Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Adjunct Summer Stories, Part I: What is Your Labor Worth?

Adjunct Summer is an ugly time.  So ugly, in fact, that this will be a three-part post as the end of the season draws nigh.  Some of us--the lucky ones that got contracts--will return to work.  Eventually, our schools will pay us.  Some of us have found other work, may all the gods be praised.  Some are trying to navigate unemployment or figuring out what to sell to make ends meet.  That last is no exaggeration.  I have no real jewelry left.  I sold it one summer.

My current position was full time when I took it but moved to part time for the upcoming year unrelated to anything that I did or did not do.  Thus, I began looking for other places to work.  I did not want to be a two-school adjunct again, but it looked as though that would be my life.  Again.  I applied to a Very Large University in need of both full and part-time contingent faculty.  I immediately got an interview.

I don't know if I've just done this so much that I'm immune to interview butterflies or what, but I went in with a No Fucks Given attitude.  I am an excellent teacher.  I missed teaching this past term because my position didn't involve any courses for that time period.  I knew I could do the job and that this school might be suitably impressed with my teaching history and service.  Then things got weird.

It seems that the school is so large and in need of workers that their job applicants for both the full and part-time positions had become mixed.  When I arrived, they assumed I was looking for full-time work and addressed me as such for the entirety of the interview.  Wait.  I used "they" but I did not mean plural they.  I only meant to be ambiguous, for I was interviewed alone by only one person.  Person kept talking about how great the full-time job's salary and benefits were.  In my head, I began to berate myself for not applying.  Surely I should have thought of myself first.  I really need health care.  I'm still limping on days where I walk or stand too much.  I should probably at least have a check-up.  I knew that I could do my part time work and also teach full time.  I had done such before. At the end, the interviewer asked me which I had applied for an
d I said the part-time, but I did say that if they needed full-timers, I might be able to do that.

Person was interested in my story.  Before I left, curiosity got the best of me.  I'd heard this great salary touted without specifics, and benefits are nothing to discount, so I asked, "Exactly how much do your full-time contract employees make?" Sitting here on this famous, flagship campus, I was prepared to be staggered and heartily sick that I had not applied.  I knew full-timers at other systems in the same state could make at least $50,000 a year plus benefits depending on degree.

"$32,000! I couldn't sleep at night otherwise!" said my host.

"I see," I shook my head sagely, thanked my interviewer and tried to find my vehicle again.

That isn't enough money compared to cost of living in that town or the smaller one I'm near.  It was barely over my part-time salary.  In fact, if I added that amount to my part-time salary, I'd be near my full-time pay but doing much more work and wasting far more money in travel expenses.

I started driving home.  Then I got angry.  I already knew that this school's president was a bank breaker nationally.  I'll say in the top five in pay, but it's closer to the top.  My friend, who knew about my interview, curious about the adventure, registered surprise I'd only been interviewed by one person.  She was shocked to find that the salary was less than what she herself made working at the same place more than five years ago.

"Person kept talking about it like they were giving out the Holy Grail!"

Again, that curiosity thing got the better of me.  What exactly was this interviewer's area of expertise? Person looked around my age, so must have had some inkling of the wretched job market.

The person was a labor writing scholar.

I'm done.  I'm done with folks making a name off labor while upholding practices that exploit labor.

News Flash:  You're not actually helping! Not at all.  I know that the salary is better than what many adjuncts get.  My issue is that this particular school certainly spends a lot on other things (like presidents), charges a substantial tuition to its very large student body,  and yet is looking to hire many, many contingent faculty to do THE WORK OF TEACHING WHICH IS ONE OF THE MAIN POINTS OF BEING A SCHOOL IN THE FIRST DAMN PLACE.

Eventually, the place did offer me full-time work.  However, in addition to the salary, I would have had to attend a mandatory week-long orientation (unclear if that was paid or unpaid) and also a class during the term, in addition to teaching four courses for them.  Thankfully, my situation at what is now my home school went back to full for fall.  Bullet dodged.  One more time.

Labor scholars? Give me labor activists any day.  That's who has my back.

