Friday, November 14, 2014


 Rarely does a week go by now that I do not see an article or a tweet about another campus of adjuncts joining a union or organizing in some way to fight for a living wage.  Considering we are the bulk of higher education faculty and on the whole are not paid very well, that should not be a surprise.  However, what continues to surprise me are the reactions to adjunct organizing efforts by many tenure track faculty.  A few folks' reaction is to stand up for us, while others warn us.  Some want to silence us, and others avoid us and our efforts. Not all these responses are optimal.

Gold StarI did discuss some of these issues before in my post "Adjuncts, Assumptions, and Activism," but I think there are things worth reiterating.  First of all, I do know and have met some very strong tenure track adjunct allies.  These are people who not only talk and write on our behalf, but actively work on their own campuses and in higher education as a whole to assist adjuncts.  In fact, if you would like to join this group of friends and don't know where to start or what to do, check out ally Seth Kahn who just posted this entry on his Here Comes Trouble blog, that, while a direct response to a specific person, is also very good advice to anyone looking to get into the effective adjunct ally category.  Additionally, adjunct badass Miranda Merklein, over at the Fugitive Faculty blog posted "Ten Steps to Becoming an Adjunct Ally." I think that these readings are very helpful to those looking to get involved or step up their activist ally game.

Ally CookieNow, here are some words about allies in general.  Please, please do not go looking for what some like to call "ally cookies."  Basically, that is a reward expected to be given out by whatever group the self-professed ally has chosen to assist. Groups suffering from any type of disparity do not have time to be baking cookies and handing out accolades to allies.  Also, please do not presume to speak FOR the group, professing to know just how they feel or what their situation is like without actually consulting the group in question, especially if you yourself have not ever experienced the world in their way.  That Ally Spokespersona was an impetus for me to start this blog.  I was so damn tired of seeing posts about adjuncts and our situation by people who were not adjuncts and had never been!  When I complained to a friend about this, he said that an organizer suggested using any platform to draw attention to the cause was good.  I countered that letting people speak for themselves was better.  That being said, people are afraid.  Afraid to speak out and lose their jobs.  Afraid to get harassed by trolls.  Afraid to be shamed by the public for the truths they have revealed.  Thus, this blog was born.  Do I still worry about those things? Sometimes.  Especially right before I hit "Publish." So ask  yourself, Ally: "Am I speaking up on behalf appropriately by amplifying their side authentically or am I speaking when I should be making space for someone of that group to speak safely?"

Velvet RopesTenure track people, those solidly safe behind the velvet rope of tenure (perhaps not those still in their probationary period):  please use your positions to make a difference.  The more permanent people that teach, the larger the faculty percentage to stand up for teaching and learning.  Please speak up for those who are not able to do so, whether that is because they fear for their jobs or simply they are not invited to the meetings.  Those are good places to practice good allyship:  adjuncts might not be at the meetings, or they might be there but feel unwelcome to add to the conversations.  You could talk to some beforehand and agree to take their statements or concerns and read them at the meeting, keeping them anonymous, if need be.  You could petition to have adjuncts attend the meetings or be invited to workshops and trainings, if they are not.  Once, temporary faculty were excluded from the free lunch at faculty orientation day.  Only new tenure track people were allowed to eat on the President's dime.  Tenure track allies who helped plan the day were angry that we adjuncts were left out.  They found another group on campus who was sponsoring the day to provide us lunch.  That might seem like a small gesture, but it has stuck with me over the years.  One small step to erasing disparity may start an avalanche.

Police BadgeThen we have a few varieties of unhelpful vocalizers.  Recently, I was part of a successful adjunct unionizing effort.  Because of my open support, as well as my speaking and writing about the adjunct exploitation crisis, I catalogued some interesting encounters.  More than one permanent faculty member said to me, whilst sagely shaking their heads, "Oh, its a good idea, but it won't work.  We tried and couldn't do it.  They'll stop you, too. Be careful."  They didn't. We won.  Honestly, many of us had little to lose and very much to gain, therefore, we could not be frightened away from organization in large enough numbers to affect the vote.  These folks were not really against us and they weren't actively standing in our way, yet they weren't making it any easier either. This group belongs with the larger  demographic who would like to tone-police adjuncts:
    We aren't being careful.
    We are too angry.
    We are too whiny.
    We are too loud.
Stop this.  Stop telling adjuncts, or anyone experiencing some sort of adverse situation to express themselves in a way that makes you more comfortable.  Seriously, it isn't about you.  It isn't.  Let the person talk, cry, rant, or rave.  Maybe they have never gotten the chance to speak up.  Maybe their concerns deserve to be shouted.  I observed the other day that what I dubbed the Cult of Happiness is a real thing and its missionaries are relentless with their inspirational posts, verses, and maxims.  The true goal of this sect, I believe, is to prevent everyone everywhere from ever experiencing and expressing the full range of human emotions.  These folks have not only taken their Soma, they are pickled in it.  They will not stop until everyone is as blissfully happy and unaware of anything remotely upsetting.  These are the handmaidens of disaster.  They'll be throwing flowers at the the mushroom clouds.  Trust me.  The opposite of the Shh... Just be Happy Crew are the Shh...You're Giving Higher Ed a Bad Image Squad. They do not want to hear our critique, because quite frankly, they've got theirs and by golly, they deserve it more than we do.  Or something. Reasons.  These are the ones who will barge
Hashtaginto a discussion and shout "Not ALL tenure track people act this way"--thus the title of this piece.  On-line, just about any time someone makes a statement about how one group, as a whole, treats another, there is a vast rush by someone to be first to say Not ALL: men, white people, gamers, police, etc.  It's true. Log onto any social media site and watch.  It happens in real life, too.  Stop this.  Why are you defensive?  If you feel the urge to "Not ALL" anyone, use that as a cue to stop, think, and then refocus.  Stop yourself from saying those words.  Think about what you might do to NOT be one of those people.  Refocus your response in a positive way to assist the person or group that felt oppressed, offended, or demeaned--the appropriate response might be silence while really hearing, planning what you can do to make this bad thing never happen again in your presence, or even giving the less privileged group a way to safely present their side:  all without expecting to be rewarded at all.    

Ostrich PillowHowever, the most dangerous reaction is to act as though ignoring the adjunctification of higher education will make it go away, or at least make it not exist for you.  It is not going anywhere.  It is going to get worse if we do not collectively make a stand and stop this disease from taking over every inch of education.  Please stop hiding your heads under your desks, in books, or the very appropriately named Ostrich Pillow.  This position not only looks hilarious, but it directly supports the administrative directive to liquidate all protections, such as tenure, due process, or freedom of speech.  This is really one of those "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention" moments.  Kindly wake up and read those posts I linked to above.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

No Rest for the Wicked, or an Academic Parent

Are you tired? I am.  My accelerated course just ended.  Many of my colleagues are probably in midterms.  Another group of us who still hold out hope, or perhaps just out of habit, are also applying for the sparse crop of permanent jobs.  In the middle of all this, two of my children got sick.  The eldest threw up at school and I had to go get him.  Never mind that throwing up is something he has always done a lot, if a student upchucks at school, someone must go get that person.  That was my Wednesday morning.  Already my middle child, who is still a preschooler was feeling poorly.  Since both of those kiddos had a checkup scheduled for Thursday, I thought "Hey, we'll make it to that and get it all taken care of at once."

No.  No that was not to be.  Instead my Wednesday evening included a trip to the local ER and then one to the children's hospital in the city.  The preschooler was not well.  It was one of those things that happens.  It just happens. No reason.  No nothing the child did wrong.  No nothing we did wrong.  He just got very sick very fast.  We returned home again a little after 4 a.m. on Thursday.  Ever since then, I have been following a care routine that the child is not a fan of.  I have been giving him very sticky medicine that he is not a fan of.  For three days he seemed to be getting better, but then this evening, as I hoped to settle him in early for some rest, he complained of being too hot.  He was.  The nagging worry I have carried in my stomach over him for about a week chomped harder.  I took a temperature and sure enough it was elevated.  I checked the discharge instructions but it was, thankfully, not high enough to call the doctor.  Some Advil was given and I decided to stay up and check him every little bit.  So here I am up, writing some things and thinking.

