Monday, December 22, 2014

Caution, Your Professor is Broken

While in recovery from last semester’s mania, I am gripped by the understanding that, to stay afloat, I will again have to teach six courses between two institutions next semester, and again I will likely end up no better than I started, just treading water. For the past couple of years I have taught 5-7 courses per semester as an adjunct professor at two colleges an hour’s commute apart. I’ve made it work, despite everyone telling me I was crazy, with one colleague adding, “If I had to teach seven classes, I’d shoot myself in the head.”
The truth is that every cell in my body is screaming, “Nooooo!” Despite what I want or need to do, I find that I am completely burned out with my various intro-level circus acts. Highly credentialed performers—that’s what we Higher Ed instructors are for the most part, pulling off piecemeal, low-wage acts all over town, sometimes across state lines, with no expectation of continued employment and zero benefits. I would like to cling to the higher ideals of education as a means to upward mobility or a rewarding career—for enlightenment’s sake?—but it’s just not the case. It’s getting harder and harder to convince myself that pointing out this contradiction to students is inappropriate or wrong. After all, adjuncts hold advanced degrees and don’t even clear minimum wage. Telling students the truth isn’t “politicizing the classroom” in a negative way. Instead, telling them the truth is my—is our—imperative.  
Yet, many students do not want to be in class in the first place. They are attending for the loan money or program rewards because there are so few jobs or opportunities available now beyond the military. So, there we all sit together, just scraping by building skills that our society doesn’t value while suckling on this anemic cash cow financed by an excessive debt bubble on the verge of bursting, with the majority of funds trickling quite obviously to the executive salaries of upper administrators at the top, not to mention the overall bloat of unnecessary expenditures with no connection to the classroom whatsoever, or the heartlessly exploitative and very lucrative textbook racket.
Interestingly enough, I was approached not too long ago by one of these upper administrators, who proposed that maybe adjunct faculty did not deserve to earn a living wage because numerous students passed our entry-level English composition courses and still could not read or write well. I retorted that we adjuncts are not the gatekeepers to the classroom. We do not set the standards on placement exams, and—although we would like to believe that everyone who passes high school is fairly literate—this is not the reality we face. 

Highly disposable contract professors get fired all the time without due process or recourse if we fail too many students. I, for one, have had administrators come into my classroom and try to convince me to pass students who hardly attended, texted and surfed the Web for entire class periods after arriving late, and didn’t complete assignments. I flat out told one waify admin that they could go ahead and try to intimidate me into passing the student in question by putting my job on the line, but that it would be doing a disservice to the student and the college. Still, she persisted with personal visits and emails until I just gave up trying to hold on to any semblance of integrity in our correspondence. Somehow the student’s papers were quickly created and delivered, and I still have no idea under what conditions this miracle occurred. 

At universities and colleges across the country, professors and their students are losing ground to the corporate agendas of rogue administrations. We have SWAT teams of “student services” ready to connect “customers” to emergency loans and other resources. At the same time, adjuncts teaching intro-level courses for poverty wages are expected to help at-risk students academically, but without the institutional support to do so effectively. Our policies and teaching materials are increasingly dictated from above, and the syllabus as a form of course outline has become more of a legal document for students wanting to appeal grades than an accurate depiction of learning objectives or progression of the course.

We adjuncts teaching intro-level and developmental courses are continually placed in positions of high responsibility with little authority over our classrooms, students, and our own working conditions. Still, every semester we are assigned new fleets of students facing severe hardship: people struggling to overcome violence and poverty, recover from addictions, to rebuild their lives after jail or prison, yet we are not trained as culture workers or missionaries; we are barely surviving ourselves and with massive student debt. There is seemingly nowhere for us to turn but against the forces that are competing to destroy the profession we spent so many years preparing to enter. 

It’s not a national secret that our students are being failed by all levels of public education. There is a brutal war on teachers occurring in K-12 and Higher Ed where teachers are set up for failure even before we begin practicing. Although I have surplus energy to continue fighting the battle against the corporatization and privatization of education, I don’t know if I can stomach my further participation on the production end; I mean, I don’t know if it’s even possible for me to continue teaching like this because, to get up and go for another round, I would have to find a way of convincing my mind, body, and soul into thinking that I’m not burned out to the innermost core of my being.

