Friday, November 14, 2014


 Rarely does a week go by now that I do not see an article or a tweet about another campus of adjuncts joining a union or organizing in some way to fight for a living wage.  Considering we are the bulk of higher education faculty and on the whole are not paid very well, that should not be a surprise.  However, what continues to surprise me are the reactions to adjunct organizing efforts by many tenure track faculty.  A few folks' reaction is to stand up for us, while others warn us.  Some want to silence us, and others avoid us and our efforts. Not all these responses are optimal.

I did discuss some of these issues before in my post "Adjuncts, Assumptions, and Activism," but I think there are things worth reiterating.  First of all, I do know and have met some very strong tenure track adjunct allies.  These are people who not only talk and write on our behalf, but actively work on their own campuses and in higher education as a whole to assist adjuncts.  In fact, if you would like to join this group of friends and don't know where to start or what to do, check out ally Seth Kahn who just posted this entry on his Here Comes Trouble blog, that, while a direct response to a specific person, is also very good advice to anyone looking to get into the effective adjunct ally category.  Additionally, adjunct badass Miranda Merklein, over at the Fugitive Faculty blog posted "Ten Steps to Becoming an Adjunct Ally." I think that these readings are very helpful to those looking to get involved or step up their activist ally game.

Now, here are some words about allies in general.  Please, please do not go looking for what some like to call "ally cookies."  Basically, that is a reward expected to be given out by whatever group the self-professed ally has chosen to assist. Groups suffering from any type of disparity do not have time to be baking cookies and handing out accolades to allies.  Also, please do not presume to speak FOR the group, professing to know just how they feel or what their situation is like without actually consulting the group in question, especially if you yourself have not ever experienced the world in their way.  That Ally Spokespersona was an impetus for me to start this blog.  I was so damn tired of seeing posts about adjuncts and our situation by people who were not adjuncts and had never been!  When I complained to a friend about this, he said that an organizer suggested using any platform to draw attention to the cause was good.  I countered that letting people speak for themselves was better.  That being said, people are afraid.  Afraid to speak out and lose their jobs.  Afraid to get harassed by trolls.  Afraid to be shamed by the public for the truths they have revealed.  Thus, this blog was born.  Do I still worry about those things? Sometimes.  Especially right before I hit "Publish." So ask  yourself, Ally: "Am I speaking up on behalf appropriately by amplifying their side authentically or am I speaking when I should be making space for someone of that group to speak safely?"

Tenure track people, those solidly safe behind the velvet rope of tenure (perhaps not those still in their probationary period):  please use your positions to make a difference.  The more permanent people that teach, the larger the faculty percentage to stand up for teaching and learning.  Please speak up for those who are not able to do so, whether that is because they fear for their jobs or simply they are not invited to the meetings.  Those are good places to practice good allyship:  adjuncts might not be at the meetings, or they might be there but feel unwelcome to add to the conversations.  You could talk to some beforehand and agree to take their statements or concerns and read them at the meeting, keeping them anonymous, if need be.  You could petition to have adjuncts attend the meetings or be invited to workshops and trainings, if they are not.  Once, temporary faculty were excluded from the free lunch at faculty orientation day.  Only new tenure track people were allowed to eat on the President's dime.  Tenure track allies who helped plan the day were angry that we adjuncts were left out.  They found another group on campus who was sponsoring the day to provide us lunch.  That might seem like a small gesture, but it has stuck with me over the years.  One small step to erasing disparity may start an avalanche.