Little ShoesHe's small.  I had forgotten really, how very small.  As I tailed the ambulance to the city I could see his car seat strapped to the stretcher with him on board.  I could not make out his little face nor his hair that's too long and needs to be cut but hasn't been because I need more hours in my day and another me to get him to the stylist that doesn't make him cry.  So very small in his greenish hospital gown lying on a big gurney-type bed in the examination room.  So small that we had come all that long way to specialists who could work on, sedate and employ the right tools for little folks.

I wanted to scoop him up and pour all the energy and light that I had left into him.  And even though I'm supposed to be the grown up and know that the hurt caused by the treatment would make him better, I wanted to hide him from their hands and instruments that were making him cry out in pain.  "MOMMY!"

And after it was over, I sat stroking his fluffy hair, watching him sleep the sleep of the drugged, I thought, "Oh my god, I have five papers left to grade and they're due Friday and I'm an adjunct and what if I don't get them done and they're at home and I'm not and who knows when I'll get back there?!" That is what ran through my mind.  I was fairly certain that the child would be fine.  I was waiting for him to awaken, and my work intruded.  Here I was, miles from home for who knew how long, and my grades were undone.  Accelerated term students need their grades quickly before the second round begins.  I doubted I could get an extension.  I wondered how that would make me look.  I wondered if it would cost me my job.  At a time when all I really should be able to focus on was my kids, I was worried if our emergency would be a problem.  Perhaps my employer would've been understanding, but I don't know, nor do I have any protection as of yet.  Just one more wobble as I walk the precarious line of adjunct faculty life.

Now, it's time to go check my small patient's temperature and hope it stays down.  We have another checkup scheduled Tuesday and I hope we can just go there without further adventures.  The oldest one is fine after the barfing.  The papers got graded and the final grades submitted.  As always.

This is how you eat the Adjunct Elephant:  one giant bite at a time.
Elephant Mom and Baby

Monday, September 29, 2014

One Year Later: Margaret Mary, Burning It Down, and What Comes Next

Margaret Mary Vojtko Memorial Card

Today, September 29, is the remembrance day for Margaret Mary Vojtko.  Dan Kovalik's piece broke the story on the 19th and by the month's end, her sorrowful tale resounded worldwide.  Here we are on the day dedicated to her:  one year later, one year louder.  The death of Margaret Mary stands as a lightning strike in the midst of the drab chaos adjuncting can be.  It was her death that shook so many into realizing that the story could end the same for them.  It was her death that made many who do care about teaching and learning conditions realize the situation was indeed dire.  It was her death that put many of us on the path to activism.  When we win any victory, any recognition, it also belongs to Margaret Mary.

When I drive into the City of Pittsburgh and past Duquesne, I imagine her spirit there.  When I waiver on publishing a post, or speaking to a reporter and using my name, I think of Margaret Mary.  I remember how cold, so very cold I felt inside though the day was blistering hot when I read Kovalik's article.  This could be me.  Oh god, this could be me, my brain whispered as I stood at the start of my first multiple-school teaching year.  That feeling has driven me ever since.  I will not let an entire generation of scholars go down in flames. I will not let students be deprived of the educations they are paying large sums of money for.  I will use my words and time to work for better.  If I have to, I will also use actions.

This weekend, Twitter citizen @downwardlymobilePhD, with the help of others, planned and carried out an adjunct online forum that allowed for truth telling and airing of grievances, and I also participated in the event.  Given the marker #BurnItDown, the hashtag raged much of Saturday afternoon and into Monday was still garnering new hits.  Anyone with a Twitter account can, of course, search the hashtag and see the full stream of tweets.  Raging Chicken Press created a Storify of some tweets called "Ripping Back the Veil of Exploitation in Higher Ed" that gives a good summary of the tone and the truth many adjuncts face. I just wrapped up my Saturday class as this event began and was still amazed, as I scrolled to catch up and join the fray, how similar to my own experience total strangers' adjunct lives are no matter where they call home.  This is indeed a worldwide crisis at this point and adjunct issues often garner hits not only from the US, but Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.

Certainly, these fiery tweets will be read as complaining and whining by some.  That happens nearly every time an adjunct speaks out.  However, for many of us, our scholarly community--the people who understand exactly what this life is--are our on-line adjunct colleagues and we need these moments of shared experiences to affirm our solidarity.  Make no mistake about it:  solidarity amongst adjuncts exists not only on campuses as we unionize, but now it extends across state lines and country borders.  One success at a small school is a victory for everyone.  It is a slice of light seeping in.  Our cause now regularly appears in publication and news venues.  We are not whining so much as standing up for ourselves at last.  We dare to challenge the current state of higher education with our BurnItDown mentality.  We care about the workpain of adjuncts and other downgraded--both in salaries and hours-- and entirely necessary campus employees.  We care about our students and do not like that they pay for educations but are given climbing walls and waterfalls.  It is this last part, this care for our students, for the art and craft of teaching that has lead many adjuncts to ponder, "What next? What can we do to start again? To create something better that meets the needs of students and teachers without exploitation and unnecessary expense."  That answer will come and it will be beautiful and varied as the people who now fall under the term "contingent labor."  Make no mistake, we may take a day to air our grievances, but we never stop working towards the ultimate goal of better for all who want to take part.

Strength is in numbers, as Margaret Mary knew when she sought out the union.  I hope our efforts would make her proud.  If she knew how many her life inspired to speak up, to challenge the system in quieter and equally effective ways, I think she would be pleasantly surprised.  Thus, today after Burning It Down, we remember her and are renewed in our quest to find a better way.

(Oh, and Happy First Payday to those of us who've been waiting until the 30th of Sept. to get some much needed monies for our labor.)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Form-ing Dissent

At any time when a group starts to make enough noise and get enough attention for their cause, someone vocal will arise to oppose and deride them.  Adjuncts have been making lots of good noise, getting press from many sources, and generally raising awareness of the plight of approximately 76% of faculty in the United States.  It is not surprising, then, that this past week--the week preceding Labor Day, no less--I reeled in a nice big clownfish on another platform and we saw the publication of a particularly odious anti-adjunct piece.

It may come as a surprise to readers, and even some adjuncts, that many of us do have a community of comrades.  With all the social media platforms, this is easy to do.  In fact it is almost essential for some of us, who need community to work smarter, commiserate, and celebrate with, just as any worker would.  While many adjuncts lack offices and communities at their schools because they either are not granted the courtesy of office space or they cannot use any given space since they must run to another school, these communities exist nonetheless.  It was in one such community, discussing all the things adjuncts do that are not really covered by our pay and the hours allotted on our contracts that someone suggested we itemize these essential-to-higher-education tasks.  Important things, such as letters of recommendation for students, office hours, answering and composing email, and attending meetings, for example.  Jokingly, I said someone should humor me with a form for this.

Adjunct Consulting FormSince I had some time and needed the laugh, I made a very rough draft.  This was much improved and beautified by Bri Bolin.  It was an instant Twitter hit and even I was surprised at its popularity;  to date it has 92 retweets and 99 favorites.  All afternoon and into the evening folks enjoyed and shared it.  Invariably, it made someone unhappy:  I was admonished that we adjuncts should just be glad with what we were getting because submitting this would cost us our jobs.

Yes, someone thought that we were plotting a nationwide paperwork-based rebellion.  Would that that were true.  Into my microcosm of adjunct-land otherwise known as my twitter feed came a presence to speak to me of my folly.  As other adjuncts could not resist chiming in, we were all told that if we had skills and diligence, we would find a place in the world of work that valued us.  We were also told that teachers in Tanzania have it much worse.  I have no doubt that many places in the world have terrible conditions, but I wasn't talking about them.  I was talking about right here in the US of A!  It isn't as though there are not plenty of classes to be taught; it isn't as if upper level administrators aren't raking in six figures at many schools; it isn't as though the administrative class hasn't grown exponentially in the past 20 years.  I was addressing a specific disparity in the country where I live and work.  I'm actually surprised I didn't get told to move if I wasn't happy because that's another nice piece of advice anyone who ever disagrees about anything in the country is given.

