Thursday, October 19, 2017

Guest Speakers on Campus: Stop Playing Fact or Crap with Students

I vaguely recall this game surfacing in the early 2000s, 2001 according to copyright.  The box was red and yellow:  “FACT OR CRAP?” its title challenged the buyer.  I never purchased it but it gave me a chuckle in the game aisle. However, we are a long road from 2001. I don’t feel much like playing any games. I also don’t appreciate all the articles maligning Millennials or “young people today” as lazy, useless, and responsible for the deaths of mediocre pop culture holdovers from the 1990s. I see teacherly friends responsible for all grade levels from elementary to post-secondary exchanging ideas and resources for helping students learn how to discern the quality and veracity of sources. Correction, I see the best of the teachers doing this.  We have a slick surface of reality problem in the U.S. right now and teachers, among all the other work they already had to do, are amping up the efforts in this area to provide young people with the skills needed to avoid getting hoodwinked on any number of topics. We have students genuinely interested in research skills and using their tech talents for good.

We also have a “Well, we need to hear all sides” chorus simultaneously. Which brings me to the crap portion of this post:  Why are charlatan speakers[1] being paid large speaking fees and given a legitimate stage at institutions of higher learning in this country right now? We have faculty in classrooms doing difficult work regarding untrustworthy sources and at the same time, administrators approving the purveyors of junk history, junk science, and just plain junk to appear on campus.  What the actual hell? It is today’s version of the traveling snake oil salesman[2] and universities are footing huge bills for security of fools when the money is greatly needed somewhere else.

Most of these speakers are not people without a platform to freely espouse their crap.  They have the internet, books they wrote (or ghost wrote), and certain TV and radio spaces that are more than happy to have them spout their trash.  Why are we giving them a prime space at an institution of higher learning where what they are doing is antithetical to the mission of education in the first place? It’s crap and most of them know it.  They’re making a fortune on it.

And that’s a fact.


[1] Yes, I am aware of the First Amendment, and here’s a nice higher education-focused summary of that:  http://college.usatoday.com/2017/04/20/do-controversial-figures-have-a-right-to-speak-at-public-universities/ However, I think that speakers should have to actually know something and be presenting information in good faith, backed by sound research or intelligence, if they are going to come to a campus.
[2] Some historical background on snake oil,mainly because it's pretty cool and interesting:  http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/08/26/215761377/a-history-of-snake-oil-salesmen

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Adjunct Summer Stories, Part I: What is Your Labor Worth?

Adjunct Summer is an ugly time.  So ugly, in fact, that this will be a three-part post as the end of the season draws nigh.  Some of us--the lucky ones that got contracts--will return to work.  Eventually, our schools will pay us.  Some of us have found other work, may all the gods be praised.  Some are trying to navigate unemployment or figuring out what to sell to make ends meet.  That last is no exaggeration.  I have no real jewelry left.  I sold it one summer.

My current position was full time when I took it but moved to part time for the upcoming year unrelated to anything that I did or did not do.  Thus, I began looking for other places to work.  I did not want to be a two-school adjunct again, but it looked as though that would be my life.  Again.  I applied to a Very Large University in need of both full and part-time contingent faculty.  I immediately got an interview.

I don't know if I've just done this so much that I'm immune to interview butterflies or what, but I went in with a No Fucks Given attitude.  I am an excellent teacher.  I missed teaching this past term because my position didn't involve any courses for that time period.  I knew I could do the job and that this school might be suitably impressed with my teaching history and service.  Then things got weird.

It seems that the school is so large and in need of workers that their job applicants for both the full and part-time positions had become mixed.  When I arrived, they assumed I was looking for full-time work and addressed me as such for the entirety of the interview.  Wait.  I used "they" but I did not mean plural they.  I only meant to be ambiguous, for I was interviewed alone by only one person.  Person kept talking about how great the full-time job's salary and benefits were.  In my head, I began to berate myself for not applying.  Surely I should have thought of myself first.  I really need health care.  I'm still limping on days where I walk or stand too much.  I should probably at least have a check-up.  I knew that I could do my part time work and also teach full time.  I had done such before. At the end, the interviewer asked me which I had applied for an
d I said the part-time, but I did say that if they needed full-timers, I might be able to do that.

Person was interested in my story.  Before I left, curiosity got the best of me.  I'd heard this great salary touted without specifics, and benefits are nothing to discount, so I asked, "Exactly how much do your full-time contract employees make?" Sitting here on this famous, flagship campus, I was prepared to be staggered and heartily sick that I had not applied.  I knew full-timers at other systems in the same state could make at least $50,000 a year plus benefits depending on degree.

"$32,000! I couldn't sleep at night otherwise!" said my host.

"I see," I shook my head sagely, thanked my interviewer and tried to find my vehicle again.

That isn't enough money compared to cost of living in that town or the smaller one I'm near.  It was barely over my part-time salary.  In fact, if I added that amount to my part-time salary, I'd be near my full-time pay but doing much more work and wasting far more money in travel expenses.

