Friday, December 20, 2013

Is It Over Yet?

At long last, the grades are in, the assessment collections are in, and I can declare the semester done.  Finally, I have a functional computer again, thanks to generous family members, and thus I can post.  I wasn't just slacking this week or buried in grading, but instead I was without a computer.  This computer issue is at the nexus of two issues I've been thinking on this week:  money and trolling.  In adjunct land, these two topics are more closely related than I could have imagined.

As most adjuncts already know, the public perception of the professorial class is one of ease and richness.  The reality for much of us could not be more removed from that stereotype.  I was keenly reminded of my lack of funds when I had to pass on the holiday party at one of my schools, for it required a $25 payment.  I can get a couple of meals for my family out of that amount, and it wouldn't be fair for me to spend it only on myself.  I have gone in the past, but I think that it was either cheaper or people had to pay their own tab.  Plus, I wasn't a part timer then.  Then my computer broke.  Yes, I know that my phone can do many of the things I need, but it's also very small and my eyesight is not the best.  Public computers or the ones available to me at my workplaces are not necessarily accessible to me from midnight to 2 a.m. when I have the time to do my thinking.  I could not afford a repair, a used replacement, and certainly not a new one.  The bright spot is that this disaster occurred near a holiday and my family came to the rescue.  Then the student loan people called.  Why can't I make a $400+ a month payment, they'd like to know.  Uhhhhhhhh........ nope.  I can't afford a $25 Christmas party!  I felt sorry for the person who called me.  It's just her job.  It isn't her fault.  I still feel terrible that I'm unable to pay it back, but there is not a lot that can be done until I get a better job.

This is where the trolling comes into play.  It appears that the more adjuncts speak out in public forums, the more the hurtful comments pile on from those known as trolls.  I am not going to link to any of the things because I don't want to add to their fun.  The general gist of their trolling is that adjuncts don't deserve to have full time jobs because we're too new to the game, we aren't really that bright, we haven't worked hard enough, or some other weak excuse that puts all the blame on us.  Just get another job, they say so glibly, as though jobs with a living wage were lying about for the taking!  As goofy as my life has been this term, I make slightly more than a fast food worker or a retail worker at many places.  Others seem to think that we adjuncts have ample idle time to just look for jobs.  Usually, I grade papers or work on lessons until I cannot stay awake any longer.  I keep up.  On a good week I get slightly ahead.  I also take care of my family.  Looking for various other jobs is something that I know I should be doing, but it is not something that can be done as much as I would like.  I am hoping that over break I can explore openings in the academic world as well as in other areas; however, even though faculty are officially on break, we have classes to prep for next term.  For two of those I have an early deadline for syllabus approval.  I'm sure the trolls would just call those excuses.  Why worry about them?  Why not simply avoid the comments?--which should be the first rule of the internet.  Because quite possibly a column that includes me and this blog may be published soon.  I've been told the first installment of the column caused an outbreak in troll activity.

Is it the presumed anonymity of the web that makes people feel like they can say whatever comes to mind to people?  Is it because adjuncts are mainly poor and therefore not worth being treated as human beings?  I do not know, but I feel like I need to prepare for the onslaught.  A more sinister part of me wonders if the most virulent trolls are actually tenure track or administrative people using the net to tar us for daring to challenge a system in which they are also complicit. I don't imagine that John and Jane Q. Public are checking out higher education publications to get their trolling lulz.  I think these trolls are working out of fear.  How  dare we say that these scraps are not enough!  How dare we ask for fairness and bargaining rights!  I think maybe, just maybe, hearing some of the voices behind the staggering 75% majority of faculty shakes the foundations of the so-called ivory tower.  I also think that guardians of the old ways are clutching at straws.  Tenure track lines are not only not being replaced, but also tenure itself is being heavily questioned as a practice.  This week, the Kansas Board of Regents crafted a new policy restricting what faculty can say on social media and another professor possibly will be forced from her job for a lecture on prostitution, which no student complained about and that was relevant to her field and class.  Management knows they can draw from the ever-growing pool of contingent labor, so why bother perpetuating the former, more expensive system?

Eh, maybe I'm just tired and overworked.  Anyway, if the trolls appear here and do leave comments, I will delete the worst of them.  Freedom of Speech doesn't mean someone has the right to harass another person.  It also does not mean freedom from consequences.  This is my space, albeit one that I've opened to the public.  However, it is still mine and I can govern what is said here.  I do not have to display any harmful comment.  To date, I have never taken down any comment, but if the mocking birds come, I won't condone it.

Due to the holidays next week, I will likely take a break from posting.  My luck, the article will come out, the trolls will arrive, and I'll be in the dark about it all because I plan on having a media blackout to rest from everything.  Never fear for Unarmed Education Mercenary will be back in the new year.  May you have a blessed holiday season, if you are celebrating any particular one.  I hope that 2014 is a better year.  2013, don't let the door hit ya in the bum on the way out!
Winter sky and tree

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Just Surviving isn't Living

Somehow I have reached the end of my first semester as a two-school adjunct.  Well, almost.  Tomorrow is my last day of finals for both schools.  I have all the grades done for two classes, meaning that there are three more to finish.  Today was what I hope to call my last commute of the term:  to celebrate I had an extra traffic snafu and a sick child at the end of the day.  Yesterday I fell walking to work at the other school thanks to the terrible winter weather.  It seems that even on the way out, Fall 2013 wanted to kick back.

In some ways this semester was great:  new school, new classes, new students, and great student writing.  In others it was absolutely disastrous.  Six classes was far too many.  Even after the accelerated one ended, five classes was still too many.  I'm being honest.  I'm organized and I'm a fast reader, but this workload was insanity.  Perhaps had not all the classes been writing-based, it would not have been so time-consuming.  Perhaps had I not gotten ill just before a major break, I would not have felt so overwhelmed at the end.  Perhaps this is a terrible way to run an education system!  Just a couple evenings ago, another adjunct pointed out in an on-line conversation that she and I, as well as many other contingent faculty, just worked a single tenure track faculty member's full year schedule in one semester.  We did not, however, receive the equivalent pay for that year's-worth of work.  I had not thought of it just like that before, but I think it's a measurement worth keeping in mind.

According to statistics touted in the last few months, adjunct faculty make up at least 75% of American college instructors.  It seems that administrators are getting quite a bargain!  Even if adjuncts' workloads are split between multiple schools, they are likely doing the work of two full-time permanent professors per academic year overall.  Mainly we work without benefits.  No wonder corporate higher education wants to employ more adjuncts! We're quite the bargain!  Get an adjunct:  this economy model can do the work of two full time professors in one year, or two years of full time work in one, depending on how the buyer would like to phrase it.  We have been utterly commodified down to only one of our academic functions:  the ability to teach multiple classes and multitudes of students.  For no extra cost to the buyer some of us serve on committees and act as advisors.

How did this happen?  Josh Boldt offers an insightful explanation in "Off-Track:  Higher Education's Shifting Baseline Syndrome" published this week on Chronicle Vitae.  Shifting baselines works very much like the frog placed in water that is gradually heated:  conditions worsen so gradually that the frog does not notice and therefore is boiled though it could easily have leapt from the pan.  As tenure track faculty retired or left schools, they were not always replaced with new tenure track lines.  While losing one line in a year or two doesn't seem drastic, losing four maybe five in a couple decades certainly is. Only by observing trends over a substantial time can the true impact be realized.  Boldt notes that in the 1980s only about 32% of faculty were adjuncts.  The latest statistics in 2013 have us at approximately 75%.  The tenure-track to adjunct ratio is entirely flipped in less than my lifetime.  Actually, in about the same time that it took me to go from Kindergarten to PhD--admittedly, I did not go straight through!

