Last May, I was hired by [college omitted] [department omitted] to teach one course during the second summer session. This was the only work I could find for the summer and was also my only source of income as an international student who cannot work outside the CUNY system. My course was cancelled 4 days before I was supposed to start teaching it due to low enrollment. So, four days before the start of the second summer session, I frantically called around all of the colleges to see if anyone had any jobs for me, but it was too late.
I called the union liaison, our conversation lasted only a couple minutes: she said what happened to me was within the contract and there was nothing the union could do for me. I got no compensation, and no unemployment benefits — I was scheduled to teach during the Fall, which disqualified me, and I was not sure I would qualify even if I didn’t, since I’m an international student on visa. I felt completely abandoned by the union. I asked around my graduate department and faculty just told me to “hold on” since they had just nominated me for a teaching fellowship in the Fall.
I had to borrow money to get through the summer. Come Fall, I started teaching two courses as part of my fellowship assignment. However, I was not aware that I would still be charged partial tuition, since I’m an “out-of-state” student, because I’m foreign.
The graduate teaching fellowship I was given is for $17,000, and stipulates that I can be assigned 4 courses a year to teach. Adjuncting would be [as much as] 6 courses for $18,000. However,the tuition difference I have to pay is already close to $7,000 for 2 semesters, so I’m teaching 4 courses/ year for $10,000, making my pay less than the adjunct rate if I were a permanent resident of the US.
I talked to my department chair about this, he tried to help, but only managed to waive $1,800 of my tuition, which is a welcome effort but is not enough. Why am I having to pay CUNY tuition at all, while I’m already providing them with extremely cheap qualified labor? This should be workers’ right violation. It’s already a violation that the new PhD students are receiving the same fellowships we do, but they only have to teach 2 courses/year for more than $25,000. Why am I teaching 4 courses/year for $10,000 while my colleagues are teaching 2 courses/year for $26,000?
So far, I found the union absolutely unhelpful and useless for any issues I had as an adjunct or as a teaching fellow. After my experience in the summer, I would hesitate to ask for help from the union ever again. In my experience, the PSC normalizes adjunct issues instead of combating them.
You ask about impacts on classroom performance. The impact is too huge to even relate. There are overworked adjuncts all over the CUNY system, graduate students or not. How can we provide any kind of quality education when we are being paid so little? We resent students when they make extra demands from us, because we are not getting paid enough to properly instruct them. We read homework late because of overwork & underpay. We battle with university bureaucracies just to get an office space for a couple days a week or to get access to university resources. We get assigned the most undesired time slots (really early in the morning or very late at night, sometimes both with many hours between classes.) Our personal relationships are strained because we are stressed; we resent our colleagues who are able to take on less work or who are assigned less work for the same pay. Full-time faculty have absolutely no idea what we go through — they always seem shocked when we tell them about our financial situation.
I am exhausted. I feel cheated and I am full of anger and resentment. And it is with these feelings inside me that I teach courses, all the while trying to suppress them.