I started driving home.  Then I got angry.  I already knew that this school's president was a bank breaker nationally.  I'll say in the top five in pay, but it's closer to the top.  My friend, who knew about my interview, curious about the adventure, registered surprise I'd only been interviewed by one person.  She was shocked to find that the salary was less than what she herself made working at the same place more than five years ago.

"Person kept talking about it like they were giving out the Holy Grail!"

Again, that curiosity thing got the better of me.  What exactly was this interviewer's area of expertise? Person looked around my age, so must have had some inkling of the wretched job market.

The person was a labor writing scholar.

I'm done.  I'm done with folks making a name off labor while upholding practices that exploit labor.

News Flash:  You're not actually helping! Not at all.  I know that the salary is better than what many adjuncts get.  My issue is that this particular school certainly spends a lot on other things (like presidents), charges a substantial tuition to its very large student body,  and yet is looking to hire many, many contingent faculty to do THE WORK OF TEACHING WHICH IS ONE OF THE MAIN POINTS OF BEING A SCHOOL IN THE FIRST DAMN PLACE.

Eventually, the place did offer me full-time work.  However, in addition to the salary, I would have had to attend a mandatory week-long orientation (unclear if that was paid or unpaid) and also a class during the term, in addition to teaching four courses for them.  Thankfully, my situation at what is now my home school went back to full for fall.  Bullet dodged.  One more time.

Labor scholars? Give me labor activists any day.  That's who has my back.


(Parts II & III of Adjunct Summer Stories will focus on the fallout of labor activism on my former colleagues and forever brothers and sisters in solidarity.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Adjunct Summer is a Comin' In

It is now the end of my second academic season since beginning this blog.  I'm happy to report that much has changed since this time last year.  I've taken a writing education-related position at a university.  I moved my family a few hours away from our former area for this opportunity and it has proved to be a good choice.  I'm able to help students who need and appreciate assistance in navigating all the things about college life.  This is work with meaning located at a beautiful campus where I feel that I belong.

For the first time in many years, I already have signed summer contracts.  I'm not heading into June with my last paydate circled on my checkbook register and already a tightness in my chest about finances.  This summer, my family will not be living in what I've come to refer to as "The Scrape" -- that horrid period of time when all checks have stopped and even though I've begun working again, the new ones haven't started coming in.  That can be anywhere from one to two months depending on various institutions' pay schedules.  Even writing about it makes my stomach feel queasy, which brings me to this request:

PrecariCorps: Agents for Higher Ed
Need more persuasion to help? Get the tenure track ally point of view here.
If my readers can afford to help adjuncts, please consider donating to PrecariCorps. This is the adjunct 501(C)(3) non-profit trolled by the same wonderful clods who went after me.  This link goes directly to their page where more information and the opportunity to give can be found.  Nothing would please me more than to have PrecariCorps' coffers overflow as a response to the ugliness of the past couple of weeks.  Really, paying it forward is far more useful and productive than an extended internet battle with people who will only hide behind their keyboards and laugh with like-minded buddies.  This will indeed make an immediate difference to the lives of real teachers.

This academic year started out at the ebb tide for me--I felt as though the old things were falling away and rushing off.  I admit I wondered if I were in fact going to be left standing on an empty beach or crushed by an incoming wave of awful.  However, now I am working with a great team to prepare exciting new programming for our students in the upcoming year.  My child who was quite ill is doing well again.  The trees suddenly all burst into leaf and spring returned to our cold corner of the planet.  Now is the time to plant seeds of all kinds.  Make them those that bear good harvest in time.

In Solidarity with Contingent/Casual Faculty Everywhere,

The Unarmed Education Mercenary

Friday, May 1, 2015

I'm NOT your Thought-Exercise

Recently, some libertarian legend in his own mind decided that attacking adjuncts from the safety of his tenure-track, but not yet tenured job would be a good idea.  Obviously this is all the fault of adjuncts for their poor life choices, he wrote as if no one had said this before.  There is no need for me to excoriate that post further because former adjunct and always witty writer Gordon Haber gave it the satirical treatment in "Adjuncts! It's Your Own Damn Fault! That Arrogant Libertarian Troll is Absolutely Right!" and Kevin Carson, contributor at C4SS went directly after it in "Brennan to Adjuncts:  F*** You, Jack! I'm Doing All Right!" If you want to see all the hubbub, check out those two writers, for I won't be linking the original piece.

from When a Stranger Calls (2006)
Some time late yesterday, while I was busy working at my new job, those fun libertarian fellows decided that they should google me and proceed to drag my entire life.  Or at least, as much of my life as they can learn from a simple internet search.  It seems that I definitely should have known better than to try to get into the academic world.  (Spoiler alert, suckers:  I'm already here.  The calls are coming from inside the house.)   They couldn't find any of my published research.  I do have a publication and I have four that I need to revise and resubmit.  My book needs a more suitable publisher.  I have an essay also under consideration for a collection.  Sorry that my timeline isn't moving fast enough for the white dude crowd at the elite academic levels.