Gradually, the exploitation of the American adjunct crept thoroughly and pervasively in our post-secondary system.  Now that we are here, what happens next?  Will the increase in the unionization of adjuncts help alleviate some of the worst conditions and bring equality to the collegiate workforce?  Will the spotlight of attention drawn to adjunct issues by the death of Margaret Mary Vojtko, named one of the ten individuals who influenced higher education in 2013 by The Chronicle of Higher Education, continue to shine and force administrators to change their ways?  I cannot say what 2014 will bring for adjuncts, other than more classes with some pay, if we're lucky, but I hope that the upcoming year is a better one for all workers not just in the U.S. but all across the globe.  Just having enough to get by is no way to live.  Working until a person's health--whether mental, physical or both--is harmed is not sustainable.  Something will change.  Will it be higher education hiring practices or will adjuncts finally take to the streets en masse?  At 75% it is a scary truth that American higher education cannot function without us, and that may be the strongest bargaining chip that we have.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Don't Catch the Adjunctivirus!

In the past few months that I have been doing this two school contingent faculty insanity, I have met some great folks on-line who are in the same or very similar situations as myself.  Amazingly, I found them on all the social media venues that I've belonged to for years before this shift in my employment status, yet I seldom saw or heard much about adjuncts and their plight before.  I have come to a drastic and ridiculous conclusion:  adjuncting is contagious!  Therefore, dear readers, I must warn you now that if you are not in fact an adjunct at this very moment you should probably cease and desist from reading my blog and any other blogs or articles about us because if not, you too could adjunct!

This sudden explosion of adjuncts in my social networks is not the only piece of evidence that I have for the communicability of adjunctivirus.  The main piece of the puzzle leading me to this startling realization comes from the astute tactics of avoidance of adjunct issues that seems to be practiced by those mainly on the tenure track and especially in quasi-management positions.  For instance, if I see a particularly well-written piece or infographic about contingent faculty, I will post it to a certain site that I belong to.  Many of my "friends" on that site are people I once considered colleagues.  Rarely if at all do these individuals "like" or comment upon these posts. Now,  I do not happen to be a fancy hacker and cannot tell if maybe they do click and view the posts, but they never say a word regarding them.  My initial opinion is that none of these folks agree that adjuncts are being exploited nationwide, thus no reason to "like" or reply.  Personally, some of the ones I am closer to have expressed feelings of sympathy or agreement with what is going on for me as well as the whole horde of adjunct nation, but they do not venture to share this in public space.  Or, I should say, they seldom do.

Is not the point of tenure to protect some measure of the right to one's own opinion, especially on contentious topics?  Why not speak up publicly about the issue of adjunct working conditions?  Why not show public solidarity with a colleague?

biohazardMy only answer is that they are afraid to be tainted with this strain of illness called Adjunctivirus.  They must all don protective masks and gloves.  They must not engage with the afflicted.  I am starting to believe we'll all be asked to actually wear the big red A is for Adjunct on our clothes to designate our unclean status so that no unsuspecting permanent faculty will engage us in conversation, only to catch their career's death of contingency.

I thought that speaking out AS an adjunct was just about the biggest risk a contingent faculty member could take, but it turns out that associating with us and standing shoulder to shoulder with us is even harder than that for those on the tenure track.  Who knew?!

And before the chorus of "But what about...?" and "But I'm not afraid to speak up" begins, I know very well that such folks do exist.  However, before rushing to defend any cases of adjunct allyship, take a good, solid look around and ask who is silent and what their reasons for remaining so could possibly be?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

In Defense of Professional Educators

A long time ago in a faraway land I went to a very fine undergraduate school that, though small, was known for its education department.  In addition to several methods courses I was required to take in each of my subject content areas, I also took a large schedule of professional education courses.  Foundations of Education introduced us to philosophers and major schools of thought that have influenced and continue to influence education today.  Education Psychology instructed us about work in psychology that could apply to education, instruction, and developmental levels/issues students may have.  Classroom Management, Reading in the Content Areas, Education of Exceptional and Diverse Students, and finally Curriculum and Instruction rounded out the requirements along with gradually more involved observation and teaching experiences in real classrooms.  I cannot even begin to jot down and catalogue all the information from those courses that I use every single time I plan a lesson or teach.  Much of it became habit over the years.  Sometimes I still dig out one of those textbooks to refer to or check my memory of concepts.

When I went to graduate school, very few pedagogical courses were offered in my program:  one for teachers of literature and one for teachers of composition.  I believe there were a few for English as Foreign Language instructors, but I was never able to fit those in because they were outside my program.  Okay, the composition courses I took were outside of my program, but I was already able to see that a literature professor would also be teaching a great deal of composition.  I felt that I should've taken a more in-depth course on students with special needs, but that too, being housed in another college, was an impossibility to arrange.  Coming from an English Education background, I did not see writing and literature as separate as did most of the people where I now found myself.  In fact, at least one of my professors openly scoffed at education majors, and as I got to know more people in my program--people who intended to teach--I was surprised how few of them had never taken any education courses, nor did they plan to take the few offered to us.  It seems that by virtue of taking higher level literature courses, all would be magically endowed with the properties of teaching and learning.  Anyone All But Dissertation must just know how to impart this knowledge they had gathered.

I disagree.  Teachers don't just happen.  Teachers are made.  Certainly some people have a knack, an inborn talent and drive to teach, but there are those who can be made stronger by learning about the art and science of teaching.  I'm tired of hearing educators in American continually run down by the media, and heck, just anyone who has a mouth.  Students are failing.  Blame teachers.  Never think to blame the unfair distribution of funding or the relentless gauntlet of useless tests teachers are forced to direct curriculum towards in order to keep administrators off their backs.  Lazy, overpaid teachers?  Just hire Teach for America folks.  Pittsburgh is attempting to do just that right now, despite having a large pool of qualified teaching candidates being turned out by the multitude of local colleges and universities.  Wouldn't local graduates be more invested in local students instead of people brought in for two years, then let go?  Since when did the PROFESSION of teaching cease to be recognized and become something that anyone can do?  Why is the public school teacher, who takes classes about the profession seen as less than the university professor?  I think that we've come to a sticky place in American education.  Either we value ALL teachers and the craft of teaching, or anyone can do it and it isn't worth more than the meager salaries most of us make.

If you're reading this and you never took one professional education course, yet you teach well, I applaud you.  I don't want to take anything from that accomplishment.  However, I do not want to hear any denigration of the ones who do take that route, because I am not here for that anymore.  Education courses are not useless.  Professionally trained teachers are not the nationwide scapegoats for education.  Are there bad teachers? Sure, just as there are bad mechanics, bad managers, bad singers, bad of everything.  Should programs change to reflect new developments in technology, pedagogy, and science? Certainly, and the best ones work to do so by staying up to date on the latest research.  Teaching is not a stagnant profession, but a vital and growing one of which I am still proud to be a part.

So have a nice holiday, all my American teachers, who likely at least have part of the week off this week.  A special thank you to all the Native American teachers.  Every day we should be thankful for this planet and its gifts.  We should be more than aware of this and we have not followed your example.
To my worldwide audience who may be winding up their terms, I wish you a delightful holiday between semesters.

Thank you all for reading my thoughts.  You'll never know how much that has helped me during this insane, two-school term that is nearly done.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Adjuncts Can't Even Rest in Peace

When I woke up this morning, I found that a friend of the blog tweeted me a link to a new article discussing recently deceased Duquesne adjunct instructor Margaret Mary Vojtko.  When I saw it was from Slate, I was excited to read it, for a good friend of mine had been interviewed for this article.  The person who sent the link did so with no initial commentary, so as soon as I had a chance, I read.  Actually, I was a little bit behind my travel schedule because I read the whole thing.  I wish I had waited until after work to read it, for I've been raging about this read the entire day.

