adjuncts · after the LTA · contract work · ideas for change · media · reform

CAF Bits & Bobs

In lieu of an essay-style post today, I have a request. If you’re a contingent academic faculty member and you haven’t yet taken the HEQCO survey, please head over to their site and fill it out. It’s a little thing, but policy makers are looking to find out what needs fixing, and you’re the ones to tell them. The survey can be found at http://www.nonfulltimefacultysurvey.ca/

And if you’ve missed them, Erin now has four articles in her series on CAF over at Rabble. Check ’em out here: http://rabble.ca/category/bios/erin-wunker

#alt-ac · academic reorganization · adjuncts · collaboration

After #NAWD What Do We Do?

Last Wednesday, February 25th, was the first National Adjunct Walkout Day. The initiative started in the United States and despite participation in Canada as well as other countries the majority of media attention was to American working conditions and American participation in the project. Inside Higher Education has a comprehensive piece on the emotional success of #NAWD, in a different genre, Gawker covered the walkout, and the warriors at Democracy Now! addressed the walkout and adjunct working conditions. In Canada, rabble.ca published a very smart piece by Aalya Ahmad, and there was some coverage elsewhere, including ongoing support from colleagues at ACCUTE who generously republished my love letter to Contract Academic Faculty. If you weren’t on a publicly active campus, Twitter was the place to really see action happening. Here’s a shot of the first two tweets that come up when you search #NAWD

On the campus where I am underemployed there was more teach-in action and education happening that public protest. Colleagues of mine–mostly tenured colleagues–at Dalhousie took time to speak to their students about what Contract Academic Faculty are (mostly PhD-ed colleagues who are as qualified as tenured professors), how they function in the university (in precarious teaching-heavy positions that are tenuous at best), and what they are paid (I can’t even).

But that was last week. What do we do now that #NAWD is in the past? The issues have hardly passed, and now teaching assistants at the University of Toronto are on strike. Like so many other dispersed issues-based actions it can be difficult to maintain public concern and collective momentum  on the Internet and in your daily life (think Idle No More, think Occupy, think anti-fracking protests like that in Elsipogtog, think, in a different context, the outrage over Ghomeshi, Dalhousie Dentistry’s ‘Gentlemen’s Club,’ and other serious issues that have responses constellate, for reasons of practicality, on social media).

Well, here’s a shocker: there are no easy solutions and all ideas take work. However, I do have some practical suggestions for maintaining momentum in your daily life, in your academic context, and in Canada. I’ll identify suggestions for tenured colleges, Contract Academic Faculty from sessionals to limited term folks on salary, and for interested students.

Contract Academic Faculty: 
Talk about your working conditions in a clear and factual way. Building support means building diverse communities of people from different working conditions. It is hard. It takes time and energy. Anger only gets us so far, so keep your anger, but refine it. Make it clear, cogent, and compelling. The facts, if you will, and the narrative needed to understand what it is to live those facts.

Talk with colleagues about your working conditions in a formal way–do you have access to photocopiers, letter head, a mailbox, an office, the library? If not, let them know formally and ask for their help. Many tenured colleagues simply don’t know the material conditions of CAF work.

Talk with the union you are affiliated with, or would like to be affiliated with, and do this in collaborations with other CAFs in your academic setting. Can the union help? Shift its membership parameters?

Build metro-allegiances with other CAFs in your city, if this is a possibility. Networking can mean sharing job resources (I know. Sharing is hard enough in the best of times, but I tell you, bridges are better built than burned).

Join national organizations and make your voice heard. Its not so difficult! For example, if you’re a teacher of English you can contact me. I’m the CAF representative for ACCUTE. I’d be more than happy to represent our collective suggestions to ACCUTE and to CAUT, but I need help. Email me, and I will collate the emails, work with ACCUTE, and reach out to CAUT.

Don’t internalize your material conditions as personal failure. This is, admittedly, the hardest. It is the one I struggle with on a daily (hourly?) basis. It requires vigilance, vulnerability, and radical attitude re-hauls. Doing something proactive helps. Consider following Melissa’s new #Alt-Ac 101 series here on Thursdays, or reading blogs such as From PhD to Life even if you don’t plan to leave the profession.

Tenured Colleagues

Recognize–really recognize–that CAF issues are your issues. They are issues of sustainability for the department and discipline to which you’ve dedicated your life. You have more power than you think.

Strategize hiring at the CAF and tenure-track levels with your tenured colleagues. Can your department pioneer and advocate radical job ads? I don’t mean such as this tom foolery, I mean something more in the realm of job sharing.

