Squandering Our Moral Capital

re-blogged from:  https://chroniclevitae.com/news/164-squandering-our-moral-capital?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en

by: William Pannapacker

Professor of English, Faculty Director of the Digital Liberal Arts Initiative of the Great Lakes Colleges Association, and Director of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Scholars Program in the Arts and Humanities at Hope College

November 19, 2013

As a parent of three children who are nearing college age, there is one question that I will ask repeatedly when we tour different campuses:

“What percentage of your courses is taught by tenure-line faculty members?”

I don’t think, for one second, that anyone who is leading a campus tour will have a good answer. Tour guides might not even know what I’m asking about. And if they don’t know that, they surely don’t know what their adjunct faculty members are paid. Or whether they have health benefits…

– See more at: https://chroniclevitae.com/news/164-squandering-our-moral-capital?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en#sthash.Qgdcd5lD.dpuf

 

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

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”