Sunday, March 30, 2014

Reflections on 50 Years as an #ADJUNCT

‘I make a difference every day’. That is a slogan of the American Federation of teachers (AFT), and that is my goal every of my life. Who am I? I am an adjunct, a proud a dedicated adjunct, who makes a difference in the lives of students every day. I spent seven years in College becoming educated in my field so I could go out and teach others how to make the world a better place and how to have a successful career. Fortunately I was able to go to College on merit scholarships and did not have to amass a large student loan debt, as most students do today. I studied and worked hard, I read a lot, I took part in student demonstrations, and I kept up on current events. I was very optimistic and felt I was on a crusade to help change the world with a career in academia

That was fifty years ago. Today, I am a realist, and the reality is scary. While in graduate school studying History and Political Science, I taught myself accounting, figuring it would come in handy doing taxes for me and my family and friends. I never thought that I would make a living and raise a family as a controller rather than a professor. For thirty-five years I worked in private industry, while teaching one or two courses at night in a local college. When my sons were grown and married, my wife and I decided that it was now time for me to follow my real goal and go into college teaching full time. Ha! 

What a lunatic idea to think I could make a living in that manner! It was now the late 1980’s and a new breed of college instructors had inundated academia -- ADJUNCTS. The thought of full time faculty was outrageous according to the community and four year schools. They had discovered a gold-mine in adjuncts: could hire an adjunct for one-fourth of the pay of a full timer and not give any benefits or ‘waste’ and office space.

My life changed in 1988 and I soon became a full time adjunct. No, that is not an oxymoron. I began to make a living grabbing whatever classes I could at whatever colleges had openings. For 27 years I have been a ‘roads scholar’ traveling throughout central and northern New Jersey doing what I do best and love to do- teach. I have had much satisfaction in the success of many students and I have won awards and acclaim for my work. The problem is that I am working much harder now than I did thirty years ago, and taking inflation and the cost of living into account making less money. Does that bother me? Of course, but I am hopefully making a difference in my student’s lives. Is it fair to me and my fellow adjuncts? Of course not, and I have been attempting to change things.

Many times when I am in front of a classroom teaching about our government and our Bill of Rights, I think of myself as a hypocrite. How can I tell my students what civil liberties are afforded to them in the 1st ten amendments when I do not have them as an adjunct? 

Do I have freedom of speech? No, since I am restricted to lecture only on the material covered in the class. Do I have a right to peacefully assemble and complain to the administration? Not if I want a class next semester. Do I have freedom of press? Not if I want to put up a statement of protest on a bulletin board. Do I get a fair and speedy trial by an impartial jury when accused of doing something wrong, or am I simply admonished by the administration and found guilty unilaterally so I can be punished. Am I protected against cruel and unusual punishment? No, I will either be let go or just not brought back. That is cruel. Do I have any rights, only those that we have laboriously negotiated for in our Union contract, and they are minimal.
So, my political scientist side says, why not have an Adjunct Bill of Rights? 

Why not put together rights by the adjuncts and for the adjuncts. This is what I have been fighting for during the past 15 years, the Three R’s of adjuncting- respect, recognition and recompense. Things have gotten better but as the expression goes ‘we have a long way baby’. My generation of adjuncts is literally a ‘dying breed’, and the younger ones coming in do not seem to have the same drive. We must keep the fires burning and motivate the newcomers. We can never settle for the secondary role we are given in colleges and universities. We must continue to fight for our rights and for equity. I do not want to think that my making a difference every day did not have an effect on the future.

Bill Lipkin

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