Tuesday, September 1, 2009
I am an adjunct living on below poverty wages with an MFA in fiction (I know, useless. God forbid you do something you love!) from Desert State University. I have had stories published multiple times in nationally recognized magazines, but I do not have a book yet, nor a Ph.D. If my wife didn't work full time and make decent money, I'd be dead in the streets.
I teach at Coffee Town College, in Oregon = $2,881 per class. I teach literature and creative writing. My load 2/2/1 (Do the math -- I dare you Mr. $154,000 a year motherfucker! That's $2,881 X 5) because that's all they will offer. Anymore than that, and they'd have to pay health insurance (it's in my union contract, see below). Oh, and I had to pay them $25 for an I.D. w/picture. And parking you ask? I pay my own parking: $7/day if I park in their garage, while street parking is $4.75 for three hours.
I also pay union dues. For what? See above. But I know what you're thinking: Oregon's a "Right to Work" state, so I don't really have to pay union dues. What am I thinking? I'm so stooooopid! I should have a marketing degree!
Now, the bonus of all this is that I'm considered a private contractor. Translation: I can't apply for unemployment when I get laid off. Summers don't count (because I'm a teacher and teachers don't work in the summer, right?)
Now before you start calling me names and saying there must be something wrong with this guy (definitely not a team player!), let me just say that eight years ago when I first started teaching, I was making nearly $35,000 per year as an instructor with a one year contract at Desert Sands University. But things changed and my wife didn't want to stay in the heat. (Yes, these are all choices: I pay Union dues and I hate the desert). Now, since I'm living in a desirable and very "liberal" city (we have a gay parade!), my wages have dropped significantly.
Teachers are a dime a dozen. Imagine an entire city filled with over-educated / underpaid baristas -- then hold that thought. If I had been single and was willing to take a job anywhere, I would probably be on the tenure track by now, but since I wasn't willing to leave my wife (she refused to move to some backwoods town in the mountains), I've had to adjust. In Washington state, and an hour's drive north at Big River College, they offered health care and for awhile I was teaching 4/4/3, but two years ago cut it to 2/2/2. They also have some hidden policy somewhere where they refuse to hire anyone from the area. A dean actually said, "You've been an adjunct for six years? Why haven't you moved on?"
Needless to say, I quit right after that. It was futile. I worked with them for a couple of years, but after watching all of my colleagues (nine fellow adjuncts) passed over on two different occasions for people outside of the area, I decided to try my luck elsewhere. Hence, my current gig where the wages are worse than at a community college like Big River.
My thoughts: At least it's only a twenty minute bus ride ($4/day) to work, and I don't have to leave the city. And at least we don't have a sales tax in Oregon, suckers!
But still, sarcasm aside, I count myself fortunate. I've never had to drive to five different places to scrape together a living like so many of my colleagues have had to do over the years. I also have the most understanding wife in the world and it's a good thing we're independently wealthy (more humor, I can't help myself). Otherwise, I couldn't afford to teach.
So in closing, I hope some of you are paying attention. These policies that I've described above are not unusual to Oregon, or to myself, but have been systematically placed over the years, and they are just a taste of what's to come -- if we don't start holding some of our politicians accountable. Bush may have been talking about Social Security when he mentioned an Ownership Society, but what he was really talking about is a race to the bottom (we'll all be private contractors if they get their way), a system that adjuncts have known about for at least the past twenty years -- I'd argue, ever since Reagan first said, "Intellectual curiosity should not be subsidized."
I hope you enjoy those Ivory towers today, Mr. I'm an Economist! but just wait. You'll all get yours soon enough.
I'd use my full name, but I'm afraid I'd be fired. (Oh wait, I haven't been hired back for fall yet--that happens on September 19, four days before classes begin.)
PS: It's a shame that I enjoy teaching so much. I wish I hated my job like those CEOs at major corporations. They're so stressed out and have such huge responsibilities that companies have to pay them huge sums of cash and bonuses just to keep them around.
PSS: Want to read one of my stories? It just came out last week in Better Than Mediocre Quarterly.
PSSS: I have more stories. Do you want to buy one?
PSSSS: I'm sounding desperate, huh? BTW Are you looking for writers? I'm serious, here. Really. I need a job. I can't keep doing this. My wife is going to leave me. I can feel it.
PSSSSS: I know. I know. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps, the professors keep telling me. It'll come.
PSSSSS: But seriously, do you need a writer? I'm available.