Later, an entirely awful article was published in The Chronicle of Higher Education.  Note that I am providing a link via a nice service called donotlink because it will not up the page count of whatever odious article a person would like to share.  I am not going to deconstruct this article here because enough people already have, and there is no more I can say that wouldn't involve angry swearing:  Amy Lynch-Biniek's "Dear Tenured Faculty:  Retweeting Isn't Enough"; Seth Kahn's "Yeah, but..." which builds on Lynch-Biniek's piece; Marc Bosquet's "Offensive Letter Justifies Oppressive System that Hurts Both Faculty and Students", hilariously published in the same venue as the original; Andrew Robinson's "The Big Boy Boxer Shorts"; and finally Nathaniel Oliver's masterful takedown "Grading Stukel." The short of it is that a tenure track person thought it was necessary to state that adjuncts asking for a living wage and benefits were "whining" and furthermore, if we had only worked as hard as this author had, we would not have this problem.  Because we are whiners and not willing to face the facts that not everyone lands their dream job, among other sins, we had no business teaching students.  Additionally, the author chose to drag Margaret Mary Vojtko just days before the anniversary of her death actually saying that this dead woman should've put on "her big girl panties," which I'm certain would have definitely helped her beat both cancer and the lack of decent pay.  Arg.  Macrocosm.  This article, published in a major higher education venue, received many views and even comments agreeing with the author, though I am starting to believe all these folks who rail against every pro-adjunct piece and support the anti ones are either Badmin, Badmin Handmaidens (my term for anyone who aids and abets badmin), or spooked tenure track faculty who still don't get it.

So, adjuncts, the detractors will say work harder:  bootstraps; don't whine:  i.e. ask for fair compensation for services provided; remember it could be worse:  Tanzania, I am told (my apologies to Tanzania); and meritocracy:  your skills will save you in the end.

More realistically:  organize with colleagues or even a union, if you can.  The bloated administrative beast that is American higher education cannot grind on without us.  We can stop this.  Look at the fast food and home health workers!  The criticisms leveled at them are the same directed at us.  Many of them also work multiple jobs with disastrous results, such as the recent death of Maria Fernandes.  Are we ready to take to the streets and face down our critics?  Are we ready to be that brave or does our tenuous tie to white collar, aspiring to the middle class mentality being a college teacher confers constrain us?  We have the majority.  If we all walk out, we bring the juggernaut of corporate higher education to a halt.  Think about the form above.  How much work have you done and for how many years that has been basically volunteer labor for the academy?  Isn't it time we were properly compensated? Isn't it time that every worker was?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Adjunct Architecture

Distressed ColumnsFor most of my adjunct colleagues, school has either already begun or will do so in the next few days.  I would like to sincerely wish everyone the best of luck:  may your classes fill and run, may they not be stolen by anyone, may your commutes be traffic-free, and may your vehicles/bus passes stay running and valid.  If I could wave a wand and make all those things so, it is the very least I would do for the battalions of adjuncts returning to service.  In a session at the recent COCAL (Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor) conference in New York City, adjuncts were labeled "Pillars of the University."  This is the truth.  With some estimates of our numbers nationwide at 76% of faculty, indeed the superstructure of the corporate higher education cannot stand without us.

Columns exist all over the world in buildings that have stood for hundreds of years.  Some are plain looking, some are fluted, some are inscribed.  Some, like the ones in this picture, have grime from years of exposure to the elements, they have fissures, they are in the shadows, but still they stand.  Adjuncts, this is an appropriate metaphor for many of us.  I feel this even more keenly than I did last year.

I no longer work for what I referred to here on this blog as School One.  This week, as the students return to my town, I feel left out of that energy for the first time in four years.  I feel it.  I have to drive past the school nearly every time I go out because it dominates the landscape.  At School Two I have one class this term.  This was not retaliation for anything, but it was a choice I was forced to make.  Without the larger salary from School One, I could not afford the childcare, gas, bus, and other expenses of a 120+ mile round trip commute twice a week.  I could not afford to work.  I kept one weekend class because my family can handle the childcare, saving that money.  This is simply to keep my foot in the teaching door, and, in a sense, to keep my sanity.  I'm one of those cracked pillars.  I have been caught in my calling.

So that is where Year Two of being The Unarmed Education Mercenary begins:  one class and they are already mine.  I am a pillar.  I am still standing.  I am still working to get adjuncts doing the important work of teaching the nation's students more reward for their mostly underpaid labor.  Join the battle.  Stand with the Pillars.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Signal Boost: Petition to Investigate Higher Ed Labor Practices RE: Contingent Faculty

The Unarmed Education Mercenary has been taking it easy lately, trying to get well and spending some time with the family.  Soon the day will come to make decisions and construct syllabi, but the adjunct battle never ceases, thus I am here to bring an important petition to the attention of any readers who might have missed it on social media this week.

Several adjunct activists and allies from across the country composed this petition to David Weil, Director of the Wage and Hour Division at the US Department of Labor, to open an inquiry into the use and abuse of contingent and non-tenure track instructors by colleges and universities nationwide. Titled "Open an Investigation into the Labor Practices of our Colleges and Universities in the Employment of Contingent Faculty," it quickly reached its original goal of 500 signatures, which was raised to 1,000.  That mark, too, was surpassed in less than 24 hours and signatures continue to be added.

Already two articles highlighting the petition exist.  Inside Higher Education's "Adjuncts Urge Labor Dept. Inquiry into Working Conditions" from July 16th gives a brief look, but Justin Peligri's article for USA Today, "Underpaid and Overworked:  Adjunct Professors Share their Stories," goes further.  In this July 17th piece Peligri interviews two of the petition's authors, Joseph Fruscione and Ann Kottner, as well as three students who have been taught by adjunct professors.

Please read the articles and especially the petition.  Sign and share.  Let's see how many signatures that we can get.  The adjunct crisis will only be solved with action.  The more publicity we can garner, the more light we can throw on the situation, the better our chances become.  Faculty working conditions are student learning conditions, thus the exploitation of adjunct labor is a cause for faculty, students, parents, and anyone who cares about the state of higher education in America.

Thanks everyone!  Even at rest, I'm ready to rejoin the fray!

Weeping Warrior Angel

UPDATE 12:37 pm 7/18:  Petition co-author and blogger Joe Fruscione provides an update on the signature count as well as more insight into what the authors and signers hope to accomplish in "That Petition You've Been Hearing so Much About."

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

One Year of Adjuncting

Last summer I began this blog upon receiving the "Good News," which was the email subject line, that my hours at my formerly full-time temporary faculty position were to be cut.  It was late in the summer to be looking for piecemeal work, but I managed to find some classes over 60 miles away, thanks to a friend.  It was either that or find a cheaper rental place for my family in a town that has neither loads of safe, cheaper rental places for families or other teaching jobs.  Though I truly had been an adjunct all those years of full-time work, I had not ever considered myself one until that moment I took on two schools.  I was wrong.  I was always disposable to the system.  Now I was to find out just how precariously many of the nation's 76% of higher education faculty truly do live.

I started the fall term with an abundance of optimism -- really what choice did I have?  I could either teach six composition classes for two schools or children would not eat and bills would not be paid.  An added bonus was that the fall breaks for both schools lined up, giving me real and much needed rests.  For the most part, the fall was okay if not absolutely maddening in the amount of work that I did.  It was during this never-ending onslaught of grading that I became more involved with adjunct activism, and it was quite likely that involvement that kept me from losing my mind entirely.  Even the sometimes two hour plus commute--of which it sometimes took over an hour to go about three miles--gave me time to think, plan, and compose in my head.  My smartphone became my best work tool, giving me a place to take notes down on the fly, check all of my email accounts, do research, keep track of my to-do lists, and about four million other things that would have been impossible even six years ago.  Without constant access to my files and the internet, my work would have been twice as difficult.

Then winter came.  On the last Tuesday of fall term I fell on the ice outside my house as I took off to walk to School One.  I fell straight down.  This resulted in the destruction of my trusty old laptop that was in my backpack on that day and, worse, I injured my hip joints and continue to limp even now.  This was the beginning of the no-insurance-health-meltdown.  Though I only missed one class all Fall term due to illness, the Spring term was disastrous.  It should be noted that School Two provides no real sick leave.

