Happy 2014! On the very first day of the new year I checked into social media to find several pieces referring to the adjunct crisis in American higher education--so many, in fact, that I cannot even remember how many things I've read on adjuncts in the past could of weeks. However, the more I read, the more annoyed I became. It soon became clear to me that we adjuncts have now made enough noise to draw the derailers. Those people familiar with social justice or other activist issues will notice some of the same patterns emerging. The very same tactics used to silence and discredit any group raising awareness and advocating for radical change are now being turned on adjuncts. This is by no means a comprehensive list of derailments used, but every single one of these I have either seen multiple times in print since late last year or heard in person.
1. "Stop whining/complaining someone somewhere has it worse!"
I don't believe any adjunct whose story I've read or heard has claimed to be the most oppressed person in the entire world. Certainly many of us are aware of the enormous humanitarian crisis in Syria, to name just one. We also know that garment workers worldwide suffer extreme working conditions for little pay. We know that none of this is right or fair. Telling adjuncts to stop complaining because it could be worse is ridiculous. We know. We might not have any classes for the upcoming term. We might have our assistance programs cut. That doesn't mean that we should stop speaking up about the deeply unfair working situation many adjuncts face. I find this especially interesting as new college coaches ink deals right and left for sums of money I cannot even imagine.
2. By putting any blame on tenure track faculty, you're dividing the faculty and we should stand together against administration/bureaucracy/government. Unity! Unity!
Certainly several adjunct writers have laid blame at the feet of tenure track faculty for, if not actively allowing the adjunctification of American education, standing as mainly a silent majority* while it happened. If tenure is the much sought after prize conferring some sense of safety from random firings for opinions and scholarship, then why not speak out about the crisis right under their very noses? The only answer I have for this is the one I was given personally, "Sorry, but I'm only worried about our new possible tenure track hires," which I took to mean adjunct concerns could go jump in the lake because they would harm the ability to offer TT positions or in some way make those positions unpalatable for some lucky person. If you have spoken up and/or stood with adjuncts, good. Think about how many have not. What is the good of safety if it goes unused?
*see also: "But not ALL tenure track faculty don't care about adjuncts!!!" Often when a writer calls attention to any sort of situation, especially involving binary groups, the first critique is the "but not all..." or "but I don't!" one. Please. Please stop doing this. If the critique doesn't apply to you, move along knowing it does, however, apply to a lot of people. I learned this through some great social justice folks on social media this summer.
3. If you had worked harder, you wouldn't be in this situation.
Yes, yes, all of us adjuncts are the losers of our respective graduate programs. MAs: you should've gotten your PhDs. PhDs: You should've gone to a better school/had a better mentor/published more/not been an idiot. Yes all 75% of us are the absolute laziest dregs of the academic world. We never put hours of work into our lesson plans, grading, learning on our own, or personal research. This particular statement seems to come from those who've recently landed a permanent position. Perhaps residual guilt causes it, or maybe fear. They could've very easily been us.
4. Just do something else.
Some of us are trying to. Many folks leave the academic field or get certified to teach public school, which is not free or even cheap. Certainly over this break I've been looking at the job postings and applying. I've applied outside the academy. I've considered some really strange careers. In case the critics spouting this line have not noticed, the economy and job market in general--not just the academic one--are pretty grim. Even though adjunct work might not pay well, many still make slightly more than they would in retail or fast food, which seem to always be hiring. Getting out simply is not as easy as walking away, especially if the adjunct has family to support.
5. It's because you didn't want to move.
How could anyone even know that? It's an assumption based on older job markets when graduates would aim for certain regions and possibly perpetuated by the fact that the MLA Job Information List search feature is still organized by regions. While I'd ideally like to be within a day's drive of an older parent, I long ago understood I may have to go anywhere. I think anyone adjuncting who is not tied to an area by a family member with a better job or extenuating reason to stay would agree that the applications go nation, if not worldwide.
6. But that isn't true for everyone!
Certainly there are people who graduate and step right into a tenure track position. Cheers to them! I'm genuinely glad for anyone who does. That does not mean that it happens for everyone. This statement is also used by those who have multi-year adjunct contracts, sometimes with benefits, and they do not understand the critique of the whole system since their experience does not match. Just because you have it good does not mean that others do. Adjuncts aren't making these situations up. They're not painting a picture worse than reality. They're bravely speaking their truths at great personal risk to their jobs and financial well being. Hush and listen. Oh, and have some compassion.
7. You adjuncts just don't understand politics.
It is possible there are adjuncts who do not understand hiring procedures or how local/state politics influence post-secondary funding. I doubt this is a prevalent flaw. The state in which I live has a governor so notoriously anti-education that his deep cuts to the state funding make a constant appearance in the various media outlets. We KNOW that the schools are getting less from the state and have to make that up somewhere, either by raising costs to students or making cuts, or both. We also know that tenure track faculty have little say in whether or not they will be handed another permanent position to hire--one, much less many. We know. I've worked for corporations less bureaucratic than the contemporary university. Maybe it isn't that we don't understand politics but that we have little recourse, other than on election day, to access or influence politicians in significant or meaningful ways aside from speaking our truths.
8. Loving to teach is a stupid reason to keep doing it.
I have really seen people tell adjuncts that they should stop doing their job because loving their job is not a good enough reason to stay. I believe that miserable people who hate their jobs say this. All the drawbacks aside, I love the work that I do. I hate the commute to one school. I hate the crappy pay and lack of affordable healthcare. I do NOT hate teaching, students, the colleagues that I speak with, or the administrative assistants who make my life easier. If I could be paid well enough to live on, I would be content to keep teaching, but I am not paid in such fashion. It makes me sort of sick to think that I may never teach again after May 2014, but I have to put financial concerns first for now. This is not a sustainable lifestyle for me, yet I would not fault one person for staying on as an adjunct because they love their work. Hating work isn't a requirement of being a grown up, just a sad fact for too many.
Drawing derailers must mean that we adjuncts are doing something right. We've made enough noise and caught the ears of enough people that the time has come to undermine our claims in any way possible. I suppose the next move is to expose one of us as a fraud who isn't really an adjunct at all. If I get hired outside the academic world, I'll gladly admit it here as soon as I regain consciousness and tell my family.
I wish everyone heading back to school a great start to the semester and a fine term ahead. The madness approaches! Stay warm in the Northern Hemisphere and cool in the Southern!