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Artist in Residence

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by Emerson Clouse

In 2006, I finished my Masters degree and got a position at a mid-sized Midwestern university. Officially my title was “Artist in Residence,” for the music department but I figured out pretty quickly that I was a glorified adjunct.   My duties included teaching private music lessons and classes, performing, recruiting, and I could optionally pick up extra classes to augment my salary.  Considering my salary was a whopping $16,000, I chose to augment it as much as I could.

What surprised me was not the money; going from my stipend in graduate school to the salary as an artist in residence was a pay increase.  What caught me completely off guard was the culture and environment.  Grad school had been a little chaotic, but there was a pleasant (and necessary) margin of error as I learned the ropes.  When I entered the halls of my new job, I had no mentor, no support, no office, no supplies . . . and no margin of error.  Basically, it was a desert.  At least until it came time for those inevitable errors that come in your first year of teaching.  Then I had no shortage of feedback, and little of that was pleasant.

I tried to contact other adjuncts, other artist-residents to form some sort of support group, or to at least learn something, but that wasn’t a success either.  Everyone had been pitted against each other, competing for class contracts, posting fliers in the hall to get students into their sections over other teachers’ sections.  As I learned, sections of various classes were added to the schedule and adjuncts hired, and any class that didn’t fill was cancelled and the students moved to another section.  Any conversation I might have had must have come across as a play to undermine my colleagues. I recall one time where I had expressed some frustration at a situation over beer with one of my coworkers, and gotten called in by the chair the next day.  It seemed unreal.

I learned at one point that the adjuncts in the music department were paid less than adjuncts in other departments because of some mistakes the previous interim chair had made.  I couldn’t figure out why I was being penalized for the actions of someone who wasn’t even calling the shots anymore.  Had he been penalized?  And no wonder the other adjunct teachers (I think there were 20 or 25 of us versus maybe a dozen full time faculty) were so territorial: they–we–were being actively discriminated against.

But I think the strangest lesson of all was what followed.

I made the decision, despite all evidence to the contrary, that higher education was the place for me; I just needed a terminal degree to earn tenure.  I finished two years at that job, working my hardest to serve the students, develop my skills as a performer, scholar, writer, and composer.  I decided to enroll in a doctoral program, earned an assistantship, moved to another state, and had a positively wonderful time.  I don’t regret it a bit.  My adviser will remain one of my chief influences and confidants for as long as we’re both around.  But one night while out to dinner with some faculty, my adviser, and his wife, I commented on the topic of tenure, teaching adjunct, and the state of employment in higher education.  And they looked at me like I had turned green and sang the Macarena in Greek.

At one point I said that tenure seemed to be dying: either tenure lines were being cut, or no new hires were being made in favor of semester-by-semester “contingent” teachers.  I had even taught adjunct at a private college that had actually taken that step: eliminated tenure, and replaced it with a series of reviews, contract renewals, clear job expectations.  In all honesty, it sounded a lot like tenure, but it was called something else, and maybe that was the point.  But the effect of my observation was immediate and just what one would expect from an audience that holds tenure.  My adviser’s wife got upset and told me I was wrong, there was some shuffling of feet by members of the party, and the conversation swiftly leapt to another topic.

I get it.  I understand exactly why she was upset.  It’s upsetting stuff.  I also understand why conversation moved swiftly past my social faux pas, but I wish someone would have acknowledged it because I wasn’t making it up.  I’d lived the adjunct life, saw others who were trapped there with a family to raise and no way to jump to the safety of a doctoral fellowship as I had.  But everyone at that table was insulated from it because they had gotten their jobs at least 10 (some 20 or more) years before.  None of them knew any of the adjuncts; they were not represented at faculty meetings.  No one there was looking at the job postings with the eager eyes of a soon-to-be-minted Doctor of Musical Arts.

Here’s what my eyes told me: there was one full-time posting in my area of specialization that year.  There had been only one the year before.  I was lucky–I had done my masters in a different area of musical expertise and teaching experience, so I could apply for those “slash” jobs: ***/theory or ***/history.  But even broadening my search out a bit yielded some long odds, even if I was willing to move to remote areas, like the town of Resume Speed, WI.

