Tag Archives: adjunct

Higher Education

Robert recently me a gentle note chiding me for silence.  Being a lifelong academic, I used a tried and true response: “I am off for the summer.”  Intellectually, I shut down from May to August–even if I do pick up a class or three over the three month hiatus.

The question sounded something a bit deeper.  And the sounding was reinforced by an article he included in the note:

Link discusses his loss of faith in academia.  The implied metaphor shook me.  Teaching has been a vocation for me.  And I have always considered myself lucky to have been able to make a living off of a passion and a vocation.  (As a friend once told me, “It is always better to be lucky than smart.  And I have always been smart.” )

In some part, my loss of faith is based in the very thing that has made my vocation a viable livelihood: the commercialization of higher eduction.

Michael Rowe, the Dirty Jobs guy, has made a strong created a foundation addressing what he terms “Profoundly Disconnected.”  He “challenges the absurd belief that a four-year degree is the only path to success.”

At first glance, the movement would seem to be an assault on higher ed.  In reality, though, it is an affirmation.


Equating success with college degrees is a form of reductionism that has cheapened skilled labor and higher ed alike.

I wonder if, like Oliver, my faith has been lost as well.

At the end of The Mission–a movie I have always wanted to live up to–one priest decides to follow his face and face death with the host.  Another embraces his roots and battles overwhelming odds.  I had always seen this as the two responses to that sort of injustice: embrace with love or battle for what you love.

What I failed to notice was the third option: the Indians, the believers, who melt quietly back in to the forest rejecting the options offered by the Church, Spain, and Portugal.

Penance, Adjuncts, and College Culture

A Seminary Story
Dr. Z
During my second year of the seminary, I went to Father Marcus for my Lenten confessions.  He was my friend and confidant: an easy mark.  He listened, guffawed, and then assigned a penance other than some set number of rosaries.  A penance that required me to address the issue and find a resolution. (I am not quite comfortable sharing the confession or the penance decades later.)  I left the confessional frustrated and bewildered.  Simply acknowledging the failure had always sufficed in the past.

In a recent article in The Chronicle of Education, an adjunct writes a troubling, painful description of her role in the classroom and evaluating students.  The article is entitled “Defending My Grades.” 

Almost all instructors have found themselves in a similar situation–having to reverse their stance on a grade or a practice.  (TAMU Galveston comes to mind.)  For adjuncts, though, the experience is radically different.

The article is not particularly original or breaking news.  It captures the experiences, thoughts, and feelings of many of the adjuncts I have known over the years.  And that is the point.  This is not an isolated event.  It is ubiquitous.

The article in The Chronicle serves as an old school Catholic confession-penance.  The academy has said the necessary Hail Marys, and now the issue can be ignored again until the guilt kicks in, prompting the publication of another similar article.

Poverty and Part-Time Faculty

Dr. Z
The Texas Community College Teachers Association (TCCTA) maintains a blog, keeping its members up to date on a wide range of issues.  Scott Nelson, the author, served as a chair and a faculty senate president for years before taking on a full-time job with the association.  His experience with community colleges ranges from the classroom to the state legislature.

Today, his posting highlights a largely ignored part of public higher education: the plight of part-time faculty.  As with all Nelson does, it is informed, thoughtful, and accurate.  It provides a painful insight into Texas higher education.

The full article that Nelson cites is available at Slate.

The significance of the article is apparent to those of us who have served as chairs–the full-time faculty who hire, observe, and schedule adjuncts.

Nelson ends with a troubling question–“What would the cost of higher education be without part-time faculty?”   The question is not an intellectual exercise when an adjunct calls to drop an assignment because she cannot afford to teach any longer.  It is immediate.

I have asked it more than once watching a qualified, gifted instructor give in to the inevitable.

The Collision of Two Americas

Over the last few years, I have sat on a wide range of hiring committees, filling vacant full time faculty spots.  And in most cases, the competition has been intense, brutal–upwards of two hundred applicants for a single position.

