Who wants to be an Adjunct Professor?

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.


Friends let friends know about their upper lip hair so that they can make informed decisions

I have this friend who is literally the funniest person I know, and I have some pretty funny friends, such as Marcy,  JPEG  and D-Chase, so when I say this, I am not even slightly exaggerating.  In fact, I am not ashamed to say, that throughout my teens, she made my pee my pants laughing on at least 10 different occasions (my mom told me that I was particularly vulnerable to this because “my bladder was still growing”, which sounds super made up when I think about it now). Her wit was, and continues to be razor sharp, and this woman can manage to make anyone crack up.

For our intents and purposes, she shall be known in this post as “Veruca Salt”. I deem her this for 3 reasons:

  1. When I first met her, she reminded me of the stuck-up girl from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, named “Veruca Salt”
  2. Related to reason 1, this friend has a particularly troubling relationship with the 1971 film “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, in that she is terrified of it… well, more specifically, this.
  3. And, finally, since our friendship really blossomed in the 1990’s we can consider her name as a nod to the mostly female grunge band “Veruca Salt”, and also because, we, like every teenage girl in the 90’s loved this.

In addition to being hilarious, Ver is incredibly confident and comfortable. She’s just as content when she gains ten pounds as she is when she loses ten pounds. She eats what she wants. In fact, she once had a “Mac-off” (which entails eating Big Macs competitively) with her brother, and won, consuming 7 burgers consecutively. Another time I went to grab lip gloss out of her purse and came up with a sour cream glazed donut, because she threw it in there earlier.

“What? I always get a donut when I get a coffee, and if I’m not hungry for it yet, I throw it in my purse for later…” (muttered to me indignantly)    

Because of this level of comfort, I feel that she’ll be ok with me sharing the story of her journey towards realizing that she had a bit of a moustache.

I always noticed that Ver had a little upper lip hair, but figured that she was aware of its presence, and genuinely didn’t care that it was there. It seemed consistent with her general attitude towards herself.  She is one of the only women to effectively resist the impact of a culture that makes most of us scrutinize all of our body parts. In fact, I think that she is the sole survivor. But, it turns out that it wasn’t the case that she had come to terms with her upper lip hair; she was just in denial. I discovered this one day when we walked by the place where she gets her nails done.

Veruca: “This is where I get my pedi’s done. They don’t do a bad job. But, they always try to up sell me.  When I was there yesterday, my pedicurist asked me if I wanted them to wax my moustache. Can you believe it?”

Me: “Yeah! You’re happy with the way you look, and you accept your moustache. If she doesn’t like it, then that’s her ish.”

Veruca: “What? Wait! ‘My moustache’? I have a moustache??” (she is shocked and visibly rattled)

Me: “Well… yeah.” (there’s no turning back. It’s time to level with her)

Veruca: “Why would you say that?”

Me: (pulling out a compact, and lifting it to her face, in the natural light of the outdoors) “Because you do.”

Veruca: “I have a fucking moustache!!!” (she admits, while stroking her upper lip hairs, looking horrified into my compact)

Me: “I thought that you knew. I would have told you sooner otherwise.”

As we walked home, I helped Veruca come to terms with her facial hair. She understandably had a lot of questions. I assured her that I, like many of our other friends occasionally use Nair. She even made me mass text them “You have a moustache that you Nair. True or False?”, and when the results of our poll came in, she forced me to go to the drug store with her boyfriend, and spend my money on Nair. Her logic was that since I broke the news, the least I could do was pay.

That evening we drank wine and Naired our upper lips.

By the next morning, she had gotten over the trauma.

Me: “Good morning! How are you?”

Veruca: “I’m great. I feel like I can do anything. There’s no moustache holding me back!”

Although I was sad to see that Ver hadn’t eluded this form of bodily shame, I was happy that I was able to be there for her throughout this process.

To this day, she texts me whenever she uses Nair.

But, I miss her moustache and what it symbolizes.


