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?