Think in terms of curriculum development at the undergraduate and graduate levels. If teaching is the bread and butter of your department’s budget, how can you keep the dollars in sight while also thinking about what other successful departments around the country are doing to meet the changing needs of students? You can find is a good example of one department’s innovation from Lisa Surridge’s ACCUTE report “Humanities in the Crisis Zone.”

Can your department not only adopt ACCUTE’s CAF best practice checklist, but also create a bespoke one that addresses the material conditions of your context? I bet it can.

Some of my incredible colleagues at Dalhousie go out of their way to directly address the Dean, VPs, President, and Senate about budget cuts to hiring. They give me hope. I see how time consuming and emotionally exhausting it is for them, and I want to give them a great big hug every time I see them. Why? Because they are using their tenure on behalf of their departments, their faculties, their students, and their precarious colleagues. Consider how you and your department might proactively address the powers that be in a way that benefits your community in the short and long term.

Students

You have more power than you think! The trick is to learn which questions to ask and to figure out why these issues matter for you.

Ask for the numbers: how many of your professors are precariously employed?

Think: If a professor whose teaching you love is precariously employed, will they be able to write letters of recommendation for you? In other words, will they be at your institution next semester or next year? Chances are, no.

Ask: how much of your tuition goes to paying teachers?

Ask: When did your department last hire a permanent faculty member?

Ask: How often is your department’s curriculum revised in relation to current trends in the discipline, in the job market? And how are faculty in your department engaged in continuing to learn about trends in these areas?

Think: What kinds of campus venues are there for discussing these issues? Is your student association engaged in real and meaningful conversations about sustainable teaching environments? Is your campus newspaper?
_____________________________

Alright, readers. I offer these as good faith and genuinely-positive suggestions. Many people and places do some or all of these things already, but I think we in Canada need a more centralized and cohesive foundation upon which to build specific scenarios for individual learning environments (ie. your university or college differs from mine).

What other ideas, suggestions, and success stories do you have?

academic reorganization · adjuncts · after the LTA · DIY · solidarity

Dear Contract Academic Faculty,

I see you.

No no, don’t worry, I’m precariously employed too, so my seeing you won’t change your employment.   I can’t do anything for you, though I would if I could. You don’t need to look like you’re working any harder than you already are just because I am looking in your direction. But know this: I see you. And you matter.

I see you, prepping for your classes every night until midnight (or later). I know you’re teaching more than regular faculty, because that’s how contracts work at your institution. I know you have six or more classes per year and that not a one of them is a repeat. And I know you’re working to make the lectures good, the material innovative and inspiring, and the discussions life-altering even though you’re struggling to get the reading done and the assignments graded.

I see you, teaching a class at this campus, and getting in your car or on public transit or in a carpool to make it across town/ across the city/ into the valley/ into another city/ to the next campus in time to teach the next group of students. And I see you try and smile when you do it.

I see you, trying to jam research into the corners of your life that aren’t filled with prep for class.

I see you, not producing research, because there’s no time, or no money, or the very real understanding that maybe, just maybe, there’s no point.

I see you, taking on the book reviews, the peer reviews, the jury duties. And yes, I get it. I do it too, because it feels good to be asked. Because it feels good to participate in the profession. Because it can go on the CV. Because it means someone else sees you too. And yes, I know that you likely kick yourself for saying yes at least some of the time, because isn’t that feeding the imbalanced system? But I see you, because you care about the material. Because community. Because CV.

I see you, carrying your students’s assignments in your bag because you have no office/ share an office/ would rather meet in the library than try to schedule time at your shared desk.

I see your students call you “Miss” or by your first name even though you’ve asked to be called by your professional title.

I see those teaching evaluations–the quiet devastation they can bring–either by being better than the department average, or worse.

I see you, writing reference letters for students applying to for study abroad programs, to be residence dons, to get into graduate programs, for colleagues going up for tenure and promotion, and I know: it might be hard to figure out where to print the letters, because I know you don’t have access to photocopiers, scanners, printers, or, heck, hard copy letter head. Not all the time. Likely not after hours when you can do this work.

I see you, meeting with students on your own time or in office hours to talk about their plans for graduate school. I see you waffle, because you still care, because you believe in the work you do even though you’re being shut out, made provisional, living precariously. I see you do it anyway, and do it well.

I see you say no. I know what it costs you, that small action of agency, that protection of your time. I know that “no” is meant to be a proactive word for you, and I know the second-third-and-fourth guessing that accompanies every decision to use it.

I see you, applying for your own position. And I see you not get it, sometimes.

