Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"Less Than." From Neala Healy.

I’m so tired, I’m bone-weary, of hearing how inadequate I am. My students walk in the door assuming superiority to me in every way. My visible disability gives them an even greater jolt of smug self-worth. Super Sheba believes she is better than me and better than everyone else in the room. She earned a “B” on the first exam and emailed me in a fit of fury. “How could this have happened?” she demanded. That was my best laugh of the day.

The administration dangles my job in front of me like a spongy, maggot-infested carrot. Long after the bookstore is demanding textbook orders, I’m waiting to hear if I have a job next quarter. Well, if I wanted respect, I would have been worthy of a decent job. Adjuncts shouldn’t expect more.

A social media friend pontificates about the deprofessionalization of various professions. We’re old friends, far-left liberals who care deeply about worker’s rights. He uses adjuncts in higher education as the prime example of the trend of replacing skilled workers with people who are less skilled, less able. My rage surges fast and burns white-hot. He explains the historical trends, the realities of my job to me. I am not grateful.

His conclusion is that I am a less skilled replacement worker. I am dismayed that highly intelligent adults behave like traditional, college-age students in their ability to think. Highly intelligent adults demonstrate the social skills of college students. Please, explain my job to me some more. I so enjoy having my career and the daily realities of my job explained to me by an outsider. I so enjoy being evaluated by someone thoroughly unequipped to evaluate me. Yet the consistency of this evaluation – across students, administration, and the general public, truly impresses me.

I’m devalued by everyone I encounter, even by those who should know better.

It’s okay. At least I’m not them. This is my mantra.


  1. That makes me fume too. I am an adjunct. Adjuncts are not less qualified. I am going to go find a stiff drink!

  2. This is a hall of fame post. Welcome to our new friend. Heart breaking.

  3. This is one of the saddest, and most frustrating, results of our attempts to speak up about the problem of contingency/adjunctification/precariatization/whatever-you-call-it of higher-ed teaching: all too often, inside as well as outside the academy, the message gets boiled down to "adjuncts are a problem." No, adjuncts are *not* a problem, the overuse of adjuncts, and the conditions in which they/we work, is the problem. Put your average tenure-track faculty member in the same conditions, and (s)he would perform about the same, or quite possibly worse, depending on how much experience (s)he has teaching in such conditions. And while merit plays a role in who ends up in which position, luck, and life circumstances, and a whole list of other factors that have absolutely nothing to do with the qualifications for the job, do, too. If may or may not be a complete crapshoot, but it's definitely a game of musical chairs, which ends up with 30% of the contestants seated, and 70% standing. And no, it's really no way to run a college or university, or to make the most of the investment of time and money by a number of parties represented by underemployed Ph.D.s, but that is *not* the fault of the adjuncts.

    Welcome, Neala. I hope you can find some solace, and a friendly space, here. One of the things I like about this place is that we can talk frankly across ranks, kinds of institution, disciplines, etc., without fear of repercussions. That is, sadly, difficult in the current situation.

  4. I am sorry this is happening to you, Neala. Don't listen to clueless boneheads who clearly don't know what they're talking about. I hope you do what I did, when I was in that situation, of finding a much better job somewhere else.

    I still get asked for letters of recommendation from former students from the old place. They were my students, and not responsible for the mess that place was, so I give them. Still, every time I do, I want to contact my former taskmasters and tell them, "I should charge you bastards for this!"

  5. I'm so sorry, Neala. Thanks for sharing your story. I wish I could do more than say don't let the bastards get you down.

  6. Neala's story is one of many reasons we're here. Thanks for sharing.

  7. "A social media friend pontificates..."

    With social media friends like that, who needs trolls?

  8. The administration dangles my job in front of me like a spongy, maggot-infested carrot. Long after the bookstore is demanding textbook orders, I’m waiting to hear if I have a job next quarter.

    I love the imagery. The absurdity of the bookstore's deadline suggests a stick to match the carrot: if enough faculty are in the situation of having to order supplies to do jobs they don't yet know they have, what could be the result if they collectively said "fuck your deadline, we'll let you know after you let us know"? Easy for me to say, of course, but if this were tried at my uni, I would help lead the charge on the other side by enlisting my non-adjunct colleagues to stand in solidarity so as to attempt 100% non-compliance, and to publicize the hell out of it. Injustice needs to be brought to light. First step is to get the powers that be to recognize that such instability in the workforce is bad for the university; next step is to continue the trend towards stability.

    Now on to the quality of adjuncts. When I was an undergrad, I took some courses taught by adjuncts, and my impression then was that they were brought in because their particular expertise was lacking in the uni's own professoriate, but they did not wish to completely leave their careers in the "real world" to be full-time proffies. Nothing since has dissuaded me from the idea that adjuncts are as good if not better in the classroom, which is where the apples-to-apples comparison applies.

    To say that use of adjuncts is an example of "replacing skilled workers with less-skilled" presupposes something for which no evidence has been given. The pomposity and logical fallacy are infuriating. The trend I've seen across many businesses has been the replacement of full-timers with part-time (or just-barely-not-full-time) "contract workers" to whom no pesky benefits need be given; i.e., trying to get the same quality with less money.

    Ah, well, just my muddled musings.

    1. I'm with OPH on the notion of mission creep in the hiring of adjuncts. Adjunct faculty are—or used to be—precisely for those situations when a special subject needs to be taught but the demand for it won't support a full-time person. If you occasionally have a few music majors who are studying bagpipes, you hire your local professional bagpiper to teach for a few hours a week; he's completely competent, and it would make no sense to hire someone full time. But hiring armies of adjuncts to staff dozens of required English and math sections that could easily keep several full-time people permanently occupied? That's mission creep, and it's an utter disgrace. If adjuncts are so "inadequate," why are they so heavily relied upon? Hang in there, Neala. (And good for you, for laughing at that student who complained about her B.)

  9. Thank you everyone. The community here, and the start of summer, have brightened my mood considerably.