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Dear Adjuncts: If You Don’t Like it, Change it.

Sometimes I wonder if adjunct professors aren’t just banging their heads against a brick wall. This past year, the adjunct labor battle has been covered at least cursorily by almost every major news outlet in the country, but will anything actually change?

My fellow writer at Order of Education, Josh Boldt, has been heavily involved in this adjunct labor movement. I don’t mean to be too critical of his work, but I just wonder if it will ever amount to anything. The Adjunct Project that he started last year has certainly grown into something, so there’s that. The Chronicle of Higher Education co-opted the website and developed it into a real platform for adjuncts (though I find it interesting that they are already referring to it as “The’s Chronicle’s Adjunct Project” in some articles and communications).

Adjuncts ChangeThe question, though, is will Boldt’s work and the work of all his adjunct colleagues ever actually amount to anything? Will it change the system? Call me crazy, but I doubt it.

My experience as an interested observer of the adjunct movement has led me to believe that most adjuncts are pretty comfortable in their roles as subjugated pawns in the higher education labor market. I don’t think most of them would even know what to do with a system that empowered them. I might even argue that they prefer this marginalizing relationship so they can continue to cry foul. What they really want is a reason to continue shouting in the quad about how the sky is falling and how unfair it all is.

Oh, crap. Was that mean? I think that might have been mean.

Look, I fully agree with the adjunct activists–people like Boldt and groups like New Faculty Majority–who argue that the adjunct role is exploitative and wrong. There’s really no question about it. Paying a college professor $20,000 a year to teach a full course load is despicable. Just because someone accepts the insults and attacks of an abuser doesn’t make the abuser right.

I’m simply asking the question: Why in God’s name do adjuncts who are treated this way continue to accept this abuse? It’s crazy. It makes me suspicious that maybe they aren’t as uncomfortable as they pretend to be.

Adjuncts Can Change Their Own Situations

Many of these adjuncts have been doing this job for decades and complaining about it the whole time. What a life.

For example, I’ve been a subscriber to the adjunct listserv known as adj-l for a good while now. This listserv has been around for years and years. Do you think they’ve made any progress? My impression is that these same people have been discussing the same problems over and over again for God knows how long. It’s pretty hard to feel sorry for them.

Why don’t these adjuncts DO SOMETHING?

I’m not necessarily suggesting that they walk out or riot in the streets or even strike, though all those things might work. All I’m saying is if you hate your job, freaking quit. If you don’t like your situation, change it. Stop talking about it and DO IT. Whether that means marching on the administration building, striking, walking out, or just finding another job. Just please do something, or else get comfortable and try to enjoy yourself.

by Hazel M.,
Contributing Writer

See Also: You Must Create the Change That You Want to See

  • http://mountainair-online.net/ VCVaile

    Let’s see, Hazel… about the listserv…you nailed that. A friend directed me to it about 12 years ago. Since then, I’ve come and gone. After the third time the same BIG, VERY IMPORTANT topic cycles through, nothing new trailing in its wake, I take French leave for a few years. I probably can’t now, ear to the ground responsibilities and all. Will anything come of it all? How would I know? If had a crystal ball, would I be here now?

    I hope things change and observing over a stretch, I see growth, consolidation (hopefully not congealing). So that is a maybe. I’m optimistic enough to keep pushing the rock up the hill, realistic enough not to be surprised when it rolls back down ~ and existentialist enough to keep at it.

    • josh_boldt

      Vanessa, my two cents on this: I actually agree with most of Hazel’s points. After a couple years in this struggle, I’ve listened to a lot of people talking about their problems.

      I’m definitely a believer in the idea that if we want something to change, we have to be willing to change it. So I agree with him there, too. Which is part of the reason I’ve started writing ebooks and things–trying to create a way out for myself.

      For what it’s worth, if anyone out there has a measure of the adjunct community, it’s definitely you. Glad to hear you are still optimistic.

      • http://mountainair-online.net/ VCVaile

        thank you… but it’s really a collocation: I left out the “cautiously” … and not just existential but conditional on Hazel’s DO SOMETHING. Corollary: don’t expect someone or something else to do it for you. I’d add, expect consequences and casualties.

        Creating your own way out is doing something too and sets an example. I suspect multiple ways out will be part of it. Enough pathways out could move the lines.

        I hope you keep thinking about collective too.