There are so many variables I have to consider. I have sick, elderly parents who also have no safety net. Will one or both of my children want or need to live with me in this extortionist apartment complex that requires me to wring out nearly $1k every month for a basic cube life? What is to become of my dog and cat if I can’t make it another semester, and how would I even move my stuff with my back thrown out from carrying around my adjunct mobile office campus-to-campus for 16 weeks? I don’t know the answers, but I find some solace in knowing that thousands, if not millions, of teachers are in the same boat with me. An all-out mutiny may be the best option at this point.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Objectively Seeking Solidarity Guru

I don't mean this as a joke. I really want to know what a worker is supposed to do when the main obstacle to faculty solidarity is that one group really seems to believe that they are superior or inherently more valuable and deserving than another group when such evidence does not exist. The consequences of internalizing inferiority are no better, as workers are gradually broken down psychologically and emotionally in order to survive in this two-tiered toxic environment; they often become shadows of themselves and will remain this way until they can either escape or take matters into their own hands to the astonishment of their no-betters.

I look at it this way: if a team of volunteer firefighters runs into a burning house to save the occupants and finds one group of people closest to the flames, trapped and choking while another huddle of people are in a cooler corner where there is still breathable air and freedom of movement, can we honestly argue the firefighters must first run to the safer bunch and hand them bottles of chilled water, making sure they are okay and happy before fetching the others?

If the answer is, 'Of course not, we must first rescue the people about to burst into flames and then the others,' then why is it that when we apply the same logic to college campuses we find tenured and full-time faculty members arguing that their needs come first before adjuncts experience any sort of equality? Is it just a sad attribute of human nature that we can't see past our own self-interest? The bulk of the labor force are the occupants closest to the fire. I can see someone bringing up the help the stronger ones so that they, in turn, can double the rescue attempt, but that discounts the likelihood that the occupants closest to the flames, if they survive, will remember every extra second they had to wait for their empowered colleagues to do the right thing.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Adjunct Professors are Fed Up with Whining Administrators

Upper-level college administrators are spectacular creatures of contradiction. They say yes when they mean mean no, and vice versa. They form committees based on vague initiatives like “Advancement Services,” “Efficiency,” and “Institutional Effectiveness,” and even establish high-salary jobs or entire departments based on these loosely-defined concepts.

Administrators continue to fail and appear to undermine their own goals at times. Often they seem confused about the purpose of their own projects, committees, and task forces, yet despite these alarming inefficiencies, upper administrators are multiplying at an alarming rate and being rewarded with executive-level salaries unbefitting of non-profit institutions of higher education meant to serve the public good. Still, if this über-professionalized class of prolific resource-wasters is reaping the rewards of the increasingly corporatized campus, why are they always complaining?

In order to better understand the plight of our campus aristocrats, The Adjunct Majority (We Are The 75%!) has compiled a list of the common complaints senior administrators are whining about nationwide paired with their explanations, translations and/or remedies.

* Special thanks to @ProfessorEx74 (Ed.), Billy Pilgrim, @GracieG, @N1Academy, Seth Kahn, Kareme D'Wheat, and Adjunct Noise for your contributions. 


There is a state budget shortfall. Everyone must make sacrifices. EVERYONE must do more with less.

Interesting how these sacrifices don’t apply to the executive-level salaries of administrators themselves, even if drastic overspending can be linked to their individual or collective bad fiscal choices.

I know it is hard for you to survive making less than minimum wage with a PhD. Even *I* had to make sacrifices.

Loss of discretionary spending money does not constitute a sacrifice—Sorry. This heartless, pseudo-sympathetic gesture is one notch above, If you don’t like it, go do something else. It is akin to mockery.  

If you really loved teaching as much as you say you do, you’d do it for free. This should be about your calling, not the money. Whine.

