An Adjunct Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day

I’ve spent the last three years working to make life better for adjuncts. The Adjunct Project is approaching its third birthday, and I’ve been reflecting on some of the successes that have been achieved since its launch. It’s been a good year for adjunct professors. Here are some of the things for which I’m thankful during this holiday week:

I’m thankful for the adjuncts who stand up for themselves and speak out.
For the adjuncts who recognize that they hold the power.
For the adjuncts who have decided that they alone can change their situations.
For the adjuncts who have gained the confidence to make those changes.

I’m thankful for other members of the academic community who have decided it’s time to step up.
For the tenured faculty members who have joined the cause and raised their voices.
For the administrative assistants who devote special attention to adjuncts’ schedules.
For the human-resources professionals who take extra care to pay adjuncts on time.

I’m thankful for the adjunct unions and their successes of the past year.
For Adjunct Action and the Service Employees International Union and the advancements they’ve made.
For the metro organizing strategy and the fact that it’s WORKING.
For the contracts that are being negotiated across the country to make adjuncts’ lives better.

I’m thankful for New Faculty Majority and the work they’ve done for adjuncts.
For Maria Maisto and her tireless lobbying and testimony in support of the cause.
For the attention politicians have begun paying to the adjunct plight as a result of that lobbying.
For the partnerships and collaborations that the New Faculty Majority has forged in the name of adjunct research.

I’m thankful for the media coverage that’s been given to adjuncts this year.
For the conversation that is now spreading beyond the boundaries of the campus.
For the mainstream coverage from news outlets like PBS and Al Jazeera.
For the industry coverage from Vitae, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, and other blogs.

I’m thankful for the platform Vitae gives me to speak my mind.
For the freedom I have to write about any topic I choose.
For the commitment my editors have made to telling the truth about adjunct labor.
For all the important stories I’ve been able to read and contribute to over this past year.

I’m thankful for my Vitae colleagues and others who continue to thrust adjunct issues into the spotlight.
For Rebecca Schuman, Sarah Kendzior, and Kelly Baker who speak truth to power and call out injustice.
For Karen Kelsky, Joe Fruscione, and Katie Pryal who are helping adjuncts escape bad situations.
For Stacey Patton, Sydni Dunn, Audrey June, and Peter Schmidt whose news coverage of adjunct issues inform all of our discourse.

I’m thankful for the promise of the future for adjunct professors.
For the fact that, finally, adjuncts seem to be gaining ground.
For hope that things can get better.
For all of the changes that will come this year.

Always an Adjunct?

Walking Away I’m walking away, but I’m not turning my back.

Regular readers of this website know that I left my adjunct teaching position at the University of Georgia last May.  Ultimately, I’m glad I did what I did. The job wasn’t bad, but it was keeping me from moving on to something better.

In this week’s post at Vitae, I discuss some of the questions I’ve been dealing with since deciding to leave my position.

For one, it’s just kind of strange to not be prepping for classes this year like I would usually be doing. After dedicating about seven years of my life to a career track, I’m having a hard time leaving it behind.

I’m also struggling with another important question. How does my role as a writer about adjunct issues change now that I’m no longer an adjunct? My professional identity for the past couple of years has been that of an adjunct who writes about adjunct issues. Now I’m wondering what my new life outside of academe means for my legitimacy as a higher ed writer.

Should I continue to write about adjunct issues? Am I allowed to? Will I even want to?

I have to admit that part of me wants to leave the conversation entirely. I know progress is being made. I see it every day. In the two and half years since the Adjunct Project first began, adjunct issues have been pushed into the mainstream. The tide appears to be turning.

As I discuss in the piece, I’m not sure what my new role will be and whether or not I will stay connected to higher ed. I know leaving was something I had to do. Now I just need to figure out how I can continue to be useful to the growing movement.

Read more about my decision to leave academe and about the questions I’m pondering at:

Giving Up the Good.

Changing Gears in a Difficult Job Market

Editor’s Note: There are so many stories about the difficult academic job market that it’s easy to forget some people do occasionally get jobs. Every once in a while, a tenure-track job is awarded to a lucky candidate, but more often than not, getting a full-time job in academe requires a shift in focus toward what is now commonly referred to as an alternate academic, or alt-ac, career. Sometimes this shift is only a slight pivot, but it can also mean going back to school and earning a new degree.

Brian Flota’s “alt-ac narrative” falls into the second category. The English literature tenure-track market just wasn’t working for him, so he reinvented himself by returning to school and becoming an academic librarian. His story is a good example of how to take a bad situation and change it into a better one. Following is Brian’s alt-ac story that grew out of a discussion between he and Joe Fruscione. Maybe it will help others who are thinking about shifting gears while on the job market.

Going Back to School

In 2006, I graduated with a Ph.D. in English, and the Great Recession happened. Five years later, I’d had nine interviews and zero job offers.

I sat back and watched peers with virtually no publication history from more prestigious universities get tenure-track positions. After a few years on the market while teaching as an adjunct, I was “damaged goods.” There’s that perception that if one does not have a tenure-track job five years out from the Ph.D., the “dream” is probably not going to come true. Getting fewer nibbles on the job market year after year became demoralizing. Realizing this, I began to seriously entertain other career options. Given my research background and some experience working in libraries, I started thinking about getting a Master’s in Library and Information Science (LIS).

This seemed like a great option, although the library job market is just as fraught with peril as the tenure-track English one is. I applied to the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I was accepted, but decided to defer my enrollment into GSLIS for one year so I could test the English Lit job market one last time.

That last year, I only had one job interview. Two months passed without hearing back, and I realized my goose was cooked. I was no longer wanted in the profession I had devoted the last dozen years of my life to. I declined an offer to adjunct again the following year and, with a mixture of relief and terror, went all-in for library school.