I realized how annoying I was when everyone else started to annoy me

Sometimes I think about my education and I have to laugh. The whole thing is really ironic (although I’m convinced that I, like most people systematically misuse that word). As a student in Sociology, I learned about all sorts of interesting and sad relationships between variables like ‘race’, gender, education, geographic location and their impact on other variables like poverty, socio-economic status, income, and… unemployment. My current unemployment, which I discussed/whined about two weeks ago , has made me a part of that category.  Back then, I never would have seen “unemployed” as a relevant personal adjective… But, Kevin O’Leary probably did.

Holy smokes, do I ever hate that guy.

In graduate school, I had access to the most recent census data, and would run correlations just for kicks to see how all of these abstract variables worked together in real life. Looking back, it was kind of a callous and voyeuristic thing to do.

It was just really cool to see strong significant relationships between certain variables…

Well what do you know? People living in X city are highly likely to report that they have mobility issues. That’s so interesting. Wait… most Canadian women my age are married?”

It wasn’t just me; the other social scientists in the lab would all get excited when a statistical relationship was strong enough to support whatever argument we were trying to make.

“When we take X out and add Y, the data shows that there is a strong statistically significant relationship between X measure of poverty with both ‘race’ and gender! This evidence supports that shit I thought up last week. I’m totally publishing it, then I’m going to put on a suit and present my findings at a conference, where I get to wear a lanyard with a clear plastic pocket containing my name in typed in a large font!”

I’m not saying that sociologists don’t produce important findings. If they go on to inform progressive changes in policy, or attitudes, which they often do than that work is extremely important. But, looking back, the irreverence with which I sometimes treated these abstractions makes me feel icky.

Formerly sanitized, I am part of the quickly expanding unemployment statistic (which recently hit 10% in Toronto) … a figure that I used to hear, and empathetically shake my head. Now that I’m “a statistic”, albeit a bit of an outlier, I’m feeling pretty sheepish about some of the attitudes I held in the past.

I should clarify that I was never one of those people who think that unemployment is a personal rather than public issue. I was never guilty of saying any of the tired hateful shaming shit or posting the charming anti-welfare memes that I see online. In fact, as I saw it, I was a good leftist, even an ally , but, by virtue of my belief that experiencing terrifying economic insecurity myself was not a possibility, I clearly felt, on some level that the poor did something to bring it on themselves. And that’s pretty shitty.

Ok. *Trigger warning * I’m about to quote W.E.B. Du Bois out of context and relate it to my own experience, which I realize might be interpreted as a stupid entitled white girl appropriating some seriously sacred shit. And fine, I see your point.  You’re probably right. But, hear me out.  And please know that I am not comparing my plight to Du Bois’, because that would just be stupid.

“To the real question, how does it feel to be a problem?” – Du Bois

As students in a seminar course, we would often discuss various forms of oppression. We would sit around a table, making concerned faces at each other, quoting Michel Foucault or bell hooks, or Gayatri Spivak (Ok, so I wasn’t smart enough to quote her accurately or coherently) to make sense of these forms of oppression. And, I like everyone else in the class was genuinely concerned.

When I was outside of the classroom, a combination of intellectual curiosity, empathy, privilege, show-offery and total ignorance (and probs booze if I’m being honest) would lead me to want to engage people who were members of groups that experience oppression.  When I saw an opportunity to discuss colonialism with someone who was Native, fro example, I would be all over it. And if she was a woman, she was not going to leave our conversation without me dropping Sandra Lovelace’s name and discussing her legacy. That was a sad fact. I cringe when I think about how annoying I was.

My point is, looking back, I wasn’t a perfect pure of heart sociologist… no one is. In fact most of us, whether we will admit it or not, are raging misanthropes.  And by sometimes focusing on the dimensions of certain people’s identities that were affected by structural inequalities, I was treating them like “a problem” Despite what I thought were good intentions, it was objectifying (like me running stupid cross-tabs with Census data).

I didn’t know how patronizing and annoying this was until recently.

I’ll be having a conversation with a casual left-leaning acquaintance. We will be talking about something topical or interesting, and then something like this will happen:

CLLA: “So, I heard that you’re not working right now [Quiets voice- which all of the sudden sounds serious, places hand on my knee or shoulder, furrows brow]. You know, this part of a larger issue… blah, blah, Noam Chomsky, blah, blah…  And a lot of economist have made pretty strong arguments for universal guaranteed income… there have been pilot projects, you know? [concerned face softening into empathetic smile].

