The New Enemies List

Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.

–George Orwelltexasvigilantes

Remember Richard Nixon’s enemies list? How paranoid and absurd that sounded? Remember CoIntelPro? How not absurd and dangerous that was? That craziness is starting again in the wake of the Trump election, not just with the threat of registering Muslims, but also aimed specifically at professors. Not long after the election, fliers were distributed at Texas State University  that read, “Now that our man Trump is elected and Republicans own both the Senate and the House—time to organize tar & feather vigilante squads and go arrest and torture those deviant university leaders spouting off all this diversity garbage.” At least two Jewish professors have received hate messages.

Helping to spur this hatred on, and making its targets easy pickings, is the new Professor Watchlist, developed by 22-year-old conservative Charlie Kirk, who defines its mission as “expos[ing] and document[ing] college professors who discriminate against conservative students, promote anti-American values, and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” Kirk is the new wunderkind of the conservative witch-hunters. Funded by his organization Turning Point USA, the watchlist is an echo of an earlier site, NoIndoctrination.org, itself a now-defunct offshoot of Campus Watch, whose mission was “monitoring Middle East studies on campus.”

The complaints listed are mostly of the “you made us learn something we didn’t want to, or do something we didn’t want to, or expressed an opinion we didn’t like” type that one often hears from students when we challenge them to look outside their current beliefs. Many explanations of “ideology” and “indoctrination” are taken out of context. Many complaints are about professors’ personal lives, most about women and people of color — what organizations they gave money to, their activities outside of class, their Twitter accounts. The complaints are all personally submitted by students and substantiated by what the site calls “a variety of news organizations.” In reality, these are largely anything but mainstream, credible news organizations: CampusReform.org, DiscovertheNetworks.org, theCollegeFix.com, Project Veritas, PJMedia, and so on.

While it’s true that some of our colleagues have done and said some ethically questionable things, there is an enormous difference between, say, Holocaust denial, Sandy Hook conspiracy theories, and sexual harassment and both free speech and pedagogy. That difference is what this website fails to distinguish. What may look questionable or weird when reported by a disgruntled student, may, in fact make sense in the context of the class or lesson plan—whether the student reporting it is able to see it or not. That’s part of the learning process. Karen Roothaan parodies the problem perfectly: “Watch that Professor M.T. Pockets! He is always telling his students about his miniature little paycheck and his lack of health benefits. He even gets them feeling sorry for him and they bring him old clothes and other useful items. He is basically a proto-communist.”

The new site may seem like nothing more than an annoying version of Rate My Professor without the chili peppers, but it’s far more dangerous. It’s undoubtedly no coincidence that the site’s “featured professors” are often women and people of color. There are previous parallels in the 1930s targeting the founders of AAUP itself, which grappled with similar issues of “Americanism” in public thought. As Rebecca Schuman points out, even though Kirk insists there is no call to action here,

I also have to wonder whether the intentions of his watch list make a difference—and whether this is a bell that can be unrung. It doesn’t matter if the site wasn’t meant as a No-Goodnik Intellectual Kill List one day after Richard Spencer and his Jungen screeched Heil Trump. Intentionally or not, the Professor Watchlist, simply by being a self-styled watch list, has aligned itself with the ugly, frightening new political status quo.

The very existence of a list of “targets” is all too tempting for the unstable in a nation that has campus carry laws.

asimov-antiintellectualismWhat also makes a site like this dangerous is the chilling effect it has on teaching and academic freedom, especially on adjuncts. Learning is a messy, awkward, sometimes painful process that students often resist with every fiber of their being, either because they think they already know what they need to know, or because of the emotional consequences of being challenged to provide evidence for their arguments or to acknowledge the validity of others’ arguments, or to realize that their arguments have real world consequences. Our primary job as teachers is, we all know, not simply to fill students’ heads with facts, but to help them learn to think, and to grow emotionally and academically, to see the world with an analytical eye, and to sort out their own convictions. That often means challenging those (quite often) received ideas they carry around when we first meet them. Not uncommonly, that leads to some interesting “discussions” in class that may offend or upset students. But booting students out of their comfort zones is part of our job. If we are not supported in doing that, we risk giving our students less of an educational experience than they deserve, and failing them, and the country.

Henry Giroux, in a Facebook post in which he shares the recent Inside Higher Ed article on Professor Watchlist, calls this resurgent atmosphere of anti-intellectualism “Orwell’s academic dystopia.”

The notion that these self-appointed apostles of political purity confer the title of anti-American on views they disagree with makes visible how ignorance and repression feed each other. What they don’t realize is that they are an updated version of the darkest replicas of the secret police and censors that were indispensable to authoritarian regimes reaching from Pinochet to the interrogation chambers of the former East German Stasi. The only thing being exposed here is a climate that has been ushered in with the election of Donald Trump that trades on a culture of fear, hatred, censorship, and bigotry. Shared fears hold it together along with a culture infused with the toxic registers of political fundamentalism and ideological rigidity. This type of trolling constitutes a fundamental condition of the alt-right, which is the creation of a white public sphere based on the destruction of all those others nominated to be impure, worthy of suppression, deemed pathological, and eventually subject to exclusion, imprisonment, or worse.

Though it may seem like a small, juvenile website, it marks the next step in a dangerous trend that began before Trump was elected and has only been emboldened by that election now. The interpretation of ideas students don’t like as “un-American” or “too radical” is the real problem here. Who gets to decide what an “American” idea is? Or define what’s radical and what’s not, and from what point of view? The benchmarks for such evaluations are hardly fixed or easily defined. It’s highly ironic that this watchlist, focused as it is on one particular ideology, completely overlooks the fact that contingency is a far bigger threat to academic freedom across the political spectrum than a handful of professors in classrooms. After all, conservatives are less likely to have representation and academic freedom on campus because of contingent employment than because of the presence of liberals or leftists on campus; students are just as likely to find themselves offended by conservatives as by liberals, and coming under the same scrutiny by fiscally conservative administrations. Conservatives aren’t any cheaper to employ than progressives and that’s all that actually seems to matter right now.

