Monthly Archives: April 2014

It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened.

Gordon Haber has a new post up about adjuncting and the “language police.”  If you want to go read that first before finishing my piece, I’ll wait.

 

Haber points out one of the problems I have noticed when it comes to the discussion of labor issues in academia: academics (particularly in the humanities) love to talk about language.  I have personally witnessed several conversations – on a variety of topics – get derailed because academics wanted to focus on the language being used: Was that an appropriate metaphor? Have you considered the implications attached to the etymology of a word you used? Are you aware of the privilege inherent in the discourse being employed? Have you read [Important Work] that discusses this very topic?*  I have sat through far too many meetings where the discussion of an issue was side-tracked by redirecting our focus on the language being used.  

 

This is understandable, and sometimes even laudable.  Academics in the humanities are taught early on that the language we use is important, that language is power, that language properly used can change the world.  These are positions I believe wholeheartedly, and teach in all of my classes.  I’ll make this clear: language is powerful.

 

But I also want to make this clear: language is not a substitute for action.  And sometimes, when you get lost in the minutiae of the language being used, you lose sight of the big picture.  

 

Some years ago, when I was working for UPS, I went on strike.  Admittedly, I was torn about this strike, but when the union voted to strike, we all banded together and went on strike.  This meant that we marched a picket line.  We got up every morning and put our bodies between the warehouses and the roads, in an effort to force change through action.  And the lesson I learned is that, for all the power of language, sometimes you have to become involved.  Sometimes, you have to put away the thesaurus, close the book, and do something.

 

Haber makes a dire prediction, which I will quote in full: “And while we’re having all these wonderful thinky discussions that simultaneously provide a forum for our erudition, higher ed administrators are gutting liberal arts and hunting around for other teachers to fire until every last American institution of higher education is an engineering school taught by MOOCs. Until it costs half a million to put a kid through a college from which, after six or seven years, he or she will emerge barely able to write a sentence in English.”  He’s certainly not the first to predict such a grim future for academia.  And I suspect he will be far from the last.  And I doubt I could find an academic who is not to some degree concerned about the future of universities.  And of the problems – one of the ways that the liberal arts are being gutted – is by replacing tenure-track faculty with an army of over-worked, under-paid adjuncts who do not enjoy the same degree of academic freedom and participation in governance as their tenure-track peers.  (To give but one local example, the interim president at SUNY Potsdam has asked for the creation of new academic programs, but will not create any new tenure-track lines to staff those programs.  All new programs are to be run on “existing resources,” which means that new programs – which include new courses, as well as new administrative needs – will not be funded.  “Existing resources” is code for “hire as many adjuncts as you need, because you won’t be getting any tenure-track faculty.”  So those faculty on whose backs these new programs will be built will not enjoy the same support and opportunities as their colleagues.)

 

So what do we do?

 

In an earlier post, I asked for advice on how we – and by “we” I mean all academics, but in particular those of us who enjoy the security of tenure and seniority, as well as those in positions of power at their respective universities – can act to address labor inequities in the academic workforce.  And since then, I have been contacted by a variety of academic professionals – from administrators to teaching faculty, current teachers as well as retired teachers, and concerned students** – who have offered advice and support.  The advice given below is distilled from those many conversations.

 

David Perry recently wrote an article on “How to Talk to Adjuncts (in you’re tenured),” a follow-up piece to an earlier article for men about how to talk like a feminist.  There’s an important lesson to be learned from both of them: how we talk to and about our colleagues is important.   That said, talking is simply not enough.  When I was an adjunct, I appreciated that some of my tenure-track colleagues included me in the conversation, spoke to me in the halls, and generally acknowledged that I existed in their world.  However, none of that mattered when my classes were canceled at the last minute, when my sections were swapped (also at the last minute), or when it was suggested that students were not learning how to write because the adjuncts were terrible teachers.***

 

Perry’s advice is useful.  But at some point, you come to the realization that – as one of my mentors liked to note during graduate student orientations – “don’t be a dick.”  Honestly, it’s not hard to talk to adjuncts – or anyone else, for that matter – when you realize that they are people.  How should you talk to other people?  How much respect will you give to other people in any conversational setting?  Regardless of profession, contract status, etc., just don’t be a dick to other people.  You’ll be surprised how far that gets you.

 

OK, so I promised some advice.  Here it is:

Since none of us can solve the problems single-handedly, we have to work together.  All of us.  Faculty, administration, students.  All of us.  The vast majority of people I have spoken to have noted that this has to be a group effort.  It means putting aside petty disputes, old arguments, and the like.  It means reaching out to people.  It means being willing to do the leg work, to put your other plans on hold, and even to (potentially) make enemies.^  But most importantly, it means not losing sight of the big picture.  And if that means you have to swallow it when someone uses the wrong metaphor, or misspeaks, or isn’t up to speed with the relevant scholarship, then you swallow it.

