Friday, September 23, 2016

From Alice.


30 comments:

  1. Is that something that really happens? I'm sympathetic for the adjunct plight but this doesn't seem like it can be usual.

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    1. Only one place I've adjuncted paid the adjuncts before October for the fall semester.

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    2. A temporary lecturer here taught in October and November last year (odd system), got their paper contract in November, and was paid in MAY this year.

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    3. Yes, this is a common tale for adjuncts nationwide. I've heard the complaint a lot.

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    4. My system actually treats adjuncts better than many in terms of pay, and they also would never get a class cancelled once it has begun. However, part times do not get paid until the end of September. Four weeks in. I always did think that was horrible, and Alice's situation is much worse!

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  2. How about being thankful you have a job!

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    1. seems like not getting paid means there is no real job.

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  3. Anonymous, the situation is a little more complex. For example I have a part time person on staff who has been teaching for us for 10 years (20 consecutive semesters). Despite this extensive history of institutional loyalty on the part of the instructor, the university insists on treating this individual as though hir may just decide to stop showing up and make off with the early semester pay checks. So, check withheld until the third pay cycle of the semester. In other words, demonstrated loyalty reciprocated with suspicion.

    I hope someone more experienced with the economy of tuition-driven schools can add some comments here. I understand that the university does not have a final "head count" until well into the semester due to withdraws/no shows/partial or full refunds/etc. Could some of this pay check holding be related to this budget uncertainty?

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  4. Anonymous, the situation is a little more complex. For example I have a part time person on staff who has been teaching for us for 10 years (20 consecutive semesters). Despite this extensive history of institutional loyalty on the part of the instructor, the university insists on treating this individual as though hir may just decide to stop showing up and make off with the early semester pay checks. So, check withheld until the third pay cycle of the semester. In other words, demonstrated loyalty reciprocated with suspicion.

    I hope someone more experienced with the economy of tuition-driven schools can add some comments here. I understand that the university does not have a final "head count" until well into the semester due to withdraws/no shows/partial or full refunds/etc. Could some of this pay check holding be related to this budget uncertainty?

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    1. That's possible, but I'd argue that the university needs to find a way to budget for that uncertainty, rather than shifting the cost onto a vulnerable employee. It's an inherent cost of doing business, and probably pretty predictable from semester to semester, which would allow the university, if need be, to pass the cost back to students/parents (hey, flakiness costs money, as do the inevitable surprises of life, and the cost probably isn't all that much on a pro-rata basis; basically, it's insurance that makes partial tuition refunds for classes dropped relatively late possible). Shifting that burden onto some of the most vulnerable employees strikes me as wrong (I feel the same about "variable scheduling" in the retail/service sector: if the weather is terrible and nobody's coming to the amusement park, the owner/shareholders, not the employees scheduled to work, should bear that burden.)

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  5. This is, indeed, very common practice, and it's absolutely scandalous -- so much so that I wonder whether it falls in the category of things that we (academics generally; contingent academics specifically) might be able to lobby the Department of Labor to investigate and, hopefully, outlaw/forbid via regulation (a la the recent investigations of unpaid internships, which seem to have had some effect; at least a friend's son reports that his employers this summer seemed to be pretty careful to give him substantive work rather than clerical work that might more appropriately be performed by an entry-level employee. There are still other problems with unpaid internships, of course, starting with who can and can't afford to take them, but it's a start).

    At the very least, it seems to me that there needs to be a signed contract before an adjunct does *any* work on a class (including before-term preparation), and that contract needs, at the very least, to include a pro-rated "kill fee," so that the adjunct will be paid for preparation (e.g. preparing a syllabus and/or setting up an LMS site) as well as any classes taught and grading accomplished. The contract would also need to reflect an honest calculation of the time it takes to create a syllabus, course calendar, and other beginning-of-term handouts (or, if the course is standardized, to fill in/update dates, check links, etc. Even that stuff takes more time than you'd think -- and that's not only because the combination of tedium and the need to focus intently on details makes it *seem* like forever).

