Tuesday, August 13, 2013

On being responsible for people being able to feed their children......

So.  Many people who read and contribute to this blog are adjunct professors. 

So.  The whole system sucks, and adjunct professors get screwed in so many ways that it might make a person dizzy.  It does, in fact, make me dizzy.

So.  In my capacity as Acting Chair of Humanities, I put together a schedule for this fall.  It was, as anyone could have predicted, more complicated than it seemed at face value.  70% of our faculty are part time, Adjunct Professors.  All of them, of course, lead impossible lives and have very complicated schedules.  Most of them expect to be accommodated to the letter. 

I accommodated them to the letter, whenever possible. When not possible, I accommodated them almost to the letter.  In these cases, I heard from them.  Oh yes, I heard from them, and they were not always on best behavior.  But I understand.  I know.  I did what they are doing, and I was lucky in that I had a spouse who, while very irritated that for eight long years I was not earning a living wage with so much education under my belt, still could hold his own in the pay-our-rent department.  So maybe I don't know.  But at least I remember, and can understand somewhat.  I want to understand, for what that is worth.

Now we are at the end of the summer.  Our college is in sort of a bad state.  It impacts everyone.  It definitely impacts me, but I know I should not complain.

Of course, it impacts our part time faculty in a drastic, unfair, almost violent way.  In the worst way.  And no one in the administration really cares.  I do believe that.  They'd say otherwise, but actions speak much louder than words.

What I am having a hard time dealing with is the e-mails.  Inevitably, it is via e-mail.   People noticing the decline in enrollment, understanding what that is going to mean for them.  Realizing, in many cases, that their classes might not run.  Probably will not run.  And they are sending me e-mails telling me about the bills they will not be able to pay.  Telling me that they will lose their house or their apartment, make their children give up their after school activities.  They are asking me what I can do for them. How I can help them.  Reminding me of all their skills.  Of all their wonderful qualifications.

It makes me so sad.  I really, I feel like crying.  I wish I was Greta, so I could write a beautiful poem about it.

That's all.


  1. It's a bad position to be in, Bella. My heart goes out for you, and the adjuncts who are giving you a hard time are being just as unfair as the guy who yells at the customer service rep when his cable goes out. That kid can't do anything about it and isn't the source of the problem. The source of the problem is always the same - an exec in a suit.

  2. I once had a guy in charge of adjunct assignments totally screw me out of a course. Like, he assigned it to me, told me it was mine, wrote me an e-mail, and then gave it away. After I had agreed to do him a favor by adding 2 more courses (which worked out for both of us because, you know, I needed to pay rent too). After planning the course, ordering the book, etc. I stopped by the office to pick up all my instructor's copies and was told by an office cog that I wasn't assigned to the course. Not by the faculty member....or even his administrative assistant (who I sometimes suspect was really the one doing all the scheduling). Nope, just some random hire who was assigned to hand out the textbooks as people came by to pick them up.

    So, I was pissed. And shocked. And let the random office guy see just how pissed and shocked I was (but of course did not direct it at him).

    So, I picked up my stuff, continued working for that department, and made other arrangements to teach an extra class at another school (which, or course, as these stories go, was a nightmare!). Color me surprised when the adjunct scheduler contacted me1 week before the term started BEGGING me to take back the class he took from me. I never worked for that dick again after that term.

    As long as you haven't done anything like this, just try and realize that every adjunct knows (or should know) that some things are beyond a scheduler's control. As long as you're above board with the crappy stuff (like potential cancellation, but not fast&loose course reassignments), then consider the whining about not being able to feed kids much the same as you would a student whining about you being a big meanypants for making them actually do college-level work like big boys and girls.

    1. That guy was a real dick. It is hard, though, not to screw things up by accident. I don't think I did, and I'll do a huge mea culpa if I do. I hope I did not overschedule....overpromise. I used last Fall as a guide. I know, of course, in my head that I can't do anything and it is not my fault the classes are not filling. It just still makes me sad.

  3. I am in your boat, Bella: one oar in the water, rowing madly and getting nowhere. One of my adjuncts just had a baby at the end of last term. His classes aren't filling, and I am dreading the conversation I am likely going to have. My state has cut our budget AGAIN, so there's no relief in sight.

