Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Unclean! Unclean!

So I get this email, an administrator at my university is collecting books and articles from professors for a display. They want to brag about their professors' academic accomplishments in front of the students and alumni for an upcoming event. Great! I email them, “May I participate? My book just came out and it’s been well-received.” They reply, “No, full time professors only.” WTF? Oh wait, that’s right, I’m just an adjunct. The book store sends out an email. They have a display of books written by faculty. Please let them know if we've published anything. Great! I given them some information about my book. Oops, sorry. That's not for adjuncts!

OK, I'm an adjunct. I’ve also taught every semester for the past four years and am already on the schedule not only for the rest of this year, but for the next school year as well. I’ve been a member of the department longer than a third of the full-timers. I’ve published more peer-reviewed material than all but one of the other instructors. Hell, excepting that one other professor—who does publish quite a bit, and it’s good stuff too!—I’ve published more than the rest of the department combined over the past several years. Oh wait, that’s right, I’m just an adjunct.

"But," I hear them say, "you're not part of the college community!" Really? I've gone to see my students' art shows. My wife and I have cheered them on at sporting events. We've attended their plays and I've gone to the honors society inductions and greeted my students' parents. Students come to me for letters of recommendation. I'm even the faculty adviser for a student club. Oh wait, that’s right, I’m just an adjunct.

Seriously, if the profession is going to depend on part-timers to fill the ranks of instructors, maybe, just maybe academia needs to rethink how adjuncts are treated. Call me crazy but maybe, just maybe, we’re often scholars as well……


  1. I'm going to guess you count when they need bullshit done. "Who's turn is it to head the textbook selection meeting?" "Who's turn is it to be publishing company liason?" "Who's turn is it to scramble the questions for the department wide intro to the department final?" "Who's turn is it to make the coffee for the department meeting?"... It's like the Little Red Hen, except after we DO help with all the stuff they ask, they tell us we can't have the bread anyway.

    I'm somewhere very comfortable now. So I can't complain. But I was previously at a much much larger institution where they treated us the way you're being treated.

    You do know why you can't participate, though, right? If you're so good, why haven't they hired you? It'll put a spot-light on that question and they don't want to get into it. If they pretend there is nothing coming out of the adjuncts, it explains why they're adjuncts. If they let it be known that you improve them, all sorts of adjunct issues get raised, and that'll ruin their glory party.

  2. To be fair, I am not invited to, nor do I attend, most meetings. I have helped with textbook selection and I am helping my chair with a project now (for which I will be paid a small honorarium.)

  3. I think any faculty that publishes should be included, and they're jerks for not doing it.

    But seriously, stop doing every single thing having to do with the university that you yourself don't want to do. If you have to refuse your students recommendations, do so. Don't go to any game or opening or induction that you don't personally want to attend. And don't advise any student clubs.

    If you don't enjoy it, you're only going to feel resentful. Do the absolute minimum to fulfill your contract and teach your students. I'm serious about this.

    The more adjuncts give and give and give and take shit from universities that deal it out, the more shit they will get. Current universities will abuse adjuncts up until the point at which they refuse to take that abuse.

    I have a friend that adjuncts because she likes it. She doesn't get paid much but it allows her to teach in her area, and she enjoys that. She's not the primary earner in the family, and can afford not to have the job, but her meager, benefit-free income gives her family extra spending money. (Obviously this is the ideal adjunct situation, but one that seldom exists.)

    Now they want her to teach a lecture course in which she has no experience whatsoever, because she's literally the only person in a 75-mile radius that has the qualifications to do it. They're leaning on her to accept because it makes things easier on them.

    If she listens to me, she is going to tell them to fuck themselves sideways.

  4. Actually I enjoy doing stuff on campus. I LIKE most of my students, even many of the snowflakes. I don't resent doing things on campus. It's one of the reasons I like what I'm doing.

