Thursday, April 16, 2015

Fraud and Adjunct Training

For Profit universities are increasingly coming under fire for having deceived their students about the university's ability to place them in careers related to their field of study.  If you do this and you're Corinthian University, or more topically, Heald Business College in California's Bay Area, the government steps in and shuts you down.  It's fraud.

Also on the increase is the traditional university's reliance on the For Profit university's model, which they call "The Business Model".  It seems to me that the Business Model makes NPO universities vulnerable to the same kinds of litigation brought against the For Profit University.  Read that sentence again, it's the heart of this thing.

For instance, I have a Ph.D..   Getting my Ph.D. took a lot of time and money.  I did it because I was assured by everyone in my program that getting a job as a tenure track professor was extremely likely given that 2010 would mark the beginning of baby boomer retirement.  I have no qualms saying that I sacrificed for the Ph.D. in order to get a tenure track job as a professor:  everyone involved in my training knew this, and no one raised issues with that plan.

But getting a job as a tenure track professor is NOT assured because of the adjunct problem which these same universities propagate.  So, if nursing students at Corinthian can sue that university for not getting jobs as nurses, why can't I sue my alma mater for having taken my money to train me for a field where there are no job openings.  I assume that people with master's degrees are operating under the idea that they could get tenure track positions in community colleges.  I trained under the assumption that I would get a tenure track job at the university level.  In both cases, we've been lied to.  That's fraud.

What makes matters worse is that Corinthian could say, "well, we don't control the nursing industry," which I'm sure they did say (it didn't work or else they'd still be open), but our alma maters cannot say the same thing.  They are the education industry and thus are directly linked to the employment crisis.  They're telling us that they're training us to be faculty, but they're actually training us to be adjuncts.

Perhaps someone should call the department of Education and make the complaint.

Here's the website:

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Ask and You Shall Receive

The Cleveland State Adjuncts asked that Senator Sherrod Brown acknowledge our plight on Saturday.  Today, is Tuesday.  Want to see his letter?

Thank you Senator Brown.  We, the adjuncts at Cleveland State University, appreciate your support.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Supply and Demand

I often see, in regards to the plight of the adjuncts, that supply and demand are at issue.  The argument usually goes that there are just too many people with graduate degrees out there looking for a job for anyone of us to expect a fair wage.

I wonder at the truth of it.  My initial response is that there is truth to it.  After all, my doctoral program alone graduated 4 other Ph.D. students along with me.  When one considers that the Modern Language Association advertises for about 50 jobs in my field a year, it's easy to see that there is a possibility that there are, in fact, too many of us.

The real evidence of jobs, however, isn't a professional organization's Job Information List; it's whether or not you can get a teaching gig.  So, let's just consider that for a minute.  Last Summer, I looked for adjunct teaching jobs in my area.  I applied to four schools.  I received offers from 3.  One wanted me to teach 3 courses a quarter.  Another wanted me to teach a 2/2 load.  Finally, the third wanted me to teach a 2/3 load.  The fourth has a policy in place against hiring people with Ph.D.s. so I didn't get a job there.  I was also asked to teach at a Sylvan Learning Center.

Even turning quarters into semesters, I was offered a 7/8 load.  Essentially, I was given the opportunity to cover the job of 2 1/2 teachers/instructors/adjunct.  Why is that?  Am I a super teacher?  Am I known throughout the land?

No.  Again, no. And in fact, if you don't believe me, I urge you to call the people who write your letters of rec. Were any of them called when you were hired?  Did anyone check on you to help break a tie in the hiring process?

The reality is that there aren't enough teachers to go around.  That's why all of us are capable of getting enough jobs to teach 2x or 3x as much as we should.  If there were a bunch of people waiting in the wings to take our jobs away, they would have.  Perception is an interesting thing.  I am assured constantly that there is a desperate supply of English professors out there waiting to take my position.  Well, where are they?  I don't know any of them.  Do they hide somewhere?

No.  They don't exist.  Look, this isn't McDonald's.  You can't just be replaced.  You have a graduate degree and they have A LOT of students.  They need us.  They should pay us.

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Friday, April 10, 2015


I hope we all understand that, generally speaking, you can be let go as an adjunct (your contract expires without anyone renewing it) for almost any reason, except, really, one.  At least in Ohio, if you are let go because you are trying to organize, you have, for the most part, a pretty good legal case against your former employers.

The thing is, though, you have to have good evidence that you are being treated differently because of your union activities/affiliation (and not for some other reason),   That's not always easy to get.