L. V. Anderson's "Death of a Professor" is a sad, sorry excuse to drag down a rally point for adjuncts nationwide.  Blunt enough?  Let me continue.  This is not simply a rant by someone too close to the issue.  I know what a rant is, by the way, I taught about them in one class this morning and was only prevented from making one about this very subject by the fact that I was getting observed.  While the last paragraphs lament the plight of adjuncts and their treatment by universities even calling for change, I cannot forgive all that comes before those lines. First of all, Anderson misspells Margaret Mary's last name several times:  it's Vojtko, not Vojkto.  Basic reporting: get the names correct.  Especially if one is attempting to tear down the martyr of the contingent working poor who also write.

The article begins with a recap of the main points regarding her death and the subsequent publication of Daniel Kovalik's article that brought intense scrutiny to not only this case, but the wider treatment of adjunct faculty nationwide, perhaps worldwide.  Kovalik's position as senior associate general counsel of the United Steelworkers is mentioned, as it almost always is.  I should have known which direction this was going from that moment on, but I kept reading.

Next, the viral history of Kovalik's article, the Twitter hashtag it inspired (#IAmMargaretMary), and several related blogs and articles that took up the cause are mentioned.  The article even tips its hat to the unfairness of the conditions under which she lived and died:  the conditions of the working poor in America.  Oh, but then Anderson writes "But was that true?'  This seems to imply that we have all been--gasp--lied to about Margaret Mary VOJTKO.  Still I read.  What were these new truths?

It seems that the TRUTH about Margaret Mary Vojtko is that she grew up in the Pittsburgh area in a staunchly union family.   She considered becoming a nun but after taking a job at her father's suggestion so that she could make a more informed decision, she did not join a convent.  Cousin Gerald Chinchar is quoted as saying she "had too much of an independent streak."  Now, here's where my alarm bells started to ring, not because of her cousin's words, but the way in which they were likely to be used.  An independent woman?! In the 1940s?!  This is followed by her romantic history that includes at least two men who she fell for but never married.  Then we learn that after her father's death she pursued more degrees:  French, Latin, medieval studies and even an RN were all areas of expertise.  Ah, I see it now:  independent, educated, unmarried woman who also decided against taking religious vows that could have provided for her.  Well, well.

Finally, Vojtko arrives at Duquesne, fluent in five languages and able to play violin, among other things.  She teaches "French for Research" and language classes for undergrads.  Though Anderson admits Vojtko took her teaching seriously and that some students doted on her, keeping in touch after leaving her courses, it must be pointed out that she does not use the computer well and eschews technological course instructional programs.  How dare she reject corporate course management systems universities have plunked down big bucks for?! What kind of Luddite are we dealing with here?  How in the world did any of us ever get by without them?  (I must admit I only learned to use BlackBoard this year because my new school relies on it.  Many of my students express frustration levels with it as well, and they're not a quarter her age.)  The digs keep piling up.

Margaret Mary with ScarfThen we learn that Margaret Mary Vojtko even had a passion for history, particularly union history relating to her background and volunteered with the Homestead Historical Society.  Yet this, too, is not left unproblematized:  we are told she was a hoarder and obsessive over artifacts.  Yes, her house and the one next door that her deceased brother purchased are full of items.  Has this author met any academics?  I don't know any without some oddities, myself included.  Personally, I find hoarding to be one of those things I can easily forgive, unless it involves animals.  I come from a family who couldn't throw out something unless it was absolutely broken or completely wrecked without a struggle or at least a long conversation.  We're from the country.  We have sheds and barns full of stuff because...  Well, because someone might need it and then we wouldn't have to buy it, just dig it out.  We weren't raised to be throwaway people, as I'm sure the Vojtko children weren't.  Can this be taken too far?  Yes.  Is it a mental condition?  I think so, but it doesn't make her less human or less deserving of her place in this story of the adjunct uprising.  However, Anderson still isn't finished airing  83 years of dirty laundry.

Apparently, another great secret that we have all been snowed about is that Margaret Mary Vojtko never ever finished her dissertation!  What?! Maybe she had more sense than some of us, would be my initial response to that.  Is this lack of a terminal degree supposed to make her LESS in my eyes, or make her unfit to serve as a rallying cry for the cause of contingent faculty?  Maybe to people who think that a PhD makes them better than everyone else.  I have one and I'm still an adjunct.  Lots of people are.  Lots of people have MAs or MFAs.  So what?  The adjunct life is rarely any kinder to the doctoral degree holder than those without.  In fact, at a beginning of the year meeting at one of my schools, a colleague joked with me that he never had managed to get his PhD, so he couldn't really expect more than bouncing between schools.  I told him the degree was no guarantee anyway, since I had one.  He was surprised.  Do I feel less inclined to care about Margaret Mary's life and death because of any of this? No, because none of it matters one damn bit in the end.

At the end of her life, as family members died and others disappointed her, she because more reclusive. Then Anderson claims that the Duquesne community did not abandon her.  What they did do was offer her charity.  Charity in a country that despises the poor.  Charity to a woman from a strong union background who had worked all her adult life, who was intelligent, and independent.  I know these women.  I come from a family like that.  Having to sign my children up for state medical insurance is humiliating to me.  I'm not a freeloader.  Margaret Mary Vojtko was NOT a freeloader.  If this article's purpose was to tear a woman down from a pedestal, it has not fulfilled its purpose.  For me it has placed her further ahead of us.  Margaret Mary is up there in the distance beckoning.  She waves a union sign.  She carries a beloved book.  She demands that we keep fighting for the living wage that ALL workers deserve, inside higher education and out.  The truth of her life is no less than, no greater than, no more valuable than any of our own.  Anyone who thinks that casting aspersions on the character of a deceased woman expiates even some of the guilt of the contemporary corporate university does not truly understand what we are fighting against because they are only standing in our way providing excuses for those in positions of power.  This is what we are up against.

For those whose lives challenge the status quo there is no resting in peace.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

It's All in the Way it's Framed

Contingent Framed
Framed  by me
Recently, I have been thinking about the way colleges and universities market themselves to prospective students and their parents.  It seems that it should be getting difficult to hide the ever-growing number of poorly compensated adjuncts from enquiring minds who want to know what their money will be purchasing for their student.  If we are indeed 75% of faculty nationwide, why has this recent upsurge in publicity regarding the adjunct crisis come as such a shock to the general public?

It seems that, despite our numbers, we are easy to hide.  Adjunct: a veritable palimpsest scraped out and carefully penned over by slick phrases such as, "95% of our courses are taught by PhDs," which obscures that many adjuncts also hold terminal degrees.  "Classes led by instructors with real world experience in their fields," which is a polite way of saying there are some people who teach and perhaps also were successful in a business world not this school.  That particular slogan conjures business and technical fields for me more so than humanities or even the arts.  It gives a school a nice corporate shellacking fit for consumption!  "Our student to faculty ratio is 15 to 1," which is a superb classroom situation if one can find it, but it does not say anything about the status of the one at all.  Indeed it is quite easy to lie while telling the truth when it comes to adjuncts.

I advise anyone going into post-secondary education, whether as a student or the parent/guardian of one, to ask some difficult questions at orientations and recruitment functions.  Without direct examination, the plight of adjuncts and the quality of the education they are able to produce--sometimes against great odds--will remain hidden in plain sight.  What if a room full of prospective students at every event asked
    1.  What percentage of first year and introductory courses are taught by contingent faculty?
    2.  Are those adjuncts full time with benefits?
    3.  What is the salary per class for adjuncts?
    4.  How much do the top three administrators make each year?
    5.  How much of my tuition goes to paying my professors, who directly control my education?