Since when does training for a decade and accruing massive student debt make one eligible for the monastic lifestyle? If colleges want to treat us like a religious order, then we should be provided with room and board instead of being passed over to the Human Services Department so universities can subsidize their labor force with public assistance. Are we Walmart or a school?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Labor Pains: From Adjunct to Organizer by Jessica Lawless

On this Labor Day, for the first time in well over a decade I am not preparing to teach. I am, however, back on campus for the first day of classes. No longer as an adjunct professor but as a union organizer. I left my precarious dead end career in higher education for a job with SEIU’s Adjunct Action campaign. It’s good work and I am pleased to be organizing my colleagues. But it is not what I ever imagined my graduate degrees would lead me to. As my contingent faculty peers prepare for classes they no longer have the will to teach or post about finally leaving the classroom, I am organizing adjunct faculty at a college where I am not teaching and thinking about the dips, crevices, sinkholes, and hills my own career path has wound around.

Nine years ago Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast and made clear that institutional racism is a deadly force. Katrina destroyed New Orleans at the same moment I was teaching my first college course, “Intro to US Popular Culture,” as an adjunct professor. When the news of Katrina hit, we set aside the assigned readings and unpacked mainstream media conventions where black folks were identified as looters and white folks were identified as searching for supplies.

My students researched reasons why Kanye West would declare, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people.” They learned how to discuss their differences of opinion about the myriad police shootings of unarmed civilians, taking into account their own race, class, and gender standpoint. And, with teary faces, students presented news accounts of the rapes at the Superdome while trying to help each other make sense of the unfolding dystopian nightmare they were witnessing. We decided to make a direct donation as a class to Katrina refugees staying at a nearby church. Then we returned to our scheduled readings on vaudeville and minstrelsy, the rise of popular culture alongside the rise of the working class in the industrial era, and viewed the documentary Wisconsin Death Trip.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Contact Hours: A True Story by Dr. Dharma Wren

I'm going to have to file for unemployment for July-August, so I called my CC to ask how many hours I "officially" work per class and met with the HR manager. I explained that I needed this number to apply for service work loan forgiveness (true, but not the immediate reason, which I didn't want to admit, unemployment). 

She had no clue what to tell me. 

She asked me how many contact hours, and I told her 3, to which she responded,

"Well, that's how many hours you work." 
"So I'm not supposed to work outside of classroom hours?"
"That's up to the department and the Dean of your school," she said.
"Then why can't I teach 8 classes here? And how many classes till I get health insurance?" 

"For admin purposes, double contact hours. So three 3-hour classes would equal 18 hours a week," she clarified. 

"Okay, so I'm only supposed to work 3 hours outside of class time?" 
"You are supposed to work as much as you need to in order to teach the class," she said. 
"Right," I said, "but anything over 3 hours a week is unpaid and uninsured?"
"You're paid to do what's required to teach the class."

"I'm not insured to put in more than 3 hours?" 

She then informed me that there was a board meeting I could attend on Monday where they'll be making decisions about how many hours we work and when we can/should receive health care. 

I'll be there
I'm sure she will, too.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Petition to Open an Investigation into Higher Ed Labor Practices

Open an investigation into the labor practices of our colleges and universities in the employment of contingent faculty

Dear Director Weil,

In light of your recent appointment to the Wage and Hour Division and your policy change of targeting investigations toward industries and sectors rather than just addressing individual complaints, we the undersigned are writing to urge you to open an investigation into the labor practices of our colleges and universities in the employment of contingent faculty, including adjunct instructors and full-time contract faculty outside the tenure-track.

In a momentous but gradual change over the last 30 years, the proportion of full-time, tenured, and tenure-track professors to contingent professors has reversed itself. Now, approximately 76% of college professors are contingent labor, predominantly hired on a semester-by-semester contract and making an average of $2500 per 3-credit course. The average yearly income of an adjunct professor hovers in the same range as minimum-wage fast food and retail workers, with many of the same labor problems: lack of job security, inability to find enough working hours to support themselves, lack of health or retirement benefits, periodic unemployment, and outright wage theft. Most adjunct faculty are paid only for the actual hours in the classroom and not the much longer time spent outside prepping, grading, or meeting and communicating with students, among other unpaid duties. When that time is factored into the remuneration rate (1), many adjunct faculty are making minimum wage or only slightly more, an average of $25,000/year as highly educated—and deeply debt-ridden, thanks to the cost of education—professionals. 