(Parts II & III of Adjunct Summer Stories will focus on the fallout of labor activism on my former colleagues and forever brothers and sisters in solidarity.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Adjunct Summer is a Comin' In

It is now the end of my second academic season since beginning this blog.  I'm happy to report that much has changed since this time last year.  I've taken a writing education-related position at a university.  I moved my family a few hours away from our former area for this opportunity and it has proved to be a good choice.  I'm able to help students who need and appreciate assistance in navigating all the things about college life.  This is work with meaning located at a beautiful campus where I feel that I belong.

For the first time in many years, I already have signed summer contracts.  I'm not heading into June with my last paydate circled on my checkbook register and already a tightness in my chest about finances.  This summer, my family will not be living in what I've come to refer to as "The Scrape" -- that horrid period of time when all checks have stopped and even though I've begun working again, the new ones haven't started coming in.  That can be anywhere from one to two months depending on various institutions' pay schedules.  Even writing about it makes my stomach feel queasy, which brings me to this request:

PrecariCorps: Agents for Higher Ed
Need more persuasion to help? Get the tenure track ally point of view here.
If my readers can afford to help adjuncts, please consider donating to PrecariCorps. This is the adjunct 501(C)(3) non-profit trolled by the same wonderful clods who went after me.  This link goes directly to their page where more information and the opportunity to give can be found.  Nothing would please me more than to have PrecariCorps' coffers overflow as a response to the ugliness of the past couple of weeks.  Really, paying it forward is far more useful and productive than an extended internet battle with people who will only hide behind their keyboards and laugh with like-minded buddies.  This will indeed make an immediate difference to the lives of real teachers.

This academic year started out at the ebb tide for me--I felt as though the old things were falling away and rushing off.  I admit I wondered if I were in fact going to be left standing on an empty beach or crushed by an incoming wave of awful.  However, now I am working with a great team to prepare exciting new programming for our students in the upcoming year.  My child who was quite ill is doing well again.  The trees suddenly all burst into leaf and spring returned to our cold corner of the planet.  Now is the time to plant seeds of all kinds.  Make them those that bear good harvest in time.

In Solidarity with Contingent/Casual Faculty Everywhere,

The Unarmed Education Mercenary

Friday, May 1, 2015

I'm NOT your Thought-Exercise

Recently, some libertarian legend in his own mind decided that attacking adjuncts from the safety of his tenure-track, but not yet tenured job would be a good idea.  Obviously this is all the fault of adjuncts for their poor life choices, he wrote as if no one had said this before.  There is no need for me to excoriate that post further because former adjunct and always witty writer Gordon Haber gave it the satirical treatment in "Adjuncts! It's Your Own Damn Fault! That Arrogant Libertarian Troll is Absolutely Right!" and Kevin Carson, contributor at C4SS went directly after it in "Brennan to Adjuncts:  F*** You, Jack! I'm Doing All Right!" If you want to see all the hubbub, check out those two writers, for I won't be linking the original piece.

from When a Stranger Calls (2006)
Some time late yesterday, while I was busy working at my new job, those fun libertarian fellows decided that they should google me and proceed to drag my entire life.  Or at least, as much of my life as they can learn from a simple internet search.  It seems that I definitely should have known better than to try to get into the academic world.  (Spoiler alert, suckers:  I'm already here.  The calls are coming from inside the house.)   They couldn't find any of my published research.  I do have a publication and I have four that I need to revise and resubmit.  My book needs a more suitable publisher.  I have an essay also under consideration for a collection.  Sorry that my timeline isn't moving fast enough for the white dude crowd at the elite academic levels.

Here's the thing, though.  It's pretty easy to reduce me or any other person to a set of data points extracted by the most basic of browsers.  Myself, I generally run three or four if I'm in search of anything.  What none of these searches can turn up are the circumstances of my life because those things are not available.  I'm assuming that these adept researchers must have found my Rate My Professor scores because they decided that I 've put too much time into teaching and I must be a horrible teacher.

Enter this fallacy, which I heard espoused by a graduate professor once who was a terrible teacher himself:  If the faculty member has high evaluations then they aren't asking the students to do anything and are just making friends.

It could not possibly be because the faculty member is, wait for it,


Things that are true about me that their paltry search likely did not turn up:

1.  I attended an undergraduate school renowned for its education programs at the time.  Schools that needed teachers called the education department directly to staff their classes when I was there--big, fancy new schools out of state wanted their education graduates.  I also won several awards for my teaching even as a student teacher.