Would this change the visibility and status of adjuncts on campuses nationwide?  I think so.  Money talks in the form of decreased enrollments for schools unwilling to provide disclosure and a living wage for their faculty.  With higher education costs rising, students may look elsewhere for a school that values adjuncts, and thus their education more dearly than the salaries of the burgeoning administrative class.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Why Aren't You on the Schedule?!

There is the post I began writing, and then there is this one.  I fully admit that I censored myself this time because, during a meeting at one of my schools, another blogger who writes about adjunct issues was named and had her employment status exposed to the full meeting.  How dare she criticize the treatment of adjuncts! Never mind that she does not work at that school, she still was named and a personal detail about her revealed.  I've been thinking about that brief moment more lately, yet here I am still writing.

It's that time of year when students scramble to get classes for next term.  At one place I am already in the system because my contract was full-year.  At the other, I was not since the contract was term by term unless their scheduling system was updated recently.  I know because my students asked me, "Why aren't you on the schedule?"  I've gotten this question before.  A lot.  Writing is a sequential subject at many schools with students required to take at least Composition I & II, whatever that place happens to label them.  When students have a successful semester of writing and want to continue in the same way, it is natural for them to seek out the same professor.  Likewise, if the teaching style did not match the students' learning styles, they necessarily look for a different person.  When a good portion of the sections in required courses do not visibly belong to anyone, it makes planning difficult.  It also sends a message to the students that these important required classes are at the bottom of the heap to be staffed:  Instructors TBA and STAFF are very busy, if scheduling systems can be trusted.  These must be incredibly talented folks to teach so very many sections in so very many general studies fields!

Professor TBA

When students ask me why I'm  not on the schedule, I tell them.  I've been doing this since they started asking me when I began teaching at the post-secondary level.  I do not use class time to speak on it because part of me is pretty sure that could be held against me.  However, these conversations often occur before class starts since I'm usually in the room early getting things set up, or afterwards when I hang around to answer questions and close up the electronics.  I explain that as non-permanent faculty I cannot expect to have certain sections or types of courses:  I must teach what, if any, things I am assigned.  Common responses include "But why aren't you full time?" and "You're the only professor I've had all semester that knew our names!"  Could they just be flattering me? Maybe.  If it didn't happen every time my name is not posted due to my nefarious status and relegation to TBA/STAFF, I would buy that.  If the students are in my major they often ask will I have something beyond the general studies level.  No.  No I will not.  Adjuncts aren't likely to get courses that full-timers often fight over teaching.

I don't preach on the situation but I give them direct answers regarding the status of adjunct faculty.  I remind them that the stereotype of the wealthy professor living in a beautiful home taking summers to travel abroad and write is, on the whole, fiction for most people whether at the temporary or new faculty level.  I don't begrudge those teachers higher on the totem pole their salaries, based on years of experience, research, and publications, but I am appalled at the walls preventing many of us from moving out of the academic gutter onto the sidewalk that leads to the gates of the comfortable.  I don't find the ivory tower image fitting for 21st century academia; I prefer more students and instructors from all walks of life to have access to higher education.  However, if the students are going to still be charged what are now exorbitant sums, the people teaching them deserve a living wage to provide that education.  Continually showing them that the foundational and general studies courses that comprise much of their first two years are, for the most part, only fit to be staffed by the itinerant faculty doesn't send the message that the classes are worth attending or caring about as much as higher level majors courses.  No wonder the general public's perception of higher education is that much of it is a waste of time hindering the student from becoming the wage-earning, highly trained worker! This is the current way it is presented for too many colleges and universities across the United States.  The value of foundational knowledge linked with predominantly adjunct faculty belies the importance of one and the true skill and worth of the other.   

Monday, October 28, 2013

"Civil Disobedience" and Campus Equity Week

Adjunct Equity buttonIt just so happens that this week one of my classes is reading Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience"--it is also Campus Equity Week here in the US.  The preface to my edition reminds us that the influence of this text extends into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, specifically through Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.  Originally a speech, this piece provides much encouragement for the contemporary activist, including those striving for sustainable employment for adjunct educators.

Speaking about the contemporary academic scene, many temporary faculty members find themselves in bleak situations, as most recently highlighted by the case of Margaret Mary Votjko.  This is not dissimilar from the plight of American workers in many fields:  both food service and retail also coming under fire for the heartless ways they treat their employees.  The single mother who spoke up to the McDonald's CEO and lost her job, the recording of Wal-Mart instructing its workers to file for food stamps due to their paltry take-home pay, these are not uncommon themes today.  Must this be so?  Thoreau writes "It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience" (¶4).  We live in a time when the Supreme Court considers corporations people, yet we also see what happens when the people behind that Corporate Personage have no conscience.  We have the state of the American worker today.

Thoreau, however, does not leave us without hope.  Instead, he issues a challenge perhaps forgotten among the more popularly quoted lines regarding government and unjust laws.  First he instructs that "when the friction comes to have its machine, and oppression and robbery are organized, I say let us not have such a machine any longer" (¶8).  Do we have friction? Ask the working poor who are mocked at every turn, on newscasts of every stripe:  are they too lazy and not worthy of a living wage, of being able to afford nutritious food and shelter for themselves and their families, do they not have a right to health care so that they can work and care for things and people without worry and extreme medical debt?  So many are quick to say no, but I say we are not to oil this machine any more, for a machine we certainly have:  the Machine of Corporate Education, and it has no conscience.  Therefore, we are required to "Let [our] life be a counter friction to stop the machine" (¶18)!  It is not going to stop for us. It is not going to stop because we set aside a week.  It is not going to stop unless we quit enabling it with our sweat, our intelligence, and our lives.  

What can one person do?  I do not have an answer for everyone, but for me starting this blog serves as a risk-taking step.  Already, tenure track friends have warned me to be careful, to stop, to delete it.  I cannot.  I can not now stop talking back because I am full-up with sickness, with work pain for these conditions.  I wept for the life of a woman I never knew.  I know that I cannot keep up this maddening commute for multiple years.  This kind of teaching is not my best though I am trying as hard as I can.  I also cannot keep shortchanging my family for the adjunct lifestyle.  Reading Thoreau for class today gave me some solace and I turned the quote over in my mind all the way to work and home again:  "For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be:  what is once well done is done forever" (¶21).  I could take the blog down, but likely there are already screenshots, copies, reposts, and, as Anonymous has shown us, nothing put on the Internet truly ever disappears.  It is done, or rather begun.  

So what will we do next?  The author of "Civil Disobedience" says "Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence.  A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight" (¶22).  We may be the minority only in perception, but reality shows that the numbers are on our side.  The Machine of Corporate Education has no conscience and it has no heart, but right now it has our lives.  We can go on until it grinds us to bits or we can, in our collective strength--to paraphrase Thoreau--clog it with our whole weight.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Signal Boost: "Adjunct Blues" video

Next week, October 28-November 2, is Campus Equity Week (CEW) nationwide!  This event is also known in some states and Canada as Fair Employment Week.  Visit for more information, events, and ways to participate.

The linked video stars John Manning and his banjo performing the song "Adjunct Blues," -- with Manning's lyrics set to "Rockin' Chair Money" by Lonnie Glosson and Bill Carlisle.  Thanks to friend of the blog, Matt Ussia, for sending me the link and also filming the video.

The lyrics are below:

                         "Adjunct Blues"

I got the adjunct blues and I got ‘em the hard way
Teaching for the university, working for low pay
And we’re getting robbed…yeah robbed
We’re getting robbed
We got the adjunct blues.

