, I would make 42,013.50 annually.  The actual salary for a full-time contracted employee with comparable experience and educational attainment (Step 12 Class IV) would be $82, 405/yr., not including HW and welfare benefits.  Adjuncts, if they receive any HW benefits from any other place of work, receive no benefits, and in fact, will only receive percentage pay on any health plan (i.e. 20% pay for a 20% load).  Excluding benefits and just going by salary, Southwestern College pays me 51.2% of the salary a comparable full-time colleague makes.

Now granted, I do not have outside committee work like my full-time colleagues, but I have sat on academic committees, participated on an academic senate as an adjunct rep for five years, and participate in department meetings (unlike some of my full-time colleagues).  I easily exceed 40 hours of work a semester on professional development, none of which I am compensated for.  I have consistently positive evaluations at both institutions.

I ask therefore, how is my work worth 37.9%, 51.2%, or even 51.3% of a full-time contract employee’s, especially when I face the loss of work from even one bad evaluation cycle, or a downturn in funding?

If the above facts don’t point out the glaring inequities of the system, I don’t know what does or will.

So I say, good adjuncts, speak of your salaries, what you do make, what your colleagues both full-time and adjunct make, and of the sharp disparities.  Do it in emails, to your colleagues, to governing boards, to the editorial sections of newspapers and blogs.

Maybe then the larger academic community, and perhaps more importantly, the public will finally “get it.”

Geoff Johnson

A Good Adjunct in Search of Pay Parity