2.  My on-paper evaluations by both peers and students are exemplary.  Are there negative ones?  Yes.  Do some folks think my class is easy?  Sure.  Do people fail?  Yes.  People also usually color in the bubble that my class is more work than most of their classes, but they still like it anyway.  My first teaching mentor told me that my Comp I syllabus was too difficult for the student population.  I used a permutation of that syllabus from that day on because it worked well and continues to do so.  I change the readings and assignments as needed, but it is built on a solid pedagogical framework.  My goal is not to fail half of each class but to teach them to write better no matter where they start.  I teach the workhorse courses of higher education.  I'm not there to berate upperclassmen who like Foucault more than Žižek.

3. My past chair called me "the best teacher she knows." Coming from her, that is no small compliment.  That woman ripped my writing to shreds.  She doesn't hand out idle pretty words.

4.  I have not presented much lately or yet gotten my writing published.  Most of this is due to my workload and my family responsibilities.  Other writers have handled the academic mom subject matter recently here, here, and here. It can be difficult to travel on an adjunct salary or write while grading five to six sections of writing composition.  It is also difficult when one's partner is a Veteran with PTSD whom the government turned down for disability.  But hey:  do more research!

5.  Both my Masters degree and my Doctoral one were covered by tuition waivers.  So why then did I take out loans, which libertarians think I should not have done?  I had a son.  Had I been alone I could've lived in squalor and eaten junk every other day.  When a child is factored in, the parent must provide a safe home, food, clothing, and care.  Graduate stipends do not pay for any of that.  Where was that child's father? Oh, he went away, drained the bank account and disappeared without paying child support.

6.  Since I was a first generation graduate school student, I had no idea what I was doing.  The faculty when I enrolled in my program were older and nearing retirement.  That's where the "Good people get good jobs" line came from.  Additionally, no one encouraged publication.  No one offered to co-author or proofread submissions.  Should I have known?  I guess I could've googled it.

7.  According to my stalkers, I searched in too geographically a narrow area.  I'm not sure how they figured this out, especially when it isn't true.  Perhaps I should post my Interfolio receipts.  For several years, I did remain at one school that paid a living wage and gave me benefits. This allowed me to live a good life.  What happened to that situation is chronicled by this blog.

What I feel may be at the center--I was going to say heart, but there isn't one--of these trolls' argument is that they feel we adjuncts don't deserve their highly paid, cushy two-course load positions.  What they are completely missing is that most of the adjuncts who are speaking up and fighting back against these wage theft, un-student centered processes simply want fair compensation for their work.  I would not care to teach six writing courses were I paid the money that amount of work is worth.  For the record, my time on those is not spent in prep but in grading and providing feedback.  However, this requires a person to understand that teaching is a valuable profession and that students are worth more focus than some esoteric article every couple of years that five people will read.

wrong side of the glass
Dudley finds himself on the wrong side of the glass
I do not aspire to be a resident of the ivory tower such as my attackers are.  That is not representative of me or where I am from.  It is also not related to the lives of my students, for the most part.  To continually denigrate the profession of teaching as less than researching is to give the powers that be even more excuse to cut faculty lines, overload courses, and pay all faculty less.  If teaching is mundane then no training is needed and no extra time consideration matters.  Those folks sitting on their haunches throwing slime at adjuncts and teachers from behind the perceived safety glass of tenure may soon find that their situations have changed for the worse.

After all of this, I realize that I would not trade my family, friends, comrades in activism, students, or life as it is for that of one of my hecklers.  I'll still be here fighting for fair treatment of adjuncts and all teachers, as well as a better future version of education for students when these silly ghosts fade into the internet ether to harass someone else for a few laughs.


The Unarmed Education Mercenary


Friday, April 3, 2015

Academic Parent: Some of Both, Not Winning at Either

Recently, I was hired full time.  In the past, I have worked full time and then some as an instructor at one school and then at two.  I know what it's like to run myself ragged.  However, in the past I always had at least one day off during the week.  Even the semester that I had six classes, I had Fridays off.  It made far more of a difference than I knew.  This is my first full term back with three children and I work all five days a week.  To say that I am exhausted would be a massive understatement.

