Here is a great analysis and overview of the privatization of higher education by Claire Golsdstene. It reaffirms my sense that lobbying for more full-time positions will never address the historical shift to majority contingent faculty. We, our unions and advocacy in general, need a new vision, one that seeks to transform faculty conditions on a sweeping scale. We need to enfranchise adjunct faculty with economic parity, which is the first step to giving adjuncts the security they need fight the political fight.
The Day After
First, coffee. Then, file for unemployment, the absurd moment, dreaded…a vision of the dead end. How many times have I applied? 40? 50? Who’s counting? It’s just part of the “job.” Once the tentative agreement expires, and I have no reasonable assurance of being rehired, I am unemployed. The shame. It is absurd…I must embrace the absurdity, stifle the nausea and…collect the pittance I am due, which I have earned already. Seemingly, in some meager attempt to compensate for the inequity of my pay (to make it ok?), a California court awarded me and my adjuncts across the state in 1988 the right to file for and receive unemployment wages, once the semester ends and the tentative agreement expires.
Then what? Oh, to work. Final compositions of introductory and advanced students, lengthy, researched tomes, about 5 dozen to evaluate. And calculate and assign a grade for each student. One sent me a paper on Google docs. Some requested that I make comments on their papers. Shall I take odds on how many will return next fall for their comments? How closely should I mark them? What wisdom might I impart to my erstwhile students, at this moment, after the tentative agreement has expired?
Ah, the absurdity. I must embrace it, and take the pittance, for the lean times ahead.
And now, to work.
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
The elephant is in the room. Shall we ignore it? Or, shall we note it and then decide what to do about it? how to talk about it? how to remove it?
Academic apartheid: hard words to describe a hard truth. These words accurately describe the situation which is widely ignored,, by most faculty, adjunct and tenured, even as the adjunct crisis of higher education begins to get national media attention. Fuller’s right, too, about what needs to happen to counter our dismal circumstances. We need to work at local levels to “end the exploitation” of adjuncts “relegated to the back of the bus.” But we don’t just need equity for adjuncts: we need reversal of adjunctification.
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.
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.
“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
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.
A “Good Adjunct”
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