Then we have a few varieties of unhelpful vocalizers.  Recently, I was part of a successful adjunct unionizing effort.  Because of my open support, as well as my speaking and writing about the adjunct exploitation crisis, I catalogued some interesting encounters.  More than one permanent faculty member said to me, whilst sagely shaking their heads, "Oh, its a good idea, but it won't work.  We tried and couldn't do it.  They'll stop you, too. Be careful."  They didn't. We won.  Honestly, many of us had little to lose and very much to gain, therefore, we could not be frightened away from organization in large enough numbers to affect the vote.  These folks were not really against us and they weren't actively standing in our way, yet they weren't making it any easier either. This group belongs with the larger  demographic who would like to tone-police adjuncts:
    We aren't being careful.
    We are too angry.
    We are too whiny.
    We are too loud.
Stop this.  Stop telling adjuncts, or anyone experiencing some sort of adverse situation to express themselves in a way that makes you more comfortable.  Seriously, it isn't about you.  It isn't.  Let the person talk, cry, rant, or rave.  Maybe they have never gotten the chance to speak up.  Maybe their concerns deserve to be shouted.  I observed the other day that what I dubbed the Cult of Happiness is a real thing and its missionaries are relentless with their inspirational posts, verses, and maxims.  The true goal of this sect, I believe, is to prevent everyone everywhere from ever experiencing and expressing the full range of human emotions.  These folks have not only taken their Soma, they are pickled in it.  They will not stop until everyone is as blissfully happy and unaware of anything remotely upsetting.  These are the handmaidens of disaster.  They'll be throwing flowers at the the mushroom clouds.  Trust me.  The opposite of the Shh... Just be Happy Crew are the Shh...You're Giving Higher Ed a Bad Image Squad. They do not want to hear our critique, because quite frankly, they've got theirs and by golly, they deserve it more than we do.  Or something. Reasons.  These are the ones who will barge
into a discussion and shout "Not ALL tenure track people act this way"--thus the title of this piece.  On-line, just about any time someone makes a statement about how one group, as a whole, treats another, there is a vast rush by someone to be first to say Not ALL: men, white people, gamers, police, etc.  It's true. Log onto any social media site and watch.  It happens in real life, too.  Stop this.  Why are you defensive?  If you feel the urge to "Not ALL" anyone, use that as a cue to stop, think, and then refocus.  Stop yourself from saying those words.  Think about what you might do to NOT be one of those people.  Refocus your response in a positive way to assist the person or group that felt oppressed, offended, or demeaned--the appropriate response might be silence while really hearing, planning what you can do to make this bad thing never happen again in your presence, or even giving the less privileged group a way to safely present their side:  all without expecting to be rewarded at all.    

However, the most dangerous reaction is to act as though ignoring the adjunctification of higher education will make it go away, or at least make it not exist for you.  It is not going anywhere.  It is going to get worse if we do not collectively make a stand and stop this disease from taking over every inch of education.  Please stop hiding your heads under your desks, in books, or the very appropriately named Ostrich Pillow.  This position not only looks hilarious, but it directly supports the administrative directive to liquidate all protections, such as tenure, due process, or freedom of speech.  This is really one of those "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention" moments.  Kindly wake up and read those posts I linked to above.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

No Rest for the Wicked, or an Academic Parent

Are you tired? I am.  My accelerated course just ended.  Many of my colleagues are probably in midterms.  Another group of us who still hold out hope, or perhaps just out of habit, are also applying for the sparse crop of permanent jobs.  In the middle of all this, two of my children got sick.  The eldest threw up at school and I had to go get him.  Never mind that throwing up is something he has always done a lot, if a student upchucks at school, someone must go get that person.  That was my Wednesday morning.  Already my middle child, who is still a preschooler was feeling poorly.  Since both of those kiddos had a checkup scheduled for Thursday, I thought "Hey, we'll make it to that and get it all taken care of at once."

No.  No that was not to be.  Instead my Wednesday evening included a trip to the local ER and then one to the children's hospital in the city.  The preschooler was not well.  It was one of those things that happens.  It just happens. No reason.  No nothing the child did wrong.  No nothing we did wrong.  He just got very sick very fast.  We returned home again a little after 4 a.m. on Thursday.  Ever since then, I have been following a care routine that the child is not a fan of.  I have been giving him very sticky medicine that he is not a fan of.  For three days he seemed to be getting better, but then this evening, as I hoped to settle him in early for some rest, he complained of being too hot.  He was.  The nagging worry I have carried in my stomach over him for about a week chomped harder.  I took a temperature and sure enough it was elevated.  I checked the discharge instructions but it was, thankfully, not high enough to call the doctor.  Some Advil was given and I decided to stay up and check him every little bit.  So here I am up, writing some things and thinking.

He's small.  I had forgotten really, how very small.  As I tailed the ambulance to the city I could see his car seat strapped to the stretcher with him on board.  I could not make out his little face nor his hair that's too long and needs to be cut but hasn't been because I need more hours in my day and another me to get him to the stylist that doesn't make him cry.  So very small in his greenish hospital gown lying on a big gurney-type bed in the examination room.  So small that we had come all that long way to specialists who could work on, sedate and employ the right tools for little folks.

I wanted to scoop him up and pour all the energy and light that I had left into him.  And even though I'm supposed to be the grown up and know that the hurt caused by the treatment would make him better, I wanted to hide him from their hands and instruments that were making him cry out in pain.  "MOMMY!"

And after it was over, I sat stroking his fluffy hair, watching him sleep the sleep of the drugged, I thought, "Oh my god, I have five papers left to grade and they're due Friday and I'm an adjunct and what if I don't get them done and they're at home and I'm not and who knows when I'll get back there?!" That is what ran through my mind.  I was fairly certain that the child would be fine.  I was waiting for him to awaken, and my work intruded.  Here I was, miles from home for who knew how long, and my grades were undone.  Accelerated term students need their grades quickly before the second round begins.  I doubted I could get an extension.  I wondered how that would make me look.  I wondered if it would cost me my job.  At a time when all I really should be able to focus on was my kids, I was worried if our emergency would be a problem.  Perhaps my employer would've been understanding, but I don't know, nor do I have any protection as of yet.  Just one more wobble as I walk the precarious line of adjunct faculty life.

