San Diego Campus Equity Week 2014: The Message

Campus Equity Week in San Diego 2014: The Message

The following notes were conceived with the intent of addressing a broad community college audience of students, adjunct and tenure-track faculty, and classified staff during the San Diego Campus Equity Week. This attempt to raise awareness of how adjunct issues are everyone’s issues was accompanied by a slideshow presentation. 

CEW is a national event started by the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor (COCAL) and participated in by AFT and other organizations. Its purpose is to publicize the exploitation of adjunct faculty, the effects of this exploitation on students, and the corporatization of higher education in general. Legend has it that CEW was inspired by A2K, a CCC-wide labor event organized in Spring 2000 meant to bring attention to statewide legislative issues as well as issues at local sites. CEW is now promoted as a national event bi-annually, but we think that pay equity, student equity, and the many related issues are too important to wait until next year. We have an immediate agenda. We need action now. CEW 2014 in San Diego echoes the spirit of grassroots activism that sparked the first one, way back in 2000/2001. CEW is a protest of the exploitation of adjunct faculty and staff, of rising tuition and student debt, and resistance against the corporatization of higher education.

The Process of the Corporatization of Higher Education

The trends in higher education over the last several decades have been troubling. Chief among them is the decline of tenured faculty. But the pressures to privatize services, the perpetual de-funding, the shift in federal policy towards vocational training at the expense of traditional liberal arts, like philosophy, literature, and social sciences, are also indicative of the adoption of a market ideology by higher education policymakers. The slow and steady, but unremitting application of a corporate business model to higher education, or the corporatization of higher education, began in the 1970s. Over the last four decades, central to the ultimate end of transforming higher education into a for-profit entity has been the adjunctification of the higher education workforce. Correlative with this phenomenon, students have experienced rising tuition, a less stable faculty to serve them, grinding debt, and a contraction of educational opportunity, such as increased pressure to choose a major and penalties for changing majors. Reducing higher education to the function of job training, which seems to be the mission of efforts to corporatize it, penalizes students who want to explore their educational interests, or who just, out of intellectual curiosity, seek knowledge and desire a broad educational experience. This is the brave new world rising we now face: less freedom for students to choose a course of study, less freedom for faculty to teach. And adjunctification is happening not only to faculty and students, but to the classified staff who support the work of faculty. For instance, here at Mesa, the very important service of reprographics has been adjunctified in recent years, seeing its number of full-time employees fall from 30 to 8, replaced by hourly, “adjunct” labor. With student as consumer and faculty as producer, higher education becomes a commodity, sold at the highest price (tuition) the market (students) will bear, produced at the lowest labor cost (exploitation of adjuncts). Today, I want to focus on the adjunctification of faculty.

Adjunctification

Over a period of four decades, from 1970 to 2014, the steady decline of tenured faculty and the corresponding rise in reliance on adjuncts has hardly been noticed. This is not to say that, at different times, small numbers of people did not become aware and try to resist. They have. Unfortuantely, these resisters could never get enough of their fellows to pay attention and take the kind of concerted, radical action that is needed to reverse this trend. Time passed. Budgets were cut. With fewer and fewer full-time professors, those that were left always had more work to do.

Adjunctification is not an accident. The increasing reliance on part-time faculty is the result of an ideological takeover of higher education that is not yet finished but which is well underway. By the end of the 1970s, free market ideology began to infiltrate higher education. Accompanied by perpetually decreasing state spending on education (by 13% in CA), which served as a handy justification, the practice of hiring part-time adjuncts to replace retiring tenure-track faculty began. Market ideology, and the corporate takeover that it serves, is not limited to education; rather, what has happened to education is symptomatic of a society-wide corporatization that has been underway for generations now, examples of which include the infamous “outsourcing” and “downsizing” of recent decades. The growing reliance on temporary workers is society-wide. The corporate model of free market ideology demands efficiency, which includes realizing the lowest labor cost. But the decline in tenure-track faculty is not an accident of unfortunate but necessary budget cuts. As Noam Chomsky puts it, the first step of corporatization is to create a “precarious” workforce. 75% of the higher education workforce, adjunct professors, is precarious. Numbers of adjuncts have skyrocketed. Numbers of full-time faculty have not. Numbers of administrators have grown 85%; administrative assistants 240% (Benjamin Ginsberg)

What is An Adjunct?