Contingent full-time faculty do not fare much better. They often work on short-term contracts of one to three years for far less salary than their tenure-track colleagues. Adjunct and contract faculty come to their jobs with the same level of training and experience as their tenure-line colleagues, hold the same advanced degrees (M.A. and Ph.D.), and bring their institutions notoriety through their service, fieldwork, research, and publications. Though contracts for contingent faculty often explicitly state that these contributions will not count toward future employment positions, adjunct and contingent faculty still perform above their contract stipulations because they are, first and foremost, dedicated educators. 

Also unlike full-time tenured faculty, the meager pay of contingent faculty often covers only eight months of the year. Summer contracts are hard to come by, generally being the privilege of tenured faculty to earn extra compensation, and the pay periods for those contracts too frequently leave contingent faculty teaching for a month or more with no pay check at all. For example, instead of merely continuing contingent faculty who were already in the payroll system on the regular pay periods at City University of New York (CUNY), many of us have been forced to wait more than a month for our first paycheck in a two-month semester because contracts were not processed in a timely manner. And at Northern New Mexico College, contracts were altered after the fact without knowledge of the faculty to provide one third less than the pay that was contracted for to bridge the fiscal year for the college. (2) Other colleges decline to pay contingent faculty until the end of the two-month summer session, which penalizes us in payroll taxes.

While many of us belong to unions, a greater number do not, and like other laborers our efforts to unionize have been met with retaliatory firings and all-too-easy “non-renewals,” de facto black-listing from the roster of employable workers. Many of us who are unionized public employees have lost the right to strike, thanks to legislation like New York’s Taylor Law, and have virtually no bargaining power. Most of our unions are headed by our tenured and full-time colleagues, who are often not as supportive as they could be and equally fear losing their jobs in an atmosphere where tenure no longer protects them as it once did and still should. At institutions without unions, contingent faculty have even less power to change their working conditions.

At the same time that faculty jobs have become the equivalent of Walmart employment, the numbers, pay, and perks of administrative jobs have increased at nearly twice the rate as full-time, tenure-track faculty hires. For example, CUNY, a once tuition-free public system, is currently paying $18,000/month for its new chancellor’s apartment (3)—the annual equivalent of salaries for twelve part-time adjunct faculty. At George Washington University, several senior administrators make over $1 million annually at a school whose tuition is among the highest in the nation, and several other provosts and deans make high six figures as well. (4) Not surprisingly, these kinds of administrator wages often correlate with high student debt (5) and low adjunct faculty wages. The wage disparity in these two sectors of the university mirrors the current wage disparity in U.S. society at large, and yet, without faculty, there would be no university. This especially harms students by diverting funds from the university’s primary mission, as has recently come to light at Northern New Mexico College, where “President Barceló’s Administration spent fully 18 times more on themselves than on Academic Support for students,” (6) leading to abysmally low graduation rates, while continuing to saddle students with debt.

Without sufficient income to support themselves, adjunct and contingent faculty are forced to work at several different schools each semester, often teaching far above the standard number of courses only to make ends meet, and spending hours commuting that would be better spent on the job. Some must relocate to other states, resulting in separation from children, partners, and other family members, while others must be on public assistance. Under these conditions, the quality of education in our universities is suffering, not only because of the quality of instructors run ragged by overwork, but also because of the poor quality of their working conditions and the contingent nature of their contracts. Management is reaping unfair benefits from faculty labor while cheating their “customers”—students—of quality.

There are a number of organizations and unions actively working on practical strategies to improve contingent faculty working conditions and the state of higher education. These organizations include New Faculty Majority, the Coalition Against Corporate Higher Education, Occupy CUNY, AAUP, SEIU, the United Steelworkers, and others. We urge you to learn about them and to help them and concerned and contingent faculty everywhere make the university once again a fair and just place to work for faculty and a great learning environment for students.