This has happened to me a few times, and I truly appreciate that these folks have the best intentions. They were my intentions at one point too. And I just never knew that I sounded so patronizing and arrogant.

The whole experience hasn’t been fun – although, one of the perks is that I haven’t gotten sick this winter, since I’m rarely around other people.  But, being made to feel like a problem, and the patronizing undertones (subconscious or not) have added a surprising dimension to this experience.

Admittedly, I can be particularly difficult to talk to about sensitive issues like this. I have this involuntary talent for turning even the most supportive things people say into scathing insults and taking great offense.

So, there are evidently many ways in which I take up ‘annoying’.

I should probably make a list (it is the Internet afterall, and it works like a charm for buzzfeed): “Ten things not to say to an Unemployed Person”, or something…






Google’s Autocomplete Prophecy

Google’s autocomplete has never failed to confirm my worst concerns and fears about human beings.  But, today, after beginning the search “PhDs and…”, I became convinced that this pesky involuntary unpaid sabbatical that I’m currently NOT AT ALL enjoying might be just a little persistent.


Friends support and tolerate friends’ Rediculousness

I have this other friend, who I’ll call Marcy Runkle, mostly because she reminds me of Marcy Runkle. Marcy and I have been friends for a long time… since the early 90s. She’s fun, smart, and conscientious but very occasionally can be a little reckless and impulsive. And although she is normally pretty intuitive when it comes to understanding people, their relationships, and their intentions, there have been times when her definition of a situation is so divergent from my own- and in fact, everyone else’s- that I sincerely doubt her ability to rationally assess any social context. I’m going to share with you one such instance.

Marcy has always had a soft spot for older guys. When I was younger, I might have even called it a “fetish”, which is kind of jerky. If we were out on a Friday in our early 20s, it would be the “after work” guys wearing suits in their 30s and 40s that would catch her eye. While we were trying to get our night started, they would be trying to peel themselves away from the pub, probably to feed their kids, and walk their dogs. Looking back, all of these men would make terrible partners. Anyways, she had a thing.

It should be mentioned that Marcy is a professional. She works hard and takes her career seriously.

One day a few years back, she gets a call from Pierce Brosnan to come see him in his office (that’s not actually his name, but that’s how she describes him physically, and I’m happy to picture him like that). Anyways, he’s a handsome older man in his early 50s, and Marcy has always had the feeling that he found her attractive (women know these things…  or at least they think they do… but, most likely it is the case that my friends think that everyone finds them attractive). In any event, she found him attractive too.  Pierce is also the VP of a large company. Marcy heads down to his office, knocks on his door and walks in. What happens next is one of those instances where her definition of reality is dubious, to say the least.

She proceeds to tell me about it later that week:

Marcy: “When I walked in, I immediately noticed that Pierce’s nipples were rock hard” (smiling at me, like this is supposed to mean something to me).

Me: “So, was his office like cold?”

Marcy: “No, his blazer was hung up on the other side of the room. Obviously, when he knew that I was coming down, he took it off, and tweaked his nipples until they were both hard, and prominent in his dress shirt.” (Looking at me like I should have taken this fact for granted, and slightly annoyed that she had to explain it)

Me: “Why? Why would you think that this happened? How is your conclusion even a little bit logical?”

Marcy: “It’s his classic old timey moves. Women of a certain age would have found this attractive. It’s like a display of his virility.”

Me: “The words that you are saying are nonsense. Where are you getting this? Did your mom tell you that? Are you sure that we are talking about straight men seducing straight women? (I’m exasperated, but so totally amused) Fine, then what?”

Marcy: “We went to lunch and he basically offered me a job.”

Me: “That’s amazing. Congratulations! When do you start? It might be awkward when you’re trying to get work done, while distracted by his raging manly nipple erections.”

Marcy: “I had too much wine at lunch, and in my head I told him that ‘I’m flexible’, but my mouth actually said, ‘I’m flexible… in more ways than one’… and I might have winked. You know I get heavy lidded when I drink. Needless to say, I’m not working for him.

Me: “So are you willing to admit that maybe he wasn’t trying old timey moves on you, and was perhaps a little cold, and the lunch was actually a business lunch motivated by an interest in you as a professional?”