    It's really in *all* academics' interest to discuss/document the time that pre-semester prep takes (especially in this age of increased scaffolding and LMS use and decreased clerical support -- not that I ever had clerical support, but I gather that was once a thing in some places, and I'm pretty sure the secretaries who "typed up" senior professors' syllabi often really wrote, or at least updated, them). Of course, one tricky factor when it comes to talking about adjuncts' time is the 30-hour-a-week threshold for becoming eligible for health insurance, and the pressure that has put on adjuncts to, um, let's say cooperate in the pretense that they spend less time on outside-of-the-classroom work than they do (lest they end up with fewer sections at any one institution, which isn't really in anybody's best interest). On the other hand, if we extended the period of time covered by adjunct contracts by, say, the 2 weeks that my own full-time contract requires me to be available before classes start, we might actually reduce the per-week load, while recognizing the work that adjuncts (and all faculty do). I'm not sure what we'd do about adjuncts hired less than 2 weeks before (or even during) the term, but presumably that's a wrinkle that could be addressed.

    And yes, adjuncts should be paid biweekly at least, starting with the payment for those first two weeks of prep. I'm pretty sure that most universities pay at least some people biweekly, year 'round; it can't be all that hard to create a pay category for adjuncts, given how large an employee cohort they are at most universities.

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    1. We need to remember that administrators would treat us all like this if they could.

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    2. Beaker Ben, you are absolutely correct. I happen to be lucky enough to work at a school with a very strong faculty union; without it, the full-timers would be treated like crap and the adjuncts worse than they are. The adjuncts at our school are paid better than any other adjunct gig I've seen -- although still criminally low, and without benefits.

      I've adjuncted at several places where I was paid/treated exactly the same as our OP, Alice. It should be noted, too, that my last year of employment before being hired full time at LD3C, I grossed less than $24,000, and that was working the maximum load I could as an adjunct at my last place of misery and working significant hours attwo additional part-time nonacademic jobs.

      It's awful, and Contingency Cassandra is right: the Department of Labor should investigate this.

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  6. Signing the contract guarantees nothing about employment.

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  7. When I started teaching, I was adjunct at the place hubs was working. Started class in August. First paycheck in November (only after Hubs's dean went and complained on my behalf). When I asked the chair after there was no check in October, was told "Well, at least your husband is working!"

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  8. Oddly, I can't comment on comments on this post (but I can on others). So,

    @Cal: thanks, but I'd feel more like "the best" if I were actually doing something about the issue rather than just blathering in blog comments.

    @Ben: indeed, and, at least in the humanities, I fear we're already well past the tipping point.

    @Eric: I'm no lawyer, but doesn't it depend what's in the contract? Mine includes lots of ways for the university to terminate the agreement prematurely if it chooses, but few if any protections for me. I assume adjunct contracts skew even further in that direction. However, if the contract offered more protections -- e.g. if there were a kill fee for canceled/reassigned classes -- then presumably the university would have to abide by the contract, or be subject to legal action (and, sadly but perhaps usefully, the amount involved could probably be pursued in small claims court. Most Ph.D.s are up to the task of self-representation in a straightforward breach-of-contract case, and that's usually allowed in small claims court. It might be sort of fun to repeatedly drag the university's fancy lawyers into small claims court, and it would quickly get pretty expensive for the institution. If there's a union involved, all the better; they'd probably provide the plaintiff's lawyer.)

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    1. And on this tangent about Blogger technical issues, I'm no longer able to see the comments when I'm reading CM on my iPhone. I'd welcome advice on what I need to do to change this. What happened?

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    2. Haven't heard this. What browser? The built in Safari or some other app like Chrome?

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    3. The built-in Safari. Regardless of whether I click "View web version" or "View mobile version," I see none of the comments.

      And I'm sober, I think.

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    4. That's how I view the page usually and have not seen any problems. YMMV.

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    5. How did you see this comment to reply?

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    6. Bubba. I can't make the same problem occur on my iPhone in Safari. If anyone else can let me know if this is happening for you as well.

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    7. My fault. I use an app to block about 40,000 trackers/widgets/ads. I had changed some settings and didn't realize I'd blocked the CM comments. I just whitelisted collegemisery.blogspot.com, so it's working right again. Thanks.

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  9. I've worked at non-academic jobs where the "payroll implementation" delays was two pay periods. Not so bad when pay is weekly, but becomes problematic for anything longer, particularly with bi-monthly or once a month. At some point, some finance suit--sorry to those in finance, but my catch-all for people who come up with ideas to keep money in the institution's bank account longer without caring about what happens to the peasants. Anyway, at some point this became the standard excuse: It takes two payroll cycles to establish the account, verify information and get everything set up in the system for regular pay. That's hogwash, of course, for monthly pay, since there's no difference between setup for a week versus setup for a month, other than inputting (that is: clicking on) a different date range when doing setup.