Since I first began writing this, the watchlist has grown to include at least two dozen contingent faculty, including graduate teaching assistants. For adjunct faculty, this watchlist creates a deeply chilling climate in corporatized universities that already rely more on student evaluations than peer review to hire and fire their instructors. Because of the precarity of their appointments, contingent faculty are already much more cautious about experimenting pedagogically in the classroom, introducing new material, or even grading appropriately for fear of student complaints. Once contingent faculty appear on this list, a university more interested in “protecting its brand” than in free and open academic inquiry can easily hedge their bets and bypass a potential professor who dares ask hard and uncomfortable questions of both their students and society at large. This, in turn, further chills free speech, open inquiry, and innovation.

So what are the remedies? In the spirit of “the remedy for bad speech is more speech,” the Professor Watchlist Redux (“a website dedicated to satirizing sites that try to squelch academic freedom through intimidation, innuendo, and other sophomoric methods”) is a good start. If you’ve been a reader here, you know how we feel about satire. At the very least, however, we must also demand that all academic administrations uphold and protect the rights of academic free speech. The right to publish such a site may be covered by the First Amendment (where it doesn’t descend into slander or libel or promote violence), but the right to denounce its purpose and content does too. That right needs to be exercised, vigorously, especially in defense of the most vulnerable among us.

revolutionary-act-orwellWe must also call upon college administrations to make thorough and impartial responses to student complaints about instructors, considering the pedagogical context and foundations of each situation. Rutgers University has already failed in this capacity by putting adjunct professor Kevin Allred on leave for complaints about his Twitter account postings. On the strength of a student complaint alone, and the over-reaction of campus police, Allred was subjected by NYPD to an unnecessary and humiliating psychiatric evaluation then placed on leave for tweets no more incendiary (and with actual pedagogical purpose) than anything Donald Trump has said on that medium. Without the assurance of academic freedom from our own institutions, the process of education will be severely curtailed, and molded to reflect the ideology of those in power. Free inquiry and free speech in academe must be protected to help protect it everywhere else.

As colleagues, we must stand up for each other against attempts to silence any of us, no matter where or whom they come from — students, administrators, department heads, fellow academics, outside sources. Now is not the time for silencing or being silent.

–Lee Kottner

Insecure, Insulted and Ignored: No Way to Treat a Donor–Part 3

by Chessie Green

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

Part 1, Part 2


Let’s throw a bone to the university for just a moment and view the adjunct as a willing and generous donor who gives the students and the university a gift. “It’s a privilege” to teach for the university and “the best adjuncts want to give back.” Place a value on it: let’s say a couple of hundred thousand dollars’ worth of expertise, 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. 

To recap the situation: I, a willing adjunct, someone who is teaching as a sideline, found myself agreeing at the last minute to substitute for a full-time faculty member. I was assigned to an unsecured, empty building at night with no technology in the classroom except for a DVD player in poor working condition.  The white board was filthy; the erasers didn’t work.  On the last night of class, someone had turned off the power.  I received emails from various university departments urging me not to slip on the ice, to beware of tornadoes, and to seek counseling if I had concerns about a shooting at another university in the state.

And then, I received a personalized letter from the Provost requesting that I make a charitable gift to the university.  “Now is the best time,” he wrote, “because any gift you make will be matched, dollar for dollar.  By giving now, you can double the benefit to our students!”

He went on, “Your gift—of any amount—truly matters to the university and our students! We rely on supportive individuals to fund improvements every single year that allow us to maintain our position as one of the nation’s preeminent universities.”

I briefly considered a gift of $20, which, if matched, would be worth $40, and they could then have bought a working DVD player for the classroom.

In sending me a fundraising appeal, the university reinforced its view that the adjunct is a donor—financially and in-kind.  Yet the university has shown only indifference to the students and me and our minimal needs.

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.

In the case of this quite generous donor, myself, during that same semester summarized above, they forgot to pay me the little fee, the tip, the token of gratitude.  When I inquired, I received this response: “I finally have an answer for you re. the pay: you will be paid in lump sum, but not until [one month after the end of the semester].  Once again, I must apologize that not everything was done as it should have been: we have one faculty member who is paid through a different account, and in getting her sorted out, there was a misunderstanding on who would initiate your pay.”

And so, Dear Reader, ends the three-part series “Insecure, Insulted and Ignored: No Way to Treat a Donor.”  It has been aimed at those who think of themselves as “willing adjuncts” who don’t teach “for the money.”  We have common ground with the involuntary adjuncts and should join NFM in solidarity.   


Chessie Green is a pseudonym.

Insecure, Insulted and Ignored: No Way to Treat a Donor–Part 2

by Chessie Green

Editors Note: This series first appeared on the New Faculty Majority blog in 2013. Part 1


Let’s throw a bone to the university for just a moment and view the adjunct as a willing and generous donor who gives the students and the university a gift. “It’s a privilege” to teach for the university and “the best adjuncts want to give back.” Place a value on it: let’s say a couple of hundred thousand dollars worth of expertise, 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. 

Continuing on my riff of the adjunct as donor, I’d like to tell you what happened when I “donated” my time and years of expertise as a last minute substitute for a full-time, tenure-track faculty member.  I had two weeks to prepare, and at the appointed time, on a dark January evening, I arrived at the designated building.

The building, on a satellite campus, appeared to be closed. Most of the lights had been turned off.  There was a weak light over what turned out to be the entrance. The building was completely unsecured.

The next day, I contacted the faculty liaison for my department (whose offices are on the main campus). I described the fact that the building was dark and unsecured and asked what I should do in case of emergency.  I received no response.

Then, one day we all received a message from the Office of Risk Management urging us not to slip on the ice.  I thought, “Aha!  Risk management!  They’ll care, surely!”  I asked them about the dark, unsecured building and what we should do in an emergency.  I received a response saying my email was being forwarded to the supervisor of the satellite campus.

I eventually received a call from this nice gentleman.  He didn’t know there was a class in the building after 7 at night.   He said there were surveillance cameras but they were not monitored (unless something happens, then they serve as a record).  In an emergency, he said, go down to the lobby where there is a phone that you can use to dial 911.  Or, use your cell phone.

By the way, the restrooms on the first floor were open, too.