After some time, I brought the topic up to my adviser in private.  I opined that college felt a bit like a pyramid scheme–recruit high schoolers into your program, recruit graduate students into the masters program, groom doctoral students to do just the same. He listened kindly and acknowledged my points.  And then pleaded no contest.  Perhaps it was the wisest of responses.  He reminded me that he hadn’t pushed anything on anyone.

He’s the sort of man who gives college professors everywhere a good name.  His combination of rigor, joviality, gregariousness and enthusiasm for his work earned him a spot as an assistant dean, a position he stepped down from because he liked teaching more. He’s beloved by his students and many of the graduate students know him as a fair and engaged committee member. These are big deals in the typical academic culture where over-worked faculty are the norm.

So it isn’t lightly that I say his opinion is uninformed.  Not because he hasn’t stitched together the information presented to him in a cogent manner, but because the information he has is not the whole picture.

As I learned, being an adjunct teacher is a good bit like being a migrant worker.  Each season might be an alright one, but it really depends on the weather.  And how many other adjuncts there are.  And if you’re healthy enough to do the job.  And if they like your performance last time. And if, if, if.  You’ll never do well, but you’ll survive.  But I also learned that no one up the ladder knew we were there.  They weren’t disrespectful, but they just didn’t know.  In my doctoral program I taught classes, so I actively sought out other graduate students/teachers as my cohort.  I noticed classes being taught by people who were not graduate students, were not full time; they were “other.”  They were that underclass I had lived in just a few years before.

I write about this not because I’m bitter.  I’ve actually moved on and have a great career in software.  I still gig regularly and am getting ready to publish some of my compositions.  I even go to conferences–both software and music.  Life is really great, and I’m so glad for this strange path to a rich life.  But I know so many of my friends from graduate school are stepping into a trap.  Some were so excited at their first part time college teaching jobs, and now I just hope they don’t get mired there.

So I suppose the reason I write is because I have a story to tell.  And I think it’s a story that in part resonates with a lot of people.  I think those stories need to be told, and not just among the adjunct army, but among the tenured, the administration, and the college-focused public.  A college should be a force for social good, and if it balances that display of good on the backs of any class of people, it has lost its way.

Filed under Anecdotes
Aug 15, 2012

Playing the Contract Renewal Game

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by Kathy Morris

I am now 57 years old, having spent the last sixteen years of my life and academic career in limbo.  After earning a MA in English Studies from Western Washington University in 1991, I spent 4.5 years teaching, predominantly, a full credit load (15 quarter credits/3 classes) of writing courses at South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia.

During the last year of my employment there, I took a risk and agreed to serve as Union Representative for Adjunct Faculty.  In April, 1995, I moved to Fukuoka, Japan and taught at a private women’s junior college until February, 1996.  In retrospect, if I had known then what I now know, I would have extended my stay in Japan for as long as possible.  Long story short, after I returned to Olympia and sought re-employment at SPSCC, I was denied re-employment and given no reason for this inaction.  I was told by the Human Resources Director that if the college gave me a reason I would be able to sue the college.  This, I suppose, can be taken two ways: 1) that the cause they would have given could not have been proven given my successful 4.5 year teaching career there or 2) that providing me with any reason whatsoever would then give me basis for a lawsuit.

It is my belief that I was not rehired for several reasons: 1) I was the first faculty member to successfully design and get approval to teach a women’s literature class at the college; 2) I was the only faculty member willing to serve as the first faculty advisor for a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender student group; and 3) I agreed to serve as union rep for adjunct faculty. There is much more to this story than I can tell here, suffice it to say that I would never list South Puget Sound Community College as a “fair practices” institution of higher learning, however, having since taught at five other local colleges, I would be hard put to identify any of them as a “fair practice” institution, although there might be one or two who try to treat their adjunct faculty with respect and dignity.

The main question that constantly plagues me is: What is happening to America given the state of higher education in the 21st century?  Other questions include: 1) Is all we’re good for is training people how to be welders, accountants, architects, nurses, attorneys, or other “marketable skills” jobs?  2) Who decides what a “marketable skill” is?  3) Have the humanities become meaningless in this post, post-modern world?  4) Doesn’t anyone care about anyone else any more?