Sincerely yours,

Ann Kottner, M.A., 
Adjunct Professor
York College/City University of New York
New Jersey City University
AFT Local 1839 Executive Committee Member
247 W. 149th St. Apt. 4D
New York, NY 10039

Miranda Merklein, Ph.D.
President, Santa Fe Community College-AAUP
Adjunct Faculty Office 
6401 Richards Ave
Santa Fe, NM 87508

Joseph Fruscione, Ph.D. 
Freelance Writer, Editor, and Proofreader 
Former Adjunct Professor (1999-2014)
10111 Tenbrook Drive
Silver Spring, MD 20901

Dawn Fels, Ph.D.
Freelance Educator, Writer, and Education Consultant
Former English Faculty and Writing Center Director 
at George Mason University, Fairfax VA
Former Temporary English Faculty 
at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, PA
1429 N. Euclid Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15206

Brianne Bolin
Coalition Against Corporate Higher Education
Adjunct Faculty, Columbia College Chicago
Union Steward, Part-time Faculty Union at Columbia
33 E. Congress
Chicago, IL 60605

Karen Lentz Madison, Ph.D., Contingent Senior Instructor
New Faculty Majority Foundation, Board of Directors
College English Association, Past President
MLA Committee on Contingent Labor in the Profession, Immediate Past Chair 
Department of English
331 Kimpel Hall
University of Arkansas
Fayetteville, AR 72701

Seth Kahn, Ph.D.
Co-Chair, Committee on Part-time, Adjunct, or Contingent Labor, Conference on College Composition and Communication
Professor of English
West Chester University of PA
Main Hall
West Chester, PA 19380 

Robert Craig Baum, Ph.D.
Dean of Academics
Lebanon College
15 Hanover Street
Lebanon, NH  03766

Maria Maisto, M.A., ABD
President/Executive Director, New Faculty Majority and the NFM Foundation
Adjunct in English, Cuyahoga Community College, Cleveland, OH
Co-Chair, Committee on Part-time, Adjunct, or Contingent Labor, Conference on College Composition and Communication
Member, Executive Committee on Part-time and Contingent Faculty, Modern Language Association
Member, Committee on Academic Freedom and Professional Rights and Responsibilities, Modern Language Association

Melissa Bruninga-Matteau, MA, PhD
Associate Professor of History, Martin Methodist College, Pulaski, TN 
Adjunct Faculty, American Public University


Monday, June 23, 2014

MLActivism: Infiltrate the MLA by Marc Bousquet

Recontextualized social media post by Marc Bousquet, with permission. For your further contextual needs, please see Occupy and Escalate: Graduate students should occupy not just buildings but also disciplinary and professional organizations.

In the discussion of the petition to restore the MLA's executive directorship to a faculty position, Doug Hesse articulates a position sometimes held by Michael Bérubé and many others: MLA is a scholarly organization and it is "broadening" the meaning of the constitutional charge to further the profession's "common interests" to include working conditions. I respect Doug and Michael, but that's simply not true.

At the moment of the organization's founding, the term "common interests" had a specific legal and social meaning. Additionally, employment matters of one kind or another have been an issue for the membership throughout its history. Adjunctification in particular has been a much-discussed issue for fifty years. The conversion of the ED position to a permanent staff line in the 1980s was intended by leadership and membership alike to professionalize lobbying and public relations on employment issues. There have been two EDs since then, both of whom have largely ducked this responsibility. Both of them have manipulated governance processes to make expressions of membership will and governance from below more difficult.

All of the suggestions currently being forwarded by Margaret Yeoman Hanzimanolis and Miranda Merklein and others—increased efforts to PR, lobbying, witnessing, accreditation, etc.—have all been previously passed 1995-2000 through governance channels by leadership and membership in the form of motions binding on the staff. For some, like Jeff Rice and occasionally the otherwise indefatigable optimist Seth Kahn, this suggests the other idea floated by the comfortable, including Feal and other staffers: "But what can MLA really do?" or, in Jeff and Seth's version, "Clearly MLA staff won't do anything meaningful even if you waste your effort in attempting to bind them through governance, so don't waste your time."