    What I do resent is my the school stuffs me in the servant quarters as if I'm not fit to be seen in public. I should note that my Chair does NOT treat me this way, which is one reason why I stick around. The librarians also treat me as if I were a full time "real" teacher, but I treat them as professionals and not as "the help" so maybe that's a point in my favor in their eyes....

  5. So long as you like doing the stuff you do, keep doing it. And if you have a chair that recognizes your worth, that makes up for a lot...

  6. I still get requests for letters of recommendations from students at the university that treated me like a serf when I worked for them as an Accursed Visiting Assistant Professor, ten years ago. I still do write them, because I liked those students (although after ten years I'm starting to wonder why they haven't found any other mentors who liked them). Every time I do, though, I want to tell the faculty who ran that department: I ought to charge you bastards for this!

  7. I wish there were an effective way for adjuncts and other exploited junior academics, such as postdoctoral researchers, to organize. I solved my problem by voting with my feet (in other words, getting a better, tenure-track job): I wish there were other solutions.

  8. Your university is behaving very stupidly. The idea is to make themselves look good, right? By making it clear that your university is a community that fosters and encourages research? Like your book? You can only INCREASE their acclaim by ALLOWING them to add your book to their wretched displays. They're morons.

  9. OK, this sucks. It's action time.

    Since the librarians doubtless get treated like they're not intellectuals, could you get a couple to agree to doing a display of recent books (say, from the past 3 years) by adjunct faculty and library staff? In whatever display section is most central? You could volunteer to gather the books.

  10. Weird, the original poster and I seem to be in the exact same job. Seriously, exact same job. I don't know whether to feel better or worse? Congrats on your book, MA&M, I'm sure it's awesome.

  11. It's sad, but back before adjuncts came to be exploited so often and so egregiously, their work was often considered a bragging point by the university. Wasn't John Updike an adjunct at NYU? He made a living from his writing, of course: the university enjoyed having him around because of the reflected glory.

  12. "...from professors for a display. They want to brag about their professor’s academic accomplishments..."

    I think it's the apostrophe positioning that's holding your book back.

    In all seriousness, I feel for you "MA&M"; also, damn good suggestion "Marcia Brady".

  13. I think it's the apostrophe positioning that's holding your book back.

    Looks fine to me! (OK, I fixed it, oops)

  14. Who let the adjunct onto CM?


  15. @Froderick: I'm not sure whether this is the explanation for the letter requests you get, but I find myself in the same position as some of your former students -- still asking for recommendations from people who knew me as a student, and who, unlike you, are now indicating, subtly or quite directly, that I should have made other contacts by now. I realize that's the case. But, since I'm still stuck in an Accursed Visiting Professor position (which now goes by another name, but remains just as accursed), my research and writing -- and hence my opportunities for making and cementing such contacts -- are proceeding very, very slowly (it's hard to sustain others' interest in your work when you're not publishing on a regular basis, I find).

    I think my experience is another part of a larger picture that also includes Middle-Aged and Morose's situation: some members of the academic community -- including both our present colleagues and our graduate professors -- don't want to admit either that contingent faculty publish at all, or that the speed of our research and writing might be slowed by teaching heavy loads with no hope of leaves or course reductions or even salaries large enough to allow summers off, because such an admission would undermine the idea that, in the end, the cream rises to the tenure-track top, and anyone left below deserves to be there. In short, there's a certain amount of repressed survivor's guilt among those who, by luck *and* by talent (it takes both these days), have made it onto the tenure track (and perhaps a bit more among administrators, some of whom took their posts because they didn't really want to, or couldn't, teach and/or do research). While this sort of denial is by no means universal, it's real, and even a touch of it can complicate the process of trying to build a relationship with a mentor, or just networking with those who are, by age and experience, our peers.

    So, on behalf of your former students, with whom I can identify, thank you for your patience in continuing to write letters beyond the point when doing so could reasonably be expected; by that effort, you may not be solving the whole problem, but you are helping to address one bit of fallout from the academic job market debacle of the last few decades.


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