Saturday, October 13, 2007

Adjunct Agitation.

Highway Helga's post from yesterday has proven to be one of the biggest response generators we've ever had. But despite the fact that Highway Helga is now officially the 235th poster who hates the made-up name we've given her - seriously, everyone, we're just some pudknockers having fun - we're very grateful for the thought-provoking post, one that has really brought light to a situation many of our tenured and tenure-track folks are frankly a little astonished by.

We've got such a vast pool of things to pull from, we thought we might give you a sampling of the mail that has been coming in since yesterday morning, in addition to a couple of longer posts we'll post later.

  • I used to be a freeway flyer adjunct before I got on the tenure-track gravy train & all I can say is that Helga must have a good crystal meth dealer because that is the only thing that could animate the corpse that is madly dashing around teaching 11 courses. I once taught six and it nearly killed me. To answer your questions: No, it’s not fair to the students & it’s not fair to – or good for – Helga. Helga’s situation, though, is the reductio ad absurdum of the system that has developed over the last thirty years in which college administrators cut one corner after another and patch the mess that’s left with adjunct hires. But self-exploiters like Helga don’t help. Helga, Just Say No!

  • I’m also an adjunct in a large metro area, and I understand how Helga could end up teaching 11 classes. There’s always a university or two begging on my college’s doorstep for additional adjuncts to pick up a class or two. It’s hard to resist that extra money just waving itself in my face. That said, my first reaction was to think, “My GOD, that woman’s INSANE!!!!” My second, more reasoned, reaction was, “Gosh, I hope she’s teaching something with an easier grading load, like math, rather than grading tons of English papers!” My third thought, having actually given it some thought, is “Well, yeah, that’s totally doable.” Although I have no idea how she’s getting from campus to campus that quickly or keeping up with the lesson plans, as long as it’s not too many different classes and they use the same book/books, it sounds reasonable and workable to me.

  • We’ve found that the adjuncts that do this normally have so many shortcuts to make it doable for them that the students are “breezed” through—i.e. Large Group Labs, lab experiments done as a demonstration and the students work up the data as a group, no homework, few if any quizzes, minimal exams (that aren’t tough enough to distinguish A’s from B’s). The students get exactly what they want (large grade, small effort), the tenured faculty get what they want (a body in the classroom that is not them), and the administration gets what it wants (large volumes of students pushed through with minimum pay-scale instructor). Everyone wins… except education.

  • Adjuncts are essential economically for colleges today. If it weren't for us, enrollment would have to stagnate and drop, or tuition would increase beyond ridiculous. Even working as hard as I do, I barely make half the salary of an untenured full time instructor at any of the colleges where I teach, with no benefits. I have an office at one of the universities, not that I have time to sit in it often and mull over my fate! I'm not complaining, whining or even bitter. I'm actually happy - just tired.

  • I think “Helga” is probably pretty delusional to think that she is able to teach 11 classes and give her all for each of her special snowflakes. I also had course load of 11, and I wanted to rip my own eyes out! I was constantly reading and grading papers, the only “me” time I had was on the toilet. I even dreamed about ways to better grade papers and had student comments, questions, and lame-ass answers/excuses plaguing my dreams. I know I was breezing through my grading just to get it done and be able to sleep a few hours a night. I also know my in-class students weren’t getting my best because I was so freaking tired all the time! I got stellar evaluations also. I don’t know if it’s because I was not as picky with my grading or I am just that fabulous of a person, but I have a sneaking suspicion of what the answer is. On top of that, speaking as a professional in the field of psychology, it doesn’t look like she is devoting enough time to herself to be a balanced individual. We cannot live through our students and work every waking minute. Life is short and if you only half-ass your way through an insane schedule, not only are you cheating your students, but also yourself.

  • Here we go again with the exploited adjunct issue. I AM an adjunct, by the way, but after years of whining and crying "exploitation," I have come to realize that adjuncts have created their own sorry state of affairs by becoming academic whores, willing to turn academic tricks every semester for peanuts. Adjuncts will finally pull their heads out of a very dark (and dank) spot when we demand certain rights and perks afforded to our tenured "peers": 1) Organize into STRONG unions; 2) Demand fair pay for the excellent job most of us do; 3) Demand pro-rated benefits, such as health care, retirement, professional travel, and education; 4) Insist on two-year contracts; if enough adjuncts do this, then colleges will be forced to negotiate fair contracts for their part time instructors; 5) Insist on reasonable office space. Broom closets and cars are unacceptable; 6) Refuse to be marginalized; we have the numbers to back us up. Speak up and out--and often.
  • Oh, lord. I thought I had it bad at five. The reaction I get from most people when I tell them "five" is one of horror - how can I do that much? And I've only got them spread around three colleges. I don't know how Helga manages it. How does she keep the classes straight? How does she manage to be at the right place at the right time? I've had two horrible days where I realized I had the wrong books, on the wrong campus, at the wrong time. More classes would only compound the error. Also, surely her numerous departments would disapprove. I spend a ridiculous amount of time "covering my tracks." All three of my schools frown on those who teach at more than one place. (Of course, obeying their rules would leave me homeless and hungry and at the mercy of collection agencies.) I don't think my students are getting my best teaching effort. I often leave class with the feeling of regret that I can't linger to talk to the one or two fresh-eyed students who really have things to contribute. I can't put the time in to preparing for the classes that I would like to. I won't change textbooks because there is no time for me to review new ones. But given the way adjuncts are paid...and there any way our students can get "our best effort"?

  • Bless Highway Helga's long-suffering little heart. By accepting such conditions, she is a huge part of the problem, and if she expects sympathy, it won't be forthcoming from THIS quarter. This adjunct, by the way, tried to organize her part time peers; however, no one wanted to "rock the boat." The hell with you all; I hope you LOVE wallowing in your self-misery.