Myself, I agree with Feal's own time-wasting tweet to Margaret: "If you really want me to listen, then take over the Executive Council." I've argued that position for two decades, and—if we'd pressed forward, instead of attending to our various careers, including mine—we'd have won. Now it's harder, since the staff encouraged elected leadership to respond to our efforts in highly repressive ways, like nominating their own advisees to Council positions we won for grad students (Showalter) and changing the constitution to reserve Council seats for life members (the gerontocracy). But it's still doable, by creating a slate for 2nd vice president and EC three years in a row. A much better use of time than falling for the "working behind the scenes" trap. Just f++king govern, and you won't have to curtsy to Feal or the comfortable.

Marc Bousquet teaches at Emory University and serves on the AAUP Council. He is the author of How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Professor

I grade to teach and serve my grading cold.
I speak my mind where they cannot hear.
I work by going where I'm told to go.

We learn by groveling. Students file in rows.
My rolling office tears from wheel to wheel.
I grade to teach and serve my grading cold.

Of colleagues beside me, who's paid their dues?
Bless government assistance. Qualify
And work by going where you're told to go.

Chairs cut our classes but do not say why.
The lowly adjunct drives from school to school.
I grade to teach and serve my grading cold.

Great #Badmin has another plan in store
For you and me, so sign your contracts now,
And, Doctor, keep going where you're told to go.

This caffeine keeps me ticking. To rest? No.
What falls apart is always. My "career."
I grade to teach and serve my grading cold.
I work by going where I'm told to go.

(* A humble nod to "The Waking" by Theodore Roethke)
More poetry and creative things by M.M. can be found here.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Ten Steps to Becoming an Adjunct Ally

As faculty continue with organizing efforts, it is more important than ever that tenured and full-time allies take action in support their colleagues and students as we struggle to take back our colleges from corporate mismanagement. It’s a commitment that takes real action as well as a gestalt, if you will, of consciousness regarding how the crisis is understood as something real, relevant, and urgent.

Such commitment also requires being honest with students about their options to secure a life where they will be able to afford to buy a house and raise a family, common life goals the majority of their professors may never be able to attain. Obviously, financial mobility is something higher education will not be able to provide unless we can biopsy the corporate element and return higher education to the public good. Here are some direct steps tenure-track and other full-time faculty can take to support adjunct faculty:

1.)    Stop advising us to quit our jobs.

It is critical that full-time faculty understand that giving adjuncts advice like, “Just leave and go do something else” or “You might need to move elsewhere” is both impractical and insulting. (Do people really say this? Just look at the comments section of any article about adjuncts in IHE or CHE. Or read this piece on retiring job-market platitudes.) Many of us are constantly applying and interviewing for other jobs. The problem is that alternative jobs are largely unavailable, and it turns out our skills are not as transferable as Career Services departments continue to claim. (If they told their students and former students the truth, after all, they too would learn what it means to be expendable.)

At the same time, two-tiered faculty have to be honest with each other: our institutions do not really want to lose their adjuncts. Who else will teach all these students? The adjuncts who are able to get out, like during the recent ACA cuts that reduced our salaries to less than $15K annually, often have other support or income, which is part of a larger debate regarding the post-academic "privilege divide" in general. For those of us without such assistance, we are not just figuratively but literally trapped in exploitive employment, so our only option is to create change from within. With all due respect, you can be part of this change or you can step aside. Either way, telling adjuncts to “Just hang in there” does little, if any, good.

2.)    Do not to talk down to your adjunct colleagues.

We adjuncts are not naïve. We understand human behavior indicates seeing the world through a lens of self-interest and self-preservation. We are all guilty of this if it can even be classified as such. We adjuncts do not expect our FTTT colleagues to drop everything, but we do need you to pick a side for the public record. Instead of just talking about the problem, or dissecting and expositing about it, we will need you to actually stand on the right side of history and organize with us in real time—right now. There will be plenty of time to dissect everything that happened later. Who knows, we might even end up with new schools of thought that we can pick apart in the future when we all have the opportunity to pursue our research interests. How about attending our chapter and union meetings? Or publicly helping adjunct faculty by, for instance, offering your upper-level majors course to an adjunct and taking an intro-level one instead?