Filed under Anecdotes
Aug 8, 2012

CFP: Countering Contingency: Teaching, Scholarship, and Creativity in the Age of the Adjunct

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– Call for Participation –

Countering Contingency: Teaching, Scholarship, and Creativity in the Age of the Adjunct

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
April 5-7, 2013

Inspired by the Non-Tenure-Track (NTT or adjunct) conversation sparked by Web sites like the New Faculty Majority and the Adjunct Project, a push to improve NTT working conditions by the MLA, and the effort to organize by NTT Faculty at Duquesne University, this conference offers an opportunity to think more deeply about the state of contingent, non-tenure-stream faculty. We invite proposals for papers, panels, workshops, roundtables, and creative presentations highlighting, critiquing, and theorizing how the unstable and unsustainable working conditions of NTT faculty impact intellectual work; narrating or analyzing the logistical challenges of serving as NTT teachers, scholars, and artists; discussing the working conditions that call for revision. Contingent labor constitutes the majority of faculty, yet NTT faculty are the lowest paid and most overburdened workers. We represent the foundation of academic experiences at the undergraduate level and offer irreplaceable interactions with students. We are artists, scholars, researchers, and examples of inspired teaching. This conference is an invitation to imagine the answers to crucial questions raised by our tenuous position: How can we use what we know to create a more sustainable and equitable labor and educational system, one that will benefit everyone at the university? What change is most needed? What does it mean to constitute the new faculty majority at your college or university?

Proposals for papers, panels, or roundtables are invited on the following topics:

  • maintaining a scholarly or creative life in an era of non-tenured faculty invisibility
  • documenting the institutional experiences of contingent faculty and their students
  • comparative analyses of salary, contracts, and other aspects of employment
  • histories of academic labor struggles
  • best practices for contingent faculty
  • unionization for contingent faculty
  • the proletarianization of the professoriate
  • links between this labor struggle and others past and present (especially in the Pittsburgh area)
  • any topic related to these concerns

Proposals for non-traditional modes of participation are welcome as well. Some formats for these might include:

  • art and creative writing panels (framed by your experience of creating this work under NTT working conditions or about the experiences of NTT faculty)
  • interactive workshops that seek audience participation in ways that help us all to analyze and think reflexively about higher education institutions, funding, or any aspect of academic labor and life
  • short performance pieces or multimedia presentations
  • any other ideas you have for participation, just give us the details

Please email nttconference@gmail.com if you are interested in participating in, helping to plan,
or attending the conference. For paper proposals, please send a 250-word abstract and short bio paragraph. For panels and roundtables, please send a 250-word panel description, plus 250-word abstracts of all papers/comments and bio paragraphs for all participants. For non-traditional ideas for participation or workshops, please send a 250- to 500-word description of your idea and a short bio paragraph for each participant. The deadline for submission of all proposals is September 15, 2012. Participants will hear back from the planning committee around October 15 at the latest, but please send your materials early and let us know if you need an early decision in order to facilitate travel funding requests at your institution. Informal inquiries before sending formal proposals are welcomed and encouraged for non-traditional presentations and workshops. Proposals from workers and scholars in the Pittsburgh region will be given priority.

Filed under Information
Aug 1, 2012

Adjunct Petition: Let’s continue to fight!

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by Ana M. Fores
Adjunct Professor of English & Language Arts

 

First and foremost, I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart. Back in April, I was ready to give up with this petition, thinking it would never get anywhere. But I told myself I would give it one last push. And you came through. I asked you to help me double the numbers, and in three months we more than doubled, so I consider this a success.

We still have a long way to go, though. I realize too that we are very much alone; we are like Don Quixote tilting at windmills. But, do you remember that essay by John Jay Chapman, Coatesville, where he staged his impassioned speech to an audience of two? And one in his audience was from a competitive newspaper, to see what dirt he could dig up on the crazy man… Though Chapman stood alone, he did not care. He delivered his speech. He fought the demons of his day. And today, he is anthologized everywhere. Unlike him, we are not alone, though our plight is still very much unknown, covered, hidden away purposely. I know we want to change things immediately, but it is so hard. But, we can do it. Will we have to be like Aesop’s slow and steady wins the race? If we have to be…

The next step to get more signatures—seeing that we are not getting any help from organizations from within this system—is to find our own. Can we take our fight, our petition, to the newspapers we know, to the media, to whoever may listen? I am trying everyday, but if we all do this—all 1395 of us—think what we can achieve. If we want a living wage, we need to fight for it with every tooth and nail, or every pen, paper, email, phone call, twitter, text… Please make this your fight, because it is our fight: mine, yours, ours. Togetherwe can make a difference. 

