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.


  1. thank you for saying this. i am extremely angry, and i am not so obtuse that i can understand the advice "don't be so angry" is meant to shut me up.

    i am really angry at full-time, tenured professors. how could you stand for this? how could you let this happen?

  2. It was too easy for the ones who made it to mainly remain silent. The others truly believe that we are less than and not worth hiring. Do they understand even now as their jobs, too, are vanishing? Sadly, no. Now we must make something new.
    The Unarmed Education Mercenary

  3. Comments appear to be doubled sometimes. I am deleting those that do not have comment threads. My apologies for this.