Thursday, December 06, 2007
Stuck in Adjunct Hell
A long-suffering correspondent writes:
I'm an adjunct . . . everywhere. Note that I am sending this from the
Ringling College of Something Specific, where I have been teaching a 67
percent load for six years. I am also teaching for a local community
college that has several branches. The CC pays literally half what
Ringling does, and I am not treated nearly as well in a general-person
kind of way. Furthermore, the CC has to abide by certain state
regulations, which translates into significantly more work for me at
far less pay. My boss at the CC has made it abundantly clear to me
that I am his favorite choice. And why wouldn't I be? I am really,
really good at my job, the students like me, some of them fear me, I'm
very qualified, experienced, I always say yes and in the past I have
done some really Herculean favors for the school overall. Two years
ago, I was about fifteen minutes' pregnant and discovered I was to
fill in for a full-timer on sabbatical (at adjunct pay!), which meant
driving between three campuses in one day, teaching out of three
textbooks in one week, AND they changed the textbooks on me without
telling me, so I had to do entirely new prep from scratch in the midst
of all this joy, too. I did it, and I did it well, but I loathed it
the entire time. The only reason I continue to work there is because
they offer summer classes and Ringling doesn't, and we need the summer
money just to keep from being homeless. I could go on, but I gather
you are familiar with the plight of adjuncts generally.
Right now I am slated to teach one class there next term, from 7 to 10
at night about 30 miles south of where I live, and it will mean a) I
will get home at nearly 11, and can't see my husband, bathe the baby,
etc. and b) the other college had to rearrange my schedule in a very
inconvenient way to accommodate it. Now Happy Boss wants me to teach
another course (not a section, another course) on another night from 7
to 10. I so desperately want to say no that it's keeping me up at
night, seriously. But I'm afraid if I do, I won't be offered summer
teaching. He has shopped this class to every other adjunct he has, and
they've all refused it, so if I say no it's going to be cancelled, oy
the guilt. I have to give him an answer this week, and I don't want to
be rash. I should also add I'm in school (trying to make a better
future so I never have to do this again.) Furthermore, this semester I
had the delight of teaching a seriously disturbed student and I am
worried about my physical safety on campus late at night next term.
I've had a security detail assigned to my classroom, hooray.
What to do? I know this was overly long - I just wanted to illustrate
the egregiousness of how they treat me, and how I stupidly keep saying
yes in spite of it. I'm like . . . a really dumb girlfriend!
Wow. No sticky issues here!
I don't know your Happy Boss, so I can't say this with any finality, but I can guess both why he likes you and why things won't improve unless you make them.
You're solving his problems for him. He's grateful, and relieved, and he has learned to turn to you when he has a problem class. He probably does respect your ability, which is precisely why he's happy that you keep saying yes. He's getting quality and flexibility on the cheap. From his perspective, what's not to like?
And why, exactly, do you expect that to change?
He may sincerely mean it when he says he'd love to hire you full-time. Or he may not. Even if he does mean it, it may not matter. He may not get a line to fill for many years, and when he finally does, he'll have to do an open search, at which point his opinion will be one of many, and you'll be up against candidates you aren't up against now.
As I interpret it, you have two goals you're trying to attain:
Non-starvation in the short term.
A full-time job in the long term.
These are both worthy goals, but your chase of goal 1 is short-circuiting your prospects for goal 2.
More adjuncting at the same place won't improve your chances of a full-time position anywhere. At best, it will keep you fed. But there are other ways of keeping yourself fed. And those other ways might leave you more time to make yourself a more attractive candidate for full-time positions.
Good, hardworking people sometimes believe a little too strongly in the 'virtue will be rewarded' theory. It could be, but colleges don't hire to reward virtue; they hire to meet needs. If they don't need you, your dazzling endurance and heroic selflessness and general wonderfulness are simply irrelevant. That's not nice, but it's true.
(True example: my cc didn't hire anybody in my scholarly discipline for 35 years. I refuse to believe it was for lack of qualified people.)
