Re-emerging: Academia & Public Workers

Well my “couple week break” in May 2009 turned into almost two years!  During the last few years I finished my master’s in Women And Gender Studies, taught Western Civ (!!) for a year at GTCC (the local community college).  Last semester I taught Intro to Women and Gender Studies at UNCG and two sections of World Civ II at GTCC.  This semester I’m doing the same except World Civ I, plus a UNCG first-year seminar called “Shaking Things Up: Southern Movements for Social Justice.”  I love my students!  Though I hate grading.  But as busy at it keeps me, I’m gradually finding balance and Fall will be my first semester when ‘ll be teaching all classes I’ve taught before.  I’m really looking forward to that!

Whew!  Its been a super busy crazy couple of years with lots of life transitions, and exciting and painful learning and growth.  Even though I’m not sure I want to adjunct forever, I’m feeling more settled about issues of vocation than I was when I started the blog.  I feel more comfortable letting things unfold  and letting go of finding some “perfect” thing to do.

That said, issues of honest living are on my mind right now because of all the intense pressure on public employees, particularly teachers.  As an adjunct employed part-time at two state-funded institutions, its sometimes easy to feel like I’m not really part of those institutions, not really a public employee.  But I (we) am (are)!  And while the 9.5% reduction just announced for the UNC system means my situation is even more precarious, it also may mean that under-paid part-time adjuncts like myself are used to “plug the holes” when they cut full-time positions.

This has all made me think about the position of adjuncts as public employees.  We are (I believe) exploited by the institution.  But are we also in a way scabs?  In a lot of ways I enjoy the autonomy and lack of accountability required of me by part-time work, though not the pay and lack of benefits.  But as budgets get worse and worse, the lack of accountability of the institution to me as an adjunct – and increasingly to all public emplyees – really worries me.

Here’s an interesting link to the Union of Part-Time Faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit.  I first heard about them because they did a workshop at the US Social Forum in Detroit (I wasn’t able to go but looked them up later).

There’s also an amazing new NC “Labor, Faith and Civil Rights Coalition in Defense of the Public Sector” (picture of them in the HKonJ march above) dealing with issues impacting public workers.  They’re having a day of action in Raleigh on April 4th.

It seems to me that as adjunct public employees, we somehow need to figure out where we fit – both in our particular position as part-time, semester-to-semester employees, and as public workers – and figure out how we are being used and treated in all the cuts and shifts going on currently.

What do other folks think about all this?


2 responses to “Re-emerging: Academia & Public Workers

  1. A most provocative post!

    As adjunct faculty I think we are expected to feel ‘grateful’ for having a professional position in a prestigious institution. For those of you who are younger and just beginning your careers, it’s considered a ‘step up’ and a bullet on your resumes. For those of us who are older, it can feel like an oasis amid age discriminatory hiring practices. Although I am conflicted about accepting a smaller salary for full-time teaching and advising than I earned over thirty years ago (!), I justify it by telling myself that ‘At least I have benefits; at least I have a job.’ And I think the institution counts on my saying this because I do need to continue to work to support myself. (Yes, realize how unusual it is for adjunct faculty to have benefits). As uncomfortable as it is, I do need to think about whether this ‘gratitude’ constitutes being a scab.

    Our colleagues may view adjuncts as being free from the institutional mandates of publishing and tenure madness and yet not be able to recognize the inequities of our pay, work loads and employment security. But our work is just as valuable, just as integral to the mission of providing quality education. I care just as much as any tenured faculty, and perhaps even more because I have no other focus than the education of our students.

    This examination of adjunct professionals does raise questions of exploitation particularly in a time of high unemployment and economic stress. While adjuncts choose to accept the terms of their employment, the fact that the institutions benefit from the inequities raises serious questions about the system. I’m not sure I can consider myself a scab – perhaps I’m more a survivor because when cuts come, I definitely have a target on my back. And yet, if companies and institutions choose to replace employees who have higher salaries with adjunct/temporary/reduced salary and benefits employees, it does appear ‘scabby.’ It’s usually older employees who get the axe……and those older employees will frequently find themselves in the ‘grateful to be exploited’ category just to earn a salary again.

    • Thanks for these comments! Sorry I only just saw them now — I just discovered a bunch of comments waiting for my approval that I somehow never saw before! I agree, its very complex. The Wayne State Adjunct’s Union seems really inspiring and interesting as a model to think about.

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