I don't have a solution but I have ideas: The Adjunct Issue, part 3

I do not think that any one action or group can solve “The Adjunct Issue.” I wrote this week that full-time faculty had to be a part of it. People have written to say, “The adjuncts have to do it alone.” In fact, I think there is a role for everyone: full-time faculty, adjunct faculty, administrators, unions and professional organizations,and  parents and students. Below are some ideas of how each group might be a part of making the situation better. I don't present them as well-formulated plans, just lists of possiblities I have been thinking about all my academic life as well as recently when readers have posted comments and emailed responses to the problem.

Full-time faculty

If they haven’t already, they need to speak out on the issue at faculty meetings, get it on the agenda at every meeting, faculty and union and meetings with administrators and talk about not only salary (a primary concern) but also travel money, office space, and collegiality. And they should let their adjunct colleagues know how they feel about the issue. They should include adjunct faculty in as many meetings and social events as possible but not require them to come. They should know adjunct faculty’s salary per course as well as they know their own. They should stand with the adjunct faculty if those members choose to demonstrate. I know many full-time faculty do all this. Others think that adjunct faculty just aren't as smart, well-educated, or deserving as they are. I am not speaking to them. Here. Maybe anywhere.

Adjunct faculty

Adjunct faculty need to be professional, by which I mean they should not just be excellent teachers but they should be aware of professional standards in their own field and to be as professionally and locally active insofar as they can be. If they do not care about benefits or salary because they already have them, they should put their carelessness away and get out or get on with helping their adjunct colleagues who cannot be that cavalier about basic work conditions.

Upper-level adminstrators, such as vice-presidents, need to get right with God, or whatever they are out of touch with that is enabling them to enforce such egregious practices. Unless they are actually proposing more humane alternatives, in which case please tell us about it.  
Administrators at the department level need to behave insofar as possible as concerned faculty members and to bring the adjunct concerns up to their superiors at every opportunity, suggesting innovative alternatives to unfair practices that they are having to oversee. That may mean seeing that full-time faculty actually teach first year courses, for example, or seeing that adjunct faculty get a laptop in the university computer initiative, or harangue for full-time lecturer appointments to replace adjunct positions. I have to say that most of the departmental-level and program-level chairs I have known have done yeo(wo)men’s duty trying to make inroads, often without anyone knowing and often without getting far if anywhere. Some of them have taken real hits, even losing their positions and often the adjuncts don't even know. Find out. Thank them.

Professional Organizations, including Unions
So far, most of these groups have done a good job at making statements. College Composition and Communication has an excellent list of standards for best teaching practice, and I quote it back often at administrators who would like me to teach outside those standards. MLA and AAUP have articulated standards and practices. However, we need to get beyond statements.

I have been reminded this week by my friend Brian (a union organizer) how difficult it is for unions to make inroads on this issue. He told me that in Ohio, it is illegal for  professional unions to help adjunct faculty organize. Fortunately, it isn’t illegal in Vermont, where an adjunct agreement has been reached recently. So let's hear it for Vermont, find out what they did, and talk it up. The recent demonstration at Akron U was worth the effort if just for the fact that it raised the issue in the local media and among students. Now if the national media would pick up photos of faculty demonstrations as readily as they did the sign-wielding McDonald’s workers....

Parents and Students

Recently, the “Adjunct Issue” came up in my dentist waiting room with a woman who asked me where I worked. She basically got my 10-second version of “My Resignation Letter.” I mentioned that while part-time faculty could be excellent instructors, students were just getting short-shrift when the majority of their teachers (especially for courses their first two years) were part-time professors. One of the places I saw them getting short shrift, for example, is in the area of academic advising.

Whew! I didn’t have to tell her. First, she articulated how she had seen it with her daughter's profs.  She trotted off and away at the total lack of faculty advising one of her daughters experienced at the mother’s alma mater, compared to the total faculty engagement her other daughter experienced in academic advising by faculty at another college. She could see the difference in the difficulty her daughters had wending their way through their academic course of study, though both were excellent students. (Certainly academic advising—or the lack of it—is one area I have seen really decimated by the lack of faculty advising on many college campuses. Student academic advising is not academic advising: it’s just in-person “Rate My Professor,” an amusing and unreliable site.)
And so, as the 17 and 18-year olds I know are heading off for their college visits this year, I have suggested the parents ask administrators (and not just the student tour guide) what percentage of their courses are taught by adjuncts. AND what percentage of first-year courses are taught by adjuncts. They might even ask how much adjuncts get paid. For years, parents and their students asked about better dorms, and they have definitely gotten them—along with lavish athletic workout centers, greatly expanded food choices, and more and more technology. Maybe it’s time to ask about the faculty beyond the student to teacher ratio promoted by the collegiate rating systems and inflated by teeny faculty wages.