The dictionary definces adjunct as “non-essential,” which implies that those so designated are not necessary, and if they didn’t show up for work, no one would notice. Would students notice if their professor did not show up? Although “contingent” is more accurate, since adjuncts are employed from semester to semester, and their employment is conditional on student enrollment, it still does not accurately describe the role of adjunct professors. Part-time, too, is problematic; most adjuncts work part-time at more than one place, sometimes teaching more than a full-time load. These adjuncts are, perhaps, better named “full-time-part-timers” as they work at multiple locations. The accuracy of this term is ironic, since it is purportedly a term invented by human resources personnel to describe the legions of freeway flyers racing from campus to campus to cobble together a full-time equivalent load of classes and earn about half as much as their full-time colleagues for doing pretty much the same work in order to make enough money to survive and support their families. They arrive “just in time” for class, “just in time” for the last minute assignment. No doubt, they are often paid “just in time” as well. Satire is important to the oppressed intellectual. Most adjuncts, according to a recent AFT survey, want a full-time position. Who doesn’t want a secure job, with one employer, and the financial security to plan a life?

Adjuncts are misnamed. Although some adjuncts are satisfied with being adjunct, most are not. Most are career academics who have devoted their lives to the public good of education. Without them, higher education would disintegrate. Most adjuncts always intended to be academics, to teach, or research, as experts in their field of expertise. Chances are, these are people whose passion is teaching. They are professionals dedicated to sharing knowledge with students, to contributing to the public good, to making the world a better place. These dedicated professionals devote most of their life to gaining, maintaining, and teaching their subject matter. This is what they do; it is who they are.

What Adjuncts Do

Adjuncts teach most college students. 75% of higher education faculty are adjuncts. If you define the core work of faculty as teaching, we do the same work as the 25% of tenure track, full-time faculty: prepare syllabi, plan lessons, evaluate student work, counsel students, develop curriculum, answer emails. Even though adjuncts aren’t required to do committee work, attend department meetings, or participate in shared governance, we often do. Besides these tasks, though, the work of developing, preparing and delivering lessons, and of evaluating and responding to student work, and of counseling students, interacting with students in multifarious ways, the work of teaching, is exactly the same. Except of course, in order to make a fraction of what their full-time colleagues make for the same work, they must work at 2 or 3 sites, navigate multiple campus cultures, and interact with multiple student populations. Increasingly, this is the life of an adjunct, the highest career status that can be aspired to by those who end up on the “adjunct track.”

Adjunctification Hurts Adjuncts

Being adjunct is not easy. Obviously, the process of adjunctifictaion that has been happening in higher education now for decades hurts adjuncts. Most adjuncts begin their careers expecting to be adjunct for a few years, to “pay dues,” and then be rewarded with a full-time tenure-track position. Once upon a time, perhaps, there was some truth to this; candidates were funneled into the system from graduate programs, and most could count on heading for the tenure-track. But that was way back in the mid 20th century. Today, as the process of adjunctification continues and we head towards that future when, if trends continue, the percent of tenure-track faculty will be less than 10%, with every passing year, the prospect of garnering that full-time position fades. Not only do aging adjuncts face dim prospects (recent court cases suggest ageism in higher education is a factor), but newly minted adjuncts also face diminished opportunities. It is difficult to talk about being adjunct. It is easier to ignore it. Adjuncts, strangely, often seem invisible, not that they can’t be seen, but that they are not seen. Sometimes, full-time faculty don’t want to look, sometimes they just don’t have time. Students have no idea. To them, professors are professors.

