The Dark Side of Free Education

There’s been a lot of buzz in the last week about New York State’s new promise to offer free tuition at its state (State University of New York-SUNY) and New York City (City University of New York-CUNY) systems, most of it excited and positive. Bernie Sanders got on board. Everyone in my Facebook feed, including most of the educators I know, is excited. I’ve seen the same reaction to Stanford’s decision, and the plans elsewhere for free community college as well.

Frankly, I hate it.

Don’t get me wrong: I think tuition for all students should be free (though that’s not exactly how this plan works). Education is not a privilege, it’s a right, and an investment in the future good of any civilization or society. It’s criminal that we load students down with debt just to get something that’s required for them to even begin to “get ahead” in life (and many of them still can’t do that because of the structure of our economy). I applaud any school that can make this happen—except if they do it on the backs of adjuncts. Here’s what I mean, from Inside Higher Ed‘s summary of the new annual salary survey:

Released today, AAUP’s annual survey finds that … the average total pay for part-time faculty members at a single institution was $20,508. Average pay for part-time faculty members teaching on a per-section basis only (excluding professors teaching part-time during phased retirement, for example) was $7,066, with serious limitations to the data…. Dunietz, of AAUP, emphasized that the statistic is “not meant to indicate an average pay per course,” but rather the average salaries of those part-time faculty that are paid on a per-course basis. “Some of these faculty may teach two or three courses, and the data that we have doesn’t differentiate between cost per course,” he added.

The “part-time” designation is also highly misleading. Many of those part-time professors are part-time at several institutions, due to course caps that keep them from teaching a full load at any one school, so no one gets stuck with their insurance and benefits costs. They are, in fact, often teaching anywhere from 5 to 12 classes, in person and online. Meanwhile, according to the same AAUP survey, college presidents are now making 3.5 to 4 times as much as full professors at research institutions.

Regarding CUNY and SUNY “salaries,” Lynne Turner, of the CUNY Adjunct Project, notes,

The starting compensation for CUNY adjuncts is a meager $3200 per 3-credit course, whereas at both Rutgers in N[ew] J[ersey] and the University of Connecticut systems equivalent adjunct pay per course hovers at around $5000 to start—and they are organizing for more. The CUNY Adjunct Project where I am a coordinator and many others are pressing for a real campaign for a livable compensation of $7000 per course—but it won’t happen unless we stop being complicit with the silence rendering invisible CUNY’s poverty level adjunct compensation.

At CUNY and SUNY, adjuncts teach approximately 60% of the courses. This means that a majority proportion of faculty is making about $20K/year, cobbling together a career from the scraps dropped from the high table of the CUNY chancellor and his $18K/month apartment or the SUNY chancellor’s $200K pay raise. NFM and others have written over and over again about how “Adjunct working conditions are our students’ learning conditions.” Because of lack of institutional and financial support, contingent faculty are less able to take risks in either the classroom or their own research, try innovative new teaching strategies, or mentor students. Despite their lack of support and job protection, adjunct faculty still manage to do extraordinary work, sacrificing unpaid labor for both their discipline and their students and winning both teaching and research awards. As one commenter on the compensation story said,

At my C[ommunity] C[ollege], two adjuncts won “part-time teacher of the year” and had published three books and five journal articles between them. The next semester they both lost their classes due “bumping” by a new TT faculty member. Adjuncts have zero academic freedom, yet these two managed to be of great benefit to the students, students who pointlessly protested the non-rehires to our governing board. There is NO other profession in which there is almost zero correlation between performance and compensation.

So what are CUNY and SUNY students getting for free? Overworked, underpaid, exploited adjuncts with no job security or academic freedom, mostly, especially in those crucial core courses of their first two years. This is not a good deal for anyone.

