you've been to an invitational 'we-love-our-adjuncts' banquet or
luncheon. Some are annual soirees; others less formal affairs marking
the start or end of a term.
I've seen my share of them
over a decade tramping between diverse campuses as a contingent
teacher. The food is good, the smiles are fixed, the mood is
manipulatively cheery, and the gathering's expense may well
exceed the combined day's pay of all the adjuncts in the room.
As the low-wage instructors hungrily
eye the awaiting buffet spread, the dean or program director warmly
convenes the ceremonies and prompts round-the-room
self-introductions (especially since most of the itinerant
teachers don't know their fellow adjuncts beyond a mingled flurry
of gear while swapping classrooms).
At an orchestrated moment the college
president or other high-ranker bounds to the podium, lobs a
few laudatory comments, then hastily retreats before encountering
any off-book exchanges with preening or pissed-off adjuncts.
However brisk the presidential
departure, the echo of a misty platitude clings to the air as
some sticky aerosol:
"You teachers are where the rubber
meets the road."
Ugh. There it is again. The more times I
hear it, the sharper is my reflexive cringe at the metaphor.
It sounds commendable. It sniffs sweetly
appreciative. And it is, unfortunately, apt.
Adjunct teachers are where the
rubber meets the road.
Let's hoist it on the rack and try
to figure why it rubs so wrong.
Granting a generous interpretation, the
sentimental retread here is that adjuncts are frequently
on the front lines of battle, the fingernail to the itch, the igniting spark where all aspirations
and preparations finally combust into action (to kaleidoscopically
But this tired one gets rolled out time
and again. Indeed, in ways more than one, adjuncts are quite
like wheels on the bus of academe (English instructors may note the
imagery has switched from a metaphor to a simile):
We haul much of the
organization's weight on our steel-belted backs. A
sizable slice of all college courses are now capably
taught by adjuncts, typically with advanced degrees and practical
experience. However, the number of an adjunct's assignments at any one
institution is kept strategically below the level that might
obligate employer provided benefits. This smacks of an unspoken
collusion between institutions: they collectively reap labor from
instructors who may cobble together a fulltime teaching load up and down
the road, while the HR budget is exempted from a fair share of employment
costs. An institution's bottom line and its upper echelons catch a cheap
ride on the overburdened, undercompensated backs of adjuncts. Let
other professions beware: no position is immune to this type of cunning
We leave a depleting tread of
ourselves behind each roll of the wheel.
Adjuncts care, and students love them for it as is often reflected in
teaching evaluations above the norm. A recent American Federation of
Teacher survey quantified the obvious: adjuncts teach for the
enjoyment of it, not so much for the pay. Market economics can fix the
precise measure of adjunct devotion -- it's the dollar
discrepancy between what is fair and what is tolerated, even as those
forces squeeze a teacher's joy right out of the margins.
Adjuncts are solitary wayfarers, with few opportunities to network
and organize. Thinly succored with low levels of support and pay,
adjunct instructors are run near empty with few
rest stations to refuel.
When we're worn out and threadbare,
we are easily discarded and cheaply replaced.
No benefits, no notice, no worries. The current job market has legions willing
or desperate to accept unfair conditions. Some may counter
that no one forces adjuncts to work under slavish terms when
they can simply roll away. That position is a kissing cousin to the
brutish "love-it-or-leave-it" mindset. Those unarmed and
unarmored adjuncts who bravely protest injustices see it's not just a right, but also a duty to an educator's highest
ideals. The coward's way is to quit the field or to banish the fighters
who shame the abusers.
So the truth of it is, adjunct teachers are
where the rubber meets the road.
Have you heard it said, too? Did it drive
you to higher revs of motivation, or did it fall flat as it rolled by?
Simmering anger and resentment meld for an
unsavory sauce, and even the finest meal is spoiled when talk from the
dais is hard to swallow. And I'm disappointed that my attendance gives
credence to the saccharin gratitude that ices our token cake, when
we really crave fair compensatory bread.
Motoring the 45-minutes homeward
from still another obligatory adjunct fete -- yet even more rubber
on the road trailing my ever-thinner tires -- the
delectably-catered evening settles as malnourishing as my grocery
budget between uncertain teaching assignments. If they really want us
to feel appreciated, next time save a few bucks on the banquet and keep
us at home with a small bonus check and a large pizza.
It may be well-intended as an
inspirational accolade; or perhaps an admonition. Adjuncts are
where the rubber met the road.
To my ear, it rings more like a eulogy for
Note: I've rarely been one to hide behind anonymity for any
rants or outrageousness, at frequent lamentable cost. In this case, I will
engage cloaking to protect three parties:
1) Myself -- adjuncts are an
insecure breed by definition.
2) Other adjuncts -- perhaps any
administrators reading this might assume it's by one of their own teachers and
may treat their adjuncts with greater care.
3) My employers -- I
don't want anyone feeling obliged to coddle me more than other adjuncts by
fear of publicity,
rather than a sense of fair play.
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