And most of the students I have had, verily even the very business-focused Bentley students I taught 2003-20011, have a strong sense of money and injustice. Akron U students who were interviewed during the recent Akron U demonstrations were quoted by the media as being shocked and disappointed to learn of the adjunct faculty’s wages. I think they need to know if their campus is following the ethical employment practices, given that the students are taught about ethics in academic honesty lectures and in their own fields of study.

In conclusion...for now

Ignore any of these ideas you think  are bad. Suggest better ones. Tell me what you are doing. You can remain anonymous.

My Letter of Resignation from Kent State: The Adjunct Situation Part 2

Dear Administrators at Kent State University,

It is with sadness that I write to say that I will not be teaching for Kent State next fall.

When I returned to Ohio in the summer of 2011, I so looked forward to coming and teaching at home, and my year at Kent was wonderful in many ways. I liked the writing curriculum, and I loved my College Writing II students, several of whom have stayed in touch in the intervening year. In fact, I deeply love students and teaching anywhere. Recently reading Mark Edmundson’s advice to college freshman (“Who Are You and What Are You Doing Here?”), I was most struck by this sentence: “Education is about finding what form of work for you is close to being play,” and though I would say that the play of teaching is exhausting, I think I found my form of work in 1972, when I began my career, or even before, when I lined the neighborhood children up and assigned reports to them.
Some aspects of adjuncting can be discomfiting, as I learned when I was an adjunct at Cleveland State in the early 1980s, but being a tenure-track and tenured professor at The University of Findlay involved big swaths of discomfiture, too. However, none of that prepared me for the discomfiture of the salary at K.S.U. in this decade. I honestly did not pay much attention to the salary when I interviewed here—my bad, I know, as the kids say—I so wanted so to continue teaching as long as I could.

But then it hit me mid-fall semester. I was making less than $8000 a year for half-time work—or if you prefer, 40%-time work (figuring 80% teaching and 20% administrivia a full load for those who teach 8 courses a year). When I left my adjunct position at Cleveland State in 1984, I was making $10,000. Even if I could teach two sections of composition in 16 hours, which a dean suggested I do by not correcting papers, that’s not much over $7 an hour. Now, I spend way over 16 hours a week when I teach two sections of writing. I prep a lot, attend professional events, keep up with the latest technology, publish a fair amount, and spend eons responding to student work, but let’s ignore them and stick to 16 hours a week work for two sections of writing: it is still less than minimum wage.
So I took the past year off to think about it. I miss teaching more than I ever thought I would. However, I am not willing to be abused by Kent State University.  I trained too hard, worked too long, and received enough recognition for my effort to now be disrespected this way by the institution and by some full-time faculty who assume their part-time colleagues are less qualified than they, though I have many publications, fellowships from the Fulbright Association, NEH, Yaddo, and the Ohio Arts Council, national and local teaching awards and reams of positive student evaluations and colleague observations. 

I have worked decades on the issue of the over-use and underpayment of adjuncts, who constitute 43-67% of KSU’s teaching faculty (depending on whether we count courses or faculty), so I am saddened to have seen nothing being done on the issue at Kent State. Here in Ohio and elsewhere, other universities have managed better models of employment in the area of Composition, for one, and I would highly suggest KSU faculty and administrators educate themselves about these other models. Meanwhile, I am not willing to work under such a sorry lack of leadership. 
I have seen no one here, including the union, doing much about it. Today’s Inside Higher Education has pointed that fact out on a national level:
Why have so few outside these ranks [ of adjuncts] taken up this cause? While non-tenure-            track faculty have been vocal in advocating for change, virtually no institutional, foundation, 
or policy leaders have acknowledged the hard realities of these conditions or expressed concern. In fact, in private, a few postsecondary leaders will note that they feel bad and think the model is morally bankrupt. In public, though, they often show no leadership, nor do they voice their objections to a model that surely cannot be sustained -- nor should it be.
In researching what has been done at KSU faculty meetings on the issue, I would say this statement seems particularly true of the KSU faculty.
I will say that I understand the difficulty of making inroads into the problem. My partner, who is also an academic, has worked on this issue in every situation he has been a part of, since his grad school days in 1982, and it is very difficult, even dangerous work. I also have been involved in the issue since my grad school days and as an officer in our local AAUP when I was a tenured faculty member. I believe that objection must come from the leadership of the faculty and not the sharecroppers, to use University of Cincinnati English faculty member Catherine Wagner’s term for adjunct staff. [Note to blog readers: I should note that Wagner has been a sharecropper before she landed her tenure track job, and she is not being disrespectful but accurate. You can read her terrific blog on sharecropper faculty here.]