Then the worst happened:  the child whose illness is mentioned in "No Rest for the Wicked, or an Academic Parent" got much sicker.  Very. Much.  Ever since we moved this child was unwell in some way.  Conjunctivitis, unhealed surgical wound, a cold, horrifically chapped lips.  It worsened:  low-grade fever, mild diarrhea, no eating.  Then, whatever was wrong doubled down frighteningly fast with high fevers that popped right back up as soon as the medication wore off, worsening diarrhea, and increased sleeping.

During this time we went to one ER twice, another once, had a follow-up procedure about the unhealed surgery wound from October, and he was cared for as much as possible by a mother who had raised another child to his late teens without killing him.  I wailed to my own mother, five hours away,  "I don't know what to do now. I don't know!" I was falling apart but surely she would know.

She had no answer.  That was the night of the second local ER visit.  I could feel that something was deeply awry with this child, already small, who was wasting away before me eyes.  He refused to sleep alone. I would pull clean pajamas on his bone-thin legs and arms.  I would rock him and snuggle him in the night hoping to pour my own strength into this small person who no one seemed to be able to fix.  He didn't even smell right.

It's at this point I should mention that my new place of employment chose to not give me health care though I am currently full time.  They like people to be full-time for two terms before giving that prize.  For this job we moved to a different county and though I'd made a million calls and spent at least 24 hours on hold, I still did not have everything transferred.  I kept trying to enroll the children in CHIP but something was blocking it.  I was tired.  I was worried.  And I was the mercy of the broke-ass American healthcare system.  With the assurance, finally, that this child was covered by the state, I found a pediatrician.  That man likely saved my three-year old's life.  He actually listened to what I said and he helped us.

Children's Hospital Fountain at Night
The Children's Hospital Fountain at night
In less than five hours we were en route to a different major hospital than we had been working with to this point.  There, after five very frightening days of testing, waiting, and watching that little person lie listlessly in a bed with IVs, monitors, and a feeding tube all hooked to him, we finally had an answer:  at the age of three, my child was diagnosed with Crohn's disease.  All of his life, unless a cure is found, he will deal with this.  As horrible as the diagnosis was, I felt relief.  I had a name for all these things that were wrecking him and it could be lived with.  When words like cancer are being quietly put out there as possibilities, Crohn's doesn't seem so terrible.  My father died of cancer and it is an ugly way to go.

Have you forgotten that I'm in a new job yet? For two of the long hospital trips previously, my Dean did approve leave for me.  However, for this visit we were in the hospital for more than a week.  Holy of holies, it was Spring Break.  What if it hadn't been? What then?

I can't answer that.  I don't want to.

We are settling into our new lives as a family of a child with a chronic illness.  I read about it.  I think about where all the bathrooms are if needed when we go out.  I know about medicine logs and keeping track of doses of things.  I think harder about what foods I will put on the table at the end of my day.  But then my life as an academic tugs at me:  What about those conferences? What about committee meetings that run late? What about research and publishing?

Those are the times that I want to scream and never stop.  I want to break all the things and set stuff on fire.  I can't be the best me there and the best me at home.  I can neither stop working nor count on help regularly at the needed levels at home. I know why so many women leave academia now.  No matter what we do and are capable of doing at our jobs, everyone expects us to also do the very best at home and with our children.  Well, it's too much.  I'm doing the best I can do.  Everyone is still alive and for now, I still have a job.  When that's my mantra to keep going, I worry about myself and all the others out there under conditions I can't even imagine.

It shouldn't be like this. It should not.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

National Adjunct Walkout Day

A on fire

lthough tomorrow, Wednesday, February 25th is officially National Adjunct Walkout Day, many folks are using this entire week to get the message across:  Without Adjuncts, Your Schools Cannot Function. Ideally, this day would shut most of higher education down, making clear the 75% reliance on contract workers that keeps the system lurching along.

I know that many adjunct and contract workers out there support this idea wholeheartedly but they cannot walk out.  Some of them have planned teach-ins, alternate activities that include viewing documentaries or hearing speakers on the adjunct issue, some will wear badges, maybe some will wear red.  There will be many who will outwardly do nothing at all.

