Sunday, September 28, 2008

Abusing Adjuncts

There's talk about one of the bigger schools "nearby" (and "nearby" is relative, and means within a gas-tank's drive) that they've got a rule about adjuncts not teaching more than three consecutive years. So people who've gotten degrees there often take adjuncting work there, but after three consecutive years, they can't teach there for at least one full semester.

One one hand, local lore has it, the policy prompts adjuncts to move on and get on with their lives, either to other adjuncting elsewhere or to leaving academia (or, if they hit the jackpot, to a TT job somewhere). And so, the policy-makers assure us, the policy is for the benefit of the adjuncts.

It also means that newer graduates can get a couple years of teaching under their belts to help them get experience and have time to look for the elusive TT job. It also reduces the likelihood that adjuncts will be around long enough to get together and try to improve things.

I can see wanting to give newer grads a chance to get some experience; that seems reasonable. Though weirdly, it also means that those who've gotten the experience are less employable, which is weird.

But claiming that it benefits adjuncts to be forced out seems hugely paternalistic, doesn't it? Who's to say that the adjunct isn't geographically bound for some reason and wants to continue adjuncting (though we all know it's not an ideal for most of us). A lot of decisions other adults make seem less than ideal to me, but I respect their decisions. (I'm sure my own decisions seem equally less than ideal to many people.)

As with so many decisions about adjunct hiring, damned if you do, and damned if you don't.

In the interests of full disclosure: I adjuncted for a year after finishing my phud at the school where I'd studied, and then I got the brass ring, of sorts. And now my teaching load is lower than it might be because my school employs adjuncts at a lower cost than TT faculty; we've dealt with budget shortfalls by hiring adjuncts more and more.


  1. Bogart below.

    I feel the same ambivalence. We have a policy capping the number of classes adjuncts can teach to ensure they are considered part time workers.

    Administration also makes the occasional irked statement that adjuncts shouldn't be teaching in order to land a full-time position (though that is the widest avenue for being hired at my cc--and the one that I took). Hypocritically, an administrator will also spout that we shouldn't have any problems finding adjuncts--we do, or did before the economy tanked--but that the adjunct pool should be crowded with post docs, trailing spouses at the local state U, and professionals who just "love to teach" for 1700 bucks a class.

    The hypocrisy is compounded since administrators also demand that adjuncts meet professional standards. We even have had seminars put on by what a colleague of mine calls "educationists," whose mission seems to be filling heads and PowerPoints with pretentious argot pilfered from business and the sciences. I am all for training and support, including discipline-specific training in teaching methods. But this badgering of adjuncts and demand for what are effectively volunteer hours by miserably paid adjuncts? Counterproductive and abusive.

    And, despite the administration line that adjuncts shouldn't be supporting themselves on their pittances--insert mandatory Marie Antoinette reference here--they do and must. And they owe it to themselves to seek full time jobs at our institution. In fact, adjuncting has become something of a probation or indentured servitude here, a trial period before manumission.

    I also must disclose that I am benefiting (well, it's complicated, but full-timers in departments other than English are benefiting) from reliance on adjuncts, as our contract has been changed to give us the whole summer off, rather than half the summer, a reduction from a 12 course load to a 10 course load. The expense is supported by increasing the percentage of adjuncts, a long-term strategy that will reduce their chances of being hired full-time.

    End Bogart.

  2. I'm not sure if we ended up with this rule in the newest contract --but, for a while BNstate CC adjuncts, if they could come up with a 5/5 load for 6 consecutive semesters automatically became converted to full-time unlimited positions (our tenure track). So, the administration would give them 5/5 loads for 5 semesters and then cut them back for the 6th.

  3. One of the places where I adjunct just put out a TT job listing for a creative writer -- which does not describe my qualifications. However, there are two women who have been adjuncting at this college in Creative Writing for years, and have been very productive in publishing their work. I wonder if they will have a shot at this TT job. It'll be very interesting to see. Since there are two of them, it would be tough to choose between them. It would almost be more fair to go with an outside hire entirely. But in that case, these two visiting profs are just as screwed as usual, but more so... if that makes any sense.

  4. That is a hideously condescending policy. Some places have 3 year post-doc positions which are designed to promote someone's career (given them experience, and mentoring, usually with benefits-I'm thinking of some positions at Grand Valley State's writing program and also the Duke Writing Program). Those positions serve institutional ends, too, but they also benefit the holders. But they carry benefits, and they are provided as full-time gigs. It's ridiculous to rationalize this policy as good for adjuncts. Bleh.

  5. Anonymous7:03 AM

    I am full time but non-TT and my department just introduced a similar policy limiting those in my position to a max of three years. The goal was to shift the position into more of the teaching post-doc model that Susan describes, but the reality is that it will force out some instructors who are geographically bound to the area and have taught there for years.

    I think it extends the upside-down model of US graduate school, where one is more employable as a grad student of one's institution than as a graduate, into the post-graduation years, where one becomes more employable at an institution without any experience working there than with experience.

    That said, it is a conveniently passive-aggresive way to fire someone and so I am not surprised it is popular in our psuedo-meritocracy.

  6. As philosophy factory said, this rule came into being at about the time long-time adjuncts started suing--and winning--the right to be tenured. All that "we're protecting the adjuncts by giving them the boot" rationalization came AFTER the lawsuits. Cutting back on the number of courses every few years so that they don't exceed the limit is part of this as well. I think they learned that part from Wal-Mart.