 

Similarly, because none of us can solve the problems in the system with any one action, it means we have to work to clean up our own houses.  We might not be able to make top-down changes, so that leaves us with bottom-up action.  One thing you can do is to look to your own department, and ask the following questions: Are the adjuncts encouraged (or even allowed^^) to attend department meetings?  Are the adjuncts allowed to participate in department governance (serving on committees, voting on all department matters)?  Are the adjuncts given the same freedoms as tenure-track faculty when it comes to course design and issues of academic freedom?  Are adjuncts included in department social functions, professional development opportunities (including available funding), and other such opportunities that are regularly provided to tenure-track faculty?  If the answer to any of these questions is no, what are you doing to change that?  Also, what are the working conditions for adjuncts?  How are resources distributed?  How is office space assigned?  (When I was an adjunct at Eastern Connecticut State University, adjuncts in the English Department did not have office space; we were permitted to use one of the university’s lounge areas in another building, but we all had to share that space, an open space with few desks, no storage, and one computer.  In my current department, some adjuncts share office space, but the department chair has two offices.)

 

The same questions apply to the faculty senate.  Are adjuncts allowed/encouraged to participate fully on university committees?  Vote on faculty senate actions?  Serve in the same governance capacities as tenure-track faculty?  When faculty are asked to serve on administrative search committees, which faculty are allowed to serve?  Which faculty are encouraged to participate?

 

There is also a point that came up more than once: some adjuncts faculty are happy with their situation.  Some faculty only want to work part-time, for a variety of reasons.  One very important point that came up is that not all adjuncts face the same problems, require the same solutions, or have the same needs.  In the SUNY system, for instance, there are several kinds of non-tenure-track contracts, each of which presents it’s own problems, and requires it’s own solutions.  Many of the adjuncts I have spoken with reminded me that we cannot solve all of these problems with the same solution.^^^

 

This brings us back to David Perry, and a suggestion I have for his list: shut up and listen.  Talk with adjuncts.  Talk with everyone involved.  And when you do, fight the urge to speak.  Listen.  Hear them.  

 

And then act.

 

We can do better.  And if we really believe in the academic mission, we are going to have to.

 

 

*Academics in the humanities simply love giving each other homework. 

**I should post about this later on, but yes, I want us to consider students as academic professionals.  I won’t bore you with the details of my reasoning here, but let’s start thinking about how students and faculty are allies, and in many ways are engaged in the same pursuits with the same goals.  That one group pays tuition and the other group collects a paycheck is not really relevant, in the long run.

***The first happened more often than I care to count.  The second happened twice.  The third only happened once.  The first two forced me to make on-the-spot changes to my budget.  The third made me realize that, for all the friendly hallway conversations, there would always be the belief that contract status is a marker of professional effectiveness and value.  Always.

^Yes, that might happen.  But that’s another post for another day.

^^Yes, there are some departments, at some universities, that prohibit adjuncts from attending meetings.  Others subtly suggest to adjuncts that they don’t belong (maybe adjuncts are scheduled classes during meeting times, to free up the tenure-track faculty; or maybe they are told they don’t have to attend, because they are not contractually obligated to do so; or maybe they are told that tenure-track faculty are protecting them).

^^^That said, I know very few adjuncts who are over-paid and under-worked.  A living wage and reasonable working conditions should be the baseline for all working professionals.

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Somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing.

Hello everyone.  It’s now April, and so it’s time for an accounting of my workload for the past month.

 

Before I begin, allow me to shamelessly announce that I have received a contract for my first monograph, titled Failed Frontiersmen: Myth, Masculinity, and Multiculturalism in the Post-1960s American Historical Romance.  I have spent nearly a decade working on this book, and I am very happy to be staring at the finish line.  That said, I promised the press I would have the finished manuscript by May 1, so I have quite a bit of work ahead of me.  I will also be working on an an introduction to an edited collection, titled Narrative, Race, and Ethnicity in the Americas, which is coming along nicely.*  Needless to say, I have quite a bit of work to do this month.  However, after this month, I should have a short breather.**

 

So anyway, here’s the breakdown.  As with last month, I have no idea what the totals are right now.  Time to do a little math and see what last month looked like:

 

Teaching:

Time spent in class, office hours, and meeting with students: 66.5 hours

Time spent preparing for class: 26.5 hours

Time spend grading: 14.75 hours

Total teaching hours: 107.75 hours

Service:

Total service hours (meetings, plus preparation): 8.5 hours

Research:

Time spent reading and taking notes: 16.25 hours

Time spent writing and revising: 19.75

Conference: 26 hours***

Total research hours: 61.5 hours

Total work hours for the month of March: 177.75 hours

 

OK, so I did more work in March than I did in February.  This isn’t surprising, considering that there are more days in March than in February.  However, March also included Spring Break, so we only had 3 work weeks over the month of March.  Now, as we all know, we still do work over Spring Break.  And perhaps we should, as we get paid for Spring Break.^  With that in mind, here’s some context for my workload:

 

There are 31 days in March, so I averaged just about 5.75 hours per day over the course of the month.

