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.
Since 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?