Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Ask the Administrator: The Case of the Vanishing Adjunct

A freeway-flying correspondent writes:


I'm adjuncting at State College, which is the one a step below The University of State (if you know what I mean). They have a laboratory school on campus for pre-K thru 5. It's attractive because our city's public schools suck, and this is a private one that costs MUCH less than other local choices.

So, I was hoping my faculty status could get my kid/s in. Faculty kids get to skip the routine wherein everyone else applies as early as possible and then crosses their fingers in hopes of lucking into a spot. When I asked a lab-school secretary about my status in September, she said "you should be fine."

Last week, husband and I finally tour the place. Assistant principal says No, you may not count, because you're not in the "real faculty union." That night I sent him an email asking for a "ruling" ASAP. Haven't heard back yet.

Only today, I received word from my chair that I will have a course to teach next semester, as the Dean finally approved someone else's release time, so I will take over his course. Here's the problem…I also have a course to teach at U of State next semester. The ONLY reason I'm interested in the SC course is to get my kid in to the lab school. If the asst principal tells me it won't help, I am sorely tempted to back out on the SC course. Why teach one class apiece at two different schools? Other than the pay and prestige, ha ha ha ha.

I know that it is last-minute. My guilt is compounded by the fact that it's already at maximum enrollment. But my guilt is lessened by the fact that I was only officially awarded this course today.

So, if I get a negative ruling from the lab school, do I still have to teach there next semester because of the short notice? Or do you give me green light to back out?

In another part of the email, she writes that a piece I had done a while back on dealing with the fallout of adjuncts who back out at the last minute gave her the idea. So now I’m corrupting the youth. Great.

I’ve long thought that the way academia treats its adjuncts is immoral. (The line I used to use in my adjuncting days was ‘for what I’m paid, they’re lucky if I show up sober.’ Which I always did, btw.) A structure that makes sense for dealing with the retired professional who wants to teach the occasional class as a hobby has taken over half of academia. And I’m acutely aware of how it looks and sounds when a dean, with a manager’s salary, lectures an adjunct on workplace ethics.

All of that said, when I did the freeway-flyer thing, I always kept my commitments. I figured that even if I was being externally undervalued, I always had my professionalism. There were times when it felt like complicity with my own exploitation, but at least I could sleep at night.

Can you back out? Yes. Should you? From a manager’s perspective, I’ll tell you that adjuncts who back out at the last minute burn bridges; I didn’t go back to them again after they had pulled that trick. (At my current school, the department chairs hire the adjuncts.) I won’t argue that adjunct pay is adequate, that you were treated right by State U, or that child care and public schools in America don’t need to be taken much more seriously, but those are all much larger issues than can be solved by you flaking on a course. And there is the matter of the students...

Honestly, I’d reframe the question. Are you likely to leave the area altogether in another semester or so anyway? If so, you can probably afford to burn that bridge. If not, you’d be foolish to.

Current and former freeway-flyers out there: what would you do?

Have a question? Ask the Administrator at ccdean (at) myway (dot) com.