I see you, applying for postdoctoral fellowships, for grants, and asking for adjunct status if that grant is successful. I see you working extra, because the grant means you can do the work you love, and because the grant would mean that maybe, just maybe, you’ve got some leverage (but not a living wage). I see you wobble, because a successful grant may not end up meaning shit.

I see you, competing against your peers, your friends, your acquaintances for the one or two jobs in your area. I see you, writing those letters of application cringing at the lack of research, or, conversely, wondering if this time your well-rounded application will make it to the top. Or, if it matters, because maybe there is another contract academic faculty member who is the inside candidate, and it doesn’t matter. I see your frustration, and I want to say: it’s ok. We all want to be the inside candidate, even though we know that doesn’t always work out either.

I see the unfairness in the labyrinthine system in which we labour–or try to labour.

I see that you’re tired. I see that you’re trying. I see you, working so hard to be able to work.

You have more agency than you think, though its hard to think when you’re so busy or heartsick.

I see that these thoughts break your heart, and I see you wonder if it shows, if other people notice that you do still carry that little spark of hope that things will change.

Things will change, though they may not look they way you thought they would. We need to leave. And we need to stay, but under different working conditions. We need to organize ourselves, despite the extra work that requires. We can do it. We’re resourceful. We care. We can draw on the will and support of tenured colleagues and on organizations such as ACCUTE and CAUT and we can do something, though it won’t happen quickly. And, we can choose not to, we can choose to leave. And that is not a failure either.

But for now, dear CAF, know this: I see you. I care about you. I can’t fix anything for you by myself, but know that you’re not alone.

Love,

Erin

Ps. Thanks to Lily for the love letter inspiration.

adjuncts · grad school · notes from the non-tenured-stream · politics · professors

Repost of "The Teaching Class"

Hey all. It’s been a really long time since I’ve posted. I know you’ve missed me dearly.

Life post-research trip has been fairly hectic and social-filled, in really very good ways, and I have been making strong progress on chapter one and heading back to the UK very soon (spoiled this year!) and feeling pretty okay about everything. Yet in the tumult of summer I have struggled to brew up a post, and even today the ingredients are looking a little scarce. I hope you’ve all been following Erin’s excellent Empathy Trap entries, and who knows what lies in store over the next few weeks.

Today I just want to repost an excellent, important, smart, compelling article on, yes, the rising phenomenon of the adjunct, or adjunctivitis (a name which to me still sounds pretty silly but oh well), that just came out in the fantastic Guernica Magazine (thanks to my pal Ali for drawing my attention to this!). Perhaps you’ve already seen it. Here CUNY adjunct Rachel Riederer discusses the contradictions inherent in being an underpaid and undersupported worker in the still ostensibly middle-class and even, in some senses, “sacred” job of university teaching. Some instructors have been facing backlash for including statements regarding the material realities of adjuncting in their syllabi; a common approach is to urge students not to call them “professor,” since the term remains hallowed and obscures the actual conditions of labor that the human beings responsible for educating future generations often face. Riederer cites a fellow adjunct:

“The conditions of labor must always be obscured,” she said. “Work is good, work is noble, work is disciplining, work is what gives you social meaning in your life, so you can’t say, ‘Oh, this job is killing me.’ And they certainly don’t ever want you to talk to other people and realize this is structural, this is planned, we are the effects of other people’s choices and perhaps we should have a bigger voice here.”

‘How can we complain about our work?,’ some may ask. Adjuncts may get paid less than managers at McDonald’s, but that does not mean they are not more fulfilled. Our jobs as educators on pleasant university campuses are by many accounts very good, no matter the material conditions of being there. But, as Riederer claims, “of course it’s possible to love what one does, be good at it, and still be exploited.” (or, I love this: “A professor should not be so vulgar as to talk about the material reality of her life.”)

There’s so much more to this article, but I’ll leave you to experience it on your own, and I’ll get back to conference-paper-drafting. Oh, and here’s a video of a parrot talking with a stuffed rabbit, which if you can get past the awful clickbaity title, is pretty great. Because animals.

