Friday, September 08, 2006

Ask the Administrator: The Case of the Dissed Adjunct

A member of the academic proletariat writes:

I'm a sessional instructor at Big Deal U. I have
taught the same course for four years now, and love
it; great students, fun course and a collegial
atmosphere. The teaching unit recently went through
some changes and the collegial atmosphere has taken a
beating and now I'm starting to think so have some
more important things.

This course requires a room with technology,
preferably TV, VCR, DVD, internet access and Power
Point capability. After three years of cobbling this
together in an unwired room I finally got a great room
last year and the course improved because of it.

I have always had TA support for this course. Last
year the TA hours were cut in half, which was not
great but we made it work. This year I was led to
believe I'd have the same TA hours, and three weeks
ago was asked what type of candidate would be

After signing my given-to-me-at-the-last-moment
contract on Tuesday I received an email from the
Director on Wednesday telling me that a) my room has
been changed to one without AV equipment (I can order
AV equipment but this always means that it is late,
there is more set up, etc.) and b) I have no TA
support at all for this course.

I'm trying not to over-react, but I feel angry.
Classes start next week, I signed my contract with the
tacit understanding that I would have some TA support
and I requested the same or similar classroom again
for this year. I'm being paid to teach something that
is supposed to take 10 hours a week, without the TA
hours my workload has just increased by 4 hours a week
without any extra pay and at the last minute.

Even though there is no reason for me to do so I
attend curriculum meetings, social events and write
student reference letters when asked to. I have been
a good employee, the course is highly regarded by
faculty and students (it is a required course, too)
and yet I've just been shafted.

The students have also been screwed. I'm going to have
to remove an assignment in order to keep my hours
reasonable, and while they won't miss the work they
will miss the practice doing the research method they
are supposed to be learning. They will watch me waste
time dealing with technology issues; I may not even be
able to use Power Point and have to waste Unit
resources photocopying, which will also eat up more of
my time.

So, should I suck it up or protest? And if I protest
how can I do it effectively and create positive change
instead of just bitching?

Thanks Dean Dad (and commentators!),
PO'd sessional

Beware the ‘tacit understanding.’

I don’t see a painless answer to this.

One option is to suck it up, put on a happy face, be a good girl, and trust in the benevolent fates. That has been your strategy for the last four years. As Dr. Phil says, how’s that working out for you?

Another option is to quit in a huff. Were there more time before the class started, that would be my recommendation. But it starts next week, the students (who aren’t at fault) are registered and waiting, you’ve signed a contract, and walking out at the last possible moment should be reserved for personal emergencies, medical incapacity, and similar exigencies. Offended dignity, to my mind, doesn’t cut the mustard. But that’s one man’s opinion.

The middle option is to take the course, let the Director know of your unhappiness with the situation, and make clear that this will be the last time you take it unless you get, in writing, assurances that you’ll have what you need next time. You won’t be rehired, but at least you’ll be able to sleep at night.

Creating positive change is an admirable goal, and there are probably special cases where adjuncts or temporary faculty have been able to do that. But from the point of view of a harried Director under cost pressures from above, a temp on a crusade is an easily-replaced pain in the neck.

It sounds like you’re an admirable, ethical, dedicated instructor who has done her best despite lousy pay and no security. In other words, you’re enabling your own abuse.

One of the many dirty little secrets of academia is how much work is done based on goodwill. In some cases, the goodwill is reciprocated; when that happens, the sun shines, the birds sing, spiritual peace reigns over the land, and all is well. More often, though, the goodwill is unilateral. The dedicated adjunct gives the college far more than it ever gives back, inadvertently making it possible for the college to continue to rely on adjuncts. Naïve good intentions allow terrible exploitation.

A close friend of mine was once offered a horrible one-year position in June. It amounted to a pile of adjunct courses strung together. It was at a school in an uninviting clime, teaching huge sections. He had nothing else in the hopper, no spouse to support him, no independent wealth to fall back on. He said no.

Since then, his career has come together admirably; he’s on the path to tenure at a respected university, with a research project in the hopper that’s going to surprise a lot of people. I can’t prove ‘instant karma,’ but it’s hard to deny that saying no to a terrible opportunity created the possibility of something better.

My vote, given the late date, is to take the third option – teach the class, let it be known what your conditions are for teaching it again, and look for other opportunities to take when your demands aren’t met.

Wise and worldly readers: what do you think?

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