Now students got the adjunct blues and they get it every day
Your teachers got no job security, working for low pay
And you’re getting robbed…yeah robbed
You’re getting robbed
We got the adjunct blues.

Your folks got the adjunct blues and they get ‘em the hard way
Paying big tuition for adjuncts who get low pay
And they’re getting robbed…yeah robbed
They’re getting robbed
We all got the adjunct blues.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Adjunct Carnival, Buyer Beware

Being an adjunct is bad enough when I see posts on line of the travails of this career from others, notably CUNY's refusal to pay their adjuncts until October 14th though they started work at the end of August.  However, some weeks this nationwide crisis gets a bit more in my space.  Recently I attended a meeting that included discussion of a department's treatment of adjunct faculty.  I still do not know if this was a good decision on my part or not.  I don't even know if I even understand what happened, what it all meant, and if anything aligns with our current contract, but two things from this meeting have rarely left my thoughts since.

The first item seems to me to be an unattainable golden ring--no, not the Lord of the Rings one, but the kind that used to be on carosels high up in the bunting which conferred a free ride to any merry-go-round jockey lucky enough to grab it.  The ring was stationary while the horses not only spun around but moved up and down, making it next to impossible to reach.  I feel that just such an enticement has been nailed up in front of us.  While being told we may no longer be welcome to apply and teach at this school as adjuncts, we were told that any of us were eligible to apply for any of the full-time tenure track positions that were posted.

This might be the point in the meeting that I chuckled out loud.  Ever since I first arrived at this school I have been told by multiple sources "off the record" that the department in which I work WILL NOT hire their own people.  Will not.  Won't.  Don't bother.  I know of two people who were highly qualified for positions there in the past who did bother to apply.  Neither of them were even interviewed.  They eventually were picked up full time elsewhere.  But, we can apply.

The second thing that I cannot seem to ditch was a comment on the part of a tenure track graduate faculty member who, among other things, proposed that part of the solution to this problem of adjuncts was simply to "advise our graduates not to pursue a career as adjuncts."  My apologies if those are not quite the exact words.  I was so caught up in the brilliance of this solution that I might not have written it word for word in my notes.  If only my adviser had told me about the dangers, nay horrors, of the adjunct lifestyle, how much trouble might I have avoided?  Why oh why did no one tell me instead to apply for full time jobs only?!

No really.

I left shortly after that.  If anyone thinks I left in disgust or outrage, they can go on believing that.  In truth I had to go start a class.

I still can't figure out why no one else ever solved this crisis in such a simple way.  It eats at my soul.

Now excuse me while I try to find an open amusement park to practice my agility on moving carnival rides.......

carousel horses

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Litany of Excuses, or Reasons Why Adjuncts Exist

1.  We're not as bad as _____________ .  Currently, in my area, this blank is filled in with Duquesne, which has become the default of the poorest treatment of adjunct faculty. As long as our school doesn't stoop that low, then what we do to adjuncts is fair in comparison.  I mean, hey, we actually allow adjuncts to have offices/computers/attend meetings/(choose the perk).

2.  Hiring any of these adjuncts permanently, no matter how well they're doing, prevents us from maybe possibly someday being granted a sacred tenure track line for something we really need.
Need seems to mean some miniscule specialization that may only teach one such class a term or year, but never seems to mean covering vast quantities of general studies courses.

3.  There just is not enough money to pay for full time teaching, which also means full time benefits.  Meanwhile, here is your invitation to the latest construction project ribbon cutting ceremony on campus.  By the way, have you seen our new dorm/stadium/fitness center? 

4.  Our dean will not let us hire full time adjunct positions.  

5.  We use teaching associates so that our graduate students get more experience.  Teaching associates are totally not contingent labor or exploitable in any way.  They need this.

6.  People choose to be adjuncts.  (Who are these people?)

7.  People just don't apply for permanent jobs, therefore they are stuck being adjuncts.

8.  Really we must be concerned with management's attempts to cut programs, so attending to adjunct issues is a huge distraction.

9.  When I was a newly minted PhD, I was hired right away.  Surely these adjuncts must be doing something wrong.

10.  If one or two of them complain and refuse this offer, there are at least forty more people waiting to take the job anyway, no matter what it is.  

Feel free to add any in the comments.  I'd truly hate to have missed one.  

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Is Unionization the Answer for Adjuncts?

A large piece of the story brought to the fore by the death of Mary Margaret Votjko, and a piece that often is used by those who would table debate on the use and treatment of adjuncts, is the fact that the bleak circumstances of her last years and death only appeared to the general audience through the writing of Dan Kovalik.  Criticism of Kovalik stems from the fact that he is senior associate general counsel for the United Steelworkers union and has been working with adjunct faculty in the Pittsburgh area who wish to unionize.  Supposedly, Kovalik used Votjko’s case to further his own agenda—that of bringing union protection and bargaining power to the adjuncts, specifically those at Duquesne, where Votjko worked until her dismissal.  

This, to me, highlights what is now the new normal in America.  No one ever pays attention to any given situation that may be in dire need of work/attention/help/repair until catastrophe strikes.  Bridges and infrastructure in disrepair?  No one can find the money or be bothered until a bridge collapses or a pipeline bursts spewing either fuel or water onto people, homes, and land.  Anyone pointing out the problems beforehand, when some preventative measure may have been taken is a treehugging Communist or something else hardly patriotic.  We cannot be arsed to fix it if it isn’t entirely, devastatingly broken.

Well, it’s broken.

The situation of adjunct faculty use and their gradually worsening statuses is not new.  This developed.  Rather, this was allowed to develop over time.  At any point, faculty, administration, or governmental agencies (in the case of state funded schools) could have asked more questions.  When the dollar becomes the only thing that matters, people become commodities without names, lives, and histories.  They simply cease to matter except in terms of class coverage and, of course, how many students can be crammed into a class that will be covered.

In Mami's post "Adjuncts Should Do as Little Work as Possible," which I discussed on this blog earlier, I did not address her comments on unions that appeared towards the end.  She states, regarding the adjunct life, "I was stupid enough in the beginning to assume it was a problem at the particular school I worked at.  Unions are not the answer since I was represented by a union at all three schools.  To me this was a double whammy--1) Get paid next to nothing with no benefits and 2) Pay union dues."  When I first encountered these thoughts, I was more impressed that three schools allowed union participation for adjuncts.  I have now taught for four different schools in this area and only one has a union, of which I am still a member.  The others do not.  Or rather, if they did they were for full-time faculty only and I was never approached to join.  Even now, $22.81 come out of my check for my union dues.  I've begun to wonder what exactly that buys me.

As a full-time temporary faculty, this afforded even me the union eye and dental plan, first and foremost:  totally worth it.  Additionally, I voluntarily served on the union's temporary faculty committee, when it met.  The last two years that I've attempted to do this, I believe it has not met at all.  The chair of the committee is an acquaintance of mine, but is also a tenure-track faculty member, as are several other members.  Now, I do not fault them for wanting to help and showing concern for our causes.  I understand that some sort of permanence is needed since contracts are either yearly or semesterly for adjuncts there.  In fact, of all the other schools in our same system, we had seemingly the most organized efforts for adjuncts.  I know this because I helped this committee complete a system-wide survey a few years back.  While serving on this committee, we heard a few complaints but neither met the qualifications to be forwarded on to the membership.  Neither person fulfilled their responsibilities to work towards conversion to full time permanent faculty.