Switching careers gave me the opportunity to pay attention to the things I overlooked the first time I was in graduate school. When I started the Ph.D. program in 1999, I was a young, idealistic student who wanted to soak up as much great literature, theory, and research as I could. Getting a job wasn’t a primary concern, even though I was a first-generation college student from a middle-class background. I hadn’t taken advantage of the opportunities to professionalize that I should have, and I’m confident these oversights hurt me on the job market.

I was determined to do things differently the second time around. In fact, in a now-infamous 2012 article published by Forbes, the LIS degree was rated the “No. 1 Worst Master’s Degree for Jobs.” I learned along the way that having a degree from a top-tier school made a huge difference. As a result, I chose to attend UIUC, the school with the top-ranked library program in the country. I began my new life by immediately relocating to Champaign in order to take advantage of the school’s knowledgeable librarians and numerous libraries.

While I waited for classes to begin, I took every volunteer gig I could, and one of them eventually became a graduate assistantship. Before my first class at GSLIS, I met with six librarians to introduce myself and share with them my goals and ambitions. One of those informational interviews led to a second assistantship at UIUC’s Literatures and Languages library.

Once coursework began, I took courses that covered a wide swath of specializations within librarianship, such as reference, cataloging and metadata, databases, displays and exhibits, archives, special collections, and administration. One of the greatest strengths and weaknesses of a PhD is specialization. With this second degree, I wanted to avoid the specialization of my PhD program, so that my marketability wasn’t confined to a very small segment of the profession.

Throughout the two-year process, I was often seized by doubt. I asked myself: “Have I made the right decision?” “Is this worth it?” “Will it work out?” “Am I a failure?” Much of this can be traced back to the amount of loan debt I acquired. I also asked myself, “Will I be able to get a job that will allow me to make my loan payments?”

Once it was time to go on the market, I overcame my self-doubt and applied to 50 jobs, ultimately securing seven phone interviews. This was great compared to my previous job market experiences.

After a dodgy first interview, I got much better. But still no luck landing a job. I was competing with much younger, more tech-savvy applicants. Undaunted, I solicited advice from recent hires and asked them how I should approach the interviewing process.

With the sixth attempt, I netted my first campus visit, which resulted in finally getting a tenure-track position: Library Liaison to the English Department at James Madison University at the rank of Assistant Professor.

Brian Flota is a tenure-track Library Liaison to the English Department at James Madison University.

Congressman George Miller Challenges University Presidents on Adjuncts

Congressman George Miller

Last year, Congressman George Miller of California took up the cause of adjunct labor. Miller, who is the senior Democrat on the House of Representatives’ Committee on Education in the Workforce, opened a public forum last year where adjuncts and other contingent faculty members could share stories about their working conditions.

The open forum generated hundreds of responses from adjuncts across the country. Miller said he was reading each one. According to an interview conducted by Vitae‘s Sydni Dunn, Miller was hoping to “have the opportunity to have a full-committee hearing in the education and workforce committee” regarding the findings of the forum.

I admit to being a little skeptical of Congressman Miller’s interest in this topic. For all I knew, he saw an opportunity to reach thousands of new constituents in one swipe. Maybe that was the case, but Miller has proven more than once that he hasn’t forgotten about the pledge he made to adjuncts.

For starters, he publicly discussed the 800+ responses he received to his open call, and he co-authored a report on the findings. This report was known as the “Just-in-Time Professor: A Staff Report Summarizing eForum Responses on the Working Conditions of Contingent Faculty in Higher Education,” and it’s a 36-page exploration of the adjunct responses to the public forum complete with charts and graphs.

And then today, over at The Chronicle of Higher Education, Rep. Miller published an open letter to college presidents wherein he discusses some of what he has learned about the working conditions of adjuncts and also student athletes. In the letter, entitled “Presidents, Do Right By Athletes and Adjuncts,” Miller calls out college presidents for their treatment of these two exploited groups on college campuses.

The Congressman challenges the rhetoric of university administrations, who often discourage union activity and promise compromise, but then turn right around and maintain the status quo.

He writes:

You can’t have it both ways; you can’t insist that you are unable to make things better for athletes or adjuncts, and simultaneously insist that they should not try to make things better on their own, through collective bargaining.

You own these working conditions. You can keep defending the status quo and trying to excuse shabby workplace practices, but I respectfully suggest you change them instead.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. As for whether this advice will be heeded, well, we shall see. At least the cause is continuing to receive attention—and it’s going further up the ladder than ever before.

Fighting For an Adjunct Union in San Francisco

Adjunct Action Bay Area

Adjunct professors at the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) are attempting to unionize under the SEIU’s metro-organizing strategy, which is now spreading across major cities of the west coast. It’s another exciting opportunity for the successful higher ed organizing group Adjunct Action.

But SFAI administrators are fighting the union drive. The school has hired attorney Ron Holland to represent it. A bio of Holland explains that his practice “focuses exclusively on representing management in traditional labor law and employment law issues.” The union-busting campaign is underway according to Jennifer Smith-Camejo, who works in the communications department of SEIU Local 1021.

Adjuncts at the school are fighting back against the anti-union rhetoric being disseminated by SFAI and their attorney. Some have written on their personal blogs about the opposition they’ve faced, and a tumblr page has also been created to keep people posted on the latest updates. The tumblr links to a petition that anyone can sign to show support for the right to vote.

Students and teachers from SFAI and other area schools will be meeting over the next few days on and off campus to discuss the next steps.

For more information about the union effort at the San Francisco Art Institute, contact:

Jennifer Smith-Camejo, SEIU Local 1021
510-289-1244
jennifer.smith-camejo@seiu1021.org