academy · adjuncts

Privilege in things small and big


The more I stay away, the more elusive my return becomes. I have stayed silent for the past few weeks, because I felt both like I had not much of value to say, and like I could not rise to the bar set so high by my amazing co-bloggers. But stay away I cannot, because I have a duty to live up to the privilege that is participating in Hook and Eye. And it’s privilege I want to talk about.
I have been reading a lot lately, and mostly novels I thought would come nowhere near teaching. But you know what they say about taking the teacher out of the classroom? Yes. Most of the books I’ve been reading came from the library: yet another privilege. One day, I was walking back from the library, a prodigiously negative windchill biting at my cheeks, and I raised my eyes from their futile attempts at making my legs go faster, and looked around at the university campus I was strolling through. The first thought that pierced my frozen skull was how much I love university campuses. The second: what a fantastic privilege it was to walk them on a daily basis. Most of them are just so beautiful, and ambling along their paths reveals the amount of work and planning that produced such spaces designed for thoughts to expand courageously, and take flight. The antithesis of cubicles, really, but I digress.
So let me meander back to the point of privilege: HigherEd conversation has been focused on precarious labour for the last little while, seeking to direct energy towards identifying respectful and equitable ways to respond to what has been called “the adjunct crisis.” This week, the Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English, ACCUTE, has announced that it has drafted a “Best Practices Checklist” for employing contract academic faculty in Canadian departments of English. It is “designed specifically to further greater awareness of, and respect for, the work of contract faculty members.” In spite of the much bemoaned lack of reliable numbers to contextualize the extent of adjunctification in Canadian Universities, the members of ACCUTE’s Task Force, Michael Brisbois (MacEwan), Heidi Tiedemann Darroch (Victoria), Dorothy Hadfield (Waterloo), Jason Haslam (Dalhousie), Nat Hurley (Alberta), Luke Maynard (Huron), Laura Schechter (Alberta), Stephen Slemon (Alberta), and Erin Wunker (Mount Alison) have put their money where all of our mouths are, and come up with suggestions to make sessional teaching less exploitative. It’s important to note that members of this Task Force represent diverse constituencies of university teachers, and I hope that Erin, whose activism and engagement are truly boundless, tells us more about the aims, workings, and future of the Task Force.
The uneasy question of privilege still haunts us, though, even if this first step in alleviating the discrepancy between different tiers of academic employment starts to respond to the larger question of what do we do with privilege. Privilege can feel like a huge burden, like an unearned reward in a system that looks increasingly more like a lottery than a meritocracy. Erin Morton elaborated on this tricky position in a very thoughtful post on Faculty Orientations. What I’m getting at is how easy it can be for emerging scholars who are in TT positions to feel like they cannot discuss the excessive demands of academia, when so many of their peers struggle to make ends meet. They feel their privilege acutely, and sometimes as a silencing force.
To my mind, privilege implies duty devoid of charity. It’s easy to couch that duty in terms and actions that reinforce exiting hierarchies instead of taking them down altogether. The former is charity, while the latter comes closer to equity. The ACCUTE document goes a long way in illustrating how to use this academic privilege and lack thereof, by working together towards a more respectful workplace in Canadian universities.
We all have some degree of privilege in one area or another, so I’m still left with the question of how can we make use of our own privilege ethically, and in ways that render the notion obsolete for the benefit of equity rather than silence

PS: Happy International Women’s Day Eve! How do you celebrate?
adjuncts · grad school · PhD · politics · slow academy

Adjunctivitis and the PhD

You guys (/girls!), things are bleak. As I tumbled down the rabbit hole of related articles for this post, I found myself variously in need of taking a shower, having a drink, listening to this song on repeat, something. This post was hard to write.

You may know that on January 24, the US House Education and the Workforce Democratic Staff released a report on contingent faculty in higher education in America entitled “The Just-In-Time Professor.” Colleen Flaherty of Inside Higher Ed observes that this report “marks the first time Congress has so formally acknowledged a situation that adjunct activists have long deemed exploitative.” It’s based on an eForum that Democrat Rep. George Miller of California initiated in November 2013, asking adjuncts to respond to an online survey, and 845 adjunct faculty in 41 states (some of whom have been working for over 30 years, and some only a semester) responded. Here’s what the report concludes, worth typing in full:

The eForum responses were consistent with news reports and other research that indicate contingent faculty earn low salaries with few or no benefits, are forced to carry on harried schedules to make ends meet, have no clear path for career growth, and enjoy little to no job security. The contingent faculty trend appears to mirror trends in the general labor market toward a flexible, ‘just-in-time’ workforce, with lower compensation and unpredictable schedules for what were once considered middle-class jobs. The trend should be of concern to policymakers both because of what it means for the living standards and work lives of those individuals we expect to educate the next generation of scientists, entrepreneurs, and other highly skilled workers, and what it may mean for the quality of higher education itself. (2)