Here's the thing, though.  It's pretty easy to reduce me or any other person to a set of data points extracted by the most basic of browsers.  Myself, I generally run three or four if I'm in search of anything.  What none of these searches can turn up are the circumstances of my life because those things are not available.  I'm assuming that these adept researchers must have found my Rate My Professor scores because they decided that I 've put too much time into teaching and I must be a horrible teacher.

Enter this fallacy, which I heard espoused by a graduate professor once who was a terrible teacher himself:  If the faculty member has high evaluations then they aren't asking the students to do anything and are just making friends.

It could not possibly be because the faculty member is, wait for it,

ACTUALLY EXCELLENT AT THEIR JOB.

Things that are true about me that their paltry search likely did not turn up:

1.  I attended an undergraduate school renowned for its education programs at the time.  Schools that needed teachers called the education department directly to staff their classes when I was there--big, fancy new schools out of state wanted their education graduates.  I also won several awards for my teaching even as a student teacher.

2.  My on-paper evaluations by both peers and students are exemplary.  Are there negative ones?  Yes.  Do some folks think my class is easy?  Sure.  Do people fail?  Yes.  People also usually color in the bubble that my class is more work than most of their classes, but they still like it anyway.  My first teaching mentor told me that my Comp I syllabus was too difficult for the student population.  I used a permutation of that syllabus from that day on because it worked well and continues to do so.  I change the readings and assignments as needed, but it is built on a solid pedagogical framework.  My goal is not to fail half of each class but to teach them to write better no matter where they start.  I teach the workhorse courses of higher education.  I'm not there to berate upperclassmen who like Foucault more than Žižek.

3. My past chair called me "the best teacher she knows." Coming from her, that is no small compliment.  That woman ripped my writing to shreds.  She doesn't hand out idle pretty words.

4.  I have not presented much lately or yet gotten my writing published.  Most of this is due to my workload and my family responsibilities.  Other writers have handled the academic mom subject matter recently here, here, and here. It can be difficult to travel on an adjunct salary or write while grading five to six sections of writing composition.  It is also difficult when one's partner is a Veteran with PTSD whom the government turned down for disability.  But hey:  do more research!

5.  Both my Masters degree and my Doctoral one were covered by tuition waivers.  So why then did I take out loans, which libertarians think I should not have done?  I had a son.  Had I been alone I could've lived in squalor and eaten junk every other day.  When a child is factored in, the parent must provide a safe home, food, clothing, and care.  Graduate stipends do not pay for any of that.  Where was that child's father? Oh, he went away, drained the bank account and disappeared without paying child support.

6.  Since I was a first generation graduate school student, I had no idea what I was doing.  The faculty when I enrolled in my program were older and nearing retirement.  That's where the "Good people get good jobs" line came from.  Additionally, no one encouraged publication.  No one offered to co-author or proofread submissions.  Should I have known?  I guess I could've googled it.

7.  According to my stalkers, I searched in too geographically a narrow area.  I'm not sure how they figured this out, especially when it isn't true.  Perhaps I should post my Interfolio receipts.  For several years, I did remain at one school that paid a living wage and gave me benefits. This allowed me to live a good life.  What happened to that situation is chronicled by this blog.


What I feel may be at the center--I was going to say heart, but there isn't one--of these trolls' argument is that they feel we adjuncts don't deserve their highly paid, cushy two-course load positions.  What they are completely missing is that most of the adjuncts who are speaking up and fighting back against these wage theft, un-student centered processes simply want fair compensation for their work.  I would not care to teach six writing courses were I paid the money that amount of work is worth.  For the record, my time on those is not spent in prep but in grading and providing feedback.  However, this requires a person to understand that teaching is a valuable profession and that students are worth more focus than some esoteric article every couple of years that five people will read.

wrong side of the glass
Dudley finds himself on the wrong side of the glass
I do not aspire to be a resident of the ivory tower such as my attackers are.  That is not representative of me or where I am from.  It is also not related to the lives of my students, for the most part.  To continually denigrate the profession of teaching as less than researching is to give the powers that be even more excuse to cut faculty lines, overload courses, and pay all faculty less.  If teaching is mundane then no training is needed and no extra time consideration matters.  Those folks sitting on their haunches throwing slime at adjuncts and teachers from behind the perceived safety glass of tenure may soon find that their situations have changed for the worse.

After all of this, I realize that I would not trade my family, friends, comrades in activism, students, or life as it is for that of one of my hecklers.  I'll still be here fighting for fair treatment of adjuncts and all teachers, as well as a better future version of education for students when these silly ghosts fade into the internet ether to harass someone else for a few laughs.

 Sincerely,

The Unarmed Education Mercenary