The contradiction between the occupational prestige that goes with being a college professor and the impoverished economic status of being an adjunct, a temp worker, is depressing. It is sometimes an uncomfortable social situation when I am asked what I do. I reply: I’m a college professor. And so I am. If that is as far as it goes, all is well. However, if I must explain that I am an adjunct, and have been for fifteen years, it gives the impression that I’m not good enough to be a full-time professor, and then I have to explain why my wages are so low. In stark contrast to the public perception of college professors as solidly middle-class, most of us have a precarious financial status. The Coalitions on the Academic Workforce describes the disparity between adjunct earnings and full-time earnings as “staggering.”

Financial insecurity is a fact of life for most adjuncts. It renders you powerless to resist corporatization.

Adjunctification Hurts Students

Adjunctification hurts students. Students deserve faculty who are not stressed from financial destitution, who do not have to work at multiple locations just to make ends meet, who are part of the institution they are paying more for all the time. They deserve a professor with an office who can devote his professional time to one campus, one student population, one campus culture. Adjuncts cannot be readily available: they do not have offices, are not listed on registers, and often must travel from campus to campus, staying in one location only long enough to hold class. Outside of class, students have difficulty finding their professors. Good luck finding your old adjunct professor so he can write you a letter of recommendation. Numerous studies have catalogued the negative effects on students of reliance on adjunct faculty, including lower retention rates, graduation rates, and transfer rates: http://www.uscrossier.org/pullias/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Delphi-NTTF_Annotated-Research-Summary_WebPDF.pdf

Students are increasingly feeling the effects of the corporatization of higher education, especially at community colleges, where they must develop “educational plans” that limit their opportunities to satisfy intellectual curiosity. If they veer from their “plan,” they lose financial aid. What is the corporate plan? It is to change intellectually curious students into docile, precarious workers who unquestioningly do what they are told. Adjunctification hurts students because adjunct faculty do not have the academic freedom to help students explore their intellectual worlds, or learn to think critically and question the status quo.

Adjunctification Hurts Full-time Faculty

Last, but not least, adjunctification hurts full-time faculty. The workload of full-time faculty is increasing. The burden of committee work and shared governance falls on full-time faculty more and more heavily. Fewer full-time faculty means fewer workers to perform tenure review and the ever-increasing task of adjunct evaluation, fewer to perform accreditation preparation, or program review. And I heard that deans are requiring greater participation on committees. Obviously. Faculty everywhere lack time to engage important issues and are pushed to work well over the hours for which they are paid. Here we have an example of the application of efficiency: get the most labor out of the fewest laborers. Of course, in many cases, adjuncts contribute a lot. Without adjunct contributions in the English department here, I don’t see how the work would get done. Unpaid contributions of labor, performed out of a sense of professional dedication…

Academic freedom also is threatened by adjunctification. The academic freedom of professors to teach what and how their expertise directs them is challenged. Adjuncts have no power to resist. As “at will” employees who don’t need to be fired, just not rehired next semester, they are not in a position to resist corporate reform. The ranks of full-time professors are getting thin; their collective power is decreasing all the time, and being replaced by adjuncts’ powerlessness. Full-time faculty are so busy, they do not have time to engage fully in shared governance. Part of the trend in higher education includes less hared governance, more administrative decisions. According to Larry Gerber of Auburn University and the AAUP: “Shared governance is eroding due to the rise of adjunct faculty employment and an increasingly corporate style of management – both of which threaten the entire U.S. system.”

Equal Pay for Equal Work

Providing adjuncts with equal pay for equal work, as is evidenced by the privatizing ACCJC’s attack of City College of San Francisco, whose AFT local 2121 negotiated 85% parity pay for their adjuncts, pisses off the corporatizers because it empowers the workforce, relieving  them somewhat from the status of precarity. However, equal pay is a stopgap measure, needed to empower resistance, but only the first step to reversing adjunctification, which is what we need if we are to save the future of higher education.

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“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.

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.

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.

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”