27th Jan

Who wants to be an Adjunct Professor?

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The CBC’s The Current reveals how adjunct faculty in colleges and university get treated like shit. If you teach in post-secondary institutions, where they only hire one or two full-time people a year, you’re going to be poor. This especially stinks since you’ve spent over a decade in university, and have heaps of debt.

I’m just going to go ahead and include the link to The Current’s story on my Linked In profile, and resume, so I can avoid that inevitable part of every job interview when my interviewer is completely perplexed as to why I’m trying to get and entry level position in an office, instead of sticking to teaching.

Why would you want to leave academia? Surely, we can’t compensate you as a (whatever entry level office position I’m being interviewed for) in the manner of which you must be accustomed as a professor.

The truth is, I worked for $189/a week during the fall, which of course did not cover any of my basic expenses. If it wasn’t for the E.I. that I was receiving, I don’t know what I would have done. I was actively looking for a job at the time, but was not getting any call backs.

In fact, almost every single adjunct faculty member that I know collects E.I. (at least those who have worked enough hours to receive benefits) for 4 months during the summer, and for 2 weeks during the December holidays.  Teaching assignments are scarce over the summer, and instructors often don’t know if they a) have teaching assignments, since they are sometimes handed out a week or 2 before the semester starts and b) if they do have teaching assignments, they might not run. If classes have less than a certain number of students registered the administration will cancel them. And in my experience, they will sometimes cancel courses that have more than the minimum registration satisfied. There is not much time to find temporary employment during these periods. And even if there were, finding an additional job is sometimes impossible. Of course, the colleges typically only pay their instructors for the time that they physically spend in the classroom, and since colleges are closed over the holidays, most adjuncts (who have PhDs and Masters Degrees) are paid nothing.

Whatever, who needs money over the holidays, right?

Contract workers are increasingly taking up a larger percentage of the faculties at colleges and universities. We’re cheap, and frankly, we are desperate. When you get one of these jobs, you feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to use the skills and knowledge that you earned throughout your academic career. At the same time, you know that you’re completely dispensable to the institution.  You are acutely aware that there are hundreds of people just like you that would love your job. And, those in charge are happy to remind you of this fact in both subtle and blatant ways.

I went from being a teaching assistant in a unionized environment. Fuck it, I’ll just be honest- I worked at York University. In 2008\2009 I was on strike with my union. At the time, I was really ambivalent about the whole experience, angry at the administration… and at my union. I thought that some of their demands were a little gratuitous, and I did not like standing in the cold. Plus, some dude threw an apple at my head early on in the strike, which I found really degrading for obvious reasons.

But, a few years later I started working at a college with very little union protection. Like any other adjunct, I operated in a constant state of paranoia. Every time I opened my email, I would take a deep breath for fear that I was in “trouble”. When a member of the administration would walk by, I would tend to sit up straighter,  and smile wider. I was terrified of these people, and for good reason. As a contract worker, no matter how hard you work, or how strong your teaching reviews might be, if a member of the administration decides that they don’t like the look of you, you simply won’t be offered a contract for the next semester, and they will owe you no further explanation or compensation.

Being part of the culture at York involves some intense socialization. During my years there, I would have considered myself to be politically left of centre. But, if you’re left of centre at YU, in any other context, you are a raging radical leftist rabble-rouser.  Granted, most universities in Ontario are left leaning, especially in the social science departments.  Coming from York, I had a real pro-labour movement sensibility, and I had developed the ability to quickly identify exploitative working environments, and extreme power disparities. Many of my colleagues at the college had similar perspectives.

There was such a deep contradiction in the material I was teaching- Marxism, feminism, and a variety of other critical perspectives that sociologists often introduce to their students. In most social science based courses, your goal is to get students to think critically about social structures. You often hope to radicalize, or at the very least democratize your students’ frameworks for seeing the world.  And you’re being paid to do so by an institution that will kick you to the curb if you turn a critical eye towards them.  This contradictory and fucked up situation is difficult to balance. In fact, we are set up to fail.

But, it really isn’t surprising that adjunct faculty get treated like garbage. We live in an increasingly anti-intellectual environment. There is a disdain for higher learning, especially in the social sciences. As I’ve mentioned before, the ideas produced in the social sciences are extremely threatening to those in power.

I’m glad that journalists are covering this. I have spoken to other college instructors who have wanted to write an op-ed about teaching in a college, but have decided against it for fear of damaging their careers. It’s totally fucked up when you’re teaching students how to value democracy, free-speech, equality and accountability, but you are so muzzled by the very institutions that pay you to do so, that you remain silent on the matter – aside from some occasional paranoid whispering in the work room.

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