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.)

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