Any of my US readers know that this past winter was utterly deplorable.  Once I cancelled classes on my commute day for a complete whiteout.  Once I cancelled it for an ice storm that left roads impassable.  A third time, when I was within an hour of my destination, a large truckload tiedown hook was launched from the road and through my radiator.  Luckily, I'd kept my AAA membership and my vehicle insurance covered almost all the costs.  If I hadn't had these safety nets, I likely would not have been able to get home that day or to afford the repairs.  Despite any other scrimping and saving an adjunct must do, from experience if I'm going to drive anywhere for this job, those two things are worth every penny to have.

In February, my smaller son brought home a cold from daycare.  After a week of coughing on me, I became ill.  This was no minor cold when set loose in my system.  For two weeks it raged and then, just as I began to feel better, some upper respiratory flu attacked me.  All of February and March were miserable.  I coughed so hard I either cracked a rib or pulled something important in my side.  Sleep?  Not lying down.  So here I was, dragging about two schools separated by 60+ miles, limping, coughing, and teaching.  I traded my trusty backpack for a small wheeled bag marketed as a mobile office.  Another good investment.  This bag even has a padded pocket for my new-to-me laptop that should protect it better than the sleeve did and I wouldn't be as much at risk for dropping it from on high.  The only drawback is that when I ride the bus downtown to School Two (parking is so expensive it is more cost efficient for me to park on my friends' street for free and take the bus), it can be a pain to heft it up the step and then keep it out of everyone's way.  However, I can take all the things I need, as well as heavy textbooks and papers, more easily than before all without hurting myself.

For most of February, March, and April, while the weather in my area was less than optimal--snow, ice, whiteouts, more snow, freezing cold temperatures--I coughed and snuffled my way through the five  classes.  My spring breaks did not line up, but this at least provided two "easy" weeks; therefore, I only had to work at one school each week.  I thought that I would get some insurance help straightened out during this time, but instead I got much sicker and spent the off days of the one week in bed and then the off days of the break two weeks later trying desperately to stay awake long enough to grade the monster stack of writing that accumulated during the worst of the illness.  There were things students needed back in order to continue, so those were prioritized.  I took the honesty approach with the students.  They already knew I taught at two schools because I made that clear from the start of term as part of my introduction, and they knew I was very ill.  I promised work would be back when needed.  I offered extended rewrite deadlines.  I used email services routed to my smartphone to keep up with everyone, having instructed them that was the best way to reach me and get quicker answers to any questions or any needed help.  The students also suffered with the wretched sickness at both campuses.  The weather and flu took their tolls on us all.  Somehow we made it to the end.

By the end of April for one school and the middle of May for the other, we completed the spring term.  Students wrote some great things.  Some of their reflective portfolio letters were fabulously specific in the things they learned and how they would apply them in other classes and writings.  I did not lose too many from my rosters and most of those were folks who withdrew from the universities fully early in the term.  I did lose a few more in one of my developmental classes than I would like, but that is not uncommon. I cannot help but think that if I only worked at that one school I would have had more opportunity to chase them down and keep them in the course.  Teaching developmental sections takes more care, more effort, to retain students who struggle for a various intersection of reasons.  They are courses I've been entrusted with in the past, just never as a two-school adjunct.  That isn't doing the best for the students.

So now it is June.  I have finally stopped coughing.  I do not always feel very good.  I still have trouble with my left hip.  I am in a battle with assistance agencies over medical, food, and income help as I enter summer with no work.  I've been applying to jobs inside and outside academia.  Would I do this two school adjunct thing again?  I would really prefer not to, but it may once again be the only option available.  My position at School One, the original job that I had and the one that paid the best is now gone.  All of the adjuncts in my department there were replaced with graduate students.  Fifteen folks lost their jobs.  The other adjunct options in this area pay far less and are term-to-term contracts whereas this one at least provided an entire academic year's guaranteed amount of pay.  Losing this is the next level down:  term by term work only.

This is one year as a two-school adjunct in short.  It does not address the good things:  the fun of classes; the great things students said, created, and wrote; and working with other adjuncts to organize, unionize, and draw attention to the cause.  This is my truth of one year.  This is the state of American higher education for many of the 76% of adjuncts teaching at our colleges and universities.

Adjunct Mobile Office

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Adjunct Verses/Versus Badmin

First Badmin came for the retired tenure track lines, and I did not speak out

     Because I had a tenure track job. 

Then they came for the liberal studies jobs, and I did not speak out—

      Because I did not teach much liberal studies anyway. 

Then they came for the adjuncts’ jobs, and I did not speak out—

      Because I was not an adjunct. 

Then they came for my tenure track job—and there was no one left to speak for me. 

My apologies to Martin Niemӧller: This is in no way meant to belittle his original and very powerful quote on the dangers of not standing up for the right thing when one should, nor is it meant to equate the adjunct crisis with the Holocaust--that would be inane and inappropriate.  This is only to remind people how we got in this current situation and just how far it could still go.  Too often we are complacent until the crisis knocks on our own front door.  If you feel alone and powerless, it is much easier to stay safe and quiet.  I can understand that because I have been that person.  Doing the right thing is often not easy and entails risk.  Across the nation I watch my adjunct family lose classes through cuts or tenured faculty poaching of already filled contingent faculty sections.  I see policies implemented in the name of "the greater good" that cost current teachers their livelihoods.  If the adjunctification of the professoriate is allowed to reach its endgame, there will be no tenure track by default.  When the tenured become the minority on every single campus, who will balance votes and the job of shared governance?  

We can either take a stand or continue to watch American higher education succumb to corporatization.  The current rise in adjunct unionization efforts countrywide is no mere trend.  People are drawing the line and beginning to fight back.  

Where will you stand? Beside us or against us?  

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Let' s Make this as Painful as Possible!

This is my last week at School Two.  I'm nearly finished grading all the papers and portfolios for those two classes.  Today was my last day there and it started out pretty well.  It was nice that more than one person in my Composition II class thanked me for the course and said they enjoyed it.  My day should've stopped there.

Then I checked my email.

From School One, the one that has dismissed all the current adjuncts, came an email request.  This missive went out to the entire department, but it could just as easily have been sent to a list of only the permanent faculty members.  Instead, every single one of us was asked to do a big favor for the new horde of incoming TAs--our replacements:  would all faculty be so kind as to submit their assignments and prompts to be stored electronically for these students to access?

Excuse me?

I've just been told that I'm no longer needed.  It is then implied that I am not good enough to go through the existent conversion to permanent faculty member process that is part of our contract, but my ASSIGNMENTS would be APPRECIATED?!


So very much nope that if nope had a tonnage measurement this would break the scales of Nope-i-ness.

My years of professional education courses, of teaching experience, of trial-and-error--->reflection--->reconfiguration ARE MOST CERTAINLY NOT going to go to the people who will be paid less money to do my job.

Would I share ideas with a colleague? Yes.  Have I done this in the past? Yes.  This is what makes a community of teacher/scholars function well.  Should I leave my hard work to be vampirishly siphoned off by those with no context or knowledge of me and my methodology?  Hell no.

This was an absurd and highly offensive request.  A parting blow with just over a week to go.  A reminder that we are not wanted, just our products that are beneficial to others. If that isn't greasing the wheels of the corporate education machine with our own bodies and minds, I don't know what is.

I sincerely hope that any other adjunct or TA who is not returning ignores that request and doesn't submit a damn thing.  I do admit that one friend's suggestion of turning in a syllabus with a theme of adjunctification amused me, but I don't have the time or the patience to even make a satirical stab at an assignment for this.

