Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Names 101: Administrative Term; Adjunct. is a Falsehood

Editor's note (forewords, like afterwords, being traditional and jealously guarded prerogatives): hopefully the perennial but yet to be resolved topic of what to call ourselves and why will draw contributors and commenters out of silent seclusion for lively but respectful dialog and productive discussion. Over the transom contributions in the name of your choice (subject to personal editorial standards) are welcomed and cherished. Confidentiality and troll free zone guaranteed. 

The yet to be named (appreciate the irony?) series opens with a piece from Thomas Paine 2nd.  Naming suggestions invited for this series, the first of many Discussions for Change to follow. A more detailed preliminary post and true foreword will follow in due course. 

Here's to more common sense in the profession. (Aside to TP2 wannabes: don't nick this nic. It's taken).

The Administrative Term, "Adjunct," is a Falsehood 

The dictionary stresses that "adjunct" is an auxiliary role. Yet here I am staring down at a contract with the term "adjunct" next to my name and realizing that I will be as central in my classroom, and as much an authority over my curriculum, as I was as an associate professor. Since 9/11 I have had a gradual, rude awakening that the field I had embarked upon as a chipper graduate student at MIT was dissolving into a "managed education" nightmare where the noble role of a professor, and the profundities of the world presented by such, was being undercut at every turn by a generation of under-educated managers. A majority of these people have no roots in teaching, research or the arts. They just don't "see" what they are destroying.

A shallow business culture has replaced the passions and commitment once embodied by men and women of letters, and this ethic is beginning to permeate the rest of society. Money is earmarked for plush office furniture, dining hall remodeling and administrator salaries. This money is taken wholesale from faculty and staff salaries. Students and their parents are prevented from seeing the shift in priorities, the intellectual pogrom as it were, because the expensive marketers hired by these same administrations insist on calling all teachers "members of the faculty."

Yet we "adjuncts" are under pressure from every quarter to do the same job of a properly paid professor. Students, parents, evaluation rituals, and an endless stream of administration memos ask us to rise to the occasion and do our part to fill in the gap left over by the insincere budgeting. And this compensation begins right at the starting gate. I recall how the department chair who hired me waved my résumé in the air and excitedly showed it to a colleague. He had no hesitation in praising my professional value. I was lead to believe that the administration hired me because they needed an authority on my subject and no one else at that college could handle the material. They boasted that I would receive the "highest pay" for an adjunct, yet this was less than half that of professors who were younger, less experienced and with fewer children to feed. It's a total disgrace.

How can any of this be happening? Who am I actually adjunct to? To whom or what am I a supplement?
No one in the more fairly paid crew of tenure-track professors or administrators comes close to knowing my field or proving themselves in the push and pull of publishing. Wouldn't they, in effect, be auxiliary to me? They've already asked me to provide free consulting half a dozen times this year. And yet this contract I'm holding asks that I teach a full load of 3 classes at less than half the pay and no health insurance and no retirement package.

And aren't the majority of faculty in this country actually essential to the mission of teaching and research? Isn't the administration, in its smaller numbers and less complex tasks, auxiliary to the faculty? Historically the administrators were hired by faculty to take care of basic operations. How did the cart start pulling the horse?

The adjunct label is a change in surfaces, a skin change, and it is used quite cynically to justify discrimination. My black friends, when I tell them of the ballooning adjunct farce in the United States, react with intense dismay and instantly recall the civil rights struggles of the 60s. What adjuncts are up against is almost as insidious. Dr. Seuss said it best with his story of the Sneetches: The Sneetches' class system had nothing to do with actual degrees or accomplishments. Those Sneetches  with stars on their bellies got better treatment – and that was that.

What if a majority of the nation's professors, those so-called "adjuncts," were to hold a "no-confidence" vote in the educational status quo? What if we sent out a press release to the major news organs and announced a failing grade to the administrators across the land? If the students and their parents were to doubt this no-confidence vote, they would be doubting the authorities they have paid so dearly to trust.