    So I pour another drink.

  4. Back in the navy, we had a saying: Don't hassle your detailer. A detailer was another sailor, not necessarily of high rank, whose job it was to arrange to get orders to send sailors to their duty stations. Don't hassle your detailer, or you may get a set of orders you won't believe, such as clean-up crew in Thule, Greenland.

    Having served as department chair during the budget crunch, my sympathies are with you, Bella. I had to make some hard decisions that I wish I hadn't had to have made. I did my best to be decent, and when we got a budget that didn't allow that, I did my best to be fair.

    I had to lay off just about all of our lab instructors, but I am proud that none of them went into complete unemployment. Indeed, I helped most of them get real jobs in industry, and now it's hard to hire them back.

    Frankly, I am inclined to look at this prick who is hassling you with what he clearly knows is a grade-A guilt trip as a volunteer, to be the first to go when the budget next flies south. Who knows, you may be doing him a favor: just about any job these days pays more for less effort than academia, not to mention is also more family-friendly.

  5. @Bella:On being responsible for people being able to feed their children......

    You're simply not. A person in our line of work knows what the score is.

    I'm an adjunct. My position should not have been in question this year, because it's a retirement replacement. However, our chair liked someone junior to me a little better and offered hir my position--without telling me (then, or ever, my chair doesn't know I know). So my chair wouldn't say anything to me about my situation and I, strictly speaking, did not know I still had a job until last week when my contract came in the mail.

    I have a baby, the most beautiful baby in the world. To feed that baby, keep a roof over that baby's head and diapers on that baby's butt, I would lie, steal, kill, take welfare, work at McDonald's, any or all together.

    So of course I had already arranged plenty of straws at which to clutch, months ago. I called in favors in a related department and made sure they could give me a spot at short notice. I opened conversations with someone who could get me an interview (not a position, but an interview) at another institution. In addition, I have started a career change which I hope to carry through this year, hopefully just before spring so I can shaft the chair. Maybe none of those things would have worked--I didn't have to find out. But I have other backups. I have to.

    It's nobody's job but mine and my partner's to look after ourselves and our baby. We have to do it. Whatever it takes. My chair did not do well by me, and of course academia should be set up totally differently so that people with Ph. D's don't have to worry about this sort of thing, but none of that matters. I have to take care of that baby. I have to find something. And I always have to be ready to do whatever it takes. It's not my chair's job, or the Chancellor's, or President Obama's. They might all be good people trying to do their best, or not, but it doesn't matter. The ultimate responsibility is mine.

  6. Seconding Flamen that it is *not* your responsibility to keep adjuncts' budgets balanced, Bella. Honestly, if things are that close to the edge, they should be looking for other, more reliable means of supporting themselves, especially as the economy improves. And that's coming from someone who walked into a faculty meeting her first January of adjuncting thinking she had three sections, as in the fall, and learned that she only had one (I was naive enough not to expect it, and burst into tears, which I'm sure was hard on the faculty coordinator. I also said that I wasn't sure that I could afford the prep time if it wasn't leveraged over several sections; I wish I'd stuck with that, and simply quit).

    From that experience, I'd say that you might want to think about whether anybody who *hasn't* contacted you might be in danger of losing sections they think they have, and contacting them, especially if they're new to adjuncting and/or your school, and may not know how to (or to) track enrollments. That may seem like borrowing trouble, but it could be a kindness to someone who doesn't know the ropes yet.

    In the somewhat longer run, it sounds like the system within which you're working could use some fine-tuning. It's generally better for everyone not to offer sections which might not fill until all the others are full (preferably to overflowing -- i.e. with substantial wait lists). I don't know how much control you have over that aspect of things (and I realize that predicting enrollments is a chancy business), but it might be worth looking into. It does risk not being able to find a teacher at the last minute, but it seems to me that students are going to have their schedules disrupted either way, and it's probably better for them, too, to *know* they don't have a class, than to think they do until it disappears at the last moment. Also, that approach gives you the opportunity to say to administrators who have more power than you "we could staff these sections from our present adjunct corps if we packaged them as full-time jobs."