A request such as this takes the cake.  This cake, to be precise:

Misspelled Adjunct Cake

P.S.  Adjuncts, don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Earlier Optimistism Probably Erroneous: Farewell to Fifteen Adjunct Positions

There was a time a few short weeks ago when I believed that the outrage over what could happen to adjuncts was going to make a difference in the department at School One--this is the place where our very own department reduced our workload down to 3/3 from our former 4/4 full time, year-long schedules, thus making me a two-school Unarmed Education Mercenary.  Several tenure track folks got angry enough to speak out publicly and also called for the issue of our cut hours, ridiculously unaffordable heath care situation, and part time status to be discussed at full department meetings both in the fall term and this spring.  Readers of the blog already know that I went to a portion of that first meeting, but I never really wrote fully what the fallout was from that day.  I think that it has taken me this long to comprehend it all myself.  It has not been a mentally easy few months and the last few weeks have been especially discouraging.  From trusted reports, it is probably better that I did not attend the last meeting.  It sounded like an ugly scene between colleagues that likely has deepened the divide between undergraduate and graduate faculty.  A divide as apparent to an outside assessment committee as it is to those working there. Instead, I taught my classes, which are scheduled the same time as the departmental meetings,

Aside from a disinterested disregard for what happened to the adjuncts by many people who spoke up at the first meeting--a lot of people didn't speak up at all, so I don't know what to say about that other than maybe they agreed with those who did--was an utter lack of respect for liberal/general studies courses, both the people who teach them, and the students who must take these required classes.  Underscored by reports from the latest meeting, it seems to be the view that the overly large doctoral program students deserve these formerly adjunct courses as places to gain teaching experience.  It is already a practice that there are Teaching Associates granted a few courses and nominally supervised by mentors, but these positions have been highly competitive.  How that competition plays out is, perhaps, a story for another blog or even another writer, but these positions do exist.  The competition is supposed to ensure the best qualified candidates get the positions.  This also should guarantee, by extension, that undergraduates aren't exposed to educated fools who have no idea how to construct, direct, or assess learning.  I'm fairly certain no chairperson or dean wants to be inundated with grade or unprofessional conduct complaints, and having once covered classes for a TA who could not take the pressure and left unexpectedly, I was told that "avoidance of all grade complaints" was the goal as I covered the last four weeks and finals while trying to salvage some shred of learning for those students.  Art Linkletter used to say that "Old age isn't for sissies," and I would revise that to "Contemporary teaching isn't for them either."  Education is an art and a skill that can be learned, but it should not come at the expense of undergraduate students paying full price.

When I think of how many times undergraduate non-English majors have told me that my class has been the first English class they've ever enjoyed or felt the freedom to really write in, I am very pleased.  I also neither appreciated or followed the advice of tenure track faculty who told me, when I was a TA and an adjunct finsihing a dissertation, to let the classes languish in favor of my own work or I would "never get done" with my degree. Do what now?  I'm supposed to give a class of students who have paid the same amount as everyone else a sub-par experience because my writing is more important?  I guess that makes sense to certain people, but most likely not those from professional education backgrounds.  I neither compromised my classes or my work and, TA-DA, degree in hand, for what good it does me. Is that what those advice-givers did?  Did they sacrifice the quality of their undergraduate teaching in favor of their own work?  Doing a dissertation is not dissimilar from working on a scholarly book, so teaching while writing should be the norm and not something to get past. 

This move to gift all the former adjunct positions to less qualified teaching associates seems a direct disservice to the many highly qualified adjuncts who do a great job AND an equally bad move for undergraduate students.  It also furthers the rift between graduate and undergraduate faculty as in, dear undergrad profs, your classes are not really worthy of anything but a learning experience for our doctoral programs.  W. O. W.  Way to undercut morale while missing the boat for on-campus recruitment and retention of majors, which seems to always be a concern we are to keep in mind.  Additionally, this particular campus likes to claim, both in PR materials and in on-campus recruitment tours, that "At mega-universities, students might catch a glimpse of the professor; too busy doing research to be in the classroom, he or she passes the class off to a graduate assistant.  Not at _(Insert name of PA State System School)___, where the professors who conduct the important research also teach the class." Furthermore, according to projected course offering data and current coverage statistics, Professor "Staff" will cover over 50% of undergraduate liberal studies required courses.  This is based only on currently scheduled courses and does not take into account those invariably added during summer orientation sessions as required courses fill to the maximum and new ones are approved for the overflow.

To compound the situation further, readers of the blog may recall that there is indeed a faculty union at this school--one that is for tenure track faculty AND adjuncts alike!  Ah but herein lies a terrible conundrum that has led me to an answer I pondered earlier:  can a union represent both tenure track and adjuncts equally?  The answer in this case is a resounding NO.  The union failed us utterly.  In the fall our concerns were treated as no major issue.  A union member sympathetic to our cause told me at one point that a policy grievance on behalf of all 15/16 of us was being filed.  It disappeared.  My contact could not discover what became of it.  I guess this place has one of Winston of Nineteen Eighty-Four fame's memory holes.  This spring, when our chair summarily dismissed us with the notice of a policy change in fact giving all the classes to graduate students, our grievance chair went from reportedly outraged, to wishy-washy in a meeting with some adjuncts, to nothing happening again as the short clock on our window to file ticked away.  What happened here? 

In the latest round of contract negotiations between this union of PA state system faculty and the state powers that be, our team stood up for adjuncts when the state wanted to reduce us all to part timers to ostensibly save a few bucks.  No, said the union.  This is wrong.  However, I believe that the union team did not go far enough to protect us.  Perhaps, being union members, they could not fathom that our very own union members, faculty themselves would then turn and do to adjuncts exactly what administration wanted in the first place!  With no explicit language in place to protect adjuncts, the wonderful conversion to tenure track option for long term temp facutly can be subverted by any department willing to flout solidarity and the spirit of the contract.  In my opinion, either this contract, voted for and approved by a statewide membership covers EVERYONE who is a member or it is a useless document fit for the bottom of birdcages.  If our nominal protections can be subverted for the will of this department or that, then why should anyone abide by the articles of it at all?  That is not solidarity, it is pick-and-choose, not unlike those people who use one verse from Leviticus to denounce their favorite sin while shoveling in likewise forbidden shellfish as they sport polyblend clothing!  

Torn Union SignAdjuncts, I think that if we are going to successfully work for better working conditions for us and better learning conditions for our students, we should trust ourselves and our OWN unions.  This situation has made it clear to me that very few people still clinging to the tenure track dream are truly concerned with the reality of the situation that their very own programs are complicit in creating.  When job searches nationwide generate 200-300+ candidates per posting, the reason so many PhDs remain jobless in the academic field is not the incompetence of those candidates, but rather the dearth of positions for which we have been trained.  It is not a case of not trying hard enough or being good enough; instead it is entirely because full time positions have been systematically reduced and divided until there is the appearance of only part time work.  The classes are there.  The money is being diverted elsewhere.  It is time to fight a system bent on perpetuating itself on the backs of adjucnt faculty and out of the pockets of parents and students.  

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Still Among the Living

If there were ever a time in my college teaching career that I needed Spring Break, this was that year. Unfortunately, the breaks for my two schools did not align this term and I just had a lighter teaching load for two weeks. I also had a bad cold followed by the flu and those compounded by a recurrent health condition I've had since a child. If I had a dollar for every person who told me to get to the doctor, I could've afforded to actually GO to the doctor!

Here in the United States we recently hit the deadline to enroll in the ACA, or Affordable Care Act---known to many of us as the Not So Affordable Care Act.  A couple of other adjuncts, both in person and on-line discussed with me their frustrations about not being able to enroll.  Most of them work at more than one school. Some of the schools, like my School Two, explicitly will not give us adjuncts more than nine credit hours per term to avoid the new government requirement to provide full time employees healthcare. I suppose since in America that corporations are people, and often more valued than the actual people living in America, they can get away with this. Therefore, though I work more than a full time person, I have no healthcare covered by my employers--School One cut our hours to avoid having to convert any of us to full time permanent employees due to our long term work histories (this was told to us out loud and in person, it was not related to ACA avoidance as some presume).  This made our once affordable coverage coming from living wage checks impossible to afford on our drastically reduced pay.

Like my adjunct colleagues, I enthusiastically checked into the ACA early on. Though it is somewhat situation-based, the lowest price plan has horrendously high deductibles. The second one was too much a month.  The next one up was absurdly too much.  Other folks like me had the same basic assessment.  To make matters worse, many states including the one in which I live, refused to expand low income programs, thus leaving a big gap between who gets coverage by the state and those who can afford to pay for their own.  A great deal of adjuncts are caught in that gap.

However, onward we drag ourselves to get to work.  I worry about canceling classes at either place, unwilling to be seen as someone neglecting my duties.  I don't want to give any place any reason to fire me.  The fact that I speak up for adjunct issues is probably enough to land me on some sort of hit list, if anyone has been paying attention.  Additionally, one of my classes only meets once a week and to call that off would be a nightmare to reschedule and still get the students all they need for the term.  The very worst part has been my severely reduced lack of energy.  Energy is a valuable commodity when teaching five writing-heavy classes at two schools 58 miles apart!