Do not judge those adjuncts.  Every action, every word we speak against this crisis is taking a risk and some cannot afford to do that.  As the sole breadwinner for my family, I know what that feeling is like.  Speaking up and also fighting an abuse of contract has cost me work.  Activism is not without penalty.  That person who appears to be avoiding any contact with Walkout Activities may be deeply grateful for what is being done but they're too scared to say so.  I have received anonymous messages of similar content thanking me for what I do and say.  Some of these people have even said that they wish they could help.  That's okay.  I'm fighting for them as much as for myself and the rest of us.

Tomorrow many adjuncts will take a risk.  If you can, join them.  Look for events in your area.  An on-line search should produce results.

A better system for adjuncts is a better system for students.
Part-time work should be a choice, but it should not be the default position for academic jobs.
Together we can make something different.  Something better.
Join the adjuncts and work for the students.

Here's your A.  Wear it proudly.


Monday, February 16, 2015

When Everyone is Contingent, Then What?

winter windowI find myself in the strangest situations.  Recently, I was hired through a national search for a grant funded full-time position.  "Hurray!" say the readers of the blog.  Well, that's what I said, too, even though I knew that I would have to reapply for my position every year.  This situation was not unlike another full time temporary gig I held for many years.  Reapplying is nothing more than an another added annoyance to many adjuncts.  We do it so much that we're really good at it.  I'm not going to say that I never worry that I won't get rehired because that would be lying, but I'm reasonably assured that I do a great job and will likely be back.  At least, that was the case at my old, really well-paying gig before I became The Unarmed Education Mercenary and complained about what they did to us.

After signing and mailing my contract back, I found a place for my family to live, began forwarding mail and changing addresses on important things like car registrations and my driver's license, I got A Very Disturbing Email from my new boss.  This person was letting me know that the Dean-who-is-not-my-Dean (not the Dean who interviewed me and offered me this job) only wanted to allot 50% for my position in the new iteration of the grant.

Well then.

What did I want to do? Cancel the move.  Throw a giant, apocalyptic fit.  Burn things.

My friends said not to go.  Some of them were more colorful in their choices of words to reject the position they had just got done congratulating me for getting. On the whole, it was Not A Good Day.  My eldest child, whose life I just upended by announcing this move to another county said, "Well, we might as well go because I am NOT unpacking those boxes unless we take them to another house.  There's too much tape on them.  Besides, everyone already feels sorry for me for moving and it would be kind of weird if I didn't go."  Then there's the matter of my employment.  If we stayed I would have only one class at the lower paying school furthest away.  That wasn't enough to live on.  We could, I suppose, have gone on all the assistance programs because I'm sure we would've qualified.  At least at the new place, the income would be good for a semester.  Son the Eldest was correct:  it was time to jump.

So jump we did and in the middle of a winter storm.  It has snowed at least three times a week since then.  I work in a department with some of the best people who care deeply about the students they serve and guess what?  None of us are permanent.  Each one of us has to reapply for our jobs.  We are still expected to do service and scholarly work, and we do.  What we do not have is any kind of security in our lives.  Will our grants be refunded? Will we be the ones rehired? Can I find 50% more work to do on this campus now that I've dragged everyone here?  I would be lying if I said this is good for my morale.  I love it here.  I would gladly spend my career here serving the students of this school.  I can do good things here, and yet, every single day I worry about next fall.  And next spring.  And the semester after that.  This is what it is like when everyone is contingent and everyone is worried:  it is a major distraction.  Will we say or do something that will keep us from being renewed? Will someone more qualified than us apply and take away our jobs?

Is this any way to run an education system?

No.  No it isn't.  If anyone out there making decisions about education would first please ask the question "Is this best for the students and the students' learning conditions?" I wonder how that would change things.  What are we here to do in higher education? Do we even know anymore?

As for me, I'm here to serve the students and thereby make a living to provide for my family.

What about you?

Friday, January 30, 2015

Rocking the Economic Boats of Higher Education

In his essay "Why the Rich are Getting Richer and the Poor, Poorer," Robert B. Reich discusses the changing composition of the American workforce, groups it into three categories--routine producers, in-person servers, and symbolic analysts--and describes their past and possibly future trajectories as three boats; the first two categories are falling and the third rising.  It is within this essay that he visits the decline of unions and the subsequent rise of executive salaries. These factors are not unrelated and I believe the second labor uprising in America may be the only way to overturn the boats of Reich's apt metaphor and construct a new and better way forward.