Yikes (and AMEN). The numbers are shocking, or at least may be to those outside academia: as Flaherty’s article summarizes, in spite of claims that adjunct profs are better educators than tenured profs, 98 percent of respondents believed they were “missing opportunities to better serve their students because of the demands on their schedule.” Median respondent salary was $22 041, and on average, respondents had been adjuncting for 10 years. Most respondents (89 percent) teach at two or more institutions, and they often rely on family members and government assistance to make ends meet.  Further, 75 percent have no access to health insurance (you may also know that in response to the Affordable Care Act, which requires employers to provide full-time workers access to health insurance, many American institutions have cut maximum course loads for contingent workers). A whopping 49 percent of respondents stated that they teach between 8 and 10 classes a semester, though it’s important to note that this is based on those respondents who provided such information, which is difficult to measure given their constantly fluctuating workloads. Adjuncts often do not have offices or access to secretarial help, and must foot the bill for classroom books and handouts. In many cases they have staggering debt leftover from their own postsecondary education that they cannot afford to pay off.

Adjuncts are, on average, the highest educated and lowest paid group of workers in the country.

Here’s just a tiny sample of their stories:

 During this, we lost our home. We could no longer afford to make the payments on my poverty wages and my domestic partner’s wages from her job. We moved in with a friend and now had to commute an hour each way and a half hour between schools. I was driving three hours a day and teaching five days a week switching colleges during the day. I had no office space, so I often carried all of my work with me. Piles and piles of manilla [sic] folders in the back of my failing car. (8)

During the time I taught at the community college, I earned so little that I sold my plasma on Tuesdays and Thursdays to pay for her daycare costs. Seriously, my plasma paid for her daycare because I taught English as adjunct faculty. (8)

[W]ith two small children, living with food stamps in my mother-in-law’s house, I just can’t continue to subject my family to this. It is beyond embarrassing. (9)

During the Fall of 2013 I taught [a course at my school for three days a week] while working 40 hours night shift at Walmart to make ends meet. My take home remuneration for [the] course was $796 per month for the duration of the semester. I literally was paying the college to teach the course! (15)

I taught four course[s] in the fall, but was not told until the day before spring semester started that I wouldn’t have any classes for the spring. I was unemployed with no notice. (22)

Living with friends/family, selling one’s bodily fluids, subsisting off of food stamps, working at Walmart, dealing with sudden unemployment. This devastating report could signal the beginning of hope for institutional change, maybe, perhaps…or at least the issue is beginning to receive official state recognition. I was happy to see that PBS, who has labelled the issue “adjunctivitis,” is featuring adjunct faculty this week as part of their Making Sense series, and Paul Solman’s 8-minute video report is a succinct summary of the problems facing the contingent labour force today. (n.b. around 3:40, Terry Hartle of the American Council on Education blithely declares that “in some disciplines, particularly occupationally oriented fields, you may be ahead by having an adjunct faculty member who’s got extraordinary levels of real-world experience.” Wait, what? Who? Where?)


Along with the release of the report on Jan. 24, adjunct professor and unionization activist Arik Greenberg presented his story in Washington. After 11 years working as an adjunct, Greenberg is burdened with a tremendous amount of student debt and is in danger of losing his family home. “I’ve followed the rules to realize the American dream,” he says, “but I am now living the American nightmare.”

Given the urgent nature of these issues, I don’t find articles like this one, which was popping up in my social media feed this week, especially helpful. Written by an adjunct faculty member who seems unaware of the eForum report, and featuring an image of a youthful woman gazing hopefully off into the distance, sun shining on her face, this is the story of one adjunct professor who happens to be, like, okay in terms of prepwork, pay, commute, and institutional resources, despite being a precarious worker at two colleges with no guarantee of continued employment (and there is also no mention of how much time or support she has for her own research). The clincher: she has a husband in higher education who “makes a decent salary.” 

What’s the purpose of circulating articles like this? We need to address these problems, not just convince ourselves that we will be fine as long as we find a partner who makes more money than we do. I’m angry and frightened, and stories like Marshall’s only lessen my fears by a modicum, as they are clearly (as the author herself admits) the exception to the rule. My partner and I are both students. We have no job security, our families are not wealthy, we have leftover student loans from undergrad. The reality is that our dissertations may be academically original but professionally irrelevant, and by the time we finish–roughly two years from now–we will have been in graduate school (MA & PhD) for about eight years. What are we supposed to do?

There are no easy answers, of course, but I would love to hear from you. Adjuncts, what are your stories? Are they more like Greenberg’s or Marshall’s? Do you have any advice for us PhDs? Should we all prepare for #alt-ac and #post-ac careers? Is there anything you wish you had done differently? Please, let’s continue to generate a database of stories, outrage, and advice as we address the abysmal state of a profit-mongering institution that relies on contingent workers for, on average, 76 percent of American educational positions.