One thing that seems to be on our side in all of this is that we are dealing with a whole profession of people who have gone without anyone questioning their behavior for so long that they do not have the proper understanding of what they can and can't say.  I think the phrase is, "give them enough rope and they'll hang themselves."

Because what administrator doesn't have that rope?  What anti-union tenured faculty member doesn't have enough rope?  Don't get me wrong.  Most of the people I  work with are on my side regarding the condition of adjuncts.  But those that aren't are amazingly brash and vocal in their opposition, and often to the exact wrong people.

Now, I think there's a moral in all of this.  You see, anywhere else, I think some HR person would have come around and trained people what not to say in order to keep lawsuits from happening...that doesn't seem to have happened in the universities, and I can't imagine it happening any time soon.  I don't think the faculty would put up with being censured.  As a result, there's this weird effect such that, the more open you are about your feelings towards organization, the more you invite faculty to voice complaints about you specifically on that grounds...thus insuring that you can't be let go without lawsuits.

The lesson here is that you don't want to operate in the shadows, because if you do, you can be quietly removed.  It's much better, strangely enough, to be out in the open with a giant target on your back.  When you're public, they seem to feel the urge to be public themselves.   That's bad news for them.

In other news, today sure was weird.  Be sure to ask me about it if you get a chance.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

How to Leave the Profession

I'm hearing a lot of people tell me that they're done.  They tell me that at the end of the semester, they are walking away from higher ed.  If being an adjunct is all that there is to this profession, it's time to cut bait.

...and that's a tragedy.  Teachers with experience, teachers who love their jobs, we shouldn't lose them.  It's a damned loss to the entire country that these people have no choice but to quit the profession or else live a life of abject poverty.  That being said, I totally understand.  What else can you do?

What I don't understand is this:  why are you telling your university that you're leaving?  These are people who've made a mockery of your profession.  They have trashed the thing you love.  These are people who've forced you to go on public assistance or to teach at three different campuses just to make ends meet.

These are people who have tried to starve your children.

Why in the world would you give them extra time to replace you?  The moment that they find out that you won't be picking up your two classes next semester is the moment they try to track you down to sign your contract.  That's some time next Fall.  Often, moments before the class starts.

Get it.

I know, you want to ask for more money, some extra pittance that would pay for you to park at the place where you work.  I know that you want to see their face fill with those moments (moments!) of regret as you shame them for forcing you to leave.  But these are hollow victories.  They are almost meaningless.

If, on the other hand, the university were forced to recruit new adjuncts a day before classes start for every adjunct who leaves the profession this Spring without thought of returning next Fall, they would fall apart.

This is no minor shot across the bow.  A university that had to find 30-40 adjuncts every year to cover their lost faculty, and is forced to find those replacements in a day's time, would panic.  Students would go crazy as their classes began to be cancelled.  Parents would become infuriated as they found out that classes their children needed to graduate were no longer being offered.  Yes, we are somewhat replaceable, but we are not that replaceable.

You thought NAWD was bad.  NAWD was nothing by comparison.

Full time faculty can't cover those classes.  They have contracts that keep them from being overworked.  Existing Adjuncts can't cover those classes, or else they would have too many hours and could then demand health care.  Heck, at my school, I have started every semester without a contract and have taught for at least a week without one.

And the best part is, it's all legal.  They can't get you for a breach of contract because there was no contract in place.  They like to keep you contingent.  Let's hope they have a contingency plan.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Meeting with AAUP Today

This regards the meeting today between the Cleveland State Adjuncts Organizing Committee and  AAUP today.

I think it was a bit touch and go there at the beginning regarding what we ought to be called.  You don't realize just how right some of those crazy french philosophers are until you realize there's no word for you.  Are you part timers?  No, we work full time.  Are we full timers?  No, same reason.  We're adjuncts.  Yes, but some of us are listed as adjuncts, others are instructors, others are lecturers, and still others are departmental lecturers.  We settled on adjuncts.

That being decided, it went swimmingly.  The faculty are aware of everything we're saying especially as to the threat of adjunctification of the university and its effect on education.  They are aware that general education and core classes are being taught increasingly by overworked adjunct faculty, that their new hires are being circumvented by adjunct hiring, that the disparity between pay rates is irrational, and that nothing is going to get solved so long as the university has an exploitable working class.

Basically, they get it.  I gave them buttons.  They put them on.

So, let's say we had a big day today, because we did.  That's my impression of it at any rate. Roger, Russ, and Jim were all there with me so they may have their own impressions of the meeting, but I'm pretty sure they are probably closely aligned with mine.  For my own part, I would say that, today, we scored a win.