View the Adjunct Petition
Filed under Information
Jul 25, 2012

Quick Reference Guide For Parents on the College Search

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Many of us have been suggesting for awhile now that, in order for adjuncts to continue gaining momentum, we need to get the issue out into the public eye. We need to get parents and students on our side, or at least make them aware of the situation. Obviously, the mainstream media attention we have begun to garner is helping in that endeavor. The more we dispel the myth that all college professors are overpaid and underworked (ha!), the better off we will be when it comes to gaining public support for our mission.

Which is why I was particularly heartened by an email I received this week from the parent of a high school senior. In the email, this parent astutely asserts that she is affected by colleges’ exploitative practices because she is a “future consumer.” Very true, and well-said. Business practices affect the consumer, whether he or she is willing to recognize it or not. This parent is clearly one who seeks to explore these practices before she patronizes the school. She is exactly the kind of parent to whom we should appeal.

She goes on to ask how she can investigate practices and working conditions at her child’s prospective universities. With the help of my colleagues and fellow members at New Faculty Majority, we were able to come up with a pretty good plan for any parent who wishes to investigate a prospective school. Use this list as a template for anyone you know who may be seeking similar advice. It’s a pretty solid list of resources. And feel free to comment, if you can think of anything else.

  1. Join and engage with New Faculty Majority, especially in the new discussion forum.
  2. Check out the MLA Workforce database, where you can search for schools and see the breakdown of contingent faculty at each campus.
  3. Explore the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Just Ask campaign which contains some good questions you might ask when checking out campuses.
  4. It also may be worthwhile to contact individual departments that depend heavily on adjunct labor (like English and Math). You might get more detailed information that way, as they are more directly connected to the issue.
  5. Finally, if you really want to dig deep, you could even visit the department website, find the faculty directory, and email a couple of adjuncts on the list with questions.

This quick reference is a good start for parents who want to know more about the working (and learning) conditions on their children’s campuses. What else should we add?

Filed under Information
Jul 20, 2012

Punching the Adjunct Time Card

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by Irreveranting Professor

I’ve been inspired by Moneyball!  At the time I saw the movie, which was last fall, I was a contingent teaching graduate statistics to counseling students.  Right after I saw the movie, I was inspired to use it to help my students see the application of statistics in the “real world,” and even with counseling students using this movie worked!  They learned and were excited! Obviously, I wasn’t paid to take work to the movies or to take the movies to work, but the connections worked for the students.

With the recent blog tying Moneyball to the world of the contingent faculty member, I saw a whole new spin on the movie.  And to add to this revelation, I next spent an afternoon with friends, one of whom is a college dean.  The dean was (1) stunned to hear about the existence of the Adjunct Project; (2) surprised adjuncts don’t appreciate the college’s contact hour pay rates; and (3) in true dean-like form (which I said to this person in the conversation), the dean seemed blind to the truth of the hours we put into our classes and our students. I would argue these hours are clearly above and beyond the contact hours for which we are paid.  I realized the beans that count for an administration’s bean counters are only the ones in the classroom, which is doubly sad for those teaching online.  How are those hours measured!?

I am now armed with my thoughts from the conversation with these friends and from the spin on Moneyball Josh provided.  I am looking for contingent/adjunct faculty willing to log (or provide those which they already have maintained) their tasks by type in minutes and hours per class and by type of class—online or onground or both (I’ve taught both at the same time).  As a statistics or analytics person, I can do something that information!

If we had ledgers of time on task by type of task in addition to the officially counted “contact hours” (as class meeting times are known), we could use the evidence as data to break down the pay disparity point.  We should do this because the Adjunct Project really represents a subset of an emerging body of knowledge: Critical University Studies.  Change agents and alliances by civility minded rebels are the representatives of this body of research and commentary.  I invite you to become part of this line of study, because this information has not yet been collected and presented in higher education.

