Those of us who have allowed ourselves to be exploited as adjuncts do it because we love teaching, in some cases we need the money, our family situations do not fit other kinds of scholarly employment, and in other cases because it adds a new or different dimension to our full time work. Regardless of why we do it, many of us have had experiences that underscore much of the problems latent in higher education. In the last week I’ve had two conversations with different students who were quite surprised at the lack of job security, evaluation methods, and low pay of adjunct and other contingent faculty. Beyond this, this new knowledge to the students also raises some serious questions for them regarding their college experience: now it makes sense why there is a clear distinction, distrust, and frustration between administrators and faculty. They are being told by the media that their socialist, “liberal” professors are laughing to the bank while tuition is constantly being raised.
This claim is of course quite distant from the realities of higher education today, and while faculty are being cut and paid less, and tuition is raised, the social and economic “value” of the degree lessens.
A student suggested: What if adjuncts walked off the job? Most community colleges I know would shut down. The rest of us would probably be fired or not have our contracts renewed.
This of course is probably not possible and is perhaps irresponsible. I signed a contract to teach a class; I will hold up my end of the bargain.
But what if we staged a national adjunct teach-in day, where we show up to class and show honest and truthful information to our students, who are clearly unaware of these issues that directly influence them, about the situation at colleges and universities? What if the students and parents became more aware of the fact that when they send their children to a $35,000 per year college for tuition alone, the professor is earning $2,500, or less, to teach a class of 30 or more students?
What if we took our classes to the administration buildings and taught in the hallways?
What if we asked high profile academics to speak on behalf, via Skype or other media, to our students?
I ask all of this as a simple inquiry. I have had good relationships with most of the schools were I have taught, and I have had bad experiences with some others.
I’ll out myself: I’ve had colleges fail to deliver on my contract. I’ve had a dean override grades for student athletes. Once a dean refused to admit a simple mistake on an academic honesty charge that led her, the college, and me to be sued. Yes, by a student who copied his paper off of the internet sued me. One college asked me to teach another section of a class, which I could not do, so someone in the administration doubled the capped size of my class and enrolled all of those students into the class I did agree to teach. I’ve had high schoolers, whose tuition is being paid by their high schools (the school districts willing to outsource their students, colleges willing to accept their money), signed into courses they are not necessarily qualified to take as an overload for a writing intensive class full of college juniors and seniors. Department chairs have told me to give out more A’s. Enrollment officers have asked me to raise my average grades. When I have had classes where more students received higher grades than usual, I’ve been summoned to the same administrators for giving out too many A’s and B’s. I can predict how my evaluations go based on how motivated the students in a particular section are to learn.
One community college where I used to work refused to give interviews to their own adjuncts, and suddenly they needed to make several philosophy hires. No current adjuncts were interviewed. They all quit. One good administrator explained to me later: they don’t care if you quit, because they’ll just cut philosophy from the curriculum. And that is exactly what they did.
And, of course, one time I learned that an administrator who was being empathetic to a student who simply refused to show up to class, directed a student in exactly what to say on my student evaluation at the end of the semester. When I caught the administrator in a lie, he told me that my job was on the line. I walked out.
I could go on, even with nastier things that I would be afraid to speak about publicly. I realize no job is easy or straightforward. I understand that colleges are systems of people. But all of this needs to stop. It’s going to impact our culture in ways deeper than people losing their jobs or the higher education bubble bursting.
What would happen if “we” (and by this I mean me and others who might agree with me) staged a teach-in day? Would anyone notice? Would we be fired? Would students care? Would it eliminate the outsider expert adjunct if it were successful? Would it simply mean less humanities on the college level? Would it burst the bubble earlier? Would it lead to any kind of political discourse about higher education funding and where money goes? Or… nothing?