Thursday, February 7, 2013

Don't Call Me That. From InsideHigherEd.

Bring readings to class, either in hard copy or electronic format. Sign up for a blog account in order to contribute to online class discussions. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. Don’t call me “professor.”

These are some of the expectations laid out in Karen Gregory’s course syllabus for her Introduction to Labor Studies course at Queens College, City University of New York. Understandably, it’s that last detail in particular, embedded in an information section on adjunct instructors at CUNY, that can spark lively discussion.

And that’s exactly the point.

“Students have heard the word ‘adjunct’ but they can’t always define it,” Gregory, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology and CUNY system adjunct, said in an e-mail. “Students begin to realize the word ‘professor’ can refer to a number of different people in the university, but that the word can also cover up hiring practices, wages and labor relations. Since exposing those relations more broadly is the point of my class, the ‘professor’ conversation makes an ideal case study during the first week of the course.”

The syllabus section also includes details on how adjuncts are different from tenure-track faculty, such as the pay they receive for their non-classroom work.
“CUNY’s reliance on adjuncts impairs the conditions under which courses are taught and the quality of your education,” it reads. “Adjuncts are not regular members of the faculty; we are paid an hourly rate for time spent in the classroom. We are not paid to advise students, grade papers or prepare materials or lectures for class. We are paid one office hour per week for all of the classes we teach.”



  1. When I was in nursery school at age 4, I addressed my beloved teacher as, "Teacher." She replied, "Don't call me that. Do I call you boy?" That appealed to my kid's sense of logic, so from then on, I addressed her by her proper name, Mrs. Schneider.

    It's funny how this rule apparently no longer applies to professors. Addressing anyone as "Professor" is essentially equivalent to addressing one as "Hey you." Considering the long, hard fight it took me to be able to use the term sincerely, though, I'm beyond caring now.

    Ever since one of my high-school teachers treated a class of us students to a lengthy diatribe about how long it had been since he'd had a raise in pay (when he really ought to have been teaching us physics, but then he did so little of that ever), I've thought it was unprofessional to rub our students' noses in grousing about our jobs. That's what CM is for, of course, and CM is anonymous and students don’t have to read it and can escape listening to it. More to the point, since students have so little influence on the terms of employment of any instructors, at any level, what I thought during my high-school teacher's rant was, "What do you want me to do about it?"

    On the other hand, seeing how things have been so bad for so long for adjuncts, and they seemingly keep getting worse, if letting our students know about it will improve the quality of instruction, why not? It’s so annoying how the powers-that-be want us all to teach like Robin Williams in “Good Will Hunting” or the “Dead Poets’ Society” (well, not quite like that), all for $20k/year. One gets what one pays for, and if it’s OK to treat teachers as serfs, don’t think that education will benefit.

  2. I sympathize with adjuncts. However, I don't think this is the proper way for an adjunct to express their problems with management. The part I don't understand is that he is promoting the idea that he's not a good instructor because he's an adjunct. That can't help when he's trying to run his class.

  3. Takes a special breed of stupid to not understand a syllabus isn't the appropriate place for butthurt whining. If I were the univ., I'd immediately terminate him as well. He's a troublemaker.

    And for the record, I used the word "professor" whenever I couldn't remember a name or couldn't pronounce it. Or if I wasn't sure if they were a Dr. or not.

  4. Point of order. Professor is an honorific, and would traditionally be followed by a surname. Using only Professor would be equivalent to using only Mister.

    The comments from Ben and Inverted seem to miss some key points. A) Karen Gregory appears to be female. B) This wasn't done in isolation, the syllabus entry was crafted by the CUNY Adjunct Project and is used by a large number of adjuncts.

    In our current "customer oriented" model of education, how better to educate the customer about the business practices of the school? I find using the syllabus somewhat distasteful, but I find treatment of adjunct labor distasteful too. Labor disputes get messy, and I doubt we've seen the messiest this one will get.