Friday, September 13, 2013

"Have You Seen This Shit?" Krabby Kathy is Especially So. An Adjunct Rant.

Have you seen this stupid article: “Adjunct Adjustments” on IHE? Excuse me, “peddling our classes”?
Adjunct Adjustments
Luke Niebler
Which campus is this?
What day is it?
Why is the grass blue?
Across the country, many adjuncts have found their hours reduced in anticipation of the Affordable Care Act. Meanwhile, department heads need to hire more adjuncts in order to make up for the reduced adjunct hours. This means that countless contingent academics will begin peddling our classes at multiple colleges and universities in order to make ends meet.
On paper, most of these instructors will be teaching the same introductory course that they’ve been teaching for years (English 101, World History, Pre-Algebra), but with a new student body and in a new department. In most cases, this means that you have to change your syllabus to reflect a new set of academic, social, and administrative standards. Properly adapting your syllabus will not only impress new department heads who are making hiring decisions, but will also allow you to adjust your pedagogy for new student bodies.

It doesn't sound like this author makes their career as an adjunct at all. I have for NINE years, allow me to share. Having to hustle for work at multiple places now means you must be willing to hustle your stuff like never before.

1. Say "yes" to anything you are offered, take every class that comes your way.

2. Promise the same hours and availability to as many places as possible.

3. Kiss the princely rings of the full timers.

4. Never give your honest opinion on anything having to do with the College/University, Academia, invited speakers, or policy.

5. Go far and beyond the work you are contracted to do.

6. Re-consider how important it is to report plagiarism; you will ultimately be blamed for student's plagiarism.

7. Give away A grades, lots and lots and lots of A grades because an unhappy student means you wont get re-hired.

8. Don't be a well-liked professor. Your reviews should be in the C+-B- range, anything more, and you are a threat to unpopular full time faculty. God help you should a student say to a Dean or a Chair: "I really like Professor Smith, they are so inspirational, not like the other faculty here, and I think they should be hired full time."

9. The word "Union" should never leave your lips, even if you are in one.

10. Take any book they want you to work with, even if it's the worst book you've ever seen, even it means teaching down to the students instead of to the students. This is equally true of any syllabus they want you to use. I once picked up a Composition course at the last minute and the class had no composition books. The regular faculty, who took ill, didn't use books to teach College Composition and Rhetoric, and I was not allowed to change his syllabus, especially to add my own books.

11. Never ever ever ever make a recommendation to a faculty or staff person on anything.

11b. If you plan to stand up for the students, you will not be hired. Attend to the University and College like the Medieval Church institutions they pretend to be.

12. The copy center workers, the tech people, the janitors, the cafeteria staff, human resources, waste disposal, admins, they all out rank you, and unlike you, they are not disposable mercenary help, so treat them with great care, but never tell them how you really feel

13. Affordable Health Care? Don't be so sure. I live in a state that has mandatory health care and it is cheaper to pay the fine than it is to have health care, and by the way, the idiots who make the forms for affordable health care, don't understand how you make $3000 one month, $350 the next month, $1000 the next month, and $0 the next two months, and they will inundate you with constant paperwork about your change of income, demanding weekly income statements and stubs, even if you don't get any, and then, when they write in that you make $3000 a month, because you made that once, they will insist you find your own health care, which costs $515 a month in your home state, and then not understand why you can't afford that amount each month.

14. Homelessness? Prepare for it! You need a last second emergency plan. A promise of a class is only that, a promise, and usually that promise is made by a deranged human being who doesn't care if you cannot pay rent, eat, survive: they had a full time faculty that needed a class, they yanked your classes away two days before the semester started, you have rent due in three weeks, too bad for you.

15. If asked to "put out" to keep your job, it's a logical consideration to make. Personal integrity doesn't buy ramen but it will secure you work in some cases.

16. Expect to wait, wait, wait for classes to be offered. The people who assign classes have things to do, committees to sit on, conferences to go to, beers to drink with colleagues, their own children to mess up, and if it means waiting until 2-3 weeks before the semester starts, even though you have been begging for a schedule for months so you can go and market your time elsewhere as well.

17. If you apply for a full time job, don't expect a reply, not for a job as an admin I, an advisor, a registrar, financial aid, and certainly not as a faculty member. A complete stranger has a better chance than you do, even after years of your loyal service, of securing employment.

