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.)