The Plight of the Adjuncts: Office Space (Part 1)

Stop! Have you read my Disclaimer?

Nationwide, contingent faculty (aka adjuncts)  teach 58 percent of community college courses, according to a new report from the Center for Community College Student Engagement. Part-time faculty teach more than half (53 percent) of students at two-year institutions. 75% of developmental education students (those most likely to struggle academically) are taught by adjunct faculty. In one division of our college nearly 70% of classes are taught by adjunct faculty.  In some areas, adjunct faculty are actually serving as program coordinators–bearing nearly all the responsibility for running their respective programs–something for which they are not compensated any more than other adjunct faculty.

Although they teach the majority of our classes and the majority of our students depend on their instruction, adjunct faculty are often treated as second-class (if not third-class) citizens in the institutions of higher education in which they toil away every day.

In the way they now employ (rely on) adjunct instructors at low wages with no benefits in part-time, temporary positions with no job security, higher education institutions are much like Wal-Mart.  Noam Chomsky makes this comparison, explaining, “It’s a part of a corporate business model designed to reduce labor costs and to increase labor servility.” In short, it’s just one more part of the “corporatization” of the community college (and, no doubt, even our 4-year sister institutions).

I’m not really “business-minded,” so you’ll have to forgive me here: I think that if the majority of our students are being taught by adjunct faculty–faculty who are, in some cases, teaching more classes and even teaching better than full-time faculty–we ought to be providing them with the respect, the compensation, and the support to help them help our students succeed. (As it turns out, deep down somewhere, I still have a little idealism that bubbles up from some unknown place.)

If only.

In reality, although we (collective–not a specific we) know that supporting our adjunct faculty would only increase student success, we continually ignore them in favor of other endeavors to increase student success, retention, persistence (or whatever the word of the day is).

This post is, I hope, one in a series that will become a part of the ongoing dialogue about the role (and the plight) of adjunct faculty in institutions of higher education.  As a Department Head, I rely heavily on adjunct faculty. I also have some of the best adjunct faculty ever. I have dedicated instructors who give their all even when we give them next-to-nothing. I do the best I can by them, but there is only so much I can do.

One thing I can do is lend my voice to their cause–help shed light on the world in which they live–the obstacles they face–the good, hard work they do every day and the impact it has on our students.

So this is part 1: Office Space.

One of the ways in which adjuncts are relegated to second or third-class citizenship is through office space–or, more accurately, the lack thereof.

In preparation for this post, I asked adjuncts via Twitter to send me photos of their “offices” to help illustrate my point.  One adjunct responded, “ I have a pic, but it’s not of an office, because I don’t have an office.” Instead he sent me this picture, which really captures the experience of a large number of adjunct faculty, who work “on the go:”

One adjunct’s “office” picture

This is an example of an adjunct “office” on my own campus. It’s a cart with wheels, filled with student work, files, and even supplies like a stapler, index cards, scissors, and writing utensils. The adjunct rolls it (up a giant hill, over steps) up to the building from his/her car and into the building…and across campus…and from classroom to classroom; then, back to the car and home:

 

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Even when adjuncts are afforded physical office space on campus, it’s seriously inadequate. They don’t have doors that lock, which means they cannot leave anything of consequence when they leave for the day. All books, tests, essays, gradebooks must travel with them. They squeeze into spaces the size of closets; they share that space with 5, 10, 20 of their colleagues. Meeting privately with students to discuss grades, provide one-on-one tutoring, or advising is a joke. They may get one computer to share. Yet, we stress to them how important using technology today is. They better just have their own personal devices to use to do it. They may get some filing cabinets to store things–as long as those things are not confidential–because nothing confidential can be left unlocked–and adjuncts don’t usually get keys–to doors or cabinets.

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And because these physical space limitations exists, many adjuncts work from their homes, their cars, or on the go:

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Recently, I read this article in which an adjunct faculty member explains how she is both employed by a university and simultaneously homeless.

My Twitter request for pictures yielded this picture:

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 9.58.55 PM

Tweeting back to this adjunct yielded this response: “I was sleeping on kind friends’ air mattresses/sofas/spare mattresses/beanbags the night before – good times.”

Glamorous, no? What you think when you think “professor?” Right. But this is the reality for the professors who teach well over half of our classes–well over half of our students.

So think about this: we know that engaging one-on-one with faculty is one of the keys to success. But for over half of our students, engaging one-on-one with faculty (adjuncts) can be next to impossible; after all, they’ve got nowhere to engage with them.

8 Comments

Filed under Community College, Developmental Education, Higher Ed

8 responses to “The Plight of the Adjuncts: Office Space (Part 1)

  1. jeff christmas

    I REALLY appreciate this. In fact, I had a related idea today. What if we devoted the upper parking lot at Oconee (or some such space–perhaps a portion of it at least) to adjuncts? It’s not addressing the office space issues but would at least keep them from having to lug their portable offices all over. And it might, GASP, make them feel a tiny bit more appreciated. What does Hulehansay?

    • Hulehansays…I’ve had a similar idea. Parking is definitely an issue, especially when they’re hauling around whole offices…going back and forth between campuses and other jobs. Of course, two days a week in Spring even FT faculty aren’t guaranteed faculty parking, so…ya know…

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  6. Well done! I am reminded of the hysterically funny piece “instant Office” http://cpfa.org/blog/instant-office/

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