Reich reports the steady decline in union membership by young working men without college degrees from "more than 40%" in the 1950s to "less than 20%" by the end of the 1980s.  More recently, according to The Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the rate of union membership in 2013 was 11.3%.  This total includes workers regardless of gender while Reich's data is for males only.  However, even with the added boost of all workers counted the percentage still has fallen drastically.  Growing up as a child in West Virginia and listening to presentations about Mary Harris "Mother" Jones and the dramatic battles to unionize the coal fields, I never dreamed I would live to see these struggles rejoined.  Jobs disappear, salaries dwindle, and American workers either suffer from underpayment or unemployment.

Now we witness the corporatization of nearly every institution in America.  (For a multi-decade breakdown of the economic and political assault on American higher education, check out this fine post from The Homeless Adjunct:  "How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps.")  Instead of seeing college and university students as, well, students, they are being considered, marketed to and sometimes referred to as consumers.  Colleges and universities pay big bucks to develop a marketable "brand" that can be easily packaged and sold at recruitment fairs to the eager high school seniors and their families, as well as non-traditional students via on-line, streaming, and even television ads.  Higher education administrators schmooze like corporate CEOs.  Amenities get top billing along with sometimes faked diversity in mailers.  Where does education and the working conditions of faculty providing the educational product fall in the budget?  Where do the people who keep those glossy magazine spaces glowing and livable get allotted a place? I'm afraid we've fallen out of contention.  We are not, for the most part, trendy and ad-worthy.  We are, however, all key factors in why students stay.  The kind custodian who cleaned my freshman dorm floor had far more interaction with me and much more impact on my living conditions, checking on my friends and I, striking up conversations, than any administrator.  Plus she cleaned the toilets.  I do not mean that derogatorily.  She was a more highly visible face of the institution than a president I saw only at formal functions, photo ops, and in the school paper.  The professors who called me when I suddenly disappeared from class during a sudden and vile bout of flu didn't just teach me English and music history, but that I was a person who mattered to them.  Were any of us visible to those at the higher echelons other than as props to marketability and good PR when we achieved sports, artistic, or academic accolades worth headlines?

Reich returns to the history of industry and compensation:  "At midcentury, the compensation awarded to top executives and advisers of the largest of America's core corporations could not be grossly out of proportion to that of low-level production workers.  It would be unseemly for executives who engaged in highly visible rounds of bargaining with labor unions, and who routinely responded to government requests to moderate prices, to take home wages and benefits wildly in excess of what other Americans earned." While his essay is written specifically about industry, it can be applied also to higher education.  How many college and university presidents walk the halls and sidewalks of their campuses, getting to know the students, staff, and faculty who comprise their domain?  How many students would recognize their administrators?  These mythical folk seem to move in a sphere beyond the average campus citizen.  Once I received an invitation for the Homecoming Ball.  The ticket price was $100+ --I laughed and tossed it in the recycle bin.  Who sends their alumni and adjuncts mailers like that in this economy? One example of being completely out of touch.  When the people in charge have little to no idea of the day-to-day reality of those working for them, when they do not have to deal with all those groups face-to-face on a regular basis, these people, WE, become objects, mere factors in a budget to be treated as numbers to tug and arrange.  We cease to be people with lives, families, and futures.  This is what, I feel, Reich was getting at in the previous quote:  without a constant reminder of how a CEO's life and salary compares to and affects those under them, the distortion becomes not only possible, but highly likely.

Reich closes the essay with the following statement - "The salaries and benefits of America's top executives, and many of their advisers and consultants, have soared to what years before would have been unimaginable heights, even as those of other Americans have declined."  We now live this reality.
This chart, produced from a survey by The College and University Professional Association for Human Resources in 2012-13 shows the incredible MEDIAN amounts for administrative salaries in American higher education:  "Administrators in Higher Education Salaries."  The highest median salary, with a PhD is for a CEO with $431,575 per year.  While the Adjunct Project shows a wide range of salaries based on location and degree, the median per class is $2, 987.  Multiply this by the number of courses taught and it would take roughly ONE HUNDRED AND FORTY-FOUR, that's 144, classes to equal the median pay of the highest administrator.  Four to five classes, if combined across schools is a lot of work for one term!  I taught six in the fall for two schools.  I have five now because some did not run and were cancelled.  To be slightly more realistic, approximately thirteen courses per year would give an adjunct a $40,000 income IF that adjunct could secure the median adjunct rate of $2,987.