Just this term, the union asked for nominees for a temporary faculty member to attend representative council expressly to speak on our behalf and hold a permanent place at the table.  I could not apply to do so, for the meetings conflict with my teaching times at one of my schools.  I forget which one, I just know that they do because I checked.  I do not know what exactly this will mean for adjuncts at this school or in this union and system, but it seems to be a step in the right direction.  However, even though the union made an effort to protect us in the last contract negotiation with the system, going so far as to reject deals that would precipitate situations such as the non-full-time state I find myself in now, the union did not go far enough.  They did not add to the contract wording to protect us from our own departments!  Who knew?!  The only advice I received when presented with my current job offer there was to not take the offer because it had not directly violated the contract and there was nothing to be done.

The part of me that grew up learning about Mother Jones and the proud union history of my home state wants to believe that unionizing can only benefit adjuncts, if handled well, but it seems adjuncting has become a situation in which one must imagine and prepare for any possible assault to do any lasting good.  Taking a hard hit from so-called friendly fire likely never crossed the state leadership's mind.  It will now.  We have been made examples.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Adjunct Stereotypes Exist for Administrators' Ease

"Course Correction" an article by Lauren Daley, Chris Porter, and Alex Zimmerman appeared in City Paper Pittsburgh's 10/2-10/9 issue last week continuing the conversation forced to the front of the local and national consciousness by the death of Mary Margaret Vojtko.  The article presents, among other information, the story of Clint Benjamin, a current adjunct at both Duquesne--where Vojtko taught--and at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC).  Benjamin lists as his rule, "Teach as many classes as you can" and follows his own advice by currently teaching five courses between the two schools.  He also describes his own health care situation as "[...] death by a thousand cuts," referring to the $150 a month he shells out for only catastrophic coverage.  Clint Benjamin proves one of the brave by providing the authors with his name, something not everyone interviewed could do.  Interestingly, most cited Vojtko's death as a signpost of the contemporary academic culture we all find ourselves in as part of Adjunct Nation.

The authors then attempted to collect data on temps' pay and usage at several area campuses.  Not surprisingly, some of my old friends reappeared to buttress these schools' refusal to admit they were not guilty of exploiting contingent labor.  Many of the comments seemed reminiscent of Gormley's denial of culpability.  I wonder if administrators think that if they repeat these things long enough that others will actually believe them.  I do not give them the benefit of a doubt that they themselves believe this nonsense.  I think these moves are calculated and PR-approved.  That also means it is high time to slap some labels on these cardboard cutout adjuncts so we can knock them flat forever, replacing them with the true experiences of people like Clint Benjamin, Luke Niebler, Josh Zelesnick (all three from the City Paper article), and those who fear to give their names.

First, I'd like to introduce you to "Apologetic Adjunct":  AA is often trotted out by administrators as the very model of a modern major adjunct.  Apologetic Adjunct can be found painfully admitting that the overall situation of adjuncts is Very Bad Indeed, BUT AA cannot really complain and this horribleness does not apply to AA's particular situation because of a full-time and/or multi-year contract that provides for a living wage and even health insurance.  Apologetic Adjunct is Very Sorry Indeed that everyone cannot have a position like this.  It allows AA to be just fine while being removed from the overall political discourse that is the contingent labor debate in the US.  AA wouldn't want to jeopardize said contract or the likelihood that it will be renewed, even though tenure will never be conferred.

Another regular who appears to aid administrators is "Flexible Adjunct":  FAs just love the versatility that adjuncting offers!  Maybe FA has only one class a term or two, but that's exactly what FA was looking for!  Perhaps FA has a partner provider and does not have to seriously worry about bills, health care, and a career.  FA can work the one class and still be homeroom mom or dad of the year! FA is an administrative and cost effective dream because, supposedly, FA has no desire to become full time ever, which would get in the way of whatever Real Life FA had going on outside the academy.

This final category is one that I'm still not convinced isn't mythical, but we have "Adjunct For Fun":  AFF repeatedly appears in official commentary of administrators as the golden haired child of the adjunct world.  This individual is, I hear, a Working Professional with Real World Experience who is only too glad to jaunt to campus for a course here and there to impart bon mots of wisdom from the field of choice to those students eagerly seeking to enter said field and also disdainfully tired of learning at the feet of full time professors (who are supposed to be full time and work lighter schedules to stay current and do research in the field--which is why they don't need to teach four courses at a time but adjuncts do, according to other rationale).  AFF has no need for high pay or benefits from the college or university because AFF already has awesome things like that from the Real World Job.

As a whole, all these categories are entirely too conveniently packaged and sold as part of administrative rhetoric.  I have no doubt that Apologetic Adjunct exists.  I think I was one.  I think I know some now, and they are at the mercy of their respective schools, so to speak.  Even now it is personally hard to blame any of them who choose to stand by saying and doing nothing. A good contract is no small matter.  I hope they never take the fall that I did.

It is possible that Flexible Adjuncts are out there somewhere, and I'm glad that position works for their lives, but they are not representative of the vast majority of us.

Adjunct For Fun, however, I have yet to encounter.  It's like that rare comic book or baseball card everyone hears about but next to no one has, or maybe Bigfoot.  Why on earth does it keep showing up in the discourse? Because it looks good.  It sounds a lot better than the actuality of life for the majority of Adjunct Nation.

However, the Reality of Adjunct Life is of one who travels between at least two schools, if they're lucky.  They may teach as many as six or seven courses.  Some people who cannot get multiple schools may supplement incomes by teaching a course or two online or by taking other work outside the academy.  They mainly make $30,000 or less per year, according to recent interviews.  They pay their own healthcare or go without.  They might be on food stamps.  Their children may have state insurance cards.  They teach their students and do their jobs sometimes without offices or regular access to computers.  They might be represented by a union or that might be forbidden. They might be accepted as participants in departmental governance or they might be asked to stay away.  Yet, without us, without the large quantity of adjunct labor, the contemporary American college and university would cease to function in this current incarnation.  The Reality of Adjunct Life is not as neat, tidy, and unexploited as administrators would have America believe.
Adjunct Sketch

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

If I Can't Tell if an Article is Satire, That's a Problem

My social media sites have been popping these past few weeks with adjunct issues, and articles by and for those in the Adjunct Nation.  Some are good, some bad, and some leave me wondering what I am supposed to think of them.  Mami's "Adjuncts Should Do as Little Work as Possible," published via The Chronicle's "The Adjunct Project," falls into that confusing category for me.  The basic gist is that adjuncts are not paid well enough or given enough resources to properly do their jobs, therefore, they should do them according to their pay.  The author rightly ties adjuncts' desire for continued work to fears over poor student evaluations or making waves by reporting problems such as cheating or plagiarizing.  However, I do not think the answers offered are a path that I can condone.  Admittedly, the author says that doing the least possible wasn't personally acceptable to her either, and thus she no longer works as an adjunct.

So, I wonder, is this advice from Mami offered as satire?

Adjuncting is a good job if you:
  1. Don’t prep.
  2. Assign the least you can get away with.
  3. Grade by doing a brief scan.
  4. Never grade finals — just give the student the grade you would have given him or her without the final.

If so, I think that it misses the mark.  It also assumes that the reading audience will get that it is satirical as it denigrates the art of post-secondary adjunct teaching to a path of least resistance.  If one happens to be an adjunct, such as myself, and knows many adjuncts, these practices seem absurd:  no one I know at either school gives such short shrift to their classes.  However, this article is in the social media circulation loop, which means it will invariably be viewed by those who neither know any adjuncts in real life or understand satire--people will think this is, in fact, what adjuncts ARE doing.  It doesn't exactly assist in signal boosting the plight of adjuncts that has finally and tragically been brought to light by the death of Margaret Mary Votjko of Pittsburgh.