Josh pointed out to me: “There have been a couple attempts to quantify our hourly commitment beyond the classroom, but I don’t know of anywhere that information has been aggregated.  Lee Bessette at Inside Higher Ed organized a ‘Day for Higher Ed‘ in April.”  Therefore, I propose we collect time on task by type of task and by type of class and count the change!

Here’s my plan: I want to collect at least 20 sets of contingent/adjunct professor’s records. All I need is just one class of records per interested person.  I will handle the coding on the what/how uses of time and any emergent statistical data analysis; I even have a friend who I can recruit to help me so we can acquire inter-rater reliability.  I will protect the identities of the participants with pseudonyms and will use fictional university/college names.  (Why not do it right, right?)

I want to collect information potentially through the fall semester of 2012 and have the data coded and ready for presenting by roughly March 2013.  If you are interested in participating or would like to send me an existing log of your time and tasks, contact me at the following email: irreverantprofessor@gmail.com

Filed under Information
Jul 12, 2012

2012 Worst Place to Teach Award Goes To…

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It’s a landslide. The college with the most entries on the Adjunct Project spreadsheet is the Community College of Vermont with 17 slots. The bad news for CCV is every single one of its respondents negatively rated the school. Unlike other colleges on the sheet that have varying descriptions in the Notes column, the Community College of Vermont is all bad. The major critique seems to be directed at the administration on campus, which is frequently described as an “exclusive club.” Judging from the comments, it appears that the administration at CCV is particularly heinous.

Although the pay (at around $3000/course) is higher than some community colleges, it is definitely not good enough to make up for all the other problems at this school. Hardly anyone mentioned the department in which they teach, writing things like “department structure is a joke” and “afraid of saying.” Contracts are semesterly, if offered at all. There is no health insurance, retirement, or governance participation, and no union.

Based on the data from our adjunct colleagues, it’s clear that the Community College of Vermont is a toxic environment for adjuncts. Anyone who teaches at CCV should get out of there. Anyone interested in teaching in the area should avoid CCV. This school clearly does not deserve good teachers until they clean up their act. I am calling for a boycott of the Community College of Vermont by adjuncts. They have earned the 2012 Worst Place to Teach Award.

See comments about CCV below or visit the main spreadsheet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Filed under Information, Opinion
Jul 9, 2012

Why Have You Taught At So Many Places?

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by Ann Kottner
http://www.leekottner.com

I went for an interview today for yet another adjunct position to supplement my meager earnings. It was at a private and very conservative university and I should have guessed I wasn’t going to be a good fit when I was asked why I’ve taught at so many places. For the record, that’s a grand total of four years of teaching as a graduate assistant and a year at a community college during my first year as a TA; a year each at two community colleges 10 years ago, and since 2008, four years at one school, two at another, and one year at my newest job. So yes, I’ve taught a lot of different places. I have a master’s degree and the community colleges that would have been a steady place of employment for someone like me 20 years ago are now only hiring PhDs. The insinuation seemed to be that I was a bad teacher, let go from some of those posts, and the interview committee seemed quite surprised when I cited economics as my reason for teaching at more than one place at a time. I was then asked how many places I was teaching at right now. I’m not positive, but I think that was one of the factors that put me out of the running, that I’m already teaching somewhere else.

On the way out, the department head, a very nice woman, asked me if she thought they were offering a reasonable wage at $3600/3-credit class. I told her it was better than many places I was teaching or had taught. “The MLA,” she said, “suggests $6,000, but we couldn’t afford that.” She seemed aghast at the idea. I was equally aghast that she and her colleagues seemed so clueless about the economics of adjunct instructors. Is that part of our problem? That faculty and department heads don’t realize we’re working for such horrible wages? Anybody else have this experience of clueless faculty/department heads?

Filed under Anecdotes
Jul 3, 2012

On Tenure and Adjuncts (Naomi Shaefer Riley vs. Carey Nelson)

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I hate to say it, but I agree with a lot of Naomi Shaefer Riley’s argument in Sunday’s Wall Street Journal article in which she debates Carey Nelson, former president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), on the value of tenure.