I know that not everyone supports the idea of unionizing, but we wouldn’t be doing this if we had other options. We’ve been asking nicely for a long time and nothing has changed. Be, as Elizabeth Keenan wrote last fall, a tenured ally.

3.)    Stop correcting our tone and address content instead.

Being the tone and/or language police instead of taking direct action is like rubbing salt in the wounds we cannot afford to treat (because many of us have no healthcare). It’s a waste of time to criticize how we are making our grievances than to respond to the content of our concerns. We’re talking here about the professional livelihood of 70–75% of university faculty, not a critical writing exercise.

I know it’s more convenient to side with the administration and put the blame on us, or to say that our condition is a result of collective individual failures over systematic inadequacies. It’s much easier to fall back on platitudes or say “That’s just how it is,” but those who take that route might at least acknowledge they are doing so on purpose to avoid taking risks that might sabotage the illusion of stability from within a structure that is obviously growing more and more unstable.

4.)    Don’t confuse luck or fortune with merit-based accomplishment.

It makes no sense that 1.2 million professors trying to hold it together in our roles as teachers, social workers, hustlers, and desperate, triannual grovelers, are suffering from lack of decisiveness. We practically live on hope and determination, but the truth is we can’t hold it together much longer. This is why we are making the transition from educators to activists and labor organizers, because without a major intervention on behalf of all faculty and students, this ship is going down and its effect on the economy will be severe. University administrations are taking more and more steps to erode academic freedom and the security of tenure. We need to be on the same side. Now.

5.)    Be patient. Then, empathize.

Please understand that because the relative comfort tenure-track faculty, senior administrators, and student support (dis)services enjoy rests on the backs of adjunct faculty and our indebted students, it makes all those who benefit appear to be equally guilty—even if it can be argued that the arrangement is much more complicated. Of course we are going to be snappish and angry. You might, too, if you had to teach 6-7 courses per semester at three schools for insecure, poverty-level wages.

All differences aside, we will bury the hatchet when you take deliberate action to support our battle. This will require you to refuse to participate in our further exploitation and that you attend our chapter and union meetings. Also, use the job security tenure grants you to stand up to administration with us. If you think it’s scary for you, imagine doing so when you can be fired by email (or by lack of email). Consider what it’s like to sign-in to Banner at the end of every semester to enter grades only to see your employment status listed as “TERMINATED.”

6.)    Address the bigger problem as a whole.

It takes little to no formal education to realize that the current way of running higher education is unsustainable. Our federal government recently reported a gain of $41.3 billion in student loan profits. With students increasingly in default over these loans and with poverty-induced IBR plans requiring zero payments annually, it’s hard to understand how these "profits" are anything other than debt-laundering, which harkens back to the recent housing market crash that devastated our economy. Call it or don’t call it a bubble; it’s still bad news. Many of us adjunct professors who constitute the majority of teachers in academia are unable to pay our loans; those of us without family assistance can’t even afford food much of the time while we live in constant regenerative crisis. We either qualify under the IBR reduced payment program, or we have defaulted and are being chipped apart by invasive debt collection tactics and wage garnishment.

7.)    Speak out against corporate Higher Ed.

Look what’s on the horizon for us. I saw red when I learned of the national MoveED campaign backed by Lumina Foundation for Education (the nation’s leading administrator and private guarantor of education loans) to raise U.S. education rates to 60% by 2025. “The new network,” the news release states, “is focused on building a collaborative platform with thousands of partners to make attainment beyond high school America’s cause—especially for 21st Century Students which include: low-income students, students of color, first generation students and adult learners."

This would be great news if higher education were to be offered for free as it once was, but that’s not the plan.