Marcy: “Nope. But, now when I see him I give him sex eyes just to make him uncomfortable.”

Clearly, this is ridiculous, and the conversation perfectly illustrates her occasional inability to interpret simple social cues. It could even be that her brain is biased towards seeing sexy results. I am not sure why it sometimes goes so wrong for her.

Often, a some measure of time elapsing is required in order for us to understand any event with better clarity. I think that’s actually the point of History. So, when I recently asked Marcy about this ‘business meeting’, I was expecting her to have a more rational and accurate perception of the whole thing.

I was wrong. In fact, when asked, she said (and I am literally pasting this from a message): “I still think my assessment is accurate. He just got scared.”

I am sure that he was scared, extremely so.


Unemployed people hate mondays more than you do.

Did I mention that I don’t have a job? The holidays are officially, officially over, since it is the first Monday after New Year’s Day. This is the first time in over a decade that I haven’t been in an educational institution welcoming a new semester… the second semester when everyone stops trying, and no one gives a shit anymore. This is in deep contrast to first semester, when everyone is fresh, shiny and motivated. In fact, in the education industry, Labour Day is actually more like New Year’s Day and New Year’s Day is more like a Sunday after a weekend bender.

Anyways, for the first time in a long time, I’m not in a classroom, surrounded by girls in their late teens who treat legging as pants. It is not pleasant. In fact, it is pretty fucking painful. This, despite the fact that the weather is horrifyingly icy and the thought of leaving the house is scary.

Being without work is difficult at every time of year, but for different reasons. The financial aspect of it is beyond terrifying. Thinking about how I might pay my bills at the end of the month incites enough anxiety that my eyeballs begin to get a little wet. In addition to meeting my material needs, the isolation from my culture is increasingly troublesome. In fact, it is difficult to have an identity when you aren’t working.

“So, what do you do?”

 “Me? I occasionally write a blog post that 3 people will read (me being one of them), but mostly I like to read lists on the world wide web.”

 I get jealous of seeing ‘friends’ posts about dreading the upcoming work week.  I wish that I could hate Mondays again for those reasons, instead of hating them because I miss the feeling of being normal on the weekend. I get to pretend that I’m like everyone else. On Mondays, I go back to feeling… quite frankly, like a loser or a failure.

So, why not just get a job, right?

I’ve had friends and former partners who have struggled with employment. I was always extremely sympathetic and supportive, but I was secretly kind of judgey. I definitely felt that I would never find myself in a position where I couldn’t find work. There are 100s of job postings, I literally graduated at the top of my undergraduate class, went on to do great work in graduate school, and successfully taught dozens of college courses. I also own two very sharp looking blazers. Surely finding a job would not be hard if I ever found myself without work. Besides, I have a pretty extensive network of successful friends, and a strong work ethic. Employers would be lining up to get a piece of this on their payroll. Easy peasy lemon squeezy, right?

It has been humbling to discover that I was wrong.

I think that a great deal of my situation can explained through structural issues. The meme, “Old Economy Steve” helps to illustrate this. Adam Weinstein’s great post “I’m Gen Y, and I’m Not a Special Snowflake. I’m Broke.” not only articulates the frustrations that millennials encounter trying to survive economically, but also provides us with a way of beginning to understand the larger forces that prevent economic independence from occurring.  By the way, I realize that I am liberally defining myself as a “millennial” considering I’m born in 1980, but the balance of my bank account represents some pretty hard evidence suggesting that I can safely identify with this generation.

Also, I realized relatively early in my search that applying to online job posting mostly lead you to a dead end. Many organizations post positions online, but only as a formality. Many times, they have an internal candidate in mind, and have no real intention of interviewing external candidates. This has been confirmed to me by a hiring manager. But, I knew this after applying to many positions on Charity Village, Workopolis, etc. and despite being perfectly qualified, my applications were never acknowledged. I have even apply-cried (where you cry tears of defeat while composing your cover letter) to jobs I would have been qualified for when I was in high school. Even then, no response.

So, this really leaves people in my position with networking. This means that you have to assess the types of careers that your family and friends have, and see if they are willing to allow you to exploit them to use their resources. If you are lucky, some of them will. Fortunately, I have some people doing that on behalf, and even still the process (interviews, etc.) moves at a glacial pace.