First, though, I completely disagree with her perspective on tenure itself. According to Riley, tenure “isn’t good for students.” She implies that once tenure is gained, professors get lazy. This may be true in some cases, but it certainly isn’t the norm. One doesn’t gain tenure by doing the bare minimum. Generally, it is the result of decades of very hard work, beginning in graduate school. In other words, tenured professors are not slackers who are just waiting for a chance to goof off, as many outsiders seem to think. Professors are lifetime learners who voraciously consume knowledge until death. Sure, there might be a couple profs who loosen the reins once gaining tenure, but I think we should be honest and recognize that happens occasionally in every industry.

In addition to this sweeping generalization, Riley also affirms the consequent when she makes the argument that professors outlast administrators, therefore they must “always win.” I see her logic, but it’s flawed. Being around longer does not automatically equal winning; getting one’s way does. And the power holders are usually the ones who get their way (i.e. the administrators). Tenure is only a small step towards equalizing the power on campuses, and without it, administrators instead would be the ones who “always win.”

“But wait, I thought you said you agree with her?”

I do, but not on the issue of tenure. Part of her anti-tenure argument turns to a discussion of adjuncts. She uses the adjunct issue as a way of developing her argument, and here she makes some interesting points. Riley cites a 2005 study in the Journal of Higher Education that found “the more time college professors spend in the classroom, the less they get paid.” From this, she draws the conclusion that “research is more highly valued than teaching throughout the higher-education system.” I have to say it’s pretty hard to argue with this point. It does in fact seem to be the case. Research and grants bring immediate and measurable prestige and money to a university, whereas the benefits of good teaching are less quantifiable (though probably greater from a long term perspective).

Riley goes on to point out that this devaluation of teaching has lead to an increase in the use of adjuncts. She writes that “an increase in adjuncts on campus produces both lower graduation rates and more grade inflation.” Incidentally, she doesn’t cite any source for this information, but she does follow this claim with some support:

Adjuncts are under more pressure than other professors to make a good impression on students, because they are judged by student evaluations and nothing else; thus the grade inflation. But they also have less time than professors to engage with students; thus the lower graduation rates. Adjuncts typically have no offices and often no office hours, and in many cases they are running from one campus to the next to make a living.

I’m always hesitant to use negative stats about adjuncts in order to make our case for better treatment; however, Riley clearly shows how these negative statistics are not the fault of the adjunct, but of the system itself.

Riley’s main point seems to be that we need to evaluate professors based on teaching, instead of research accomplishments. Personally, I think this is an oversimplification of the problem, but I do see some merit in her suggestion. Most adjuncts are never evaluated by anyone, which is delegitimizing, demotivating, and depersonalizing. And Riley is right–this is bad for students, also. The important thing to keep in mind is: with evaluations and feedback comes a recognition of professional work. I wouldn’t mind the occasional visitor to my classroom if it means my work is being taken seriously and I’m getting valuable feedback in return.**

The other half of the article is Carey Nelson’s opposite argument, during which he also refutes many of Riley’s claims about tenure. Nelson carefully dances around the adjunct situation though, which is disappointing.  Nelson kind of plays it safe, but his argument is solid and worth reading, nonetheless.

Naomi Shaefer Riley has once again written a polarizing piece about higher education. Only this time, I begrudgingly have to agree with her on several points, although I certainly do not endorse her overarching ideology.

 

**The English department at the University of Georgia does in fact conduct evaluations of adjuncts, and we are a part of the department and paid a living wage for our work.

 

Filed under Opinion
Jun 27, 2012

Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW) Releases Important Study That Complements the Adjunct Project

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The Coalition on the Academic Workforce (CAW) has just released an important study concerning contingent faculty. The report compiles two years worth of data collection and research, and the findings corroborate much of the data we have collected here at the Adjunct Project.

I expect to see several articles exploring and evaluating the CAW report in the months to come, as it is one of the most important studies of adjunct faculty to date. Below is a link to the study. It is long and detailed, but very interesting.

 View the Full CAW Report

 

Filed under News
Jun 20, 2012

Explore the Data

Research adjunct pay and working conditions at thousands of schools across the country. Check out the data at The Chronicle of Higher Education's Adjunct Project 2.0.