Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

The Slow Burn

with 6 comments


I’m going to get off on a little tangent today, and I’ve got no idea if I spelled that correctly. 

But the term has just about started, and I’m about ready to explode.

First, you have to understand that I don’t teach to make a living.  My actual full time job, and the one that pays me the significant part of my income, is the writing I do, both the books and the magazines I sometimes work for, and the things that come out of that work, like the occasional speaking engagement. 

I started teaching about ten years ago on a part time basis mostly in order to get out of the house and have people to talk to.  Bill had died, and I had two young children.  I was living out in the middle of nowhere.  I almost never got to talk to adults.  My friends and my work life was in New York, and New York was not around the corner.

The place I chose to teach at was a small institution close to where I live, where I knew people on the faculty.  It was, and is, also a place that admits many students from what can only be called “low performing high schools”–meaning high schools that don’t teach their students much.  Some of these students are local, and some come from fairly far away.  There’s a significant population out of inner city New York City, and especially from schools around Crown Point. 

Even when I originally started teaching there, this was probably the worst gig in the area–it pays literally half of what I could get at the local community college, for instance, and the student population is (as I’ve noted here several times) deeply depressing. 

I think my idea, when I started, was that I could be of use to the students who walked into my classroom.  It’s very rare that somebody with my credentials is willing to teach in a place like this, never mind somebody with my publishing record. 

A couple of years ago, however, this school was taken over by a group of people that changed it from a nonprofit to a for-profit institution, and with that change came a number of other changes that have been driving me completely nuts. 

One of those changes has been in the approach to the students.  We’re putting enormous pressure on retention, and because of that there’s also enormous pressure to get people to pass. This has resulted in policies towards things like student attendance and late assignments, so that we now approach college students in a way that I would find excessively restrictive in high school.

But the biggest difference has been in the policies pertaining to adjuncts–and this place is virtually all adjuncts.  There was, last I checked, exactly one full time member of the English department in a small university that probably runs twenty English course sections a term.

The first indication that things were going very wrong had to do with a copier, of all things, on the second floor of the building where most English classes were held.  One morning,we all got e-mails telling us that the passwords for that copier had been changed, that it was to be used by full time faculty only, and that adjuncts should walk halfway across campus to the library if there was anything they wanted to copy. 

It was the kind of petty crap that drives me right up the wall, but it was petty crap, and I thought I had a good idea of who was probably behind it, so I wrote it off as adolescent bullying and got back to work.

The petty crap kept coming, though, and after a while it was no longer so petty.

First was the supplies issue–full time faculty could get supplies from the school, but adjunct faculty were required to buy their own.  Grade books, markers, smart markers for use on the white boards, pens, paper, paperclips–if you’re here full time, the college gives them to you, if you work here part time and need something, tough luck.  Pay for it yourself. 

Second are the services–not only are adjuncts restricted to a single copier in an inconvenient location, but only full time faculty can get their copies made by the university copy department.  If you have a lot of big jobs to do that the library copier can’t handle, and you’re part time–well, better head for Staples and pay for it yourself, because that’s the only way it’s going to get done. 

Third was the situation with parking.  There had always been some spaces in the faculty parking lot that were reserved for particular full time faculty, but now virtually all of them were so marked off, and the college began to threaten that anybody else in “full time” spaces would get towed.

This is a bigger thing than you’d think, because there really aren’t any other lots close to where English adjuncts teach, and most of them are student lots which require a good long hike to campus. 

But the kicker came at the start of this term.  From now on, adjunct faculty–but not full time faculty–most agree to an “investigative credit background check,” and in doing so sign away the right to sue or otherwise bring a complaint for the way that information is used.

It’s not the background check in itself that bothers me.  It’s the fact that it’s ONLY applied to adjunct faculty.

Now, the simple facts of the matter are this:

First, I’ve got significantly better credentials than most of the people who work here full time. 

Second, I can get paid better virtually anywhere else in the area.