With childcare, financial stresses, and the hassles of working at two colleges, it sounds like you haven't had the chance to step back and think about the long term. It's time to do that. Whatever you do, you need to break out of your rut.
My recommendation – and wise and worldly readers, if you have better ideas, don't be shy – is to turn down these classes, and take some idiotic (and definitely non-academic) job in the meantime if you have to to eat. Get some distance on your situation. After a couple of months, when your brain starts to snap back to its original shape, ask yourself again what you actually want. It may be that tenure-track job; if it is, then start organizing the short term around improving your chances of that. Or you may discover that, while you like teaching and you're good at it, stepping away isn't the end of the world. There are other rewarding and valid – and often more lucrative – ways to make a living.
Either way, it's not selfish to take a time out and step back. It's self-preservation. You're allowed.
Wise and worldly readers – your thoughts?
Have a question? Ask the Administrator at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com.
So, I'd say no -- the time slot doesn't work for me -- especially not at that rate of pay.
Also, the system won't change until you say no -- DD makes a great point, why would it change?
Besides, I'm guessing you could work tem jobs over the summer and make the same as your CC is paying you...
As DD also points out, however much your immediate boss likes and recognizes your contribution and talent, with regard to a F/T position, other factors will undoubtedly come into play at that time over which he has less (or no)influence.
I think for your own well-being as well as that of your family you need to begin thinking more strategically with regard to your own self interest. In the shorterm, different activities than what you are currently engaged in, may be necessary to reach your long term goals of F/T employment in your chosen field. You may also need to begin seriously entertaining the possibility that your future employment prospects lie elsewhere.
Too often adjuncts are told to move on and save themselves. Good advice. But that does little to address the real problem. My advice to that adjunct is to organize, then come back a make your Dean's life a living hell. Then we'll see what advice there is for the untouchables of academia.
Be angry, sure -- it's exploitive as hell. But please do us all the courtesy of figuring out who's to blame before venting fury, okay? Don't yell at the paperboy that the headlines in the news are depressing.
In essence I agree with Dean Dad. I'm an adjunct at two Universities, usually in three departments, and have gotten similar offers that I have to weigh very carefully. Finally I just decided that honesty was the best policy and I would tell my Deans, straight up, that I was afraid of losing work with them in the future but I would have to turn down X course because of scheduling conflicts, overwork...whatever my legitimate excuse was. And I'll be damned if one of them didn't offer me another position just to keep me around (not as great a course, but it fit my schedule). I have no guarantee of work beyond that, but I think the Dean and I have an understanding now about the fact that I love working in his department but I won't sacrifice better opportunities elsewhere or my family life/sanity to do it. He respects me for making good choices for myself and my family, and I respect him for recognizing this and trying to work with me.
I suggest you try this strategy before you go off and get a job waiting tables (although I am in full support of this option, get some lunch gigs at a busy spot and you'll rake it in). There is risk involved, but not much, and given how stretched you sound what the hell? Don't be bitchy about it, but be honest and see where it gets you.
Right now, you're broadcasting that you are so desperate/grateful for any job that involves standing up in front of students that you'll bend your life around it, and do it for chickenfeed. Unless you want a heapin' helping of that for the rest of your life, you have got to stop.
You're also asking your "good" employer, Ringling, to contort their schedule to accommodate your exploitive employer. I think I'd be more inclined to see if I could work a little more at Ringling during the work year, save the $, and then not care whether I could teach summers or not. In other words, CC can get what they're willing to pay for, or they can go hang. Otherwise, they're going to keep expecting heroism on a shoestring.
I did one adjunct gig once that was similarly ridiculous (insane workloads, poor coordination). I finished out the semester, and then sent a tartly-worded but professional letter to the head of department, explaining why he should not bother calling me next time he had a section open. I then found another adjunct gig in the same college that was 1) much more fun and 2) paid twice as well.
(Also, as DD suggested, there are many other ways to make a living. Several of them are more fun than adjuncting. Trust me.)
Some places will combine adjunct terms with small-time administrative summers (particularly grant-funded centers). There might be a research center on campus that needs your skills (administrative, writing, proof-reading of grant proposals).