This is where we have come to in most of American higher education.  Across the country, interest in unions surges among adjuncts.  We have no other recourse on our own. Alone we are expendable, vulnerable.  Together we can stand up to this tide of disparity.  We can begin the wave that upsets the boats.  We can create an alternative to the untenable future before us, and if we can do it, this can spread to other fields and professions.  We can create a new metaphor for work, perhaps a sustainable one that considers quality of life for everyone, not just those at the top.

Maxine Salary matters

Friday, January 23, 2015

Flipping Some Tables

A few weeks ago, I worked myself into a proper outraged adjunct state to sit down and write a blog post.  It would've been a good one, too, and I already had much of it mapped out in my head as I normally do before I ever sit down at the computer.  Then something happened that made my adjunct anger and the issues I was thinking about seem mightily insignificant:  Eric Garner's killer was not charged though the medical examiner ruled that choking caused that man's death.  This set off a wave of protests worldwide and brought attention back to the Ferguson protests that had never ceased, only slipped from the front pages.  The hashtags signifying #BlackLivesMatter and #HandsUpDontShoot blazed into the public consciousness.  Social media filled with shots of marches, die-ins, and public displays of many kinds by folks who could no longer bear in silence the state brutality against black people in America.  College and university students walked out and sounded off--this time no one needed to ask where America's youth were.

From my rural location I watched millions take to the streets.  Then the criticism began.  So very many people hurt and hurting.  I felt there was nothing for me to do.  I wondered about my students from fall who had needed time every class to speak about Mike Brown.  Would someone let them talk now?  Were they shouting yet?  I wanted to.  However, I became acutely aware of speaking FOR others instead of letting them speak.  I did not know what to say and so I simply said nothing here in this space until now.  I used my social media accounts to boost information for demonstrators, to provide facts and figures to rebut those determined to discredit the movement.  I stand with the people in the streets for this cause.  For my students.  For my friends.  For Black Lives.

So much seems wrong in America right now.  I watched citizens get tear-gassed with canisters made in the state where I live.  I saw a child gunned down by police in seconds as he played in a park with a toy.  I saw shooting victims denied care and left to die in the streets.  I saw passersby heckle the demonstrations and hurl hate at them verbally.  This has always been here in America, but now it is out in the open.  The question has become, "What then shall we do about it?"

Keane Badmin TableI say that all of us, activists especially, are called to stand together.  I do not mean that I want to take over any other cause, but that many of our causes are interrelated.  The Fight for 15 living wage crew, the Adjunct Activists, the Black Lives Matter movement, transgender rights, immigrant issues, the missing and murdered students in Mexico, the healthcare workers fighting for rights, the besieged public school teachers--all of these things are the causes of the people NOT the 1%.  We should be side by side.  Together is our strength.  I have seen it shut down the mighty bridges of New York City and the wide, busy highways of Southern California.  We live in a world where someone at Keane University thinks that buying a table for $219,000 for a select few administrative uses instead of spending money to hire permanent faculty (only 257 out of 1,472 are tenure track) or student support staff is perfectly fine.   We live in the world where most of our lives are disposable, with some, such as Black lives, being viewed as even less than others.  Those of us fighting all these separate fights, some of which intersect and compound the difficulties of involved individuals, need each other's support and care.  Together we can make something different, something better than we have ever had.

That is my New Year's challenge:  not to go back to some romanticized past, but to think in new ways and create new things that harm less and benefit more.  It will not be easy but it will be worth it in the end.  The power is with the people, if only we realize it in time.

If anyone gives demonstrators any grief over their revolutionary activities and asks them to calm down and only be peaceful, the following picture is more than useful.  Justified outrage has its place.

What Would Jesus Flip?

I say revive the practice. Maybe even start at Keane, but bring some friends because that one looks heavy.