I got this email from one of the socialist parties whose email list I somehow got onto; it’s by one Nicole Troxell, a Sociology professor in Kentucky:
When I was 19 years old, a college professor changed my life. I took his Feminist Political Thought course and realized for the first time that I could be smart and capable. …
When I was 19 years old, a college professor changed my life. I took his Feminist Political Thought course and realized for the first time that I could be smart and capable. I decided I wanted to give students what he had given me. I talked to professors about what it was like to teach college and it seemed perfect. There would be time for artistic and intellectual work, a chance to foster curiosity and critical thinking, building community, freedom to work a flexible schedule mostly from home, good wages and benefits, and opportunities to contribute to research.
In other words, she thought she’d hit the jackpot; getting paid big money to spend very few hours per week teaching an utterly valueless discipline.
What could go wrong?
No one ever mentioned the word “adjunct” and I didn’t know what it meant until I took my first teaching job at a community college. I thought an adjunct position was probably a trial period for a full-time post that was sure to open soon. I was still full of hope for my career.
Today I have classes that run four, five, six, 12, and 16 weeks long at three to five different schools. I work more hours than a full-time college professor, yet I get paid less than half as much. I work so many hours that I sometimes average less than the minimum wage.
That moment when practicioners of valueless trades almost, but don’t quite, realize that their trade has no value.
I am working hard and not seeing tangible fruits for my labor. I can’t afford health insurance, even under the Obama plan; and I have nothing saved for retirement. I can’t pay my student loans and barely manage to pay basic living expenses. Occasionally I get warm fuzzy compliments from students who become passionate about what they learn from me, but mostly my poor students get a tired, overworked, unenthusiastic teacher who has to try hard to “fake it until I make it.” Why do I keep doing this? Simply because it was my dream to teach college.
Sucks, doesn’t it? I hit that same wall when I was 29; It was my dream to do major market radio, but I was making $8 an hour with two kids to feed and #3 on the way. I had to adapt.
So is “adaptation” in the future for Ms. Troxell?
Adjuncts are not without hope, however. Thousands are organizing around the country in unions like Service Employees International (SEIU)…Adjuncts can shake things up and galvanize change by urging their local unions to start organizing. Better wages and benefits would take away the incentive for adjunct positions and hopefully encourage universities to employ more full-time teachers.
Er, yeah. Hopefully.
Or – more likely – they’d realize, as value-conscious students are, that “women’s studies” and sociology are of no real value to them (beyond, maybe, general requirement survey courses, and even there I’d be pissed at any college that required me to waste any of my hard-earned time on either), and they’ll contract those departments even further, leading non-tenure-track academics to careers in insurance, real estate, and fast food.