Being Out of Work Puts the Adjunct “Out of the Loop”

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For adjuncts, losing an assignment to the vagaries of registration is devastating. Neither rent, mortgage, nor utilities costs disappear with the courses and, usually at the last minute before a semester’s start, an adjunct can be left wondering not only how to pay those continually rising living costs in the ensuing months but, how to put food on the table. With no relief allowed through unemployment compensation, the adjunct is left with the stress and depression of struggling through her next months of life on the poverty level. No competent, experienced, dedicated professional should ever have to go through that. Adding insult to injury is the uncompensated loss of days, weeks, and sometimes months of preparation that may be invested in a given semester.

The latter was the case for me when I decided to participate in the unpaid preparations necessary for joining the high-impact practice of the Common Read. This was, in my mind, an opportunity to both enhance my professional development and to offer my students an engaging, beneficial learning experience. During the semester before its unveiling, the Common Read involves participation in several lengthy meetings with colleagues on campus; reading, annotating, and reflecting on the selected book; generating events ideas to be shared with all; regular communication with one’s faculty cohort; considerable research and materials contributed to the events pool; and development of new lesson plans, activities, assignments, and handouts for the students one would have in order to smoothly incorporate the Common Read into the regular curriculum that must still be taught. Furthermore, transportation costs to the campus for the meetings, often held on days the part-time adjunct is not officially working, are not reimbursed. In the end, fired up, fully prepared, and ready to go, I was deeply disappointed that the class I’d been assigned and enthusiastically looking forward to for months was, at the last minute, given to a full-time professor to supplement his or her required enrollment. All of that unpaid work and expense over an entire semester were for nothing, coupled with the reward for my contributions of a semester of deep financial hardship and pedagogical frustration.

In response to some of the questions posed in the PSC bargaining survey, job insecurity deeply affects one’s relationship with the department chair by inculcating a self-protective attitude of distrust and, no doubt in some cases, even a suspicion of politics and favoritism. This negative—but quite understandable—reaction is absolutely anathema to a spirit of dedication and collegiality essential for the professional and cooperative strength of any department. Apologies and words of praise mean nothing in the face of a chair’s concrete decisions that can have such a devastating effect both financially and emotionally. In some departments, adjuncts whose assignments were cancelled are immediately dropped by secretaries from the departmental e-mail list, cutting them off completely from important announcements of events, innovations, or changes in policy and required classroom practice. Being out of work in a given semester is not only an embarrassment among peers but, it puts the adjunct “out of the loop” that would otherwise enable one to at least keep up to date with mandated changes. Such lack will clearly affect the quality of preparation for the next semester in which one does have assignments. When you’re “out of the loop,” you’re done for professionally, and loyalty is damaged if not destroyed. Sometimes I marvel at the extent of such collateral damage that is not even recognized, let alone acknowledged.

Adjunct faculty are held to the same course content requirements, the same high-impact initiatives implementation, and the same high performance evaluation standards as tenured faculty—with few, more often none, of the resources or benefits that full-time faculty are afforded. It is only right for those who prove themselves semester after semester, year after year, that the injustice and financial hardship adjuncts endure must come to an end. In its current round of collective bargaining negotiations for contract renewal, it is absolutely essential that the PSC wins for adjuncts: first, above all, the right to uncontested unemployment benefits; second, important for health and financial viability, elimination of the rule that prevents adjuncts from holding more than two assignments on one campus; third, a system of apolitical job security, perhaps seniority or tenure. No more unpaid work, please, and no more disenfranchisement from unemployment benefits.