Then, we received a message about our department’s new satellite offices now being in the same building.  It was accompanied by elaborate instructions on unlocking the new adjunct’s room.

A short while after that, we received a message to beware of tornadoes.

Okay, so I won’t slip on the ice, and I will beware of tornadoes!  But, honest to God, when I went to the satellite campus in full daylight to meet with a student in our department’s new offices, I found that (1) the department’s offices were securely locked, requiring a code to get in, and (2) within that suite of offices, the “adjunct office” was locked, and (3) once in, I saw that it was full of empty boxes and a really old computer.

There are a few more dimensions to security I would like to mention before drawing some conclusions.

My assigned classroom was not set up technologically.  When I called the number posted on the wall for technical help, I learned that I had to fill in a form, come get the equipment myself (in a different building) and return the equipment myself before they went home for the evening. So I would be carrying this equipment on a dark urban street, etc. but it would be my responsibility.

On the last night of class, we found our classroom locked. A sign on the door said if we needed to use the classroom, the key was in the library.  If we needed to use the classroom?  I got the key from the library, and the librarian said, by the way, there is no electricity in the classroom.  There were lights, but they shut off the power to the outlets.  Since I was planning on showing a DVD related to our subject, she said she would ask the security personnel to get some extension cords so we could connect to an outlet in the library.  IT TOOK 25 MINUTES FOR SECURITY PERSONNEL TO RESPOND. 

Oh, by the way, the white boards were filthy, and the eraser didn’t clean them.

Postscript: the DVD I had brought worked perfectly when I tested it at home, and worked perfectly when I re-tested it afterwards at home.  When I played it for the class, it skipped and misbehaved in various ways.  So, even the DVD player at the university was not appropriately maintained.

And then, we received an email inviting us to seek counseling if we needed it.  There had been a shooting at another university in the state, and two people were killed.  “Members of our university community are reminded that our Office of Counseling and Psychological Services is available to anyone wishing or needing to share any feelings, thoughts or concerns they might have about this incident. As always, if you witness suspicious activity, call 911 to alert Campus Police.”

I thought of responding by saying that something quite similar, in fact worse, could have happened in our dark, unsecured classroom building, and the university would only have been able to offer us “counseling.”

The university has got us covered.  They really know how to protect empty boxes and equipment old and new.  They know how to lock out the students from a department’s offices.  They are timely in their warnings not to slip on the ice.  They alert us to tornadoes.  If there is an intruder on the upper floor, all I have to do is take the elevator down to the first floor and use the lobby phone to dial 911.  Maybe someone from security will show up in 25 minutes.  If something happens to us, they may be able to catch the perp by reviewing old reels from the surveillance camera.

The university knows how to protect the interests of everybody except the students and faculty.


 

Chessie Green is a pseudonym.

Part 3

Student Success Depends on Adjunct Faculty

Dana Biscotti Myskowski

-Dana Biscotti Myskowski

Last semester, a student of mine who is very bright but doing poorly in my class came in for conferences. She was having a hard time making that adjustment into full responsibility for herself (she’s a first-year) and clearly overwhelmed. We’d spoken a few times after class and in conferences and I offered to help her find some campus resources that could make the transition easier, or at least give her someone to talk to.

But the one thing she said that really struck me during our long talk was that I was the only professor who had taken time to really talk to her. I told her the truth: that it was probably because her other professors are also adjuncts and don’t have the luxury of teaching at one school full time, like I’ve had this semester, thanks to my parallel employment at the Writing Center there. And it was a pleasure to be able to give her that time, to try to make a difference in her life outside the classroom. When I mentioned this later to a tenured faculty member, she added that it could just as well have been her tenured colleagues, and explained that they are so protective of their time on campus because of research, committee and other service commitments that they often don’t have time for students either.

So who does, and why is that important?

I remember  how hard my first semester in college was, and I didn’t have half the responsibilities or the worries about money (she’s paying her own tuition) that my student does. I was a first-generation college student who had found my way to a tough college on my own, without much help from parents (who had no experience), school counselors (who should have), or recruitment officers (who just weren’t there at my rural school). I remember crying over my grad level marine biology textbook (I’d placed out of 101/2) and thinking I wasn’t smart enough for this college stuff. And I remember how great it was to be able to go to my profs and confess those fears and have them disabuse me of them, sometimes gently, sometimes not. I always knew I could talk to them, and get help, and hang out, and learn more from them outside the classroom. They not only helped me navigate their classes, they helped me navigate that four years of growing up that I did. While I was probably never in danger of dropping out, I was certainly in danger of giving up and blowing that first semester, that first year. Without the mentoring of my profs, school would have looked very different.

This is what the adjunct system is depriving students of and why student retention is suddenly such an issue at so many colleges. When you deprive faculty—any faculty, but especially the contingent majority who teach incoming first-year students—of the ability to be mentors, especially to first-year, non-major students, you put them at risk for dropping out, especially at schools serving working class and minority students. The business model of expedience and convenience fails to take into account that as much learning goes on outside the classroom between professors and students as inside it. Real work happens outside the class, not just in preparation and grading, but in mentoring, when it’s supported.

Professional counselors are necessary, but not for every student. In fact, it’s a disservice to students to pawn them off on professional counselors instead of allowing faculty to do advising with non-majors. Instead of farming out those functions of advisement to administrative professionals, support the professors who know the whole picture and who can get to know the whole student. The non-major advisors and counselors have hundreds of students to deal with as opposed to having that burden spread among all the faculty and giving them a dozen or so students. When the majority of your faculty are adjuncts, this is obviously impossible though. So structured as it is, colleges are, in fact, creating the very problems of student retention that they hoped to head off.

Learning doesn’t just take place in the classroom. In class isn’t the only time that students should be able to see their professors. College administrators need to stop confusing teaching with lectures and classtime. The college experience—complete with full access to all your professors—is just as important to student success as class time. Nowhere does the phrase “adjunct working conditions are student learning conditions” become more critical than in the first year of students’ academic careers. Just where they need the most support they find the least. As my student and I agreed in our discussion, college is not just about academics. It’s about having time to grow up and figuring out how to. Our current market-based colleges don’t allow for that. They’re only interested in moving students from high school to the employer cubicle in the cheapest way possible.