The writer goes on to claim that this poor level of teaching is exactly what administrators want because it will lead to fewer failures, higher retention, and fewer grade complaint issues.  I have no idea if this is true or merely conjecture.  At the department level for both of my schools, my work is subjected to some review.  It was required by both that I submit my syllabi beforehand for approval, and both schools will administer student-completed evaluations.  As far as I am aware, only one school will do a peer evaluation.  The opposite school provided stricter policies on book and assignment choices in an effort to assure some standardization across sections, so perhaps they only observe if complaints surface.  I do not believe I could get away with a low level of engagement at either place.  However, I taught for a community college nearby a few years back and joked at the time that I could've just had the students watch cartoons and no one would've ever known.  Not one person checked on me, contacted me, provided me instruction after the year began, or observed me.  If I assured the students they would all receive passing grades, they likely would've been kind if not laudatory on their evaluations for they had all landed in required remedial writing courses and could not move on until they passed.  I didn't show cartoons, however, I did my job as best as I could.

And that is what I do every day.  I do my job and I try to do it well.  Just today I forgot copies of a handout for my classes at School Two.  Even though I could show the handout and use it via the computer so that my lesson plans weren't wrecked, I still felt annoyed with myself for forgetting the students' copies.  I did write a note to take the handouts, but I was so tired that I never opened that folder the night before the commute.  The students didn't seem to mind, and I made it available through their on-line course management system as well as promised it for the next meeting, but nonetheless, I beat myself up over it.  I do not like to do a shoddy job.

Naggingly, this article reminds me of one I read as a graduate student.  The tone is similar and the advice much the same.  I believe it was called "Don't Give it Your All," though I have no idea now who wrote it, nor did it turn up in searches (okay, I admit I didn't spend hours looking for it).  This author implored dissertation writers who might be teaching assistants or adjuncts to slack on their classes in favor of completing their degree at all costs.  Certainly, I can see the logic in that, but I was never able to reconcile giving my students a sub-par classroom experience just to benefit myself.  Yes, it took me a long time to get my PhD--though still at the average for a humanities scholar--but I also finished with excellent teaching experience and evidence of such.  That article, like this current one, seemed to be offering an easy way out that could, and likely would, be acceptable to many as a rational reason for lackluster work.  I'm relatively sure that older piece was not satire, but perhaps this new one is.  However, if I'm left guessing, I'll bet others are as well, and what we need is absolute clarity:  being an adjunct is not easy, yet many of us work with integrity nonetheless.  We deserve better.  We will not simply go away.  Higher education created Adjunct Nation and now it will have to deal with us.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Dominoes Once Pushed Keep on Falling

The tragic death of adjunct Margaret Mary Votjko triggered a minor media furor in my local area for the past two weeks.  Unfortunately, the issue seems more likely to fade from prominence not due to any administration's sad efforts at quelling the storm but rather the five-second attention span of the American media and the fact that, as another friend pointed out, "A new iPhone came out."  Perhaps my readers have been wondering what happened for me at what I've deemed "School  One" after the email thread that began on the faculty listserve there.  I need to write about this and, yet, I don't want to.  I am fully aware that this blog isn't the strongest PR move for someone on the job market, but I cannot either keep silent about this any more.  So while I did my usual driving for the week (plus a little more to see my mom honored at the state level for her volunteer work) I worked out my thoughts which follow a small recap.

After "Death of an Adjunct" was posted to School One's departmental listserve, I was pleasantly surprised and even encouraged to be hopeful by the initial responses.  I should probably also state that not all adjuncts at this school were subjected to cut hours, pay, and benefits, only those in my department.  This was not a unilateral move by administration, which the local union would likely have caught and stepped in to intervene.  At least four full-time tenure track people requested to discuss this adjunct issue at the next department meeting.  This meeting has not happened and when it does, I think I'm at School Two or teaching at School One and will have to rely on the accounts of some others who will go.  The last public comment on the thread was mine and no other went out to everyone.  Most noticeably, the powers that be did not address it that day.

The next day, finally we were "reminded" that instead of hiring ten people full time with benefits, this cut allowed for more people to have jobs.  Something like fourteen people were able to be hired at cut hours and rates! Hallelujah? At least one of these people did not even get the "good news" that I did, so I know that those last few were given even fewer courses to teach.  This was also done quite into the summer, making it difficult to scrounge up some work elsewhere.  As I've stated before, I was incredibly lucky to have a good friend immediately tell me to apply at School Two.  Not everyone has a good friend who can alert them to jobs in a mainly drivable distance.  The situation in my house could be much worse.  However, that is no excuse for me to be quiet because I'm getting by.  This situation nationwide is wrong and inexcusable.

dominoes fallingIt is also creating a template for administrators to refuse to rehire people to replace retiring and exiting tenure track/full time professors.  No one wants to cut their own salary, so faced with tightening budgets for education (building, administration, and athletics seems to be faring pretty well) hiring part time faculty would solve many issues.  This is where EVERY tenure track/full time person in the US and Canada--I hear our friends north of the border are experiencing cuts as well--needs to stand up now, for us because whether they realize it or not, our battle is their battle.  The bad math that is applied today to me and everyone else in Adjunct Nation can easily be applied to those well inside the ivory tower.  I recall my advice earlier in the summer to simply refuse the contract at School One.  That was the answer I was given:  don't take the job.  That answer came from someone with tenure.  Someone who was not adversely affected.  I laughed.  There's an actual "pool of temps" waiting to snap up my position.  I have a friend who landed in that category.  He pretty much said that I should let it go because he would gladly take it.  This, in microcosm, is higher education in America today.  If the full time jobs go, there are hordes of us waiting to pounce on any contract whatsoever.  One class?  Two classes? Three?!?!?!? I just volunteered to work some assessment for $50 (okay, so I do like assessment, but hey, fifty bucks).  Telling adjuncts to protest by not taking the work will not work.  This issue is now bigger than those tactics.  We need everyone.  Every single person who cares about the quality of higher education to either stand up to this assault on workers or to come up with an entirely different structure to do this job for living wages.

No one can afford to turn down any money with no hope of anything else.  That is not an answer.  What likely will happen is that many smart people will leave education, leaving perhaps a lower quality of workers to exist in an exploitative system.  We are either all in this fight together or in the end, the adjuncts will "win" a place at the table because those will be the only places left.  What will happen here?  What will happen nationwide?  I don't know those answers but what I do know is that we need to keep paying attention.  We should be able to think about serious issues for longer than an iPhone's battery life.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

That Genie Isn't Going Back in the Bottle!

Let the PR spin begin!

Today a response by Ken Gormley, Dean of the Law School at Duquesne, also published in the Post Gazette like "Death of an Adjunct," is garnering some much-deserved critique.  According to this wise man, the following things are true:

1.  Higher education in America has always relied on part-time workers, so evidently the practice should continue unquestioned because TRADITION!!!! (See video link at right from Fiddler on the Roof and get this song stuck in your head, please.  It would be nice if you knew the story also and could also get the context of the song and how that relates to this comment.  I am not making fun of this musical.  I love it.  I played Fruma Sarah once. TRADITION!!!!!)

2.  Part-time teachers provide valued real-world experience.  (I'm not sure how that applies to most of the adjuncts I know who neither have other jobs that would make this true, nor have I ever seen this requirement in a job posting in my field other than the request for teaching experience of varying years. I've heard mythical stories of that business man who teaches one class a year for the pure joy of it, but I've never met him.)

3.  Best of all, are the "individuals who seek to build full-time careers by combining multiple part-time contracts, often at several institutions" (Pardon me?! Absolutely NO ONE I know is attempting to do this on purpose.  No one.  Everyone I know living this way is doing so because they cannot land a full-time job at ONE school.  Who in their right mind with gas the price that it is thinks hopping from one school to another for their daily bread is a viable long-term career plan?)

