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.

Reversing Adjunctification: Real Adjunct Justice

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

We the professors are complicit in our exploitation.

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

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

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 To this end, for decades, retiring tenured faculty members have been replaced by adjuncts until we have a professoriate which is now 75% adjunct.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

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

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

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

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

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

John R. Hoskins