Monday, October 15, 2007

Back in my court

The continuing saga of an adjunct wishing to regain his dignity...
Hi Articulate,

I'm glad things are going well and Rocket and baby are fine. Yes, you'll have 3 boys--it'll be pandemonium. I'd love to have lunch with you, but [details of scheduling]...

About the 16-18 hours a week, well, we all know what that means. You technically have 5.5 classroom contact hours each week, and office hours are generally not counted, although they should be. Next semester your prep time will be greatly reduced, since you'll have taught the courses before recently. Let's say you give three tests in each class, each semester, so 6 times a semester you'll be in for a lot of grading. You can reduce that a bit by having fill in the blank, etc., short term definitions, etc., instead of essay tests (like major classes generally have). You'll still need at least a short essay on each test though, I'd say.

You'll always spend more time on grading than a contract will say. They grossly underestimate course prep and grading time. Unless you go over to the dark side and use scantron (which you shouldn't do here).

I am very sorry to tell you that there is no chance of capping enrollment for your classes, lower than the room capacity, which is 40 in each of the rooms you teach in. You can, of course, refuse to accept students over the maximum number allowed (40). Your classes are designed as big money makers for the program and so need as many bodies as possible. This is from the dean--so we can't change that.

The good news is that in the spring you'll probably have an office for the days you're on campus. We're hopeful that renovations will be complete by then and 5 new offices will be done! [Administrative Staffer] told me that you'd have space. It would be shared with another part time teacher, but not on the same days you'd be using it. You can contact him for details on the office.

I know it's very hard and difficult, but you're living the life of a PhD without a full-time position, you're an itinerant teacher (that's what I always called myself when I was doing that). And just so you can compare and know that your situation isn't as bad as it could be, here's my part-time war story:

After I finished my post-doc I taught part-time at several local colleges for a couple of years. When I started at Lemon, they hired me to replace their [subfield 1] person who was on sabbatical, but they hired me PART TIME to teach full time. This was before the rule that part-time faculty could only teach 6 credits per semester. I taught 4 courses (12) credits EACH semester, with 40-50 students in 3 of the courses each semester. I was paid part time, per credit, and it was less than what you're making per credit since it was about 8 years ago, and NO BENEFITS. And there was no guarantee that I'd be hired the following year even part time let alone full time. So I kept my other teaching gigs, in case I needed them the following year. So, each semester, I was teaching 4 classes at Lemon, one class at [Other Local College], and one class at [Postdoc University] extension, AND I tutored 25-30 private students. That was the year of hell. I rarely slept. I worked 16-18 hours a day, 7 days a week. But, at the end of that year, the guy I was filling in for at Lemon decided to retire and they did a national search over the summer and since they knew me and liked what I was doing, they hired me full time for the following year. So, you see, it could be worse. And I really hope your story has a happy ending!

OK, take care, sorry to ramble on so. I'm procrastinating.

The question that strikes me to ask (myself, if no one else), at the end of that story is, and that's the happy ending? I mean, really, is that what I'm holding out for, the opportunity to wear myself out, for the possibility (POSSIBILITY) of getting hired full-time (where I'll still be overworked, but at least paid better), and forced to make unpleasant compromises in my teaching, because I simply haven't the time, and I'll have the delight of sending such emails to my friends who are slaving away as adjuncts?

Forgive me for bitching a little. But is that what it's all about? I have no desire to short-change my students. They deserve better. A money maker for the program! And of course, there's no need to share out some of that profit with the instructor. No! Ridiculous. See, I've spent three years applying for faculty gigs, beginning while I was finishing up the dissertation. I spent two years as a post-doc in a different field, related by the topic of my dissertation.

And now, I spend 25-30 hours a week, teaching introductory courses to the broad discipline of my PhD, at a university 2-5 hours commute roundtrip from my home and family, with no job security beyond one term at a time, no benefits, and for a measly $6000 take home per term. Let's see, when I was a waiter, in Annapolis, Maryland nearly 20 years ago, I'd make say $50-100 a night, about 4 nights a week (shifts ranging from 6-8 hours). Meaning, on an inflation adjusted average, I'd have equivalent (EQUIVALENT!) income.

Now, in any universe, does that make any sense? Waiting tables/teaching university. Low skill/PhD. Hmmm. Somehow, the scales seem tipped (OVER!)

I read Sara's story and I wonder why anyone would subject themselves to that? Well, perhaps if I were in my twenties again. But I'm nearly 40. I have two sons, and a third on the way. I have a PhD, and a wealth of ideas, and energy to pour into interesting questions.

Recently, I've been reading some blogs related to the conditions of adjunct faculty, and their horror stories. And I remember one thing my old coach, Paul, had said to me during one of our first sessions. He remarked that many of us are inclined to fight, to seek out battles, to struggle against the tide, to overcome adversity. He said, don't. Don't fight. You don't need to. Why choose the things that are hard? Do what comes easy to you.

And that rings so loudly to me right now. I could dedicate myself to fighting for adjuncts' rights to dignity, to equal pay for equal work, to benefits, to improved working conditions. Or... I could simply walk away from it. I could set an example as someone who left. If we all left and sought out alternate means that would send the message more loudly than a thousand demonstrations. And for what are we staying? We can live as well or better waiting tables or working in bookstores. Or... building our dreams by putting our research directly to use!

The question for me is which is more in keeping with my own goals? What do I wish to accomplish now with my life? I think I know the answer.


Laura said...

I have heard many stories similar to Sara's or worse. I have often thought that the people who tell these stories are slightly insane. Who would go through that for so little pay. I think your inclination to walk away is right on. Refuse to be exploited. That's how you fight this. I walked away from a similar job though it was full time for the same reasons--classes were too big, commute was too long, department seemed unconcerned about the work load (it's just the way it is, makes money for the uni, etc.). I know that feeling, though, of wanting to be a part of the good side of academe, the part where your teaching and research make a difference and are rewarded. It's hard to let go of, but I bet you can find a spot that does reward you for your intellectual talents, probably better than academe could.

ArticulateDad said...

Thanks for your comment, Laura. The validation helps to seal it. It's a tough call, not only for one's own sense of commitment and follow through, that leads us to hold on to academia--but also a tough call because of the expectations of family and friends who have watched us traverse this trial of getting the PhD. And after all that, to walk away. From the outside, how can it appear as anything but failure? But we know (I know) different.

trillwing said...

The adjunct route is insane. I'm adjuncting for one class right now, but it's for fun and for a little extra income, not as a livelihood.

There are a couple of tenure-track job openings right now that would be really good matches for me. But I've decided not to apply for them because I'm putting WHERE I want to live ahead of WHAT I do. And those two jobs are not where I want to be living.

I know, it sounds crazy. But after putting WHAT ahead of WHERE for all these years, I'm ready to dwell in a place rather than a position. I believe if I stay in this place long enough, I'll have enough quality connections, and the perfect opportunity will present itself.

My (totally unsolicited) recommendation is to find your place, AD and RocketMom. Then build your lives within that place, rather than let yourself chase opportunities only to land someplace that may, in the end, not feel very much like home for your family.