    The place I used to work (yeah, I quit -- I may return to the academy, as a friend's department locally needs people, but am making more money freelance, with a lot less hassle :) Why do I keep interrupting myself?

    So, the place where I used to work once had an issue that interrupted payroll. The issue caused an interruption of a month longer than even the normal long wait times. When the promised pay day came around, no one got paid -- oops, problem's still ongoing. I contacted the newish Dean of Faculty to, um, express my displeasure, and was given a high-handed talking-to about an adult needing to be able to plan finances better than I was clearly doing, needing to have savings to tide through times like this, etc.

    The whole idea of savings on adjunct pay is laughable, but there really is a view--particularly since adjunct work is a calling to love of teaching and not a job for dirty money--that not getting paid for months is OK.

    What's worse, some adjunct contracts are paid like other contractors and subcontractors, where pay is treated as a bill that addressed at 30 day intervals, and only after at least half the job is complete. That takes you to half a semester for the first paycheck. Add to that the two payroll cycles for the payroll system, resulting in pay months later. Some places also take their sweet time, and may pay more on a 90-day or 120-day cycle for all contracts (state and federal groups are known for this). Unlike, say, the person who put in the new network cabling, adjuncts don't have the advantage of being able to tack a late fee on their contracts, since they aren't actually billing. Too bad that isn't a thing, or we'd see more people getting paid more money (not more quickly, but the late fee gets paid as cost of doing business). You know, being able to present a bill as a contractor would also make the adjunct more clearly a contractor and not a shadow employee.

    While I'm rambling, I'm normally not a huge union supporter. My father worked as a union organizer, and became disgusted by the violence and corruption he saw and lack of actual care for the workers. Sometimes, unions are the only way to handle abuses. Adjuncts need to support or introduce union efforts, particularly in cases of online or off-hours (Saturday or evening classes) work, since those people get even less information.

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  10. At CC's in California, this has never been my experience. That sucks donkey kong!

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  11. Before I went to grad school, I did a stint in a university's machine shop, where one of my responsibilities included maintaining inventory of consumables. When I called one specialty supplier about availability of certain material, they asked where I was calling from (this was a few years before caller ID). When I told them, they told me they would not ship till their check was in their hands; apparently the university handled accounts payable on a "net 180" basis, and the supplier would no longer give us an interest-free loan for that long.

    I forget how it had come up in conversation, but a visiting professor I did some work for told me he had been assigned a "vendor code" the same as for the megaconglomerate that supplied our floor wax and toilet paper. I was still naive enough to believe that the handling of his paycheck would differ from the paying of commodity purchases. Now I am not so.

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  12. Mrs. Ruby puts up with this every year. She teaches adjunct for a rather wealthy private uni, and every year they ask her to teach a class with no guarantee that it will run. They make some statement about how the class needs 5 kids, or 10 kids, or something like that--but no accounting is done until fairly late in the game, so Mrs. Ruby doesn't know whether she's teaching a class, or not, until right beforehand.

    She works for weeks to prepare a syllabus, get things ready for the class, all on the uni's schedule. Then, if the minimum number of kids doesn't enroll--poof, no class. No kill fee. Mrs. Ruby worked as a volunteer.

    The bigger problem is that the uni is HORRIBLE at administration, so the lack of enrollees is basically their fault. Mrs. Ruby gets multiple emails from students saying, "I see you're teaching this class. I've been trying to sign up for it, but I can't figure out how on the website. I've tried contacting the department office, and no one gets back to me."

    At first, Mrs. Ruby thought this was just students slacking. Then she tried to find the class on the site herself and couldn't. She reported that to the department office--sort of a "Hey, this is probably why no one's enrolling"--and received no response.

    Yet the uni was desperate to run the class because it was at a new satellite site that they wanted to say was successful. So one year, when they only had one student enrolled, they basically had staff contact friends-of-friends to fill the class with anyone the right age, and let them all take it for free. At least the class ran that time. Other times it's just cancelled, and then it's no $2500 for Mrs. Ruby.

    So why does she do it? Mrs. Ruby is crazy: She very much enjoys teaching, and she's excellent at it. Sounds exactly like the sort of person the uni should be trying to scare away, doesn't she?

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