Many of us have worked our way through the long torturous route of grad school, part time jobs, generic tuna, and adjuncting.  Many of my peers have lived on incomes that lower the poverty line while we build for a full time position.

The atmosphere in the committees is disconcerting.  Somehow, we have come to see ourselves as the rule, not the exception.  It is not a simple matter of empathy.  It is a loss of perspective.  Faculty look for reasons to distance themselves from the adjuncts that fill our classrooms.

Granted.  Not all adjuncts are hardworking.  Not all adjuncts are good instructors.   Not all adjuncts are well-versed in their disciplines.  The same holds true for full time, though.

Somewhere in our tenure as full time faculty, we have come to see ourselves as the rule: work hard and you will get a full time job.  And we view the ‘exceptions’ as proof of our hard work, our expertise, and our commitment. That is not the case.  The jobs are not there.

As a chair, I have watched the collision described by Anad Giridharadas. Those I have witnessed are not as dramatic, as brutal, but they are as real.

Anand Giridharadas’s TED Talk is a disturbing one.  His challenge resonates.  Don’t let the brutality and drama distract you.

League for Innovations 2015, Day 4

The last day of the conference, and people are beginning to clear out.  Watching the venders pack up creates a sense of closure.  A ghost town.  But this 8:00 session on engaging adjunct faculty is well attended. Somewhere around fifty people.

I struggle with these sessions, though.  Everyone in the room is well-situated.  I would assume that all of us have our travel covered by an institution.  Our fancy meals are charged to the system.  Our nice rooms bills covered by prof dev budgets.

And here we are discussing how to handle employees whose jobs are tenuous, uncertain.  Adjuncts face a fickle, uncertain future. Like us, they have spent a small fortune obtaining their degrees.  And like us, they have spent a great deal of personal capital–sacrificing family time, leisure time, to become educated.  They have followed the very path we extol: education leads to success.

Yet they are left on the fringes.  True, some select that role.  Some do not want full time positions.  But that line of thought is a bait and switch.

All of us in this room–all of use who have had to take away a class from an adjunct at the last minute for a full time faculty, email an adjunct a to tell him that a class has not made, or call an adjunct to tell her the full time job is not hers, the committee went with an outside candidate–all of us feel the tension in the notion of “bringing them into the culture.”

And if we do not, shame on us.

The significance of the adjuncts’ contributions is reflected by the attendees.  The presenters are vice-presidents.  A president from my system is two rows in front of me.  The admin understands the tension, the struggle.   Despite the ‘best practices’ highlighted, though, the question lingers.  Is there a meaningful solution?

League for Innovations 2015, Day 2

Adjunct Faculty Professional Development and Mentoring: I am holding out some hope for this one.

The Suburban Professor, some colleagues, and I have tackled this issue for years.  We have tried a wide range of approaches: seminars, workshops, round tables, embedded observations–all of it with limited success.

The struggle is understandable.

First and fore foremost, adjuncts are part time workers.  They have other obligations and receive minimum pay for  the jobs that they have been hired to perform.  They often lack the resources, motivation, or time to participate in outside activities.

And second–perhaps more damning and more immediate–is the culture of the community college.  Professors, instructors, administrators can not or will not admit to their limitations, shortcomings, or weaknesses.

The irony here is not funny; it is crippling.

In institutions founded on the notion of self improvement, growth, betterment, the leaders (faculty) place no value on their own self-improvement.  Professional development is an admission, a liability.  The education is complete.

A sweeping generalization I know.  But one that has been reinforced by years of observation and participation in professional development initiatives.

Before any professional development program gains momentum, the culture has to change.

Our students make a commitment.  They take a chance.  Financially, emotionally, socially.  They decide they want to become something more and make the decision to take the risk necessary to realize that goal.

I wonder if we have that same type of grit.

Along those lines, the session on Curmudgeons was a perfect follow-up.