4.  Adjuncts are compared to full-time professors, who of course do much more than we do:  they plan and teach "multiple classes" and conduct research, to say the least.  (I teach six classes, only two of which are the same exact course at the same school, and I also do research.  Plus I willingly help colleagues who ask for teaching ideas/help.  I work with students on projects.  I also am trying to publish a book.)

Taken together, I can only assume that what we have here is a human so far removed from the daily life and functioning of the educational mission of higher education in America that he actually believes this nonsense.  When Gormley calls for "mutual respect" at the end of his piece, I just shake my head.  He has not shown any to us adjuncts, and if the trial by media burns, so be it.

This article, however, is not the only one.  The second piece published today in response to the same troublesome "Death of an Adjunct" article is even further off base.  Michelle Janosko, Assistant Director of International Studies chimes in that the original article is "Unfair to University."  Really?  Is it?  Perhaps this writer should have read the original post more carefully, for she makes at least one glaring error:  Adjunct Instructor Margaret Mary Vojtko did not sleep in classrooms.  The way this is written implies that the teacher was sleeping during her classes in the room.  This is not what was reported by Dan Kovalik.  He stated that after her heat was shut off for non-payment, she began sleeping in her office.  Not quite the same thing.  This particular article also assumes that the deceased collected Social Security and had Medicare.  Does this writer know Margaret Mary Vojtko personally?  Not everyone of the age to apply for benefits does and the sums and coverage provided do not always cover all expenses. Yet this article has something in common with Dean Gormley's:  none of this is the fault of the university in question, but instead should be pinned on Dan Kovalik for shining a light on one of the dirtiest practices in higher education--the exploitation of temporary labor.

A woman who devoted her life to education is dead.  She cobbled a life together as long as she could and now she is gone.  Administrators can keep playing ostrich and deflecting all they want, but this story is rolling.  Plenty of us in Adjunct Nation will keep passing on the stories and we have friends, family, and students who listen.  Some of us are parents who may soon be looking for colleges for our own kids.  What if parents start asking about this issue when deciding where and how to spend their money?  How much do your administrators get paid and what do they do for my child?  How much will my child's instructors make since they are the ones providing the education, which is the reason for attending in the first place?  Janosko tells us, "To even equate the university president's salary with what an adjunct professor makes per class is ludicrous.  You are talking apples and oranges, and there is no way to justify the comparison." This is one time I can agree with her, for she has unwittingly made my case:  there is no comparison.  Administrative salaries and positions have exploded nationally, while professorial wages have shrunken despite higher tuitions and larger enrollments.  The salaries of the highest levels of education--not to mention corporations--in this country far outpace workers' salaries, and it's about time we start evening the odds.

(For more on administrative bloat, see Douglas Belkin and Scott Thrum's "Dean's List:  Hiring Spree Fattens College Bureaucracy - And Tuition" in The Wall Street Journal - my apologies, for it will not link but can be found on a search.)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

In Memoriam: Margaret Mary Vojtko, Adjunct

Today I worked at School Two, the one I must commute almost two hours with traffic to.  By the time I returned home again, I was tired and ready to spend some time with my family before scrounging up some food.  I had been having trouble with the wifi at work all day, which gave me the sneaking suspicion that I was not getting all my emails.  Home again, with a somewhat more reliable network, my phone blew up like a student's:  so. many. emails.  I decided to rock the small child while reading through what I hoped would be only spam and junk mail that could be deleted without opening.  Instead, in my School One account, one faculty listserve thread already had six responses on it.  These usually are never good news, but sometimes good for a laugh before deleting.  I opened the thread and went to the first post, which included Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Daniel Kovalik's article "Death of an Adjunct."  At first, the literature scholar in me thought perhaps it was some clever play on the title of Arthur Miller's classic play Death of a Salesman, used only to highlight the growing problematic use of adjunct labor at the region's many colleges and universities.  Additionally, to my genuine admiration, the original sharer pointed out that this was an especially important article in light of the fact that "we" [meaning the department that I work in] had now made all the temporaries [their term for us] part-time.

I still had not opened the article because I couldn't believe what I was reading:  an actual tenure track person taking up for us publicly on a department forum.  This issue of our reduction in status at School One might be considered something of a summertime deal, done when few regular folk were present.  Many did not even know that we had been cut back until three weeks into the term--that revelation also coming via email.  Anyway, it was a nice surprise...until I opened the link.  For the death of an adjunct was not merely some metaphor, some witty allusion to a play, but a true life tragedy that played out in the city I had just driven back from while doing the same kind of work.  Margaret Mary Vojtko, 83, adjunct instructor of French for Duquesne University died from complications of a heart attack she suffered two weeks prior (Kovalik).

The link above leads to the full article and the details are sorrowful indeed.  The comments following it, containing tributes by friend and co-workers, among other people's opinions, are heart tearing.  Here was a woman who dedicated her life to teaching those seeking to learn, and she had been utterly failed by her employer.  This inhumanity perhaps compounded by the fact that the school is a Catholic institution which takes pride in values and its mission statement.  Yet, here was a woman who had worked for them, had given of herself to her classes, and died destitute after a battle with cancer.  Like me, she had no health benefits.  At one point, this elderly teacher not only fulfilled her duties at the university, but also worked at a nearby Eat-N-Park to try to survive.  Kovalik mentions her dire embarrassment at offers of public assistance; her drive to keep going.  Is this all a teacher is worth?  Recently Duquesne had let her go with no retirement, no severance, nothing.  Disposable labor when administrators rake in the biggest salaries in the history of high education [That is solely my opinion.  I am not an economist and have not adjusted for inflation or done any large study].

Once I made some attempt to recover from the article, I checked the other posts in the thread.  Two of them were from "temps" who I know, appreciating the sentiments expressed by the original poster.  Then several other full time, tenure track people chimed in asking that this issue be placed on the department's next meeting agenda, for this decision to cut our hours, salaries, and benefits had not been done with full department disclosure.  I almost could not believe my eyes.  The sense of rejection and disposability I feel, that seemed to be so invisible, so ignored, was in fact being addressed publicly at last.  Was it because Margaret Mary Vojtko once lived and worked so very nearby? Was this, instead of just another news item to scan or ignore, a call to action?  Kovalik spoke with Vojtko's nephew and he "implored me to make sure that she didn't die in vain.  He said that while there was nothing that could be done for Margaret Mary, we had to help the other adjuncts at Duquesne and other universities who were being treated just as she was, and who could end up just like she did." Perhaps, just maybe, this woman's life may not pass unnoticed in the world of post-secondary education.

By late evening, a hashtag emerged on Twitter:  #IAmMargaretMary  used by other adjuncts to show their sadness and solidarity as part of the adjunct army:

               @TendentiousD  "#A labour in makes a more tangible product than  
, & rakes in money for schools, but gets peanuts.

                @MariaMaistoNFM Vojtko remembered for pride, eloquence

Though the tag is not trending at this time, it is my hope that as users return to Twitter tomorrow, this story spreads and the hashtag is taken up by anyone who cares about the state of education and the American teacher.

I am sorry, Margaret Mary, that I never met you in person.  I am truly sorrowful for your death and the lack of compassion shown to you by your employers.  You will not be forgotten.  Perhaps it is this story that will move to action many who have been biding their time, biting their tongues, and delaying their cause.  Let me erase the board for you, my comrade.  Don't worry.  I'll turn off the lights.

Thank you, Margaret Mary Vojtko, and adjuncts everywhere.  There is honor in what we do, even if there is not fortune.