That’s not education.

-Lee Kottner

The 1:1 Fallacy of Contact Hours

This post first appeared on Lee Kottner’s personal blog, Dowsing. Reprinted here by permission. 


Adjunct Wage Theft Moi

The 1:1 Fallacy—the notion that professors work one hour for every hour of class that they teach—is a useful but pernicious lie promulgated by college administrators as a way of calculating the hours of work performed by adjunct professors to determine their eligibility for healthcare benefits. Most adjuncts are still, nonetheless, paid not by actual hours worked, but only for “credit hours” or time spent in the classroom. But here’s what an adjunct professor’s weekly work schedule really looks like: six courses at three different schools.

School No. 1: Unionized university with traditional-age students, where I teach Composition I and II (two three-credit and one one-credit lab, for a total of 7 credits at $1200/credit = $8400/semester; max credits: 8). I love teaching college freshman, and this group is really fun. I like this school a lot, for many reasons, not the least of which is the pay. But the commute from where I live in the Bronx is two hours: subway to bus to commuter rail to taxi or another bus. Parking is not free, so driving is not necessarily faster and or cheaper.

School No. 2: Unionized college prep program affiliated with a multi-college city university system. Students are a mix of traditional-age and returning (older adult). The course is college prep remedial writing/reading preparing them for entrance exams. ($64.84/classroom hour; 7.00 hours/week = $8171.10/semester; generally only offers adjuncts courses in the fall semester, due to enrollment). This is my least favorite gig, not because of the students, but because of the schedule. It’s two separate courses broken into 9 weeks, instead of the traditional 14-18 weeks. Fairly quick commute via two subways: only 45 minutes door to door.

School No. 3: Satellite campus of an non-unionized Catholic college located in a low-income neighborhood. The school offers GEDs with a bachelor’s degree. Students range from traditional age to older adults (some in their 60s) from low-income backgrounds. Courses I teach range from a writing lab to basic writing and research papers to mid-level literature courses with a strong writing component. ($448.75/credit x 4 credits per mid-level class = $1795/semester plus one nine-week zero credit lab at $1200) This is my favorite group of students. Nobody works harder or has more hurdles to get over than this group. Many of them fail badly the first time out, often because their lives are so complicated and there is little to no academic support for them, but they keep coming back until they get it right. I admire them immensely and they’ve taught me as much as I’ve taught them. Commute is 45 minutes door to door by bus.

bad capitalistFall Semester total: $17,806.90 for six courses at three separate schools. That’s a “good” semester monetarily, a “bad” one pedagogically: six classes, six separate preps, a minimum of 40-80 papers of varying length to grade each week.

DAYS 1 & 3

6:30 AM-8:30 AM (off the clock)

Stumble out of bed, wash, dress, make tea in my travel mug, and be out the door by 7:00 to catch the subway to the crosstown bus to the PATH train to a taxi or another bus to campus. Check my smart phone for student emails and texts about emergency issues when I’m above-ground. Text or email back. Sometimes it’s “I’m going to be late” notices; sometimes it’s “where are we meeting?” or “Do we have class?” if the the weather is bad. Sometimes I don’t know before I leave home whether the campus is closed or not; some schools don’t bother to notify adjuncts. Not every school has an alert system that will text or email you when school closes, either. Sometimes, even in the worst weather, it’s still open, though students inevitably have the common sense not to come to class, even though their professors are required to. Tenured professors have the luxury of cancelling classes; adjunct professors don’t.

8:30-9:00 AM (off the clock)

Arrive at School No. 1 and print and copy any last-minute handouts I need. I like to do this at least one class ahead of time usually, because I never know if I’m going to get hung up in traffic. And it’s great that School No. 1 has a department that allows me access to a copier and computer. That’s not true at all the schools at which I teach. Guess what? The schools that offer me access to a copier and printer are the schools where I print everything I need, including materials for schools that don’t offer me that direct access. So the “generous” schools are subsidizing the cheap schools in the form of office supplies.

9:00-10:50 (on the clock)

Teach Composition I/Composition I and Writing Lab. Every class I teach includes 15 minutes of in-class writing on a topic I propose, unless we’re having a workshop day where students read and comment on each other’s work. On discussion days, they start with writing that has something to do with what they’ve been reading, and that we’ll discuss in class. That’s in addition to the 5-7 page papers they write every couple of weeks.

10:50- 2:00 (off the clock)

Office hours during which students may or may not drop by, and during which I do class prep: making handouts, reading, answering emails, reading and responding to student blog posts (another class requirement), keeping up with current events for their use in classroom discussion, and oh, yeah, grabbing lunch, somewhere in there. I actually have an office here, and a rather nice one, but not all of my colleagues in other departments do. I share it with three other people whose schedules occasionally overlap, but there are other computers we can use in the department common spaces for when that happens. It sometimes makes scheduling student conferences sticky though. Oh, and none of us have keys for either the office or filing cabinets, so I can’t leave my laptop or anything else valuable in there. Like most adjuncts, I carry around pounds of books and computer equipment. And lately, someone has been stealing our sample textbooks to sell to students or back to the publishing company. By the bagful, literally. My totebag full. [Edit: This prompted the department to finally give us keys.]

2:00-2:50 or 3:50 (on the clock)

Teach  Composition II. Same course pattern, different texts, literature this time, instead of non-fiction.

3:00-4:30 (off the clock)

Commuting to my next job, during which I read, either for fun or profit or check my smart phone for student communications. Thank God for e-readers and smart phones. Of course, I can’t get the school email program to forward messages to my smartphone, so that complicates matters too, especially when a college insists I use only their email address and not my personal one. That means I’m on the computer late at night or early in the morning when I’m home.

4:30-6:00 (off the clock)

Arrive at School No. 2, where I have a cubicle with a computer, and access to a very cranky photocopier. Still no place to leave anything valuable, including my coat and purse, though there is an overhead bin to store books and papers in. On my short day, when I leave School No. 1 at 2 instead of 3, I have office hours (compensated) for School No. 2. Those students do drop by and they need a lot of help. They also email or text me a lot more. I try to have all of my copying for this class done ahead of time too, because there are usually two or three people ahead of me at the copier. The office staff are great about getting things copied if I get it in ahead of time though.