During this time I calculated midterm grades for around 97 students and graded approximately 327 papers. This doesn't count quizzes and small in-class work. I still have a backlog of about forty rewrites and some on-line discussions to score.  I hope to finally get these off my conscious this weekend.  I do not like hold work more than two weeks, but I found myself forced to prioritize those assignments needed to continue other projects and let these sort of terminal ones wait.  It bothers me anyway. It isn't doing my usual best.  At one of the schools for certain there is a question on the end of term survey that asks about my promptness in returning work:  I will get hammered on that, and rightly so.  It isn't like me to be so sick or slow.  There's some shame in that.

I hope to get back to my regular posting schedule.  I've missed this and there have been strange and not always wondrous developments to report.

Now, it's time to sleep.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

My Apologies

The Unarmed Education Mercenary apologizes for her lack of posts. This is the beginning the fourth week of some illness that will not let go. 

Hopefully this coming week will be better.  Hang in there, adjuncts. 
I haven't forgotten you, given up the fight, or been silenced. I've just been very sick. 


Monday, March 3, 2014

Tough Questions Parents and Students [potential customers *cringe*] Should Ask Potential Colleges

At a banquet for my elder son's high school band this past weekend, many of the other parents at my table were the proud moms and dads of seniors or juniors.  This particular son who I was there with is still two years from graduation.  I listened to these parents discuss the trials and tribulations of multitudinous campus visits, logistics, choosing majors, and all the senior activities still to come in the school year.  As I kept my smaller child from either forking himself or me in the eye and also occupied for the program, I considered some thoughts I have on the choosing a college process as it relates to the best interest of students and getting the best education for their parents' or their own money.  I will probably be the most unwelcome prospective parent on several campuses in a few years!

A cursory look at several websites with handy--and some not so handy but instead rather lengthy--lists revealed that the list-makers consider things like difficulty of classes, roommates, safety, and food to be the biggest concerns.

Several lists suggested asking who teaches first-year courses, but mainly these were worded in such a way as to preclude the existence of adjuncts:  "Who teaches the first year courses I will be taking? Professors or teaching assistants?"  The generic title of "professor" means, to most students and parents, anyone with degree in hand teaching the class.  The "teaching assistant" designation is offered as a less-than-desirable choice because supposedly that person will be working on their own degree, thus spending less time and effort on the class, or they may not have the knowledge or experience of a professor.  Missing from this simple binary are the thousands of adjunct faculty, many with terminal degrees and years of experience in the classroom:  by omission we are not considered.

The title of professor comes at the top of tenure heap.  For those not aware, in the United States, in descending order they are professor, associate professor, assistant professor, instructor/lecturer, then adjunct. The teaching or graduate assistant is not officially considered since many are still classed as students themselves, however, they too are need-based employees.  I understand the term "professor" is meant generically but it is this ease of use factor that prevents parents from asking a tougher question:  "If my student is taught by mainly adjunct faculty, then where does the tuition money go?"

Where, indeed.  One site listed seeing construction projects on campus as a "good sign" that the school keeps its facilities up to date.  A better question might be "Why is this building being constructed now and what is it replacing?"  Are funds being directed to unnecessary projects--rock climbing walls, waterfalls, more lounge/meeting space--that could have been spent on education via creating full-time permanent positions for faculty? Further, what is the rate of administrative growth compared to permanent faculty hires in the past five or ten years?  Why has this trend toward a top-heavy system emerged?

Most schools suffer from a contemporary marketing trend of expressing their values.  I've heard this same obfuscation used recently in regards to the corporate health care employment area, i.e. employees lauded for going "above and beyond," which a friend of the blog pointed out are both prepositions requiring an object: above and beyond WHAT are they going?!  One of my own alma maters used "Beyond Expectations" for a number of years.  At least we received an object for our preposition, as indeterminate as it was; however, at no time were we given exactly whose expectations the place was going beyond.  As can be imagined, this is quite subjective.  Was the money spent on new banners, letterhead designs, website layouts, and other official insignia worth it in the end? I forgot it entirely and had to ask others.

However, pointed questions picking away at the economic values of the college or university would most likely fall to people perhaps not as well equipped to answer them.  Many campus tours are given by college students paid work study wages.  Some staff serving as campus recruiters also may not be paid large salaries and would perhaps be placed in precarious positions in regards to reprimands or even their employment status if they answered.  I would not want to cause trouble for these folks.  Perhaps if, on a tour, a more honored guest gives a question and answer session, that would be the best forum for these.  A parent's letter to the school being considered might also bring interesting results without putting anyone tenuous in peril.

Among all the other pertinent questions students, parents, and guardians might be considering when selecting a college, might I suggest tacking on some, if not all, of the following should they be given an opportunity?  Better yet, make an opportunity and ask:
Data fortune cookie
  • What is your campus's percentage of contingent (adjunct) faculty?
  • What are they paid per course?
  • What percentage of employees at this school are classed as administrative?
  • What is the salary of the president?
  • Does he or she live on campus?
  • How many vice presidents work here?
  • What construction projects are going on?  Why were they needed?  How are they funded?
  • What percentage of grounds staff is full time? What is seasonal?
  • What does the lowest paid administrative assistant make per year? 
  • What is the average semester's cost for textbooks?  Are there options for renting or lending of books?

Certainly more could be added to this list, but it past time to challenge the hierarchy of wages at the post-secondary level:  whose work is vital to the success, safety, and well-being of students and how are these employees being treated?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Life Intervenes and "Silly Season" Ensues

If my readers were looking for a blog post this week just past, there was not one.  It was one of those weeks:  The weather was worrisome for the big drive commute and the walk commute, and more importantly, the smaller child was very sick.  Also, I had a good deal of papers to grade and return because the students needed the feedback to continue with their projects.  I even began the week getting observed at School Two.  And I had to chase down an observer at School One to get last term's observation report signed.  And, and, and, infinitum.

The funny thing is, as I sat evaluating papers, planning classes, and working on all the things either late at night or very early in the morning when the small, clingy sick one was asleep, I missed this.  I felt somewhat guilty about not posting this week.  To say there is A LOT going on with the #AdjunctUprising would be an understatement.  University of Illinois at Chicago's adjuncts staged a planned work stoppage, or strike if you will, to bring attention to their cause despite the insane weather the midwest is getting pummeled by.  Lecturers at the University of New Hampshire voted to unionize while many others work towards this goal for their own campuses.  Media coverage of adjunct issues continues on Al Jazeera America, NPR, Inside Higher Ed, and The Chronicle, not to mention in brave student papers at campuses across the nation.

As schools edge towards Spring Break and the halfway point of the semester, many of us search frantically for our next paying gig(s).  In NASCAR they have a part of the year called "silly season," which involves drivers changing teams, drivers losing their rides or sponsors, or teams try to lock in drivers and/or sponsors for the upcoming season in an effort to win the most races.  I believe we adjuncts also have a "silly season," but it is much more serious than the name implies.  Just as a driver could end up without a ride and thus a livelihood, so too could any of us in adjunct land.  People get frantic, then desperate.

Those of us whose full time adjunct positions were cut at School One, which necessitated my employment at School Two and was the impetus for beginning this blog, were told in a meeting that we would not be rehired.  At this point, it looks as though the union there, which I have belonged to since 2006 and is for all faculty, will not protect us.  They failed to write explicit terms for our situation into the last contract though they fended off an attack on adjuncts from management during negotiations.  I suppose they did not foresee their own departments in turn meting out the same abhorrent treatment that was deemed abominable when suggested by those on the opposite side:  cut hours to avoid paying benefits or good salaries.  I still do not know what will happen with the job posting there and am in a wait-and-see-while-plotting-other-routes kind of mood.  Clearly, adjuncts need their own union, and not one that inevitably puts tenure track faculty first whether on purpose or by default.

In the ongoing effort to remain relevant to the academic field, I've been busy submitting some award applications, publications, and sketching out some new article ideas during all this as well.  Oh, and even doing some service work.  Winston Churchill said, "If you're going through hell, keep going."  Some days it feels like that.  The danger in stopping is inaction, apathy, and defeat.  Even if I end up going in entirely another direction, I don't think I can stop moving yet.  Maybe it means creeping only inches forward in a week or a month, but it is motion towards some goal though I'm not sure what that is.

