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.
It 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.