Now, it's time to go check my small patient's temperature and hope it stays down.  We have another checkup scheduled Tuesday and I hope we can just go there without further adventures.  The oldest one is fine after the barfing.  The papers got graded and the final grades submitted.  As always.

This is how you eat the Adjunct Elephant:  one giant bite at a time.

Monday, September 29, 2014

One Year Later: Margaret Mary, Burning It Down, and What Comes Next

Today, September 29, is the remembrance day for Margaret Mary Vojtko.  Dan Kovalik's piece broke the story on the 19th and by the month's end, her sorrowful tale resounded worldwide.  Here we are on the day dedicated to her:  one year later, one year louder.  The death of Margaret Mary stands as a lightning strike in the midst of the drab chaos adjuncting can be.  It was her death that shook so many into realizing that the story could end the same for them.  It was her death that made many who do care about teaching and learning conditions realize the situation was indeed dire.  It was her death that put many of us on the path to activism.  When we win any victory, any recognition, it also belongs to Margaret Mary.

When I drive into the City of Pittsburgh and past Duquesne, I imagine her spirit there.  When I waiver on publishing a post, or speaking to a reporter and using my name, I think of Margaret Mary.  I remember how cold, so very cold I felt inside though the day was blistering hot when I read Kovalik's article.  This could be me.  Oh god, this could be me, my brain whispered as I stood at the start of my first multiple-school teaching year.  That feeling has driven me ever since.  I will not let an entire generation of scholars go down in flames. I will not let students be deprived of the educations they are paying large sums of money for.  I will use my words and time to work for better.  If I have to, I will also use actions.

This weekend, Twitter citizen @downwardlymobilePhD, with the help of others, planned and carried out an adjunct online forum that allowed for truth telling and airing of grievances, and I also participated in the event.  Given the marker #BurnItDown, the hashtag raged much of Saturday afternoon and into Monday was still garnering new hits.  Anyone with a Twitter account can, of course, search the hashtag and see the full stream of tweets.  Raging Chicken Press created a Storify of some tweets called "Ripping Back the Veil of Exploitation in Higher Ed" that gives a good summary of the tone and the truth many adjuncts face. I just wrapped up my Saturday class as this event began and was still amazed, as I scrolled to catch up and join the fray, how similar to my own experience total strangers' adjunct lives are no matter where they call home.  This is indeed a worldwide crisis at this point and adjunct issues often garner hits not only from the US, but Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.

Certainly, these fiery tweets will be read as complaining and whining by some.  That happens nearly every time an adjunct speaks out.  However, for many of us, our scholarly community--the people who understand exactly what this life is--are our on-line adjunct colleagues and we need these moments of shared experiences to affirm our solidarity.  Make no mistake about it:  solidarity amongst adjuncts exists not only on campuses as we unionize, but now it extends across state lines and country borders.  One success at a small school is a victory for everyone.  It is a slice of light seeping in.  Our cause now regularly appears in publication and news venues.  We are not whining so much as standing up for ourselves at last.  We dare to challenge the current state of higher education with our BurnItDown mentality.  We care about the workpain of adjuncts and other downgraded--both in salaries and hours-- and entirely necessary campus employees.  We care about our students and do not like that they pay for educations but are given climbing walls and waterfalls.  It is this last part, this care for our students, for the art and craft of teaching that has lead many adjuncts to ponder, "What next? What can we do to start again? To create something better that meets the needs of students and teachers without exploitation and unnecessary expense."  That answer will come and it will be beautiful and varied as the people who now fall under the term "contingent labor."  Make no mistake, we may take a day to air our grievances, but we never stop working towards the ultimate goal of better for all who want to take part.

Strength is in numbers, as Margaret Mary knew when she sought out the union.  I hope our efforts would make her proud.  If she knew how many her life inspired to speak up, to challenge the system in quieter and equally effective ways, I think she would be pleasantly surprised.  Thus, today after Burning It Down, we remember her and are renewed in our quest to find a better way.

(Oh, and Happy First Payday to those of us who've been waiting until the 30th of Sept. to get some much needed monies for our labor.)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Form-ing Dissent

At any time when a group starts to make enough noise and get enough attention for their cause, someone vocal will arise to oppose and deride them.  Adjuncts have been making lots of good noise, getting press from many sources, and generally raising awareness of the plight of approximately 76% of faculty in the United States.  It is not surprising, then, that this past week--the week preceding Labor Day, no less--I reeled in a nice big clownfish on another platform and we saw the publication of a particularly odious anti-adjunct piece.