And third, NO OTHER PLACE makes these kinds of distinctions between full time and adjunct faculty.  At both our local community college and the branch of our state university and the two other small colleges near here, any kind of faculty parks anywhere it wants in any of the faculty lots, the copiers and copier services are open to everybody, the supply cabinets are open to everybody, and adjunct faculty are not required to jump through any other  hoops than the full time faculty are.

At the end of last term, I felt burned out.

At the beginning of this term, I felt better–but I’ve been back fewer than two days, and I’m fed up.

You have to pay people with something.  If you don’t pay them with money–and this place really doesn’t–then you pay them with respect.

And right now, I’m being treated like garbage.

Written by janeh

January 20th, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses to 'The Slow Burn'

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  1. What a mess! It almost sounds like they’re trying to force the adjuncts to quit, but where’s the point in that if they’re so big a part of the workforce? Or it could be simple idiocy – that should never be underestimated. It might be some manager in some office somewhere who hasn’t the faintest idea of how to run a college and still insists on doing things his or her way. Education-as-a-business does seem to require cutting costs and money spent on basic resources plus guaranteed graduation and jobs, but they do need somebody to teach, or at least spend time in the classroom. The local equivalents mostly didn’t last long – I think education for profit is very difficult unless you limit it in some way – concentrate on tutoring reading skills or something. One of the veterans of a private school (post-secondary) bankruptcy here supposedly ended up in Florida advising people on how to make money running such a place.


    20 Jan 10 at 2:07 pm

  2. One sees the bureaucratic beauty of the thing. They’re not paying you: they’re paying the full-time faculty in enhanced prestige BY not paying you. The more petty restrictions and costs they force on adjuncts, the higher the (relative) prestige of the full-timers.

    Yes, of course they’ll lose adjuncts–but maybe not so many as you think. If this is the lowest-paying college teaching gig in the area, the adjuncts either can’t get into the others or–like you–aren’t primarily in it for the money. You want “to be of use to the students,” and their objective is to pay you as much in satisfying that desire and a little in money and faculty prestige as they can get away with. For that matter, replacing you with someone less capable won’t bother them unless and until the loss of capability gets so obvious it affects enrollment.

    Incidentally, it’s not the “for profit” that causes the problem. Plenty of government agencies and charities are just as bad. The problem is we’ve set up a system in which they can sell diplomas rather than training or education. At that point, any teacher better than the worst they can hire and maintain accreditation is a waste.

    It’s an administrator’s way of thinking. And I’m sure the fact that many of them enjoy the pettiness and form-filling is part of their compensation package.


    20 Jan 10 at 5:07 pm

  3. Studies have shown that those who feel they have the most control over their working environment have the highest job satisfaction, regardless of other factors, including what the job is.

    As they nibble away at your control over your working day, and marginalize you and the other adjuncts more and more, your job satisfaction cannot possibly improve. Time to move on. Really. You’re not in it for the money, which makes salary negotiations really easy. You want students you can actually benefit and a place that affords you a modicum of respect for the job you do and the credentials you’ve earned.

    These administration drones (pity them in their inadequacy) will eventually reap the rewards of their mismanagement when the graduates enter the work force, even more pitifully unprepared for real life because they’ll have been rewarded simply for showing up by the dregs they’ll get to replace you. That word gets around in the work world, believe me, that hiring a graduate of Your School is the kiss of death, and given the situation now where employers with an actual job have their choice of many experienced and/or properly educated applicants, the worm will turn around and erupt right under their feet.

    Wow. What a tortured metaphor. The point being that under-served graduates will demand their money back, or some other satisfaction.

    Leave them to stew in their own juice. In your exit letter or interview, make it plain why you’re leaving. Name names. They won’t care, but it ought to make you feel better. When they’re scraping the bottom of the barrel to try to keep the fourth or fifth adjust from quitting after taking your classes, perhaps they’ll take another look at the Administrators From Hell.


    20 Jan 10 at 8:29 pm

  4. Begone! Don’t even look back.


    21 Jan 10 at 12:25 am

  5. I agree with Lymaree and Mique. Leave!


    21 Jan 10 at 4:29 am

  6. I’d never put up with that! Out you go!


    22 Jan 10 at 9:27 pm

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