Well, it looks like we’ll have an increase in job security after all, some FTTTs might think, maybe with more tenure-track lines opening up. Yet this is not so much the case from where I’m standing. If more of our tenured colleagues spent significant time in the classroom the fatal flaw in this campaign would be apparent: the majority of students do not want to be in the classroom. Learning still takes place, and we have plenty of meaningful discussions. Yet overall, students treat higher education like a job, the kind of job that you can’t wait to leave as soon as you get there, the kind of job where you try to get away with texting under the table for the better part of class and miss as many days as possible without penalty.

Students commence in grade-grubbing behavior because that behavior is rewarded on the corporate campus. Merit-based accomplishments are laughable in an environment of such extreme grade inflation, but adjunct professors are rewarded for this behavior and discarded if they refuse to play. We can stop participating as a means of protest. I’ve even thought about disavowing my former enthusiasm with MLA format, however pathetic that sounds, anything to throw a wrench in this machine that's going to run us all into the ground. 

8.)    Investigate your campus.

The most important holiday for the average college student on two- and four-year campuses is the day colleges release loan disbursements. When I was in school I lived for this day as well, but I was a bit more clueless in the sense that I thought I was investing in my future, in the glorious life of the mind, that I was on my way to building a rewarding career with education as a means of financial mobility, but I was wrong.

Also, ask around about how many adjunct faculty members your university employs. Meet some of them; take one or two to lunch. They have stories and experiences to share, and they need allies with (more) power.

9.)  Take direct action.

I invite you, tenured colleagues, to survey your students anonymously this week and see just how many of them believe financial mobility through education is still possible. Aside from an iota of faith, they don’t. They will repeat the slogans they gleaned from admissions counselors, pamphlets and recruitment personnel, but it’s empty rhetoric. They are attending school to get those checks every semester because it’s one of the only ways to survive, temporarily. Conceptually, students know that they will have to pay that money back, but it seems so far away, so unreal.

We know you care about your adjunct colleagues’ professional standing; we most hope you begin (or continue) taking these and other actions on behalf of our students and your colleagues off the tenure track. Tenure-track and other full-time faculty need to take this change in consumer consciousness from students seriously because we only have a limited time to act before the corporatized campus becomes an irreversible staple of American life, where education will become the byproduct instead of the goal, just like we learned of our precious Ph.D. and M.F.A. degrees. This crisis puts all of our jobs in jeopardy.

      10.)  Your move.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

How the Adjunct Crisis Hurts Students and the Importance of Fighting Back

Another version of this post recently appeared on the Academe Blog.

Contract professors, commonly referred to as "adjuncts," are frequently told that basic necessities like a living wage and health care are not “in the budget” of the institutions that employ us, where we work full time hours as contingent, part time labor in a semester-to-semester purgatory state of what-ifs, often at multiple colleges with little to no control of our teaching schedules. We are the lowest paid, albeit terminally educated and skilled, employees at our institutions where we are treated like untouchables by virtually everyone on campus except our students who, until recently, had no idea we were teetering on the edge of financial ruin and emotional collapse. When we approach management about an increase in pay, a living wage, our intentions are questioned and we are accused of putting our own monetary needs above our chosen profession, teaching. At the same time, the people who are in it for the money—college presidents, upper administration, sports coaches—continue to earn raises like we collect white hairs while watching our students and our own children fall deeper into debt.

Tenure track and full time faculty speak of themselves as “we,” as in “we, the department”; contract professors, whether or not we are given the more dignified title of "lecturer," are the outsiders, the “you guys,” separate and inferior no matter how long we have worked at a particular campus or how many classes we teach. “Thanks for helping us out,” they say. “We appreciate your flexibility.” While I realize this internalized superiority is not necessarily a result of conscious intention, it is damaging nonetheless, especially because the "statusism" ideology is continually reinforced by the polarized working conditions of the two-tier faculty campus (see Jane Elliott’s Brown Eyes/Blue Eyes exercise). Although I consider myself lucky to have worked with many interesting and considerate colleagues in a variety of roles in my professional life, I would not be surprised if it were suddenly “in the budget” to build separate bathrooms for adjuncts; that’s how deranged the adjunct crisis has become, at great cost to our students and higher education.