I'll be the first to vote no-confidence  in US higher education. I've had it with the falsehoods, the contrived inequality and the punishing living conditions. This sham is over.

Thomas Paine the 2nd


     1) Something added to another thing but not essential to it. 
  • Google Dictionary 1) A thing added to something else as a supplementary rather than an essential part


  1. Is it about the term or the condition? I'm all for calling people whatever they prefer to be called. When it comes to job titles, my preferences are not that strong, but I am curious about why there's such a fuss over adjunct vs contingent

  2. The whole name-calling game is a farce, my friend.

    ALL SYNONYMS FOR ADJUNCT justify financial exploitation.

    And don't tell me you LIKE being exploited because it gives you "flexibility." If a person chooses to teach just one class per semester for the extra time needed for child-rearing or research, she should receive a THIRD of a salary not a TENTH. And THAT proper compensation would give you INCREASED flexibility.

    If an institution of higher learning is calling its teachers "members of the faculty" and paying them less than their differently-labelled brothers and sisters (i.e. different skin colors) then the government of the people should step in and downgrade that institution to a trade school.

    In fact, that is precisely what has become of most colleges and universities in the US. This explains the grade inflation, the poor test results, and the low ranking among industrialized nations. Once we start ranking ACTUAL institutions of higher learning which comply with a set national standard of practices (including professor compensation) we will see our international education standards rise as genuinely motivated students LEAVE the de facto trade schools for the real universities and colleges.

    I am as angry as they get for I lost a full time position in academia simply for sharing concerns about the plight of affiliate faculty at my college. My director met the same plight. We were replaced by educators with bachelor's degrees since we were, in point of fact, the only authorities in our field at that institution. We were central to the field, not adjunct or contingent whatsoever!

    Replacing good people with shams should be illegal, but US higher education is the last major social institution to be regulated. The self-regulation of all the MBAs swarming into academic administration is as likely as the self-regulation of the banking community.

    Wake up America.

  3. That last comment was from TP2 (Thomas Paine 2nd).

  4. Anyone commenting, whether adjunct, contingent, tangential or other, should be able to figure out the comment feature and sign with either ID or pseudonym and not eponymous "anonymous."

    Basic blogkeeping: if there are too many anonymous comments, it's hard to tell them and their authors apart. Please use the Name/URL option on the "Comment as" pull down menu. It works even if you leave the URL blank empty.

    Did you answer Trota Campos question? I would say not but leave that up to zir

  5. Very well said. I definitely think terminology is a key factor in the fight for academic equality. I find it ironic that universities promote fairness and equality - at least for students in mission statements - but they fail to do the same for the staff. This lack of equality results in the students feeling short-change, I wrote a bit more about this here.

  6. I really like the idea of mission statement for staff. Affordable and everybody involved, even those usually at odds, should be able to get behind it.

    Here's an active link to specific post, I just added the blog to my reader and "scooped" the terminology post to A is for Adjunct (a personal project, no connection to NFM)

  7. One of the colleges that employs me to teach refers to the "newbies" as "Part-time" faculty until we've taught a set number of credit hours--no matter our experience or qualifications--and collected two acceptable teaching evaluations. Then we are "promoted" to "Adjunct" faculty with the added benefits (?) of a paid sick day, advanced position on the list to select class times and locations, and a tiny bump in our paycheck. Of course, this is a unionized college....and I pay the same union dues as the full-time tenured faculty pay.

  8. "Promoted" to adjunct. Boggles the mind. Where I wonder would a demotion have taken you. They can make a big deal too of the difference between teaching developmental and transfer courses

  9. A demotion takes one back to an invisible status. Not really "fired" (as we were "contracted contingents" and at-will to begin with) but quietly dropped from the list of those who can select class times and dates.

  10. perhaps some synonym for beggar would do for a status title ~ something catchy and quaintly medieval but not too undignified (i.e. conny catcher, panhandler).

    Supplicant, Cursitor and others come to mind. I see a post emerging...

    officially, it's probably something like "instructor pool"


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