But I’m most disturbed by the number of educators, both full time and adjunct, who are cheering it on. Why is this okay? Sure, it sounds, on the surface, like a great deal for students, but if you’re an adjunct it’s at your own expense. Why are you not asking when we’re going to start supporting and paying the workers who do the actual educating living wages, as part and parcel of helping our students succeed? When one group is exploited to advantage another, there’s nothing good about that, nothing fair, nothing right, and nothing sustainable. And if you approve of it, you’re part of the problem.

Stop cheering. Get up and demand better for all of us, students and faculty. Chop from the top, as my friend Lydia says, if that’s what it takes to make it happen.

–Lee Kottner

Chop from the Top

by Lydia Field Snow

Recently I’ve been talking to a fellow adjunct organizer, Andy Davis in California, who teaches at Cal Poly Pomona in the Interdisciplinary General Education program. He and I are involved in collaborating with a group of artist activists designing projects that capitalize on the power of the arts to change minds and hearts for Campus Equity Week 2017. Its theme captures our need to both conceal and reveal our complex identities as members of the precarious academic workforce: mAsk4campusEquity.

Andy and I are heading up the Historical Re-enactment and Other Performance/Performing Arts and we have been have been brainstorming 2-3 hours a week about the connection that Halloween in 2017 will also be the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s posting his revolutionary 95 Theses on the door of Wittenberg Cathedral. It was a campus protest because Luther was teaching at the University of Wittenberg as an “ordinary lecturer” and posting his theses on the door of the cathedral was a standard method of engaging in a scholarly debate. As Andy has so eloquently stated, “There are distinct parallels between the corruptions that were taking place in Luther’s time and what is taking place today. Both systems supported an increasingly remote administrative elite through the exploitation of true believers.”

Well, last week I was particularly down when he called. Not only did my mother in law pass away at 93 after a long struggle that involved my husband bearing the weight of all of her financial and healthcare decisions from long distance, we also as a family lost our dear beagle after 13 years. The previous week I deduced, after 6 years of consistent summer work, that I was not going to be invited back to my summer job as camp counselor at Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development, this on top of having 20% of my remaining adjunct salary cut through the end of the semester through Northeastern Illinois University’s “Furlough Plan.”

Then I was emailed by my union that there was going to be a press conference where the students were going to talk about their student jobs being cut over the break and how Governor Rauner’s budget fiasco was harming Northeastern Illinois University’s students because of the mandatory furlough of 1,100 faculty and staff. They implored as many faculty to show up as possible. At first I was furious  at the college’s administration. Even in my sad state, it doesn’t take a whole lot of intellect to see that the ones being hurt by the pay cut are the faculty and staff. Let’s stop calling it a furlough because, unlike last year when the union was able to bargain that we actually take those furlough days, the administration made the unilateral choice to shut down over Spring Break. So what difference does that make if you’re still expected to teach at the same time for the same number of students? Adding insult to injury, the union thinks the press is more concerned about the students losing their jobs for a week and being hired back again than they are about part-time faculty who won’t be able to feed their families, or about staff who won’t be able to afford to pay their rent, heat, and electricity bills?

Anyway, Andy and I talked and he helped me make sense out of it. “Well of course that’s crazy. What can you do that will make adjuncts more visible?” I suggested, “How about make a sign that says Chop from the Top?” And he said, “Chop from the top, don’t kill the tree!” So in my grief-stricken state I went to Office Depot and bought a big piece of poster board and some enormous sharpies. I am just about the least artistically inclined person visually, but that night I did my best to create my sign, changing it to “Chop from the top, not from the Tree,”—(I think upside down and I’m not even sure it makes sense, but artists have that prerogative.)—I found photos of the Tree of Life, which was my mother-in-law’s favorite sculpture, on the internet; she had one in the living room that I often stared at over dinner, and I brought it in under my arm the next morning before the demonstration, hiding it behind my cabinet in my shared office space.