6:00-9:20 PM (on the clock)

Teach College Prep English. This is a combined reading and writing course, because, of course, you can’t teach one without the other. I used to do both integrated, but now there are two people teaching this course because it recently changed from nine hours/week to ten hours/week and nine is the maximum adjuncts can teach at this school. So now, instead of nine hours, I get a little over six each semester, which means a net loss in pay, though the amount of work isn’t much less. It also, I’m pretty sure, discombobulates the students pedagogically to have these two related and intertwined aspects of the course taught separately by a different instructor.

9:30-10:15 PM (off the clock)

Commute home.

10:15 PM-1:00 AM (off the clock)

Eat. Unwind. Crash.

Gross pay for day: $493.62 for what looks like seven hours of work. That’s about $70/hour, if you don’t include my four hours of office hours and prep. Add that and it takes my base pay down to $44.87/hour for my 11-hour workday. Tack on another almost four hours of uncompensated commuting time that costs me $25/day. We haven’t even gotten to the grading papers part yet.

Days 2 & 4

10:00-12:00 (off the clock)

Stagger out of bed grateful for eight hours of sleep. Make tea, sit down to read emails and fend off disasters. Catch up on the news. Save a few articles for future use. Eat a little breakfast at the computer.

12:00-5:00 (off the clock)

Grade papers from classes at all three schools, do a little class prep for tonight’s lit course at School No. 3. At midterms, fill out a ridiculous amount of paperwork for student evaluations. By hand. In triplicate. This school has no online grading system, a demanding recording keeping policy, rubrics, and dictatorial syllabi. I don’t choose either my books or the way I construct my course here. I confess I cheat a bit. I make the papers longer but fewer. The syllabus also dictates an inordinate amount of written homework which I must read and grade, on top of the 5-7 page papers and the 10-15 page research paper. This class meets once a week for 3.5 hours for 18 weeks. The lab on Day 4 meets once a week for 2.5 hours for nine weeks, but has little prep and just a final portfolio review orgy. Somewhere in here I will grab lunch and/or dinner.

6:00-6:45 (off the clock)

Grab bus to School No. 3

6:45-7:30 (off the clock)

Office hours, which I am contractually bound to have, even though I don’t have an office here. There isn’t even a teachers’ lounge. Usually I just hang out outside “my” classroom and wait for my students to find me. I’m also not compensated for this time. It’s included in the fee I’m paid for the course.

7:30-10:00/6:00-8:30 (on the clock)

Description=Title: TRAINSPOTTING

The Worst Toilet in the South Bronx (Trainspotting)

Teach the lit class or lab. I teach these classes without a break so we can all go home a little earlier than the schedule, and because it takes us too long to get started again if I give us a break. Everyone takes a bathroom break but me, which is fine, because the bathrooms in this school are like “The Worst Washroom in Edinburgh” from Trainspotting. Students are supposedly not allowed to eat during class because the custodial staff doesn’t like cleaning up after them. I say screw that, especially since many of them are coming from work. Hungry students can’t think. And I know the custodial staff isn’t spending all their time keeping the bathrooms clean and in repair. They also tend to hustle us out of class if we stay until 10:00 so they can go home early too.

8:30/10:00 (off the clock)

Take the bus home.

9:15/10:45-midnight (off the clock)

Crash and burn.

Days 5, 6 & 7 (off the clock)

Get up late, do some errands, grade some papers. Field emails and resolve disasters. There are always papers to be graded. Always. At least two hours a day are spent grading papers, even on the days I’m not teaching. That’s because two days a week are sixteen-hour days where I get no grading done. Papers take anywhere from ten minutes each for short homework to 40 minutes for longer papers to read, mark, and write comments on. 50 papers x 40 minutes = 2000 minutes or about 34 hours a week, just grading. Just grading.

School No. 1 gets 7 hours/week teaching time.

School No. 2 gets 7 hours/week teaching time + ½ hour of office hours.

School No. 3 gets 6 hours/week teaching time.

20 hours of teaching time + 34 hours grading papers + 12 hours prep and admin. = 66 hours/week

That’s about $15.00 an hour.

By comparison, when I worked part-time for a large environmental consulting firm, I worked 25 hours a week/50 weeks/year and made $34.00/hour, or about $42,500/year gross. Teaching, I’m lucky if I gross $32,000/year, with extra freelance work over the summer.

Fifteen dollars an hour for someone with an advanced degree. And it seems pretty clear that I spend more hours working outside the classroom than inside, by an approximately 2:1 ratio. But the benefits package must be great, you say. You have unions in two of those schools. But I’m part-time in all of them, which means I have no health care, and a pittance of retirement benefits from one school. And remember, this is a “good” semester financially. Most semesters I teach two or four classes at most. That’s probably just as well, because nine months of this schedule at my age would probably kill me. And who would pay for my funeral?

–Lee Kottner

Hall of Shame: College of New Rochelle

This post first appeared on Lee Kottner’s personal blog, Dowsing. Reprinted here by permission. Since this was first written, some of the conditions at the school have changed, some for the better, some for the worse, mostly in regard to computer technology.


JCOC South BronxA few years ago, I was still teaching at the College of New Rochelle when they got a new president. I was still feeling my way into adjunct activisim at the time, and still fearful for my job there, such as it was, but also nearing the end of my rope. The crappy pay, the gigantic amount of ridiculous, ass-covering paperwork (filled out by hand. By hand!), the filthy facilities, the lack of support, the standardized syllabi and assigned textbooks—I wonder why I stayed so long. Anyway, when the new president arrived, I thought I’d write her a letter so she would not have the excuse of not knowing what was going on at her satellite campuses, because I knew the chances of her coming down from her beautiful campus in New Rochelle to the dumpy building that served us in the South Bronx were nil. I never sent this because I was too fearful. But I’m posting it here now because I burnt that bridge—and the smoke smelled great.

