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.


  1. That's a common dilemma for people in service jobs -- the conflict between the effectiveness of traditional Wobbly-style direct action tactics like slowdowns and satisficing, and the real needs of the human beings one is serving. Slowdowns and going canny are excellent tactics for an industrial or financial workplace. But for those engaged in service to people, other methods -- like the "good work" strike and the "open mouth," or just plain anonymous sabotage to equipment and physical plant calculated to inflict maximum damage -- can be ways to break it off in management AND help the people you serve, at the same time.
    From @KevinCarson1, who had trouble with the comment feature and allowed me to repost from another site

    1. This reply is to Kevin's comment, not myself. I agree that the latter tactics mentioned are probably more effective for change to the adjunct situation than work slowdowns or minimal work tactics. Those will only serve to get one adjunct replaced with another. However, any type of action, taken at a campus-wide or city-wide scope might have the power to make change, at least at those places. This could even have carryover if it works and puts fear in management elsewhere. I think students and parents becoming informed about the conditions their students' instructors work in are paramount for societal support. Students in the know, at least in my experience, have not only responded compassionately, but also asked what they could do. There's potential for a brave move.