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An Adjunct’s tale and Seperate and Unequal

February 20, 2009

As the sun sets, I wind myself back to the place from where I began my day.  In other words, I was checking back on the InsideHigherEd piece  where I made the first day’s comments to see if there were any other good responses.  The following is from one of my fellow travelers, making his way through Adjunctland:

The problem I see here is that most non-teaching Americans see a university as a place where teachers teach students…. period. Research, tenure, staff meetings, political machinations, publishing, salaries, sabbaticals, college presidents’ perqs, etc. are not even remotely related to the classroom with students and the teacher who is imparting knowledge that the students need to LEARN. People send their kids to us (and pay handsomely for it) in order that the kids learn what they need to know in order to graduate and be successful in the world. What does this have to do with researching or inventing theories or publishing in prestigious journals? NOTHING AT ALL. Nothing!!!My idea of a pure student/teacher paradigm is Aristotle, Plato, Erasmus, Jesus, Buddha, etc. sitting with a group of students and working with them to understand their teachings. Such a model has nothing to do with university/ faculty politics and the self-interest of those outside the teachers’ classrooms.

As an adjunct, I could care less about research and publishing, or sitting in a meeting of crabby tenured people who regard me as an unworthy migrant worker/WalMart employee. My entire pedagogical aim is to show my students how to write well, which includes spending my personal time in conferences where I can give one-on-one feedback and hint at ideas that can unlock their minds and empower them with the ability to communicate effectively. To me, working with my students is teaching.

The crux of the problem is that those of us outside of the tenured crowd have an entirely different perception of teaching I am not looking for guaranteed life employment like a pope or queen, nor am I asking for fame and riches. I would, though, like to have health insurance, a place to hang my coat, a decent wage, and eye contact with those who feel they are my betters (the tenured and dept. heads). As I drive frantically between three schools in order to make enough money to subsist, I know that the non-adjuncts are sitting in offices with windows and writing journal papers about the decline of educational quality because of us lowly, undereducated part-timers. I have read the articles; tho they are articulate, they are totally out of touch with the reality of teaching on the front line by us adjunct underlings. Ironically, we are the ones who are doing the teaching to students and bringing in the tuition money for our schools. I don’t get it…. (emphasis mine)

I contrast this with a post by Jonathan Rees, who attempts to bring in Freakonomics into the present situation by writing:

[after quoting my bit about the present caste system of adjunct/tenure]…but I think Dan Hamermesh (who actually co-wrote the later versions of my father’s textbook, but that’s a story for another time), writing this morning in Freakonomics, pretty much blows this “complacent and safe” business out of the water:

There are at least four ways of meeting a decline in labor demand: laying off workers, cutting nominal annual salaries, cutting hires, or reducing hours. It is difficult to lay off tenured faculty; but in this recession, universities are using two other methods of cutting payroll.

Some schools have imposed faculty hiring freezes. Others are furloughing faculty: Arizona State, for example, has imposed 15 days of furlough over the next six months. Many years ago, Michigan State met a budget crisis by postponing the implementation of a previously agreed salary increase, essentially a wage cut.

Despite tenure, senior university faculty members are not immune to recession-induced budget crises. Our only consolation is that layoffs are rare.

Of course this is a better economic position to be in than that of the typical adjunct, but we are all in this together to at least some degree. Solidarity means reaching out across caste lines, whether up or down. [emphasis mine]

The BETTER ECONOMIC CONDITION would better be presented not as one hand helping another (not the case), but of a hand-out from a “struggling” (without their cost of living raise) faculty to the unemployed.

We are not fingers of the same hand…  We are, as you move to enter the tenure track-race, of two separate and not equal groups.  Don’t fool nor patronize to consider us otherwise.

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One Comment
  1. Jonathan Rees permalink
    February 20, 2009 11:01 pm

    I don’t think of it as a one-hand helping another situation. The word I used quite deliberately was “solidarity.” To me that benefits everybody.

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