*    *    *

Judith Huntington, PresidentCNR Logo
The College of New Rochelle
29 Castle Place
New Rochelle, New York 10805

Dear President Huntington,

First, congratulations on your new position at the College of New Rochelle. I’m looking forward to seeing what changes you make as a “new broom.” In fact, I’m writing to you to suggest a few of those changes myself. First a little background.

I have been an adjunct professor at CNR’s John Cardinal O’Connor (JCOC) campus [in the South Bronx] since 2008. I started off as a tutor in the writing center, and then went on to teach Journal Writing, Modes of Analysis, LTCA, Writing Research Papers, Logic and Argumentation, and the TEE writing lab. During my time in the writing lab, I fell in love with the students at the JCOC campus; they are so hungry for knowledge and they work so hard to overcome obstacles that would completely flummox many people. My admiration for these students is the main factor that’s kept me coming back to CNR for the last three years.

Unfortunately, this semester, I will not be back, and this was a very hard decision to make. Although I was offered a section each of LTCA and Modes, I’ve taken a section of College Prep English with the CUNY-affiliated Brooklyn Educational Opportunities Center (BEOC) instead. Sadly, my major motivation for this choice has been money. I love teaching Modes and LTCA and I’m good at it (last semester, all of my LTCA students passed their exit exams). Many of the students I first meet in the TEE lab sign up with me for other classes, too. But BEOC pays me almost $70/hour for 8 contact hours/week which include mandatory office hours. I net more teaching a single no-credit course at BEOC than I do teaching two 4-credit courses at CNR. I’m also teaching a section each of Comp I and Comp II (3-credit courses) at New Jersey City University (NJCU) in Jersey City, even though the commute is an hour and half versus the half hour to JCOC, and not simply because they offer $1,200/credit.

Much as I love the students at JCOC, I’ve been frustrated by my inability to offer them the level of instruction they deserve. I’m not even referring to the fact that CNR is the only institution I’ve ever taught at where I have zero control over my own syllabus and where my texts are chosen for me. Even as a graduate assistant at Michigan State, I developed my own syllabus, ordered my own texts, and structured my class as I saw fit (with supervision, of course, at that stage). My real complaint is the fact that I have no place to meet students, and they have no way to contact me or turn in papers to me outside of class other than email, which CNR discourages.

The lack of support for adjunct instructors at CNR is stunning, frankly. Not only do we have no offices or even cubicles, nowhere to leave our texts or meet students or simply sit to prepare materials, but there is no sense of community and no way of developing one. Each of us teach in a vacuum. When I joined NJCU this summer, I was immediately assigned an office with a computer and a telephone, and my own mailbox where students could leave work for me (also true at BEOC, though there I have a cubicle). I was also encouraged to attend what turned out to be a great orientation session which included meeting textbook reps and a pedagogy workshop that filled three hours of the afternoon with great information and suggestions. CNR holds a faculty meeting which it requires adjuncts to attend every year, which I, honestly, have skipped each time, though I’ve made it a point to attend the adjunct instructors’ meeting at the start of the semester. I’ve skipped the faculty meeting for several reasons: the fact that it’s scheduled on a Saturday morning and eats up most of the day; the fact that I’m usually working either freelance or another teaching job when it’s scheduled; and the fact that I don’t feel I’m paid enough to give up five hours (seven with travel time) of my weekend. I’m already burdened with more physical paperwork (in triplicate, filled out by hand) at CNR than I’ve ever seen at any college.

The lack of support extends to facilities and equipment as well. JCOC is the only school I’ve ever taught at where I have no access to copying facilities and have to bring my own paper if I want to print something on the computers. Asking instructors to send big copying jobs to a central facility for reproduction a week in advance is perfectly reasonable, but I can’t even make 25 single sheet copies at the last minute for my class. Instead, I’ve used my own laser printer and paper to make copies for class because I’m never sure if the printers at school will be working. Very often, they’re not, which is frustrating for both me and JCOC’s students. Needless to say, no one reimburses me for my paper or toner costs, which can amount to more than $100 a semester. “Plan better,” you say? Easier said than done, when one is teaching four or sometimes five classes at three institutions spread across the 6,720 square miles of the New York Metropolitan Area. Not to mention that, at least the first time around, I often know what classes I’m teaching less than two weeks before they start, and sometimes with as little as two or three days notice. Lack of access to copiers also makes spontaneous changes to a class when new material presents itself difficult if not impossible.

The computer facilities, or lack thereof, pose other problems for both me and my students. There is only one smart classroom in JCOC and it is mostly used for placement exams. For anything but night classes, this poses a scheduling problem if I want to use that classroom to, for example, show my students how to access the library databases and do research. In addition, if I want to show something available on the internet, there’s no way to show it in any classroom but this one. Finally, because there are no facilities like Blackboard for doing so, I always run a private webpage connected to my personal website for each of my classes where students can check the schedule and from which they can download any handouts they may have missed, watch a video on proofreading by Taylor Mali, and find links to good research sources on the web. I’m not sure if other adjuncts do this, and it’s fortunate that I know enough HTML to do so. But none of us should have to use our own resources for this.

The limited computer facilities pose special problems for JCOC’s students in particular. As I’m sure you’re aware, most of these students have very little money; many are on public assistance of some sort. For many of them, the only computer access they have is at school. If they have a computer at home, they may not have internet access. If they have a computer and internet access, they may not have a printer, or be able to afford paper or ink/toner. Often, the only paper available at school is colored paper, and yet, we require our students to write their papers on computers and and print them on white paper. Isn’t paper for the printers included in their student fees?

In addition, many of my students come into my classes without a good knowledge of how to use Microsoft Word or access the Web. They don’t really understand the difference between email and a web page. They don’t know how to attach a file to an email. At least one course (TEE) has a required computer component. I’ve had more than one student fail that part of the course because they were working full time and had no computer access anywhere but school, and the hours are limited. I’m sure that requirement works just fine at the main campus, but not at JCOC.