What will happen to the intrepid adjunct population?  I guess that's a story for a later post.  My Magic 8 Ball still isn't working very well.

Chaos Clouds
Chaos Clouds, photo by me

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Day in the Life of an Adjunct

Many of my posts lately have stuck to issues or events related to adjuncts nationwide.  This one is what an average day is like for this particular adjunct, in case some of my readers do not live this life.  This is based on my Wednesday last week with some added aspects for perspective.  It is all true.

On the days that I commute to work at School Two, I get up at 6:15 am.  My first class is not until 11:20, but to get everything done, arrive with time to gather my thoughts and/or make any copies needed, and get to the right floor of the right building I must leave then.  This is a one-hour improvement from last term when 5:15 was my wake-up call.  I must get up on the first ring and go.  I can't really think about what all must be done or I wouldn't get up.  I'd pull up the covers and hide.  

If I'm lucky, the small child does not wake up during the first thirty minutes when I'm getting ready thudding around in the dark trying not to disturb anyone else until it's time.  At 6:45 I wake up my elder son to get ready for school.  I have to be done in our one bathroom by then to let him in.  On my commute days he must walk no matter what the weather and, outside of our block, few people bother to clear their walks.  That's just the way it is.  

I pack the lunches for the little guy and myself that sometimes I've managed to half prepare ahead of time,  and I put the kettle on for tea/coffee/breakfast.  I check my two bags and the little guy's bag, grab the lunches, then put everything in my vehicle.  If it's cold I start it up, clear the snow and/or ice.  If the walks need to be cleared I start them and my elder son takes over.  One of us salts if needed and he's gone.  Depending on traffic, sometimes he is tardy just from waiting to cross the streets.  

I go in, make the tea and oatmeal, then eat as fast as possible.  By at least five after seven, I have to be getting the little fellow into clothes.  Usually he doesn't wake up for this and I stuff him into pants, shirts, coats, and hats.  We make it out the door with my keys, my tea, and at least one stuffed toy.  The sitter's isn't far and I lug him, the stuffed menagerie, a lunch bag, and his bag inside.  I have gotten trapped in my vehicle due to the cold jamming the door lock and the sitter kindly came out to get him then.  I must be on the road by 7:30.  

Depending on luck, weather conditions, and the lack of police cruisers in the way, I usually get three miles from my parking area and hit the traffic wall.  If I'm lucky it's 8:30 at this time.  This past Monday, it was 9:30 because none of the major highways I travel had been cleared.  For about thirty minutes I creep along in traffic: a spectacular 10 minutes per mile.  Finally, I make it to my exit but even then the journey is not done.  I am only going to park on my friend's street because that is free and it puts me in the cheapest bus fare zone:  $2.50 gets me dropped off right on campus but it's $12.50 to park all day downtown.  On a good day, I catch the 9:00 am bus, but it's more likely I get the one twenty minutes later.  

I wait in cold that seems to only get colder for a nice, warm bus.  The ride doesn't take long and soon I'm waiting for an elevator to go to our department's office.  Then, I can grade, make copies, or fill out orders for large copy jobs.  At twenty minutes 'til class I make my way to another building.  I set up and get ready.  The teaching is the best part and that flies by.  Soon I'm telling them goodbye.  I use the time after that class to update my on-line course system with any info for that day because only one of the shared computers in the adjunct office sort of works and the wifi there is so scattered it's impossible to use my own things.  The classroom computer is a good one and no other class comes in, so I use it for about twenty mintues.  Depending on my level of hunger, I sometimes eat there.  

Some days I return to the department to eat and others I sit in a commons area.  On Wednesday, my long day, I have another class at night.  The middle of the day is mine to meet with students (somewhere), do prep work for the next week, grade, or run errands.  Last week I did some work for the adjunct cause, then practically ran to the transit station because my bus pass was low on funds.  I made it with ten minutes to go until closing.  

Around 4 pm I have to think about catching a bus to go get my vehicle.  The bus doesn't run at a time near the end of my night class, therefore I must bring my own wheels back downtown so that I don't have to wait 50 minutes in the dark for the last bus of the day.  Parking gets cheaper at night anyway and is even free after 6 if I can luck into a space.  It is usually about this time that I realize I haven't eaten anything that counts as supper.  That is followed by at least seventeen texts and eight calls from home because the world is ending for various reasons.

Pittsburgh EveningBy the time I am back in my vehicle, I crank the music as loudly as possible to drown out the phone and my guilt.  So long as no one is seriously hurt or injured, I figure they'll be okay.  Also, I have to have some sort of order in my head before teaching a three hour class.  If traffic is light and I'm lucky, I get a space with fifteen to twenty minutes to spare.  This equals coffee.  

Finally, I make it to my room way high in the sky.  Again, class time flies by with my talkative students.  By fifteen or twenty after nine, I'm safely back in my car with all my assorted bags of weight.  The commute home takes less time because there is little traffic.  By 10:15 I'm home again.  I can expect that things will be at some level of disaster.  The small child, who has fallen asleep waiting for me to come back, will wake up and be glad to see me.  He will not want to go back to bed at all.  I'll chase the older one to sleep after having missed his concert, forcing him to get rides there and back because it's dark and not necessarily the best plan to walk.  

I'll eat something left from dinner and check my messages.  If I'm lucky, no one needs any problems solved or questions answered.  By 12:30 it's possible I get to go to sleep.  The next morning, I will take the older one to school then fall back into bed for a couple extra hours.  My School One classes begin later in the day and run in a row.  

But that's another story.

(N.B.  I do all my prep work early in the week so that during this part I only am concerned with adjusting things or making copies.  This does not take into account the time spent doing that or the marathon grading sessions necessitated by teaching five composition classes.)

*Friend of the blog caught my misspelling of adjuncts in the first sentence.  I even proofread!  Thus the life of the bleary-eyed adjunct.)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Adjuncts, Assumptions, and Activism

I've started three posts tonight and deleted them all.  When I'm writing, that usually means I'm avoiding what I really want to say or I just don't know what it is that I want to say yet. Also, it seems that the more I write and share on here and in other spaces, the more I have come to care about this plight of adjuncts.  I also care about the persona of me that exists in these spaces.  Ridiculous! No one can control the internet.  Well, maybe the NSA does (Hi folks over there!) but the rest of us don't.  Once we write, post, like, +1, favorite, heart, or star any number of things, we become linked to those.  Sometimes we get drawn into discussions wherein people seem to just take everything the wrong way.  The internet is good for that.

For instance, after liking a post by another user elsewhere, we were both accused of wanting to do away with tenure entirely.  The post in question did not deal with that specifically and I did not say that.  Perhaps the other writer has in the past--I don't know.  I don't have time to read every single thing every person writes.  I have 102 composition students this term.  I read their many writings closely.  I read things that I'm interested in.  I don't read all of everything very prolific writers put out ever in the field of higher education.  Furthermore, why in the world would I want to remove tenure?  Simply, I don't.  The problem that I have with some people holding that designation is their lack of support or blatant disregard for adjuncts at their institutions.  If tenure provides protection, then please, please, use some of that to advocate for adjuncts.  Some schools allow us to attend department or college meetings, but some do not.  Even the places that allow attendance may not actually allow the adjuncts present to speak or vote.  Please, use your tenured voices there to question departmental practices, collegiate practices/policies, to speak for us when we are excluded.  If you don't know what to say, get to know the adjuncts working all around your school and ask them.  It might be possible to belay this into a service line on the C.V. by serving on a committee.  

If you as a tenure track person are lucky enough to have a union or lobbying delegation, use these forums to also bring attention to adjunct issues.  Many of us do what we can by protesting, meeting with elected officials, writing letters, and telling our stories, but sometimes this is deeply constrained by lack of money and the time involved for those teaching/commuting to multiple locations.  Telling adjuncts who ask for help that tenure track faculty don't make all the decisions is as weak an excuse to do nothing as the people who tell adjuncts to "just get another job." We know that faculty have limited direct power, just like other folks should know many of us are constantly looking for other jobs.  