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  • Matt Lit

    Hi Hazel! Excellent commentary! For the last year I have served as Vice President of Adjunct Affairs at Colorado Mountain College.

    This came from the knowledge gleaned creating an Adjunct training module in our LMS. When I was first asked to create this development took I responded, “First let me tell you what I think of being an adjunct. Then, if you still want me, I’d like to be proactive about changing this.” During the months spent creating the module, I went so deeply into our system and came away possibly more educated than I cared to be! The result, for better or for worse (!) was election to the role I now serve.

    That background clear…your comments are (unfortunately) right on track and as brazen as they need to be.

    I represent and serve a population of 750 +/- adjuncts among 11 campuses. Of those I query, I typically only hear back from a very small percentage. I don’t pretend to know the answers, but do have a vision of actionable items I believe will help with engagement.

    Our school is poised to create a new environment for our adjuncts. I hope to continue being a part of bringing that forward. There is much we do and so much more we can do. The path has been started.

    Obviously, pay tops that list. Beyond that, respect, training and benefits follow hot on the trail.

    Kudos to you for calling it like it is. I don’t presume to ever engage all 750 of our adjuncts. But, if I can increase the percentage of them who begin to get on board, to support my efforts and – HERE’S THE BIG ONE – stop complaining and start helping, well, that will be a huge leap forward.

    Regards from Colorado,

    Matt Lit
    Colorado Mountain College

    • josh_boldt

      Totally agreed, Matt. I think it’s time we start pushing people a little to take ownership and become their own change agents. Hazel put in print what I’ve been thinking for a while.

      Sounds like you’re doing good work, by the way. Thank you.

    • http://mountainair-online.net/ VCVaile

      Matt,

      By and large I agree but must ask how long you worked as an adjunct. That goes to street (or freeway/road) creds, not being perceived as just another suit. To what degree have CO adjuncts been invited participate in “creating” this “new environment” and can you spare any details?

      Put up or shut up is sound advice in so many areas of endeavor. Do bear in mind that individual situations and experience vary: there is no one size fits all. Adding that to other diversities and demographics casts quite a shadow on generalization.

      Reframe “stop complaining and start helping, well, that will be a huge leap forward” to “I need your input but understand and respect any reservations you might have. If you share your experience and ideas with me. I will personally GUARANTEE your anonymity and security.”

      • http://blog.LITfoto.com/ Matt Lit

        Hi VCVaile…

        I’ve been teaching since 1995. I’ve been through multiple administrations.

        Actually, I just messaged Josh B. with the request for a query from all adjuncts who follow this. I feel my school is on the right course and we are at a turning point where many new things might come to fruition.

        There are things I can speak of and things I can not…due to items which are in-progress and being prepared as proposals.

        I hope to hear back from Josh soon, so I might put forward some of my questions. Then, as my work moves forward, share the outcomes with everyone here (and on other adjunct-related forums and blogs).

        Regards from Colorado!

        Matt Lit
        VP Adjunct Affairs

  • Matt Lit

    Hi Josh…thanks for the comment. Much of where my perspective comes from is running a photography business for many years!

    I was very proactive in American Society of Media Photographers and in continuing my education of running a company, negotiating with clients, professionalism in all areas…especially the business part of paperwork, contracts, communications.

    So, it has prepared me for the role I fill as VP Adjunct Affairs. I see so much of the same passive whining about conditions. Within this is the realization adjuncts need to arrive at; namely, this is a business model and is not going to change.

    The key is learning to work proactively within the system. Not all schools are open to that. Period. (I know! Preaching to the choir!).

    That said, I do have a list of questions I’d like to put forward to adjuncts. The answers will help me in my current work of creating a better community for our adjuncts at Colorado Mountain College.

    What is the best way to put these forward?

    Thank you.

    Matt Lit
    VPAA, Colorado Mountain College
    mlit@coloradomtn.edu

    • http://blog.LITfoto.com/ Matt Lit

      Josh, meant that to go to you directly…didn’t mean to mess up this thread!

    • josh_boldt

      I also edit the blog over at the Adjunct Project. If you want to put together a short post about your goals and questions, I’ll post it.

      Can’t necessarily promise you’ll get a good response, but it’s worth a shot. The blog has thousands of adjunct readers. You can send a post or an idea for one to adjunctprojectmail@gmail.com.

      • http://blog.LITfoto.com/ Matt Lit

        Thanks for the speedy reply Josh!