Then, there is the bail on academe strategy. Folks who hold Ph.D.s tend to be really smart, not just in their narrow field, but more broadly. It might be time to find a far more lucrative endeavor.
In my view, you have two options. One is to take the class, but to develop the hardened skin of a pro adjunct. In other words, keep a smile on your face, appear incredibly hard working, cultivate your popularity amongst the students and get good evals, all the while recognizing that the college or department will only get as much from you as it pays for. Or, alternatively, because you apparently have a spouse/partner and will not be in dire straights if you say no, then say no.
Now, I received the availablity request from the CC and their schedule is horrible in terms of times. It would conflict with the 4-year and my child's school. They have a strong adjunct union and I am low on seniority in terms of class picks.
The 4-year chair is stepping down in the spring and I am thrilled. This is the only reason I am holding out one more semester. If that doesn't fair well I am considering opting out of academics altogether. I have had my fill of the system and never knowing if one has a job from semester to semester. With the level of education one has to have employment should be better than this in colleges.
Not true; I have several counterexamples among my circle of friends, and may yet become one of them myself.
Yes, if you apply for an entry-level gig meant for someone with a HS diploma, you bet you're going to get the "overqualified" line. The average employer is going to figure that you've either got massive personality problems, or will be gone in three months. Either way, no sale.
Sell yourself as a skilled and motivated career-changer (with some documentable stuff to back it up). Mean it. You are not a failed academic; you are potentially successful (new field of choice here).
If memory serves, Evil HR Lady had a similar case on her blog...a woman with a law degree who was trying to get an entry-level HR position, and failing. (You should, incidentally, read Evil HR Lady for other stuff too---she's great.)
Potentially dangerous situation with wacko student.
Not enough time to spend with your new baby.
Low pay, long hours and people who take advantage of your good nature.
Sounds like you'll either burn out trying to make everyone happy or start losing your edge in the classroom. Either way, you lose.
I'm with the explore other options crowd - waitressing sounds good and I would encourage you to look at things in healthcare because there tend to be high pay positions with per diem shifts available in the summer when people go on vacation in different areas. EMT, phlebotomy, technician work, ward clerk - you can work with patients or paper but the bottom line is that an intelligent organized person who's good at communicating would have lots of things to choose from. You don't have to have a science background to apply for many of the jobs available.
I'd only add that if she has a kid, she should weigh in the cost of childcare too, if she's using childcare --- didn't DD have a couple posts running through the math of wages vs. childcare costs and pointed out that in some cases it's way cheaper to stay home? Not that I'm saying she has to stay home with the kid, just that this is another element to stir into the mix.
Hence the point about sharing the "pain wealth" a little more evenly. Right now, based on what the person wrote, everyone else are happy as clams with the situation.
If poor reflection is something an administrator wants to avoid, perhaps they will be more motivated to seek alternative options that are more equitable for all concerned parties.
The original writer noted that the lousy course she was offered had been turned down by every other adjunct at the CC. If she martyrs herself and takes it, then the college gets all the benefit, and she gets nothing. If she says "no", too, then the college either has to cancel the class and forfeit the tuition, or must offer some sort of additional inducement to get a teacher. In other words, market forces work. :)
I mean, this is how wages are set. Any desirable characteristic in an employee (reliability, ability to think independently, good sense, skills, etc.) is purchased with wages or other carrots (flex scheduling, learning opportunities, prestige, etc.) If our letter writer is willing to sell her skills, time and dedication for nothing, then her employer gets a real bargain, but she sure doesn't get much out of it.
I'd turn down the evening class. They will reschedule it or cancel it since no one else wants it either.
I'd also seriously consider leaving if they do not take action to remove the disturbed student from the campus--if the student disrupted your clases and you feel that you are in danger, you are probably right.
No job is worth wrecking your health or life.
I spent four years as a full time temporary replacement. I am leaving, and good riddance, and taking a job elsewhere at nearly double the pay. If you are good, you can do this--though it might mean leaving Florida. It all depends on what you want out of your career and life.
Dollar, Dollar billz ya'll.