Standing up for adjuncts IS standing up for tenure.  The corporate education model appears to think contract workers are the way of the future.  If fighting to keep tenure is the only cause or what is framed as the most important cause, then there are some other trees in the forest that need to be seen.  Most students scrape and struggle to pay astronomical textbook costs.  Staff work, in some cases, for a 12-month yearly pay far below the beginning professor on a 9-month contract--how could our schools function without them?  Far too many graduates from all levels of higher education cobble together cash and credit to pay astronomical student loan payments, many while working outside their chosen fields or massively underemployed.  Many adjuncts work without job security, benefits, and/or a living wage.  The disappearance of tenure cannot be championed separately from these other issues--it disappears because its absence makes the rest of us easier to exploit.  If you hold a tenured position and you're already silent on these matters, then what is the point fighting to keep that designation?  Higher education in America is in crisis and now is the time to speak up.

Personally, I write about adjunct issues because that's what I am.  That is the truth that I live.  Does this mean I am not concerned about the rest?  No.  Don't mistake my concern for adjuncts as a dismissal of other factors.  I've been ready to walk a picket line twice with my union at one school, which is mostly tenure track faculty, for contracts that held far more for them than they did for me.  If it comes down to it and adjuncts must walk out to be taken seriously, will those tenured people be the ones standing with me?  I hope so.   

Already I feel like lines are being drawn between the outspoken adjuncts and those who vocally/visibly support us, and everyone else in higher education.  I want to be proven wrong on this hunch.  Just because I make a lot of noise about adjunct issues doesn't mean I consider everyone else enemies or non-players.  I want to see students, parents, staff, and faculty all in solidarity to make higher education in America accessible, affordable, and sustainable.  I want things to be better than they are now.  No, better than they ever have been.  This is possible--I believe it--but not without a great deal of work and, I fear, a great deal of hardship by those willing to stand up.  For me, the possibility of better is worth it.  

(For those interested in trending social media as it relates to adjunct issues, see the following hashtags on Twitter:  #NotYourAdjunctSidekick (created by @nickysaeun) and #AdjunctGeneralStrike (created by @GracieG)
Additionally, go to Adjunct General Strike's website:
for more information, links, and resources)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Unruly, Angry Adjuncts

For my last post, I discussed the derailment tactics being deployed against vocal adjuncts, perhaps leaving out one of the major ones.  Interestingly, it was the one that first started me thinking about how we were being categorized by others and that word is ANGRY.  Evidently, we are not supposed to be angry or express any emotion outside of gratefulness that we even have courses and are "doing what we love."  This past week, Jacobin published a very good article about this labeling of labor.  Miya Tokumitsu's "In the Name of Love" discusses what is termed a feel-good devaluation of work.  In particular, Tokumitsu unpacks the classism inherent in this "Do what you love mantra" as it pertains to those able to do what they love, those who should suffer in silence because they are at least doing what they love, and those unable to even have a chance to do what they love for work.  Adjuncts feature prominently in the latter third of the article and the assessment is spot on.

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to teach.  I played school in the summer, I secretly liked school during the year--well, the learning part, not so much the mean people part--and I always have found myself teaching or leading workshops even when not in the teaching field per se.  When I teach, I am doing what I love.  Most of the time, this has been an equitable and livable job for me.  Until now.  Personally, I was able to teach because of two things:  a talent for it and the gift of a good education, much of which I had access to because of where I grew up--a good, rural school district--and a family that valued education.  This is not true for everyone.  I recall going to college after high school, expecting to be surpassed by students from larger districts in higher tax-base areas.  To my relief and utter shock, my school had prepared me far better than the majority of my peers.  I never once felt ashamed of my homeplace.  Not everyone, however, has this chance.  I have had students come to post-secondary education ready and willing to learn only to find that their schools have utterly failed them though they hold high school diplomas.  To paraphrase one student's writing at the term's end:  I had no idea how much I didn't know until I came here to college.  I was Valedictorian there and I feel very stupid here.  Now I know where my strengths and weaknesses are.  I want to learn and I know what I need to work on and that there are people to help me.  It won't be easy but I plan on succeeding.

I wish that were the result for every student who wants to learn despite what has happened to them before, but sometimes the shock is too much.  This makes me angry.  Disparate education right here in the state I live in and also in the state I grew up in could be leveled but it isn't.  Private schools and charter schools purport to be solutions, but not everyone can get to or afford these.  What about those students who are left out?  How will they do what they love?

Alternatively, what if a person just wants to work in order to provide for themselves and/or their families?  What if "What they love" is their family and they would do anything to support them?  I am not saying folks working in food service or garbage collection could not love their job, but what if loving that isn't important?  What if the reward of a living wage, or more, is what they want?  That shouldn't be belittled.  I know many friends and family who do just this.  They may or may not hate their jobs, but they see them as means to an end:  clothes, food, shelter, presents for holidays, and vacations shared.  Even I've often missed the job that I left at the end of the day when I'm elbows-deep in grading.  None of these workers deserve condescension or disrespect and when I see that happening, that makes me angry, too.

As "In the Name of Love" relates to this blog, however, I find an interesting harmonizing note with some on-line experiences I've been drawn into lately.  Tokumitsu works deftly with a Marc Bousquet quote here playing on the false dichotomy between evil corporate drudgery and good academic labor:

Many academics like to think they have avoided a corporate work environment and its attendant values, but Marc Bousquet notes in his essay “We Work” that academia may actually provide a model for corporate management:
How to emulate the academic workplace and get people to work at a high level of intellectual and emotional intensity for fifty or sixty hours a week for bartenders’ wages or less? Is there any way we can get our employees to swoon over their desks, murmuring “I love what I do” in response to greater workloads and smaller paychecks? How can we get our workers to be like faculty and deny that they work at all? How can we adjust our corporate culture to resemble campus culture, so that our workforce will fall in love with their work too?
No one is arguing that enjoyable work should be less so. But emotionally satisfying work is still work, and acknowledging it as such doesn’t undermine it in any way. Refusing to acknowledge it, on the other hand, opens the door to the most vicious exploitation and harms all workers.

This is exactly it:  academia has found the golden ticket to getting mountains of work out of some devoted people for next to nothing.  There is no accounting for the amount of "work pain," to borrow a term from Blitz and Hurlbert's Letters for the Living. The type of work is to be its own reward and the drawbacks to getting access to it are unmentionable.  How dare we complain.  Are you angry yet?  If you find yourself feeling that way, then prepare for the next step.   

"Being ANGRY is Irrational Feminine Behavior and No One will Take You Seriously Being All Angry."  Or so I've heard.  I have seen this used on many people standing up for their causes and expressing just anger at the situation.  Critics quickly point out if these people just weren't so gosh-darned angry then the powers-that-be would be more than happy to listen to and perhaps address their concerns.  But not like this.  Not if they're ANGRY.


Adjuncts have a right to be angry.  We have a right to express our anger at getting/losing courses at the last minute, of late paychecks, of meager salaries, lack of offices and resources, and to tell the stories of our lives with their work pain even as we strive to change these things.  For some of us, that means organizing.  Organizing a nation of adjuncts is a monumental task because even organizing a campus of adjuncts often seems impossible.  If a union or teaching organization doesn't already exist on campus, it can be difficult to gather names and contact information to reach out to contingent faculty.  What possibly could help this is a safe, trusted nation-wide database any and all adjuncts could log in to and enter their information.  Some tech savvy one of us should get on that in their spare twenty-fifth hour of the day.  For others that means leaving teaching, whether we love it or not.  Some may shift to other positions on campus that are not teaching.  Some may leave for other fields entirely.  Whatever happens, I don't intend to become un-angry about what is happening to thousands of teachers in this country AND what that means for their students, who are and will be losing out on the stability of full time, permanent work for faculty members.

So if you want to be an Angry Adjunct, go ahead.  Anyone who tells you that you have no right to be angry probably has little to no idea what this life is like for professionals who've dedicated years, dollars, and time to a field that cannot sustain them.  Or they would really just like you to be quiet and stop rocking the very precarious boat.  The next step now is to put this anger to action and make things happen.  I still contend that a general contingent faculty strike would get the attention all our writing and organizing has yet to commandeer, but that, my readers, will take massive communication and coordination.  Nothing worth doing is ever easy.  Even if you love it.