We are putting together some ideas for them to help us with.  Obviously, things like letter writing would be helpful, both for media outlets, for memorandum to the faculty on campus, and to higher up officials.  There's also the faculty senate, which they would obviously have access to if we wanted to move some ideas through that.  They know about the April 15th rally on campus and seemed pretty interested in that as well.

I don't know what else to say.  Confidence is high.

If you're reading this, you are an adjunct, and especially if you are an adjunct at Cleveland State University, follow this link to join our FB group.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Day I Helped and It Didn't...

According to two sources I've seen so far (the CCCC review of how adjuncts should get out of their crisis and today's article in the Chron), the answer to the problem of higher ed's reliance on adjunct labor is for the adjuncts to take on more responsibility for their low pay.  If we were to do more work, the argument goes, we would receive recognition from our "colleagues" and our condition would improve.

I took them up on this.

The other day, a Ph.D. candidate asked me if I would look at an essay he'd been sending out for publication and give him some feedback.

It was a fine article, but it had no literature review to speak of.  Moreover, as the article was right in my wheelhouse, I was able to immediately note the three books he hadn't read and which experts peer reviewers would expect him to have read in order for him to publish in that particular subfield.  I made copious notes on the document and gave it back to the guy.

A few points:  first, the article had gone out four times without a literature review.  Second, it had gone out under supervision.  In other words, somebody had advised the guy that the article was ready to go out despite its not having a literature review.  Third, the texts that were cited were obscure precisely because they were required reading for a graduate level class that, let me be blunt, must have been behind the times if those were the books assigned.

When I found the student to give back his paper, he was in a meeting with a professor (I think the professor who was guiding him through the paper).  I pardoned the interruption, handed the student the paper, and walked off...having become a substantial part of the inner workings of my department, particularly in my volunteering to aid a graduate student.  You will admit, becoming a mentor to a graduate student is outside my responsibilities as an adjunct.  I took on the extra workload, now for that respect I'd heard so much about!

So, that professor will no longer look me in the face.  He walks by me without acknowledging my presence.  Do you know why?  Because my input on his student in his program is not appreciated.  Those are their graduate students, and its a problem when an adjunct walk in and tell them how to succeed where their mentor professors have been unable to offer useful advice. And there I am saying, "this will never get published without a literature review.  Why don't you have a literature review?"  The professor is just not going to be happy when he learns that the adjunct down the hall is giving better advice to the grad students than he is.

Seriously, no literature review.  Sent out and rejected four times.

Having said that, I think that professor is, essentially, right.  It's his department, not mine.  It's not my place to tell the Ph.D. candidates how it's done.  They let the student refer to himself as ABD.  He isn't.  He's in coursework.  But ABD sounds impressive and since no one challenges him, it lets him think he's almost there.  I explained to him that he wasn't ABD and he looked at me incredulously.  Who am I to expose that--to send him back to his professor saying "but the adjunct says I'm not ABD, why'd you guys let me go around telling people I'm ABD?"  I mean they shouldn't, but at the same time, if they do, I'm not helping the situation any.  Who am I to critique the reading list of the graduate level class that teaches the student the "cutting edge" of scholarship in that field.

And while I'm on the subject, who am I to explain that the path through the major is counterproductive or that an elective slot is pretty much occupied semester after semester by the same class taught in the same way by the same professor?  It's not my department.  I'm an adjunct.  And if I don't understand that, I will be reminded the second I try to shape departmental policy.  I simply don't have a stake in it, and that makes all the difference, not just in what I might be willing to do to help, but also in how that help is going to be received and interpreted.

It is ridiculous to assume that we can just step in and start acting like faculty in our current position.  First off, this idea of "becoming involved" makes it seem like those of us who aren't making any money are just not working hard enough.  Why, we should be on committees too.  Second , it assumes that the opportunity to become vibrant developers of our department's curriculum is available to us, when the reality is, our input is often not only unappreciated, but counterproductive to the department's mission.  We are hired to teach our class and to go away.  Sticking around to do more won't earn respect.  It will make us look either bossy or pathetic.

I would love to have graduate students under my belt.  Seriously, I would.  I would love to talk to the other people teaching in my discipline and have arguments on why we should be pushing certain authors and theorists over others.  But none of that happens when we are not equals.  I'm just the guy who thinks that the professor in charge of my field is a decade behind the times.  That's not fair.  I can't help him.  He can't correct me.  I can't really help his students.  Given the situation as it stands now, it's better, not just for me, but for everyone involved if I just teach my thing and go.