It may come as a surprise to readers, and even some adjuncts, that many of us do have a community of comrades.  With all the social media platforms, this is easy to do.  In fact it is almost essential for some of us, who need community to work smarter, commiserate, and celebrate with, just as any worker would.  While many adjuncts lack offices and communities at their schools because they either are not granted the courtesy of office space or they cannot use any given space since they must run to another school, these communities exist nonetheless.  It was in one such community, discussing all the things adjuncts do that are not really covered by our pay and the hours allotted on our contracts that someone suggested we itemize these essential-to-higher-education tasks.  Important things, such as letters of recommendation for students, office hours, answering and composing email, and attending meetings, for example.  Jokingly, I said someone should humor me with a form for this.

Since I had some time and needed the laugh, I made a very rough draft.  This was much improved and beautified by Bri Bolin.  It was an instant Twitter hit and even I was surprised at its popularity;  to date it has 92 retweets and 99 favorites.  All afternoon and into the evening folks enjoyed and shared it.  Invariably, it made someone unhappy:  I was admonished that we adjuncts should just be glad with what we were getting because submitting this would cost us our jobs.

Yes, someone thought that we were plotting a nationwide paperwork-based rebellion.  Would that that were true.  Into my microcosm of adjunct-land otherwise known as my twitter feed came a presence to speak to me of my folly.  As other adjuncts could not resist chiming in, we were all told that if we had skills and diligence, we would find a place in the world of work that valued us.  We were also told that teachers in Tanzania have it much worse.  I have no doubt that many places in the world have terrible conditions, but I wasn't talking about them.  I was talking about right here in the US of A!  It isn't as though there are not plenty of classes to be taught; it isn't as if upper level administrators aren't raking in six figures at many schools; it isn't as though the administrative class hasn't grown exponentially in the past 20 years.  I was addressing a specific disparity in the country where I live and work.  I'm actually surprised I didn't get told to move if I wasn't happy because that's another nice piece of advice anyone who ever disagrees about anything in the country is given.

Later, an entirely awful article was published in The Chronicle of Higher Education.  Note that I am providing a link via a nice service called donotlink because it will not up the page count of whatever odious article a person would like to share.  I am not going to deconstruct this article here because enough people already have, and there is no more I can say that wouldn't involve angry swearing:  Amy Lynch-Biniek's "Dear Tenured Faculty:  Retweeting Isn't Enough"; Seth Kahn's "Yeah, but..." which builds on Lynch-Biniek's piece; Marc Bosquet's "Offensive Letter Justifies Oppressive System that Hurts Both Faculty and Students", hilariously published in the same venue as the original; Andrew Robinson's "The Big Boy Boxer Shorts"; and finally Nathaniel Oliver's masterful takedown "Grading Stukel." The short of it is that a tenure track person thought it was necessary to state that adjuncts asking for a living wage and benefits were "whining" and furthermore, if we had only worked as hard as this author had, we would not have this problem.  Because we are whiners and not willing to face the facts that not everyone lands their dream job, among other sins, we had no business teaching students.  Additionally, the author chose to drag Margaret Mary Vojtko just days before the anniversary of her death actually saying that this dead woman should've put on "her big girl panties," which I'm certain would have definitely helped her beat both cancer and the lack of decent pay.  Arg.  Macrocosm.  This article, published in a major higher education venue, received many views and even comments agreeing with the author, though I am starting to believe all these folks who rail against every pro-adjunct piece and support the anti ones are either Badmin, Badmin Handmaidens (my term for anyone who aids and abets badmin), or spooked tenure track faculty who still don't get it.

So, adjuncts, the detractors will say work harder:  bootstraps; don't whine:  i.e. ask for fair compensation for services provided; remember it could be worse:  Tanzania, I am told (my apologies to Tanzania); and meritocracy:  your skills will save you in the end.

More realistically:  organize with colleagues or even a union, if you can.  The bloated administrative beast that is American higher education cannot grind on without us.  We can stop this.  Look at the fast food and home health workers!  The criticisms leveled at them are the same directed at us.  Many of them also work multiple jobs with disastrous results, such as the recent death of Maria Fernandes.  Are we ready to take to the streets and face down our critics?  Are we ready to be that brave or does our tenuous tie to white collar, aspiring to the middle class mentality being a college teacher confers constrain us?  We have the majority.  If we all walk out, we bring the juggernaut of corporate higher education to a halt.  Think about the form above.  How much work have you done and for how many years that has been basically volunteer labor for the academy?  Isn't it time we were properly compensated? Isn't it time that every worker was?