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.   

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