When I got to the demonstration, there were few people there and it was cold, and I had forgotten my gloves. I held up my sign on the steps of the Classroom Building and several students came up to me and smiled, “Oh I love that sign! Thanks so much for coming.” My fellow union members looked away in shock and horror when they saw me and my sign and I just kept thinking, Andy thinks it’s ok; I am just going to hang out here with my sign. Photographers came up to me later and photographed me. I held it up for over an hour despite a frozen shoulder injury I’ve been coping with due to grading papers for 2 years now. I have no idea how I did it.

And then the students started speaking. I can’t tell you how moving it was to hear the Northeastern students speaking about what our university means to them. And they didn’t stop with just the ability to go to college and be the first one in their family to graduate, or the undocumented immigrants that bravely graduate and have found work here in Chicago, but also talked about the other challenges they face. Working and going to school and taking care of sick family members, not having transportation and getting to work or school late. The mental health issues they face dealing with all of this stress. One young man bravely said, “I am here to tell you I suffer from depression, and yes, I am going to graduate and it’s important to talk about mental illness. Governor Rauner is not only hurting public higher education but social services for the mentally ill. We are fighting for our right to not only get educated, but to live, to be in community and support one another. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the social worker that supported me and convinced me to apply to college.”

Soon I was standing there with my enormous sign and tears were streaming down my face. These are my students and this is why I am here after 11 years as an adjunct. It was so powerful to hear the strength in their voices, the tremendous hope they have for the future. It was like I was staring into the face of love and yet standing outside it at the same time. Of course Andy and I had talked about the definition of the word adjunct the day before: “a thing added to something else as a supplementary rather than an essential part.” Everyone else was hugging each other, the union members were passing out fliers that only spoke about Rauner and the budget impasse, not about the impending 20% pay cut for their members. But there was Andy’s voice in my ear, Luther wanted to debate the administration. He didn’t give up. We need to be heard. And in the end I learned something that day. I learned that the students’ voices are more powerful. They are more powerful because they are our future. But it’s important to talk truthfully about things too. Not every move has to be about publicity or gaining the public’s approval, or getting attention on Twitter. It’s important to be visible as adjuncts and to not let them bury us under the rug as “inconsequential.” We are the face of higher education. We are the reason these beautiful students are graduating because we teach most of the classes and we are the ones who are facing so many similar battles economically and psychologically. When we finally do combine forces we will be unstoppable.

 

 

 

 

 

Ganging up on Adjuncts, Again

So The Atlantic, via a reporter from The Hechinger Report, has decided that “remedial” students “are often faced with the least-qualified instructors.” This is a slam against not only adjuncts, but tenured and tenure-track faculty who teach developmental courses, and as the following letter sent to the editor at The Atlantic outlines, we adjuncts beg to differ:studens first, faculty last

Dear Atlantic Editors and Meredith Kolodner,

We are writing in response to the truly egregious article on “remedial” education in colleges, “Why Remedial College Classes Need Better Teachers.” First of all, you left out a crucial word in the title. It should have been called “Why Remedial College Classes Need Better Supported Teachers.” To say anything else lays the blame at the wrong feet. The corporatization of higher education and the corporate “deformation” of K-12 education have put students in the position of needing much more preparation for college work than ever before and crippled both secondary and post-secondary educators in providing it.

But your claim that students who need the most help are often “faced with the least qualified instructors” is utter bollocks. While it may be true that some community colleges do not demand more than a bachelor’s degree to teach in that subject, that is usually predicated on the teacher being a graduate student in that field. And at a university or four-year college, one must have an advanced degree and teaching experience, unless one is a Teaching Assistant. Even then, TA’s are chosen and supervised carefully, as are new teachers everywhere. But the vast majority of us already have both advanced degrees and teaching experience. There’s nothing “least qualified” about us or our colleagues. Perhaps if Ms. Kolodner had spoken to more of us who are in the trenches, instead of the program directors of training centers, that would have been more evident.