18. Prepare to work at as many jobs as you humanly, possibly, can at the same time. This may mean teaching three online jobs, two-three in-person jobs, several sections, plus tutoring (the students not getting the time and energy they deserve), because which one of those jobs pays your rent in the future is a mystery that not even Pythagorus could calculate. And it may mean not spending time with your family, nor time to go to the gym, nor time to blow off steam (no free conferences and anonymous Lit-professor sex for you in Chicago!), nor time to apply for more secure jobs (like meth dealer, prostitute, or mafia hit man), because you cannot say, "No," you cannot take the risk that they wont rehire you, think about you, offer you enough classes to survive, and some semesters are lean, stealing grits in your pockets from Whole Foods LEAN, and some semesters are ample (which you will use to pay down your credit cards that you lived on all Summer), but you have to advantage your position for re-hire as much as possible.

19. If you teach at a religious institution especially a Christian one, everyone pities you, because for some random and imaginary reason, without reason, you can be accused of anything, and suddenly let go, because of the "religious mission" of the zealots in charge.

20. If you do successfully navigate multiple jobs, and you do it for more than three years, and you do it because you love teaching, you love your students, you love your subject matter, and you hope that all your hard work and effort will someday pay off, you can expect two things to happen: i) You will be forever considered an adjunct, used goods, someone's sloppy seconds, and no one will take your CV seriously, especially if you went to a better school than they did, especially if you have more publications than they do. ii) Expect to hear: "I see so much teaching experience on your resume, I'm worried you cannot work in a team environment/you wont have the basic office skills/you don't have the right background/this isn't what you really want to do," when you break down, walk out on your jobs, and apply for a job sweeping the blood and bone dust off the floors in a hospital, in order to have more life stability, retirement, benefits, peace of mind.

21. You will never get a chance to pay off your student loans. Default now. Who needs their social security anyway?

22. Expect the institutions to never take out enough taxes, and especially expect to owe taxes each year. There will be no refund check get-away for you in the Summer.

23. Don't expect the University to play nice when you need unemployment, especially if they know you teach at more than one institution. They will fight you like barbarians at the borders of Rome, and they will not rehire you the next semester for challenging their divine authority.

24. You will not be paid for hours and hours of emails, recommendations, letters, meetings, correspondence, phone calls, not covered by your contract, although you will be expected to act as if you are, and although some weeks, you spend as much time on office work, as you do lesson planning and teaching.

25. When you wonder why you live this life, why you still love teaching, remember the students, the lives you will change and impact for the better....but also remember the promise that the institution made when you first started: "Abandon Hope, All Who Enter Here."


  1. Ah, this takes me back to my days as an Accursed Visiting Assistant Professor, especially 5, 16, and 24, and they are not good memories. Now, 13 years later, former students from that era still send me e-mail to request letters of recommendation. I want to scream at my former captors---ERM! I mean employers!---"I should charge you bastards for this!" (I don't, and I still write the letters, since I'm still fond of the students---some of them at least.) Hang in there!

  2. You are not your job. You are not your degrees. You are not the place where you live. Don't talk about Fight Club.

    Seriously, if you hate it, get out. Don't say "I can't get out". What you mean is, "I can't get out and still identify with my job/degrees/city I live in".

    Is there a high cost of living in your area that keeps you from saving money? Move someplace cheaper.

    Can't get a full-time position at your university, or any? Teach something else. Most states have a way for people with advanced degrees to teach public school without ed degrees. Teaching high school would be worse job satisfaction, in my opinion, but depending on the state it pays better than being an adjunct and you only work in one place.

    Alternatively, many small towns have small state universities and full-time adjunct positions can be had there--that's what I'm doing. Still it's not a picnic, but if you can score one full-year contract somewhere, and maybe stay there a second year, this can give you time to make a career change.

    Which is what I'm doing. I'm taking the actuary exams. I'm using this year to change careers. You don't need a degree in actuarial science to be an actuary, you need be able to do math and demonstrate that on standardized exams, the study materials for which are free. A person like yourself must be intelligent and highly-organized in order to survive doing what you've done, there is something you can do that doesn't care what your degree was, if you can find it. Blue-collar trades are often highly paid, a lifetime academic might know that--but you did notice that the janitors and office personnel are making more than you and have better security with benefits. Join them. You can do what they do. They go home at 4:30 and forget about their jobs until the next day.

    Our expectations for ourselves are our prisons. Free yourself. The bars look solid enough, but you can walk through the wall.

  3. The article sounds like it has reasonable advice for adjuncts but more generally for those who are beginning to work at a new school. The commentary is pretty good, though most faculty I know do respect the opinions of adjuncts in our departments. Still, I can't help but get annoyed at the standard lines of BS in this article.