Over the holidays, I did ask around at the mall if they were hiring. That was weird. Turns out they don’t do much hiring after the holiday season. *secretly relieved*

So, please trust me when I say that this is a challenging process. If you’ve never gone through it, you likely have the privilege of thinking that it couldn’t happen to you, or that if it did, you would have a better strategy. If this is the case, I really hope that you are never in a position to find out just how difficult it is.




Toilets are not Accessories

I think that I will return my friendship profile series eventually, but today I feel like reflecting on some of the ridiculous experiences that I had when I was a single girl, and dating. As I have mentioned before, I am typically in a relationship, but when I did find myself single, I would pretty much throw myself into the dating scene – whatever that might be, within a matter of hours. I’m not saying it was smart or healthy, but it was fun. And fun, whether or not it is smart or healthy, ranks pretty high on my priority list, in that I feel that I should be having it whenever possible, and sometimes even when it isn’t possible.

I would find guys to date in a variety of places, including, but not limited to bars and grocery stores. I also took advantage of charitable married friends, who felt, by virtue of being married, that they were qualified match makers.  I have even scrolled through my Facebook friends, dating a few of them. And, of course whenever I got more serious about finding a boyfriend, I’d set up a dating profile online.

Just kidding, that would actually happen when I got drunk and sad. In fact I’ve never put together an online profile while both eyes are still functioning together – I one-eye typed up all 3 of them.  The first time I set up an account on Plenty of Fish, I had forgotten about the whole thing, until I checked my email in the morning, and was greeted by a bunch of emails from the site, notifying me that I had mail.

What I’m trying to say is that I have quite a few resources to for my dating stories. I’ll start with my favourite…

So, JPEG and I headed out for drinks on a random Thursday night. While we were having our cocktails, some nice looking fellows struck up a conversation with us. The one who was talking to me was actually really cute.  He was articulate, wore glasses, and had the lanky look that I was into at the time. So, early in the evening, I agreed to head out on a date with him at some point in the near future. But, because JPEG and I were apparently feeling particularly reckless that day, we decided it would be smart to head back to this dude’s house for a night cap. Looking back, this is a horrifyingly unsafe thing to do, and if my mother knew about it, she would be shocked and disappointed.

As the night progressed, my initial feelings of attraction began to fade. On the cab ride over, he mentioned that he votes Conservative. That was a huge blow, but at the time, I didn’t necessarily see it as a red flag. It wasn’t until I used his bathroom that I knew that our love could never be.

It wasn’t dirty. It was pretty clean, actually. But, there was something in his bathroom that clearly revealed he was pretentious, insincere and insecure.  There, on the back of his toilet, was a copy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “The Social Contract”. Seriously. Rousseau? A primary text that second year politics students read… once, only to be stored on a dusty bookshelf with your other university course readers.  He honestly had an 18th century text book in his powder room– the bathroom right by the front door. The one that guests use.

It isn’t that I take issue with people who read in the bathroom. If I saw a newspaper, an ‘Auto-trader’, a magazine, a novel or even some empty shampoo bottles (the ingredients and instructions make for a nice quick, light read), I would not judge. Even if he had contemporary pretentious reads like something by Noam Chomsky, I would have reconciled it somehow. But, this combined with what I saw as his “bad politics” was too much.

I saw this as what sociologists would call an “identity announcement”. This man was attempting to tell house guests something about himself by using this prop in his powder room. Except, I think that there was a discrepancy between the message he want to send, and the message he actually sends…

Desired Impact: I am smart and deep. So smart and deep, in fact that I read social theory while I poop. While I poop!!! Imagine what I read when I’m not distracted by manipulating my sphincter! Imagine the places I go! Have sex with me.

Actual Impact: This guy is shallow, has never read Rousseau (maybe just his wiki), and randomly pulled one of his old text books off the shelf to cover his insecurities.  Up next? “The Communist Manifesto”… at least it is a short read.

We never made it to our date, as I promptly cancelled it a respectful 2 days before the event. Maybe I find it pleasantly ironic that on some level he actually broke an implicit “social contract”… the one where you don’t look desperate to appear smart.