Developmental courses are by far the hardest to teach well, and the fact that faculty who get such weak support are able to do even as well as we do is nearly miraculous. Although blaming teachers for institutional and cultural shortcomings is a popular sport these days, especially in this case, the argument is utterly backwards. If anything, most of us work those minor miracles with next to no support: no offices, no time or place to meet privately with students outside of class, no access to copy machines or computers, no professional development, and very often a syllabus that’s prepackaged and handed down a few days before class, or—worse—no syllabus or books designated at all as we walk into class after our last-minute hiring. Plus, as the article points out, our instructional time is stretched between multiple institutions. To avoid ACA regulations, many colleges deny adjunct faculty the number of classes we need to earn a living wage, so we have no true “home” institution that offers support to us so we can, in turn, support our students.

Worse, adjuncts often are assigned developmental courses because these courses are undesirable to the full-time faculty due to the time commitment required and the high failure rates, which lower their year-end teaching evaluation numbers, as they do for adjuncts (which, in turn allows people like you to assume we are poor teachers). So you have enthusiastic and dedicated adjuncts ready to teach for the first time, wondering what they are doing “wrong” when their students are at the same failure rate as everyone else’s. However, in this case, there is rarely a seasoned, tenured faculty member willing to mentor new adjuncts or glean any information about the classroom experience from them. Perhaps the phrase “this is a tough class to teach” may have been spoken before the semester began. Maybe the adjuncts teach one more semester and quit, or maybe the adjuncts persevere. Either way, there is precious little communication between the people teaching the class and the people choosing the text and creating the curriculum.

Who is responsible for this scenario? Not the adjuncts. But this scenario sums up what is wrong with higher education. There are myriad studies about the short- and long-term costs of employee turnover, yet, here in a sector where success is tied to the future of our society, these costs are wholly ignored because another adjunct, another body with an advanced degree, can easily be found to keep the machine going. This is not in step with the goal of educating. This is in step with the goal of fleecing. The student who is in one of these classes will take it, on average, three times. Either the student will pay for the class three times or maybe financial aid will pay for the class three times. The institution will reap the benefits of being paid three times, probably while having raised tuition and given the administration a hefty raise (while paying the teacher only what one student’s tuition for that course would be), all the while being able to mediate the outcome and choosing not to do so.

The poor state of developmental education exists because someone with administrative power chose not to follow faculty or division recommendations. Instead of providing the best supported teachers for struggling incoming students, we have administration treating students merely as “customers” who will fail and leave their money behind, or repeat courses over and over to leave even more tuition dollars behind (cf. the recent departure of Simon Newman from Mount St. Mary’s). If there is a lack or erosion of standards, it is due to the intrusion of non-teaching administrators into academic, curricular, and pedagogical matters.

Student success is very easily addressed by the following:

1) supported instruction
2) fully funded and staffed instructional services
3) recurrent skill building (versus purely remedial)
4) universal design (e.g., writing across the curriculum)
5) interdisciplinary team-taught courses
6) getting the testing, placement and advising process in order so students are correctly placed. In mathematics especially this is a recurring problem very damaging to students.
7) Fully involving the adjuncts who are doing all this teaching in curriculum updates and design instead of handing them a textbook two hours before class begins and expecting a miracle.
8) Increasing the percentage of full-time professors and distributing classes fairly across all faculty.
9) Ensuring that the professors teaching the most vulnerable students are not themselves vulnerable.

Notably, the solution offered in this article is further dubious, corporate-sponsored training—the same “solution” crippling K-12. Until the corporatization of education at all levels is halted and funding increased across the board for educators, providing them with stable jobs and livable wages, students will continue to get less than they should from all but the most elite institutions. And when their teachers have little support and are often earning what students can make by sticking with their fast-food jobs, to pretend that economic situations will be improved through education is disingenuous.  Teacher and professor working conditions are student learning conditions.

