I started adjuncting in spring 2006, about two weeks after turning in my MA thesis at California State University, Chico. I was hired to teach sociology by an Anthropology professor I’d taken in grad school who was also the chair of the social and behavioral sciences (SBS) department at Butte Community College. I reread my journal from that time and oh man, I was so happy to have a job right out of grad school.
But my happiness lasted only a brief period and right away I learned how easily adjuncts are hired and fired. The Friday before the spring semester began, the SBS department secretary called me and left me a voicemail at home stating that I was not going to be able to teach that Monday, no reason given and no request to call back if I wanted more information. I got on the phone quick, spoke to the chair of SBS at Butte College and learned I was deemed not “equivalent” because my MA was in Social Science not Sociology.
This was my introduction to the world of adjuncting. I was lucky, I knew a thing or two about California law and contracts and I had already signed mine, so I pushed back. I spent my first semester on pins and needles trying to gain equivalency to teach in the field I studied. I was granted equivalency in fall 2006, but only after fighting and writing lots of emails.
Today, adjuncts across the United States are staging walk-outs, teach-ins, and other types of action to bring attention to the adjunct plight. Adjuncts are precarious workers and even though I had no clue I was an adjunct when I was hired, it didn’t take long to learn I was on the shit end of the stick. I worked in low wage service work before I went back to school in my 30’s; I know what precarity feels like.
Precarity feels like shit. Dignity and shame are emotions adjuncts have to manage. It hurts them, hurts students, and is an illustration of the tremendous inequity in higher education; it is a two-tier system where (in this case) a set of workers do the exact same job but one group for far less in earnings and benefits; Weber called this status inconsistency: “a situation where an individual’s social position have both positive and negative influences on his or her social status.” For example, professor’s have a positive image imbued with respect and prestige, things that enhance status. At the same time, they earn little money and lack benefits and power. Sound familiar?
I miss teaching though, I quit in June 2012, which you can read about here (good old fashioned quit lit). I’ve tried to get back into teaching (with eyes wide open, whatever that means) but no such luck. I did get a call from one of my old Dean’s in January; he’s working at Woodland Community College now. They needed someone to teach 1 soc class (and Woodland is a 90 minute drive from my house). I also got a voicemail from their 1 fulltime soc prof, “Hey Julie, this is so-and-so, I’m calling to talk about this position, really hoping you can help us out.” Help them out, hmpph. I sent a text to my former dean, “if you had more than one class…” and then I felt like shit. Why couldn’t I just say ‘No” or “Are you shitting me, you want me to drive 3 hrs a day for a hundred bucks minus taxes?”
Anyway, I came across this old rant I wrote in 2008, 2 years into teaching and in the thick of my growing consciousness about inequality in the academic workplace. I’m sure there are some inaccuracies but I certainly captured the frustration I felt and saw then and I see in other adjuncts now. Reasonably so, no one tells us about aduncting in grad school, we get worked by our tenured profs and every year fresh-faced, excited academics get churned into the murky waters of contingent labor for the system to feed off of like chum. And yeah, some tenured folk get it but for the most part, they are as rare as unicorns. If the tenured really want to help then please challenge the apathy and comfort zones of your tenured colleagues and administrators. Being an ally means you’re gonna get dirty, you might even get yourself stigmatized like us; but at least you’re doing the right thing.
Wages, Benefits, and Respect…oh my! (2008)
Here’s the facts: Temporary instructors earn less than fast food restaurant managers and slightly more than some of our students. The students don’t know the difference between a temporary worker and a full-time prof until I tell them this: Last year, I worked an average of 50 hours a week teaching, preparing lectures, holding office hours, and grading papers…I earned, for all these efforts, about $21,000 and zero benefits, save the two personal days we’re allotted each year. And I’m one of the lucky ones, privileged to be married to a guy who makes a decent income so I can do what I love. I think about my part-time colleagues, raising families as single parents, spouses laid off, some teaching 7 classes at three colleges and holding office hours when we are paid for only 4.5 hours a semester, literally, educators as grunts, working the front lines of this system.
We know the system doesn’t give a rat, many of us don’t expect it to…but our full-time colleagues, oh how it hangs in the air between us. Someone said to me recently, “You’ll see when you get a tenured position.” In other words, selling out is inevitable…but is it? So many of these folks are Boomers who fought for civil rights, labor rights…now they drive BMW’s and Mercedes and say they’re “too busy,” or “swamped” to share my concerns, what the hell happened? I’m Gen X, so let me tell you, they got a “taste.” And when you get a taste, the money, the status…it must all be too much…for some.
But back to my point…if we temps are treated unequally–and the pay and benefits are only a piece, lack of respect within the system is abundant–how does this affect students? though I love teaching, I think the tenure system and concurrent part-time pool work against student success. I know TENURE, what the hell am I thinking attacking that when I might have it some day? Usually, the words, “Would you give up your academic freedom?” follows this comment. Yes, we part-timers are limited in that area anyway but this is not an academic freedom issue, it is a labor issue.