Insecure, Insulted and Ignored: No Way to Treat a Donor–Part 1

by Chessie Green

Editors Note: This series first appeared on the New Faculty Majority blog in 2013. 

In just the past few weeks, major gifts by individuals to prominent universities have made headlines.  We have Duke, Columbia, University of California, NYU, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, and more.  That led me to think about donors to universities, and in thinking about donors, I remembered the administrator who said that adjuncts aren’t teaching for the money but because “the best adjuncts want to give back.”

Let’s say, for the moment, that the point is legitimate, and we view the adjunct as a willing and generous donor who gives the students and the university a gift.  Place a value on it: let’s say a couple of hundred thousand dollars’ worth of expertise, time, commitment to educational excellence—and for the students, a priceless amount of caring and attention.

In return, the university gives them a tip and treats them without respect and as completely dispensable.

Here are some examples from my experience.

If an adjunct spoke out about a late payment, or some help that had been promised but not delivered, the university closed ranks.  The attitude seemed to be to let adjuncts sink or swim because “it’s a privilege” to teach for the university and because “the best adjuncts want to give back.”

Universities investing in online delivery offer training opportunities for the faculty hired to teach those courses.  It doesn’t matter which university—the situation is the same:  the trainers, and the deans who supervise them, can be oblivious to the fact that adjuncts are working professionals with multiple, significant responsibilities. Whether a trainer actually showed up either on time or at all was hit or miss.  Had the equipment or programs been tested in advance?  Maybe not—so, wait 20 minutes for everything to be figured out.  No trainings on weekends, needless to say.

If the training happened to be offered on-site, one never knew if the desk guard had been informed or if anyone had unlocked the door to the assigned room.  If you see a gaggle of adjuncts milling about helplessly, it’s probably because they arrived on time for training.

If an adjunct who was already experienced stepped in voluntarily to help other colleagues, the university’s training staff either felt undermined or concerned that some standard of excellence wouldn’t be met.  The adjunct’s expertise was neither recognized nor respected.

Adjuncts have to plan their time carefully if they are going to prepare to teach a course, even one they have taught before.  They have to build that time into their demanding lives.  The university behaves as if course scheduling, room assignments, payments, training or technological back-up should occur at the staff’s convenience, not the adjunct’s.  The only driver is what the staff feels like doing at any given time.

If the adjunct were considered a peer, part of the equation would be respect or deference given to the individual’s subject expertise, reputation, and multiple responsibilities.

When donors make a gift of a couple hundred thousand dollars to the university, there is an abundance of recognition and respect.  They honor them with dinners, feature stories in the alumni magazine, and appointments to advisory bodies.  They name entire programs and buildings after them.

If the university expects adjuncts to be donors, then it should treat them as such.  The Association of Fundraising Professionals has a “Donor’s Bill of Rights.” Try tenet number five: the donor has the right “to receive appropriate acknowledgment and recognition.”


Chessie Green is a pseudonym.

Part 2, Part 3



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