Sincerely,

Lee Kottner, M.A.
Adjunct Professor, English, New Jersey City University
AFT Local 1839 Executive Committee Member
New Faculty Majority Board Member

Rebecca G. Agee, M.A.
Adjunct Professor of English
Ivy Tech Community College

Jjenna Hupp Andrews, MFA, Ph.D.
Lecturer II, Art Appreciation & Studio Art – University of Michigan – Flint
Adjunct, Art History & Studio Art – Delta College

Sabrina Alcorn Baron, PhD
Assistant Research Professor of History, Professional Track
University of Maryland

Robert Craig Baum, Ph.D.
Founder and Master Teacher, Wisdom1096
Faculty Fellow, European Graduate School
Adjunct Assistant Professor, Fordham University and St. John’s University

Brianne Bolin, M.A.
Cofounder & Managing Director, PrecariCorps
Adjunct Faculty, Columbia College Chicago, 2005-2016

Shannon LC Cate PhD
Adjunct Instructor, Media and Cinema Studies
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

City Colleges Contingent Labor Organizing Committee
City Colleges of Chicago’s Adjunct Labor Union

Alyssa Colton, PhD English

Lisa Coniglio PhD
Adjunct Biology Instructor

Disposable Adjunct
Adjunct World Comics

Nora Femenia, PhD.,
Florida International University’s Labor Center
Adjunct since 2002, teaching Conflict Resolution Methods
Fulbright Expert in Conflict Resolution

Joseph Fruscione, Ph.D.
Freelance Editor
Cofounder & Communications Director, PrecariCorps
Adjunct Professor, 1999-2014

MG Gainer, PhD
Assistant Professor, non-permanent
Writing Specialist
Lock Haven University of PA

Cristián Gómez Olivares
Assistant Professor
Case Western Reserve University

Jane Harty
Sr. Lecturer
Pacific Lutheran Universit

John R. Hoskins
Adjunct English Professor
San Diego Mesa College
AFT local 1931
AdjunctCrisis.com

Laura PJ Larsen
Parent of an English/Education major, Portland State University
Payer of the college loans and expecting excellent, supported instructors for the cost

Aimee Loiselle
BA, Dartmouth College 1992
MA, University of Vermont 1998
PhD Candidate, University of Connecticut expected 2017
20 years of teaching experience and positive student evaluations
Adjunct Professor of History at Holyoke Community College

Maria Maisto, President and Executive Director
New Faculty Majority & New Faculty Majority Foundation

Michael Gerhard Martin, MFA
Babson College First Year Rhetoric Program
Award-Winning Author of Easiest If I Had A Gun
Full-time part-time since Fall 1998

Karen Lentz Madison, Ph.D.
Adjunct Faculty, English, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
New Faculty Majority Board Member
Committee for Contingent Labor in the Profession (MLA’s CCLIP), Past Chair
College English Association, Past President

Robin Meade, M.B.A., PMP, CMP
Adjunct Professor of Business, Triton College
AAUP Committee A
Past President of the Moraine Valley Adjunct Faculty Organization

John D. Rall
Adjunct English Faculty
Mendocino College
Ukiah, CA

Lisa Robertson, M.A.
Adjunct Instructor of Art History, Cleveland State University, 2002-2016
Volunteer, Ohio Higher Education Coalition and New Faculty Majority

Lydia Snow, M.A.
Music Instructor, Northeastern Illinois University
Delegate, UPI 4100

Lana Sumpter, PhD
Adjunct Writing Instructor
Baker College

Katherine Ward, PhD
Adjunct Instructor, Anthropology
AFT Part-Time Faculty United
Local 6286


I would also add that this sounds a lot like the first step in the neoliberal tactic of defunding a public sector service until it breaks, then telling the public it doesn’t work, and then wrapping that sector up in a bow for privatization. What do you think, U. of Wisconsin, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Mount St. Mary’s, etc.?

Feel free to sign with us Troublemakers in the comments below, and watch this space for an official follow-up from NFM.

Take Back NEIU: Victory for Corporate University!

