If the cat hasn’t been let out of the bag yet, most of you know that I am a college “professor” -
and I say “professor” because I’m just a fake one, part of the new faculty majority, meaning I am a contingent faculty member.
I am an adjunct.
What that basically means, is that I am part of the 70% of ALL higher education faculty that works on a part-time, contracted basis.
I am underpaid, do not have access to tenure or full-time work, lose my job every 18-19 weeks, am an “at-will” employee, have no control over the content or course materials of the classes I teach, am not permitted to participate in most activities that include governance and curriculum development and have virtually no access to professional development.
Working as an adjunct has been referred to as the “graveyard” of academics, and in a recent job interview, the VP of the college where I was interviewing told me I was “niched”as an adjunct and needed to leave the academe and earn back my credibility to be hired into a traditional position within the college environment.
Within higher education, the plight of the adjunct is a MAJOR topic.
The wages adjunct faculty earn leave them living in poverty.
With what I earn, I qualify for every sort of social assistance that exists in the state of CA.
Interestingly, the majority of adjunct faculty are also women.
So – in the swing of the re-emergent popularity of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, some writers at the MLA conference in Boston a few weeks ago began to ask, “What if adjuncts shrugged?” – and the question is one I have been asking for months.
The premise of Atlas Shrugged is one that asks what would happen in the world if all of the innovators disappeared? If you read the really long book (which is not the easiest book to stick with, mind you), will see that the world goes to a shit hole.
So I ask – who are the innovators in our world?
In a nutshell, higher education faculty.
They traditionally have been the leaders of innovation. People come from all corners of the world to come to U.S. colleges and universities because they are internationally recognized as being a place of innovation. Faculty are the people who jump start other innovators. They create opportunity. They create the foundation of thought. They are the thinkers…and teach their students how to think. They write, publish, work with the community, and overall promote outward thinking in unique ways to promote innovation.
And where are our traditional faculty?
They are a dying breed.
(and please don’t feed the line of ‘tenure killed the professoriate’, indeed, there are some bad seeds, but tenure promotes academic freedom, which is what acts as the safety net for developed and innovative thought)
And let’s talk workers.
Workers who accept that status quo and just become cogs in a machine because they don’t think that there is any other opportunity. And perhaps because of the horrible economic conditions (such as that of Atlas Shrugged and today’s higher education environment) people do what they can to earn some money and exist.
But – they know they are all the same.
They know there is no opportunity.
They have no chance.
They become apathetic.
More power to those in control.
It all comes to an end.
So – back to the higher education thing.
Approximately 70% of the faculty are in the academic graveyard.
Some places, like most “for-profit” colleges are actually represented by 85% and UP in adjunct faculty.
The power of academic content is totally with the administrators (who, by the way, no longer have academic backgrounds, therefore have no freaking idea of how curriculum development and content should work) and the one full-time faculty member in the department who may, or may not, care or have time, to innovate.
Education is dead.
Students don’t care. Maybe students (and their parents) don’t know it is dead. How do you know you aren’t learning something if nobody tells you it is something you should know?
The adjunct majority doesn’t care.
it is a mess.
So – I ask -
What if adjuncts shrugged?
If somehow a HUGE walk-out could be arranged, one in which all adjunct/contingent faculty walked out of their classroom at the same time on the same day, let’s take a snap shot of higher education.
Can the system support itself without them?
But, adjuncts are fearful.
Fearful of losing their jobs, not getting re-hired, getting blacklisted.
And I understand.
I need my measly pay check and my health insurance (that I am LUCKY to have, most adjunct faculty don’t have any).
And you know, the college needs me.
They may not realize it, but I am a damn good teacher.
I make students think. I make them effective communicators. I make them accountable.
I make a difference.
But – I am at the point where I just don’t care.
I’ll walk out.
What, really, do I have to lose?
Someone on campus might actually realize that I exist.
That what I do matters.
If ALL adjuncts walked, holy shit.
Administrators, politicians and community members would be SHITTING THEIR PANTS.
I say we do it.
I don’t have a large following of adjunct faculty.
BUt, man, I really wish I did.
I’m not a political activist, but, -man, I wish I was.
I want to take a stand.
I want to show that you push adjuncts too far, we can absolutely destroy the higher education system as it is set up.
We are LITERALLY the majority.
We are just too scared to speak up and make a difference.
Shit – let’s make a difference.
Let’s “shrug” and see what happens.
It won’t work unless everyone jumps on board.
How to make this happen?
I don’t know.
But, SHOULD it happen.
Maybe I should put this on my ‘to do’ list.
Figure out the logistics.
It won’t change the world, but it will make a powerful statement.
And a relevant statement.
And without any gentle closing (because, as any regular reader will know, I suck at writing conclusions), I’m off to figure this out.
(she said with a shrug).