The students at JCOC lead very complicated lives. Most have children and many are recovering addicts who deal with domestic abuse, homelessness, violence in the neighborhood, and the bureaucracy of public assistance, which can be Kafkaesque at times. One of the largest causes of absenteeism at JCOC is lack of childcare. Since JCOC serves a population that is mostly older adults, most of them with children, it would help both retention and attendance to have or support some kind of childcare on-site or near the campus. Access to reliable childcare would go a long way toward improving students’ ability to attend and finish school. Occasionally letting mothers bring their children to class wouldn’t hurt either. I’d rather see them in class with a child than missing in action. There must be grants for this.

Finally, a small thing: scheduling classes that run from 5:30 pm to 10 pm or 10 am to 2 pm with meager 20 minute breaks and not allowing students to eat in class is cruel and unusual punishment. Bad enough there is no cafeteria serving decent food and only fast food in the neighborhood. If they’re hungry, they’re not thinking or learning well. If I’m hungry, I’m not teaching well either. Needless to say, this rule is largely ignored, but it seems senseless and mean to even post it.

So far, this letter has largely consisted of complaints. I’d like to propose some improvements, too. Some refer to general educational policies, some specifically to JCOC itself.

Offer your adjuncts a living wage and treat us with dignity.

  1. Give adjuncts more control over course structure and text choice. We’re trained educators, not amateurs. Supervision is better than directives.
  2. Offer orientations and workshops to create community and support good teaching—and compensate adjuncts for their time when they do attend. There are grants for this as well.
  3. Provide some kind of space to call our own in which we can meet with students, for the sake of FERPA rules if nothing else.
  4. Cut the paperwork. The grading system is cumbersome and inconvenient for just about everyone. Adopt an on-line grade submission program. I can recommend a good school management program that includes this and many more convenient features. Be mindful that composition teachers may have 35 ten-page papers to grade for each class, in the meager 48 hours you allow for grade submission.
  5. Give us access to copying facilities for small jobs, and decent copying machines.

I realize that in New York, adjuncts are a dime a dozen, but when you find good ones, whether they’re terminal MAs like me, or Ph.D. candidates, it pays you (and your students) to keep them, and the best way to do that is to pay us a living wage. If we have to teach 5 low-paying, grading-intensive writing classes to make ends meet, we’re not serving anyone’s students, including yours. Both CUNY and NJCU are better (if  not perfect) models for this, probably because they both have unions. Both offer good wages and benefits and attract good teachers who stay because of that. And to be blunt, it’s the kind of working conditions we find at CNR that attract adjuncts to union organizing. If you want to keep unions at bay, make them unnecessary.

Improve computer facilities and training for students.

  1. Wifi in the classrooms is less important (and sometimes just another distraction) than having more smart classrooms and functioning, fast, computer access and working printers with paper.
  2. Make sure the first thing incoming students learn is how to use those computers, before requiring that they do so. Speaking as a former power-user word processor, Microsoft Word is now a far more complex program than it used to be, and not as easy to use as just learning to type used to be. I spend too much class time teaching students how to use Word at a basic level.
  3. Adopt a college-wide system such as Blackboard to make communication outside of class easier and classes more interactive for students. This is especially important in a commuter school like JCOC

Improve building facilities and the school experience for students and faculty.

  1. Expand the library. Could it have a whole floor to itself? I don’t know what’s on the second floor. Nobody goes there, but it might make a great library space.
  2. Please, please, upgrade the restrooms, which are often out of soap or towels, and grubby even when they’re “clean.”
  3. Even a small cafeteria is probably out of the question because of space limitations, so allowing students to bring their own food to class and consume it there would help keep them alert and allow them to eat well.
  4. If students can’t have a real bookstore onsite, maybe the teaching supply store in the neighborhood, Tannen’s, could function in that capacity. One of my greatest pleasures as an undergrad was looking at the books for other classes. It’s a great way to spark interest in reading and learning.
  5. Offer some kind of childcare either on-site or nearby.
  6. Make the student lounge more inviting.

Implementing any one of these suggestions would go a long way toward making CNR in general and JCOC in particular a better school for both students and faculty.

I don’t know if I’ll be back at JCOC again (probably not after you read this letter), but I want to reiterate how much I love teaching there, despite the conditions and pay, simply because of the students. I’ve never taught students who rewarded my efforts with so much hard work, so much eagerness, so much enthusiasm and intellectual desire. I feel like I have been shortchanging them because of the conditions at JCOC, and that’s not right. I put up with the conditions and poor pay for those students, but I can’t continue to make that sacrifice indefinitely. No true professional can. No true professional should have to.

Thank you for your attention and patience in reading this letter. Again, I wish you all the best in your new position.

Yours sincerely,

Lee Kottner

*    *    *

One condition I didn’t mention that exists specifically at this college and at too many others is student exploitation. This particular campus operates like far too many for-profit schools do, by selling their services to underprepared students and then giving them little or no support. Many of my students there were getting GEDs at the same time they were pursuing their bachelor’s degrees. The curriculum committee, in their wisdom, decided to institute high stakes tests at the end of not just one but three levels of writing classes, the first of which employed Pearson’s expensive (and problematic for this group) computer components. This is two too many tests, in my view but it is doubly criminal because the school has no writing center and offers virtually no outside support for a group that particularly needs it. The only so-called tutoring available is largely unsupervised peer tutors who are very unreliable and poorly paid—one per shift. One. I’ve taught all three of these classes and seen students pass the class but fail the test and thus have to retake the whole class again, sometimes two or three times, digging themselves deeper and deeper into debt, and having to repurchase Pearson’s access codes each time. These conditions exist at too many colleges, where students are seen as cash cows that feed the salaries of administrators.

I post this now because these are precisely the conditions addresed by the petition to the Department of Labor that I helped write. That petition has now been submitted to the DOL, thanks to Maria Maisto, and David Weil, head of the Wage and Hour Division, is well aware of our working conditions. It remains to be seen if schools like CNR will continue to be allowed to exploit both instructors and students.

–Lee Kottner

The Faculty Caste System: Auto-Ethnography of an Adjunct, Part 2

by Ruth Wangerin

Part 1 here.

The higher caste in academia. Caste has been the solution chosen by higher priced academic labor. They maintain that certain tasks and qualifications are theirs alone, and they try to get this written into the contract.