On January 20th two important stories were released to the press from the NEIU administration. The first was a victory story. Patty Wetli in DNAChicago writes: “After a frequently contentious fight, Northeastern Illinois University has succeeded in its two-year-long bid to acquire properties on Bryn Mawr in order to build student housing, an effort that required NEIU to invoke eminent domain.” Earlier that day on January 20 President Hahs is quoted by Jodi Cohen in the Chicago Tribune:  “Northeastern Illinois University President Sharon Hahs said that while she anticipates completing the spring semester, “there is potential for our university to shut down” without an “adequate appropriation” soon.”

Source: Take Back NEIU: Victory for Corporate University!

Hall of Shame: What happens when adjuncts don’t get paid–New Jersey City University

WalSmart U 3-RCBThis Friday, no one at New Jersey City University, in Jersey City, NJ, got paid.

None of the employees—staff or faculty—are quite sure what happened, beyond a “glitch” at the university’s new bank, Bank of America (BOA), but as of Saturday morning, Oct. 24th, funds had been deposited only to the accounts of other BOA customers and some Chase customers. Others were showing deposits pending for Monday, 10/26, and others nothing pending at all. Vague notices were sent out from HR and Payroll but not to everyone, because adjuncts are not generally included on the staff lists. There was no official statement from administration, no apologies, no reassurance that our insufficient funds penalties or late fees would be reimbursed. Nothing.

To be fair, this happens from time to time at any workplace, but it’s often a sign of fiscal insecurity and/or bad management, and unless the company is really in financial trouble, administration usually falls all over itself to let employees know what’s going on. That kind of transparency costs nothing and earns a great deal of good will. Not talking earns just the opposite because it gives the impression that employees don’t matter, that administration does not care about their lives outside the company, or that something shady is going on.

And that’s pretty much the case with most higher ed administration—and apparently of the administration of President Sue Henderson at NJCU.

It’s never good to be missing a paycheck, but when you’re an adjunct, it can have some really dire consequences, especially since we don’t get paid between semesters or over the summer unless we have a class. Most of us, for instance, do not have the same cushions in our bank accounts that fully employed and benefitted instructors do. Many of us, especially those without partners, are living paycheck to paycheck and are down to a few meagre dollars and cents by the time payday rolls around.

Eastern Michigan University changed their payroll schedule this year, leaving adjuncts unpaid until the end of September, without telling them beforehand. In response, adjuncts launched a collective action to alert students and the university community to the consequences of this unilateral decision. Part of that action was a “Wheel of Misfortune” that students could spin to see what it means to adjuncts to not get paid. Below is something like that, something administration needs to pay more attention to, and students need to know about, and all faculty need to rally behind for Campus Equity Week.

Wheel of Misfortune

–Lee Kottner (Full disclosure: I’m an adjunct instructor and tutor at the Writing Center at NJCU)

Get Off Your Knees!

A song by Lydia Field Snow, performed at Northeastern Illinois University. Thanks to Maureen Hickey for filming. Dr. Charles Joseph Smith on piano and Al Williamson on Gibson electric guitar.

Give us a place to share our views
not in a survey our own news.
Adjuncts need a union to stand up
and say enough is enough
To say enough is enough.

Adjuncts sing out your blues
Worn out what’s left to lose?
Endless loans no guarantees
Adjuncts get off your knees
Stand up and set us free.

We are not workers academics
We are invited to your gimmicks.
Universe of higher bullshit.
Cut our hours down we’ll quit
Cut our healthcare down we’ll quit.

Adjuncts sing out your blues
Worn out what’s left to lose?
Student loans no guarantees
Adjuncts, get off your knees
Stand up and set us free.

Signed, sealed delivered it’s yours
We can together push through that door.
Adjuncts need a union to stand up
and say enough is enough.
To say enough is enough..

Students sing out your blues
Worn out what’s left to lose?
Student loans no guarantees
Students get off your knees.
Stand up and set us free!

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