    Teaching at multiple schools with varying standards "represents a unique challenge and opportunity." Oh boy! Is this the opportunity I've been waiting for? No, it's a pain in the ass that results in less pay.

  4. I dealt with #23 this summer. Yep.

    Overall my adjunct experience has been good, thus far. Now if only I could have an office?

  5. My heart aches for the OP. I lived that story for 10 years before some-crazy-how getting (and keeping) a TT job. Consequently, I do everything in my extremely limited capacity to give the adjuncts in my care as full a schedule as I can manage (but I have no control over whether their sections get canceled).

    And there have been days (weeks, months, the last two years) when I have wondered why I stuck with this despite the shitty pay and lack of respect. It's the love of teaching, of course, as much as I bitch about lazy students, insane department colleagues, and institutional mandate bullshit (but we got a shout-out from the Prez!)--I still love to teach.

    But getting out is looking better with every day that passes. Maybe you should, too.

  6. I believe 7 and 8 contradict each other, which would be indicative of the typical workplace.

  7. I worry when I see "advice for adjuncts" columns like Niebler's (Kathy's strikes me as pretty accurate, but of course would be unlikely to appear in IHE), and to a lesser extent about adjunct activism (which I'm generally very much in favor of), because both seem to assume that "adjunct" is an actual job, maybe even a career. It's not. College professor is a job. An adjunct, more often than not these days, is an underpaid, undersupported, generally exploited part-time college professor. While there are a few people who genuinely want to be part-time college professors -- usually because they have time-consuming family responsibilities and/or another profession which consumes the majority of their time, and provides the material for their teaching -- there are far too many people these days who are cobbling together a full-time job (which usually involves a teaching load equivalent to 2-3 actual full-time jobs) out of part-time jobs.

    I'm not saying every adjunct should get out, right now, but I do hope, as the economy improves, people will at least diversify the kinds of work they do for pay, and that many will find ways to be competent, happy, and fairly rewarded for their work in the world outside the academy -- enough so that working inside the academy begins to look as exploitative as it actually is.

    I'm also kind of hoping that the cutbacks in adjunct loads by institutions grimly determined to avoid paying benefits under the Affordable Care Act will be the straw that broke the camel's back -- that adjuncts looking at the prospect of adding another school to their portfolio just to get the same load will decide to look elsewhere instead, and schools will find themselves without sufficient adjuncts to carry on as they have been. At least that's a relatively benign scenario -- more so than, say, a sometimes-deadly strain of flu arising, and spreading especially quickly among college campuses because of all the unvaccinated adjuncts moving among them. That, sadly, sometimes feels like what it would take to make parents care about who's actually teaching their children's classes (as long as there are sports teams and gyms and really nice dorms and all the other accoutrements of a top-notch "college experience"). Maybe they'd actually miss the professors if there weren't enough? Or, more likely, college presidents would find a cheaper alternative (though finding a way of teaching cheaper than overusing adjuncts -- at least one that produces anything resembling actual education -- is going to be a real challenge).

  8. #21 needs political attention. Some sort of percent-of-income repayment system, with a maximum number of years of payout, after which the remainder would be forgiven, would probably make sense.

  9. Forgiving student loans would certainly help current adjuncts but it would send a message to current grad students that adjuncting would be a more viable career since their loans would be forgiven. I've learned a lot about adjuncting from this site. Of all the reasons I've heard for why people get stuck in this position, I am most sympathetic to the fact that grad schools overproduce PhDs. Forgiving student loans would seem to exacerbate that problem rather than solve it.

    1. True, that. Since I'm a firm believer in not entering a Ph.D. program (at least not in the humanities) unless one has full funding, I wasn't really thinking about grad school loans as part of the loan picture. I think universities should, indeed, be self-policing in this regard (though I know it's not going to happen; there are too many incentives in the other direction). Failing that, prospective grad students might consider choosing programs using two guidelines:

      --Don't enter a program unless you're promised full support.

      --Make sure the support structure includes, or at least allows for, paid apprenticeships in a range of possible future careers related to your degree (in other words, don't spend all your work time while pursuing the Ph.D. teaching if you and/or your grad school are claiming that the Ph.D. is intended to prepare you for other careers as well).

    2. STEM grad students nearly always have full funding, and STEM Ph. D.s are also overproduced, and have been for my entire lifetime. If you subsidize Ph. D.s, you get more Ph. D.s, just like if you subsidize anything else.

    3. It's my impression that STEM grad students tend to get more chance to practice industry-transferable skills as part of their university work assignments (e.g. as research rather than teaching assistants). But I could be wrong about that.

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