  • Tenure track professors define the upper caste: Only they are hired by a national search, only they are worthy because they’re doing research and have lots of publications, only they are “real” professors.
  • They monopolize certain jobs: college governance, advising students, setting curricula.
  • They have sacred spaces: commencement, official college and university publications, faculty meetings, private faculty offices, faculty senate.

Adjuncts may or may not accept the idea that tenure-track faculty are doing a better job teaching than they are. But adjuncts do know that they aren’t paid for any of those activities and so they don’t try to participate, even if invited. It’s really difficult to get an adjunct to attend a meeting because we have pride – we’re not paid to attend meetings. (The same 2-3 adjuncts hold all token positions for adjunct faculty for my college and perhaps for CUNY, and have for many years. [When the election is held, there’s no publicity and most adjuncts I know are completely mystified – What’s this about? Who are these people? Why do we only get two reps?])

The only reason the caste system is still working to some extent is that tenure track faculty have some power and influence, students and families admire professors, and many administrators have some belief in higher education as a public good.

Dedication to caste, even by union leadership. My union is suspected of being of the tenured, by the tenured, and for the tenured. One of the officers recently said,

“[D]ecades of underinvestment by the State and City have led to a massive reliance on adjuncts, whose underpaid labor allows CUNY to stay afloat as enrollment rises.” (Steve London, 3/6/15)

Let’s deconstruct this and note the assumptions:

  • The statement implies alliance with or at least sympathy for the employer, who is portrayed as helplessly forced into “reliance on” (not use of) “underpaid labor” (underpaid by whom?) to “stay afloat.”
  • Note the use of the “political passive” voice. They “have [been] led to a massive reliance on adjuncts.” Why would a union hesitate to say that the employer is actively exploiting some of the workers?
  • The grammar implies a way of thinking called “essentializing” in sociology: portraying the situation of a whole category of people as due to something in their essential nature, rather than to decisions made by a society or by some actors. In the above quote, and the rest of the statement, it’s clear that for this union leader the essential nature of people employed as adjuncts is “underpaid labor.”
  • What does “underpaid” mean? From the point of view of higher paid labor, anything under their wage rate is underpaid.

To many in my union leadership, the majority of the members of our union are seen as outsiders, the Other (“underpaid labor”), not as fellow faculty who are being cheated. If CUNY has been forced to rely on outsiders because of underfunding, then once the funding improves, wouldn’t it make sense to replace the outsiders with people like themselves, people recruited in a national search, people who will bolster the strength of the higher caste?

Perhaps that is the plan. Our union leaders always talk about the need to have more full-time faculty, citing studies that full-timers are better for the educational mission. And with not a touch of self-awareness or shame, they complain that salaries are too low (they mean the salaries for full time positions—apparently it’s not polite to complain about the low wages for part-time positions) to attract and retain top scholars. In this atmosphere, is it any wonder that many contingents suspect that some of our “brothers and sisters” dream of replacing us with highly paid, prominent scholars who would uplift the prestige of the university’s brand and therefore of their own personal brands as Faculty (with a capital F) of that university. That would explain why they seem content with a proposed system of partial job security that would only apply to a small percentage of the contingents.

Are faculty losing the fight for the soul of higher education?

Today, corporate-minded college administrators seem to be winning. Not only do they keep raising tuition and paying low wages to a high percentage of the instructional staff. They are also steadily turning potentially higher priced labor – people with PhDs, for example – into lower priced labor by refusing to fund sufficient full-time tenure track positions. The situation has reached the point where some universities (such as SUNY and CUNY) feel strong enough to even refuse higher-priced workers’ demands for cost-of-living raise increases. They have simply stalled for years on negotiating a new contract.

With the growing tendency to run universities like corporations, the temptation is strong to believe low-paid instruction will be just fine, especially in non-elite settings. A distinguished professor told me that an unnamed administrator had once confided to him that a university could be run with a handful of full professors and a multitude of adjuncts. No matter how clearly faculty organizations point out that that’s no way to run a college, it seems to be the way we’re headed.

In one (non-CUNY) community college I know, mega-departments assign a textbook from a big company like Pearson that comes with test questions and slides (never mind how shabby and full of errors the slides are) and give adjuncts a standardized “syllabus.” With so few full-time faculty, there is no one to observe or supervise adjunct instructors. The college depends on uniformed security staff to report if an instructor dismisses class early and depends on course evaluations filled out by students online to know if an instructor is teaching an adequate course. Nevertheless, on paper and in the minds of administrators and politicians with no background as actual educators, these “Pearson packages” and syllabi mean the student is getting the same course they would have received from an adequately paid and supported college instructor. What’s next—robots?

Conclusion: Occupy the faculty

It is often pointed out that saving higher education in America will require an alliance between faculty and students. But what if the faculty part of that equation is missing in action?

I’d like to tell my full-time brothers and sisters that caste is no longer working, that while they’re trying to hold onto their privileges, they’re actually allowing the “house” of higher education to burn down. When administrators resist calls for job security for contingent faculty, they talk about their need for “flexibility.” Can’t my tenure-track colleagues read between the lines? Don’t they see that tenure makes them look less than optimally flexible? Do they really believe they are the administrations’ special friends?

In the last few years, contingents have stepped into the breach and breathed new life into faculty organizing. One of the first things we have to do is crash the party where the administration and tenured faculty are toasting each other on the students’ dime. Yes, it’s time to break into the upper caste’s sacred spaces: attend Commencement, go to their meetings (whether we’re welcome or not) and raise our issues, get our names on department websites, run for office, take over our unions, and tell the students the truth. Contingents have to Occupy the Faculty so that there will be a faculty capable of fighting side by side with students for the higher education system we all deserve.


Ruth Wangerin holds a PhD, anthropology from CUNY and an MPH (public health) from Columbia. Her career included public service in NYC, including CUNY, NYC Board of Ed, and Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene. She was part of organizing campaign at CUNY’s College of Staten Island, among part-time instructional staff. Ruth is married, with two adult kids with advanced degrees whom I hope never have to work for less than a fair going rate. She likes to swim, exercise, cook, laugh a lot. Her mom is still living, and still claims Ruth was a born troublemaker. Life is now calmer in the Catskills.