Because there were 21 weekdays in March, I averaged just about 8.5 hours per day on traditional “work days.”

However, because I am not contractually obligated to work over Spring Break, I was only contractually obligated to work for 16 days; therefore I averaged just over 11 hours per day for the days I was expected to work.

 

This, by the way, is exactly how academic job creep works.  Because academics are expected to take work home with them (particularly grading and research), there is pressure to make sure that you spend weekends and breaks working.  It’s common for academics to use the weekends to grade and engage in research.  It’s pretty much expected that academics will spend their breaks doing such work.  (Seriously, assign a paper due the day before a break.  All of your students will expect that work to be graded, even though you were on break.  Many of your colleagues will also expect you to be working over break.  Some, if they find out you did not, will try to shame and guilt you.  Or they will sarcastically note that it must be nice to take time off, as if taking time off is somehow unprofessional.^^)

 

11 hours per day that I was contractually obligated to work.  That’s not insignificant.  Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I am spending much time on my research (in part) because I enjoy it.  That said, I also enjoy reading for class, and working with students.  But this is another aspect of job creep that we must pay attention to: just because we enjoy the work doesn’t mean it’s not work. It’s common for academics to say things like, “I love teaching; I get paid for grading and going to meetings.”  Aw, that’s sweet; but it’s also stupid.  If you are teaching, you also get paid to teach.  It’s common for people – academics included – to assume that if it’s “fun,” then you shouldn’t be paid for it.  (Maybe they don’t really believe it, but they say it out loud, which is just as bad.  If you want people to take your job seriously, stop telling them that you would do it for free.^^^)

 

So that was March.  Once again, most of my time was spent working directly with students and their work.

*Just last week, my co-editors and I hosted two roundtable discussions at the International Society for the Study of Narrative conference at MIT.  We got to meet many of the contributors, and had wonderfully productive discussions with the contributors and members of the audience.

**My plan is to read A Feast for Crows.  I will enjoy it, and not feel guilty in the least for not working on my research.

***As noted above, I spent time at a conference this month.  As much fun as I have at these events, I am also working.  However, I wasn’t sure how to account for the hours, so I decided to be as conservative as possible; I am only counting the hours spent traveling to the conference, time spent on panels, and time spent in meetings.

^This is, sadly, not as clear and easy as it sounds.  Because of the “Deficit Reduction Days” instituted this year, faculty are being paid less this year than last year, for the same work.  Last semester, our “Deficit Reduction Days” were scheduled for Thanksgiving Break, so that we were not paid for days when we were not expected to work (and campus was closed).  A colleague suggested that our “days” for this semester came over Spring Break.  However, as I learned from our union representative, this is not the case.  In fact, it turns out that we are not even supposed to be taking “days” off; instead, because “there was no way SUNY could devise a means to reduce the five days of pay in any single two week period, […] the decision was made by SUNY to deduct the money from each paycheck, at 2.5% for full time employees and some complicated formula for adjuncts that I am not even sure of.”  (Oh yes, adjunct pay is also reduced.  Because, clearly, adjuncts make too much money.  Sigh.)  So, basically, what this means is that there are no “days” that we take off; our pay is just reduced.  In theory, we were supposed to take days off to reflect the payroll deduction.  That is how it was first explained to us.  Now, however, it seems we are just expected to do all the same work, and earn less money for doing it.  (I could, I suppose, figure out how to decrease my workload by 2.5%.  In fact, I may do that.  I’ll take that time out of grading and service.)  Anyway, the point is, I’m really not sure how to account for how many days I was paid this month.  I guess it doesn’t matter all that much, but I like to be precise.

^^It’s astonishing how many people – including academics – assume that any time spent not doing the job is time you are somehow stealing from your students.

^^^You know who works for free?  Nobody.  Sure, people volunteer their time for people, projects, and causes they believe in.  But you know what?  This is not the same as a job.  I’m a sports fan, and I would never expect professional athletes to play for free, even though it’s a game that children play. 

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