Until then, much as it pains me, I will not be teaching at Kent State University. In leaving, I want to send many thanks to [names deleted to protect the innocent] assistance to me—terrific colleagues all.

I Quit Teaching and Why: The Adjunct Situation Part 1

My first year home again, I taught part time, and I planned to teach part time here for several years. However, I have had to quit, and I hate that I have had to.

I have taught since 1972, still have a lot of love and energy for students and learning, and my previous 10 years as an adjunct in Massachusetts were good, and previous to that, my 18 years tenured at The University of Findlay were, great, too. When I returned to Northeast Ohio, I interviewed with Cleveland State, Kent, and Akron, and though Akron seemed perhaps the best fit pedagogically, the curriculum required many more days on campus, so it was prohibitive in commuting and parking costs.

I chose Kent Stark, with some warm feelings for teaching at home. I didn't think too much about salary, though I recognized it was abysmal, less than I was making when I left adjuncting in Northeast Ohio in 1984. I loved the students who reminded me of all my Perry High '68 classmates, 45 years previously, who went to Kent Stark, waiting till the last minute to do everything, there by duress or lackadaisical but not disinterested attitudes to education. But my students were in a much worse economy than most of my friends faced in 1968. I read up on the history of Kent Stark and Kent State to work the material into my College Writing  II Course, "Writing About College Student Culture."

 A first year at any new institution has a learning curve, but having done a LOT of teaching, I was fairly well-prepared and rate it a very good year, from an educational point of view (mine and and my students'.) One of my students got a version her last essay for my class accepted for publication in The Chronicle of Higher Education and others produced publishable work and everyone produced one excellent piece of writing. Final presentations were wonderful with the students speaking with power points on what they had learned about Kent State and its students in their weeks of research. Many of those former students shout out to me now and wave across parking lots. I don't allow students to friend me on Facebook until the semester is over, but I have lots of Kent Stark facebook friends now.

Byy the end of the year, however, the salary issue was really hitting home. On the one hand, I would be willing to teach for free. On the other, it just isn't right. I told my chair that I was taking a year off for a sabbatical, but I was actually trying to step back to think about it all. Then, I didn't think about it. I missed teaching so very much and wanted to return. And then, at the end of the year, just as I received a letter from my chair asking for my schedule preferences, I saw online the photos of the New York McDonald's workers striking over wages that were as much or more than I make at Kent.

Now I don't mind McDonald's workers making more than me. A friend always says we should be willing to pay more for work we don't want to do, and I don't want to work at McDonald's..However, the idea that McDonald's workers were striking, while acadmia is doing nothing over the "Adjunct State of Affairs" was too much for me to bear.

And by nothing, I don't mean that the adjuncts were doing nothing. Here in Northeast Ohio, they held  demonstrations in the month of April over new changes to adjunct hiring practices that will make it even worse for adjuncts. And in New York and Massachusetts, similar demonstrations were going on. What I mean is that the full-time faculty and unions and professional organizations have done next to nothing over the "Adjunct State of Affairs."

And what is the "Adjunct State of Affairs"? Statistics are very hard to get, but some estimate that 70% of the college courses are taught by adjunct. (One source I have found says that 65% of Kent's courses are taught by adjuncts.) In most cases, adjuncts receive no benefits and their salaries are teeny. At Kent State Stark, I made less than $8000 a year for teaching four courses. A full-time load on that campus would be eight courses. So if I had taught a full-time load, I would have been making less than $16,000 a year and no benefits. Meanwhile, full-time Assistant Professors at Kent State make over $60,000 a year and benefits.

Tomorrow, I will publish the letter of resignation I sent to Kent State, and then after that, to discuss why this state of affairs is bad not only for adjuncts but for institutions, full-time faculty, and most of all, for the students. Meanwhile, I cannot tell you how much I miss teaching. But I am not going to step back into the harness of indentured servitude that is "The Adjunct State of Affairs" in most of the college education system of Ohio.