National Adjunct Walkout Day
I was unable today to attend the official event that took place at Metro, though I was able to take action myself in a small way by not holding class at Front Range, and also assigning my students to do a little research about the event and the reasons for it. Beyond merely complaining about the state of affairs of adjuncts, myself included, however, I thought it might make things a little more vivid to my acquaintances and readers if I related a little of my own particular and specific struggle with being adjunct faculty.
Now most of my supervisors and chairs are good to me. At least, as good to me as they are able, given the horrific state of my job description. Right now I am on the roster of seven academic departments across five schools, and most of my bosses are at least attempting to do right by me within the confines of my adjunct-ness. One department, however, isn’t. I’ll give you the rundown on this department’s awful treatment of me in a nutshell, to put my story out there on #NAWD.
Back in 2001, I was about to graduate with my MFA in Creative Writing. I took a course that semester called Designing a Writing Workshop, taught by the legendary Jack Collom and esteemed Lee Christopher. It was during this class that I realized I could teach, and might even want to. I also was given a couple “in”s: to DU’s University College (who only employ adjuncts, btw), and Metro’s English department. My interview at Metro resulted in being hired on as adjunct, to teach Freshman Comp but especially to teach Intro to Children’s Lit, as that is an area of expertise of mine. In fact, way back then, I was even asked to help develop the intro course, as it was only an upper-division selection before. Suffice to say, I was hired not only because of general required credentials, but a specific realm of expert knowledge.
Things started going slightly downhill when they hired a full time professor whose specialty is children’s lit. This meant that he got assigned those courses first, and I was often passed over to teach them in favor of him, no matter my past help in developing the course, or how (arguably) better I was at teaching it (1). The downhill slope got slippery when another full-time professor asked me to submit to him my Harry Potter course syllabus. I had created and taught the Harry Potter course for DU as a literature course–he wanted me to adapt it for Metro’s infant Cinema Studies minor. I did so gleefully. He came back a couple days later, dejected: the committee rejected the course offering, for the following reason: the full-time children’s lit prof might get upset if I were given this course to teach. Might.
It got worse for me over at Metro English when I began teaching for Metro’s Theatre department in 2005.This meant that my total of three courses tops would have to span two departments instead of one. You’d think this wouldn’t be an issue, but English started scheduling me in conflict with Theatre (a couple times without telling me), after I gave them my Theatre class schedule needs clearly. I once got double-booked by English with no email or phone call telling me they’d scheduled me at all, let alone in conflict with other courses. When I discovered this and asked to reschedule, not only did they have limited choices left for me, they made it plain that the clerical error was all my fault, not a lack of communication on their part. Remember that this was in 2006: I had been teaching for them for five years at this point, to positive, even glowing, evaluations by both my peers and students. Not that merit or seniority have any pull whatsoever for an adjunct…
To top off this paycheck-deleting nightmare, once Theatre began giving me two classes consistently (one in my specific area of expertise: movement, and one general course), I was told that my one remaining Metro course in English could not be a hybrid or an online course. Never mind the grant and the awards I had received from DU for my online course development and teaching, nor the availability and popularity of such courses in the English department. Nope, if one only teaches one course in a semester for Metro English, it can’t be online. When I asked why this policy was in place, I was told it was just a rule. When I asked why it was a rule, I was told that, well, if you teach online only we do that for those with disabilities or who aren’t able to get to campus, you know, like so-and-so who had her baby last semester…
I didn’t bother to emphasize my lack of a vehicle, my commute to Denver from Boulder by public transportation, let alone my online education accolades. (2) I let it go, knowing I could do nothing about it.
It has gotten worse since then, and only recently. At this point I had been teaching faithfully for Metro English for more than a decade. The composition class I was assigned was cancelled due to low enrollment (a plague of we adjuncts, especially as we can’t know for certain this will happen till about two weeks before the semester begins, making it exceedingly difficult to find a replacement for that income). You see, the English department sets its adjunct schedules with request sheets that we fill out and submit to those in charge of scheduling. Partway through the canceled semester, I asked when I would be receiving my scheduling sheet for the next semester.
I was told that the sheets had already gone out to those adjuncts with classes, that there was nothing left for me. Astonished, I asked why I wasn’t sent one. I was told that they only went out to those faculty who had classes. I reminded the person in charge that I had had a class, it was just canceled. I hadn’t asked to take my name out of the running for the next semester, and I certainly didn’t think I’d be twice screwed over because of one class not having enough people. I was told there was nothing to be done. So I asked when next semester were the sheets going out, so I wouldn’t fall under the cracks again. They told me when, and at the designated date I asked dutifully for my schedule sheet.
I was told once more that sheets were only going out to those with courses. That even though I specifically requested to be given a course for the following semester, they wouldn’t be giving me a schedule sheet. If there were any courses left over, I was told, they’d let me know. I asked how I could possibly have gotten a request for a class in, if my class was canceled two semesters ago? So that means that once one suffers one semester with no class in the English department, one is no longer considered eligible for teaching? (3)
This happened three semesters ago. I have emailed the department to inquire about my status, about teaching any classes, to vague replies, and in recent months, to no reply at all. I have no idea if I’m still in their pool or not, but I’m obviously not welcome to teach for them. After nearly fifteen years there, with good evaluations and useful areas of expertise, I have been given no explanation for this treatment, nor any notification if I’ve been “terminated.”
Of course, adjuncts being the contract employees we are, it’s not really a termination at all, and they have every right to string me along, refuse to assign me courses, and not respond to my communication. I have no legal power to do anything about this situation whatsoever. All I can do is tell you all what happened.
I have posted this memoir to my own website, which is thence connected to my Twitter and Facebook accounts. I will link it to my Google+ account, and also share it with the dean of Arts and Letters at Metro. I haven’t named names, and I don’t have anything against any of the talented full-timers there. However, I feel that on this day of awareness of how we adjuncts are treated, I need to at least share my story. It may do no good but to make you all feel sorry for me, or it may raise awareness in the right places to maybe do something about it, if not for me then for the many other adjuncts teaching there in my stead.
I’d at least like to know if I’ve been “fired”…
(1) My evidence of this is purely anecdotal: my data comes from students who have told me their opinions of both his courses and mine.
(2) Let alone what a dismissive, backward view of online learning this is. As though the only purpose of an online course is for those who lack capability somehow for on ground courses. I have learned since that English has eradicated all their hybrid courses and cut drastically their online courses. I can’t see how that can possibly serve the students well.
(3) There is actually an option on the scheduling form which says: Please do not schedule me for this semester, but do keep me in the English department pool for the following semester. So…what happens to an adjunct who selects this option?