Being an Adjunct is Good for the Soul

WalSmart U 8-RCBLast week at our department’s annual adjunct orientation (paid, because our department tries to do as right by us as it can), the President graced us with her presence (along with the Provost) to reassure us how valuable we are to the community. In the five years I’ve been teaching there, this is the first time either of them has come down from the golden (not ivory) tower to acknowledge our existence. The college’s Dean often appears to thank us for our service, but never the big guns. As a member of the union local’s executive committee, I’m pretty familiar with administration’s real attitude toward adjuncts (“Thank God you all are saving us so much money. Now shut up and do your job. No, we won’t let you use the gym for free.”). So I was already rolling my eyes when the President let loose with the platitudes about how much she (a mathematician from CUNY) misses teaching, how when she needs to feel better about her job, she teaches a class as an adjunct, because it’s so fulfilling. She advises all her administrators (many of whom are not actually qualified to teach anything) to do the same.

I wanted to stand up and interrupt her and say, “It’s not so fulfilling when you have to depend on it for a living. It’s nerve-wracking, gut-twisting and health-ruining. It might be fun for you to teach a class now and then in addition to your six-figure regular salary, but you are taking bread out of the mouth of someone already earning poverty wages, just to feel good about yourself.” I won’t subject you to the cuss words running through my head. This was the polite version.

But I didn’t say any of that. I’m not that brave yet. I just rolled my eyes. The rest of her speech was lost in the Peanuts teacher’s “voice”: wah wah-wah wah wah, wah. And I didn’t clap, either, when she was done. Then the Provost stepped up.

Nearly the first words out of his mouth were how much he and the rest of the administration value the adjuncts. (See graphic above; that was it, pretty much word-for-word.) Oh no he didn’t! I thought. Knowing that he bought us lunch out of his own generous budget didn’t make that BS go down any easier, either. I flipped my notebook open, wrote PAY US MORE in large block letters and stood it up on my desk for the rest of the room to see (we were in a circle and I was sitting with my back to the Provost). Lots of folks did. There were giggles and smiles and winks. I’m not sure the Provost noticed.

Most of the new adjuncts (and a few old hands) signed cards to join the union later that day. #Badmin makes it so easy sometimes.

-Lee Kottner

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