  7. @Flamen Portunalis: It is so true. Of course it is on them. My first thought, when I received this kind of e-mail, was my typical bitchy attitude. I thought how I would never have done this when I was an adjunct. And also how 95% of the part timers are good soldiers who know the score and understand the risks without much complaint.

    But. Actually, they ARE being screwed. Actually, the whole thing DOES suck to high heaven. And of course, I am not responsible, me, one person just sitting here on the bench, for their livlihoods. But who is? We are all wringing our hands, saying how horrible it is.

    I wish I could do something. Then I get mad because everyone says that, but then none of us does anything. We don't know what to do. Here is an example. Because of the budget shortfalls over the past years, combined with a rather significant bunch of retirees, we are VERY short staffed in terms of faculty, not just in my department, but all over. And yet, the admin team wants all the same administrative bullshit done. And I am right there behind those who say, FUCK 'EM----we don't have the people. Hire some MORE people, darn it. And then a young, hopeful part time person comes along, notices the needs, and wants to help. FOR NOTHING. This has happened not once but.....lots of times, since I have become Acting Chair. "Don't do it!" I tell them. "You will never be appreciated or repaid in any way." But they WANT to do it. They want these things to go on their resumes. They hope that THEY will be the one, out of way too many wonderful part timers, to get the next open position, whenever that happens, because they are really helping out and they know I appreciate it. "This won't help you, not really, to get a job here. It will help your resume, yes, but when an opening comes, and 500 applications roll in, and a whole committee of people begin sifting, it won't really help you all that much. I promise you. Whether I am still here in this crappy position or not, you'd do better to spend your time on something else, something that pays money in the now." Nope, many of them insist on helping. And we desperately need the help they are offereing. So is this a win win, or a lose lose? I think it is a lose lose, but still, I feel like I have to participate, when they insist.

    As far as the schedule itself----Cassandra, you are right. I will underbook classes next time. Live and learn, yes? MUCH better to call someone to tell them I suddenly have a class then I suddenly have to cut their class. The admins don't like this strategy; they'd rather we have a bunch of choices and then see which ones are most convenient for the students. But I will just not go along with that next time.

    1. If the admins know their stuff, they should be able to predict, based on past enrollments, which times work best for students. What is the enrollment management software they spend so much money on good for, if not tasks like that? And what about the students who think they have a class, and then find out that they don't, because not enough other people wanted that date/time? My guess would be that they're more likely to be the very students with complicated schedules. It seems rather six-of-one/half-dozen-of-the-otherish to me from the students' point of view.

      As for adjuncts taking on parts of the service load, I'm glad you're discouraging it. It strikes me that one of the major hidden costs of the increasing use of contingent faculty in general (at least in universities where full-time contingents don't do service) and part-time contingents/adjuncts in particular is that an increasing administrative/service load (all the hiring, evaluation, schedule-juggling, etc. related to the contingent faculty, plus traditional service work, plus the ever-increasing assessment load) is being spread over a far smaller number of full-time faculty who have service as part of their remit. Some manage to wiggle out of it (that hasn't changed), which increases the load on the good citizens still further. At least at my university, the result is that, for a significant number of tenured faculty (especially recently-tenured faculty), the time that a 2/2 load is supposed to free up for research is actually being gobbled up by service/admin. Everybody might be better off if we went back to a 3/3 load, but with more TT faculty. The 2/2 supposedly research-oriented faculty would definitely be better off, and better able to do their actual jobs, as described, if they had some 3/3 teaching-oriented colleagues who also did service.

      The other strong possibility is that some work that considerably fell in the "service" category (and some new work -- e.g. increased assessment -- that would, in the traditional course of things, be added to that category) is gradually migrating to the admin side of things. For all that proffies generally hate that sort of work, and that some of it probably benefits from at least having someone with specific expertise available to consult, I don't think that's a good thing, since such work is *supposed* to influence teaching/curriculum, not to be an end in itself. Whether doing some of it on a volunteer basis might help an adjunct make the leap to admin (where the full-time positions seem to be; admins seem far more willing to hire more admins than to hire faculty), I don't know. Even if does, this hardly seems like a healthy trend.