The Plight of the Adjuncts (Part 3): Can You Hear Me Now?

If you’re not familiar with my disclaimer, now’s the time to read it. Just saying.

Additionally, (just to reiterate) I put out a call on social media for adjuncts to share, so it should not be assumed that any quotes/stories come from adjuncts who work for me or at my institution.

If you work a job where someone provides you with regular access to a telephone and pays the service for that phone, you might NOT be an adjunct instructor. In fact, I’m 99.99% sure you aren’t. And if you are, you must be really, really lucky, and you should take the opportunity to thank the Powers That Be at your institution for this luxury. Because that’s what it is for most adjunct instructors: a luxury–and one not afforded to them.

Allow me to use one adjunct instructor’s story to help illustrate my point here:

I couldn’t afford to continue to pay for my cell phone (my personal phone, mind you…) at the beginning of this year, and it was cut off for a while until I could pay the bill.  Thus, I didn’t give my spring semester students a phone number to contact me.  When I let one of my supervisors know, I was pretty much told that this is completely unacceptable.  I said the students could call and leave messages with the division office, but I would not be able to access messages from there except when I was on campus (Mon/Wed at that time).  That’s not good enough.  I am supposed to get back to them sooner than that. So, what is an adjunct to do?  They don’t provide me with a phone…or an office.  I could use the phone in the part time office, but it doesn’t call long distance, and it is shared by ALL the adjuncts on campus.  ALL OF THEM.  How on earth would anyone be able to reliably and securely leave a message?

At my institution, most of the adjuncts I know end up sharing their personal cell phone numbers with students. There are so many problems with this, I feel like I cannot even successfully enumerate them for you without unintentionally leaving one (or several) out, but here are some:

  1. They have to pay for those calls!
  2. Students call them at any and all hours of the day/night.
  3. It is an intrusion into the personal lives of the instructors.
  4. It may also be an intrusion into their professional lives (many adjuncts, remember, work more than one job).
  5. Students may otherwise abuse the knowledge of the number.

As one adjunct told me, “Using a personal phone gets tricky because then students have constant access to you. And they don’t operate on the same schedules.”

Another share: “I’ve gotten a couple of middle-of-the-night drunk phone calls, too. Or I had one ask me for help to bail his dad out of jail!”

Another anecdote: “ I got a phone call from a student at 8 pm on Valentines Day while I was out with my husband. I’d get calls at 1 am.”

This is not ok. As one person on Twitter put it so well, “We should always have the right to keep our phone numbers private. We’re not 24-7 operators.” And despite the fact that it is just wrong that adjuncts are expected to use their personal phones to communicate with students outside of class, most adjuncts I know do it because 1) it’s what’s right for students, who should have the ability to call and speak to or leave a message for their instructors when they have a question or concern; and/or 2) it’s what the institutions/divisions/departments/supervisors for whom they work expect. Notably, I tell my adjuncts never to give out their personal numbers, but I also know an adjunct whose number was given to students by the head of his Department.

At our institution, there’s an unwritten (as yet anyway–though I expect this to change with the new emphasis on Service Excellence–a phrase that makes me personally cringe because it points to further corporatization of community colleges, but I digress) rule that faculty and staff should respond to communications from students within 2 business days. That’s all good and well if you have a phone and voicemail.  It’s fair if that phone/voicemail is provided by those making the rules–written or unwritten. But it’s not if you’re an adjunct instructor–working part-time (perhaps only two days/week as in the example above) with NO PHONE or reliable access to messages.

Now–I know it’s the digital age, so many people might just say, “Well, what about e-mail??” So let me address this. First of all, I know this is hard to believe, but not all of our students have regular and reliable access to e-mail.  My institution serves a large rural population. We have students who live in areas where there is little-to-no reliable internet service.  Further, we serve such a wide variety of students, from such a wide variety of backgrounds that–and I know, this is hard to believe again–some of them aren’t comfortable using email as a primary method of communication. Heck, we have a student this semester who simply refuses to use the computer unless one of our instructors is sitting right there walking him step-by-step through it. Finally, most adjuncts I know are on the run most of the time–running between classes, campuses, colleges, other jobs. Remember all those “mobile offices” I showed you? So guess how they need to be checking that e-mail in order to deal with it effectively? ON THEIR PERSONAL CELL PHONES! And guess who’s paying for that data usage? Ahem. And in some cases, the institutions for which they work actually deny them access to email on their personal phones. As one adjunct said,

“I had to fight to get a “real” email address as an adjunct too.  And I am not allowed to have it come to my phone (but I played around with it until I figured out how to do it!  Shhh!). I used my personal email for students for years.”

So e-mail does not solve the no phone problem.

As you may know, I’m just a tad put out with the New York Times Editorial Board just now for their unwarranted (and largely inaccurate) assertion that adjuncts don’t work as hard for student success as full-timers. That assertion is wrong, and is a fairly liberal interpretation of the latest CCCSE report on contingent faculty. I’ve been reading said report, and if I had to boil it down to one point, it’s this: We need to better support our adjunct instructors because doing so is better for students. This isn’t to say that our adjuncts don’t do a FABULOUS job with the limited resources they do have.

We know that faculty-student interaction is a key to student success. We know from research that students who have and take the opportunity to connect with instructors outside of class time have increased academic performance, increased critical thinking skills, and are more likely to complete their degrees. So if student success is so important, if (*shudders*) service excellence is one of our goals, if degree completion (as the government insists) is so important, then why don’t we start focusing on removing obstacles to the interactions that are so important to achieving those goals? If adjuncts are teaching 50% or more of our students, why don’t we make it easier for them to have those important interactions–why don’t we give them access to space and resources to help them do that effectively?

It sure would be better than, as the NYT opinion piece does, maligning our hard-working, dedicated, overworked, and under appreciated adjunct instructors.

If you haven’t already read Part 1 and Part 2 of this series on the plight of adjuncts. Please do. It’s important to get a complete and clear picture of the life of an adjunct:

“I had a student pretty disappointed in me a few weeks ago because I said I couldn’t really help him outside of class other than right before, right after, or via email.  1. I don’t have anywhere to go with the student. We can’t take students in the adjunct office.  2. I’m working 2 (occasionally 3) jobs and in grad school.  I don’t have time because I’m struggling to make ends meet.  That’s the life of an adjunct.  And it has gotten so much worse in the past 3-4 years.” –Adjunct Instructor



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3 responses to “The Plight of the Adjuncts (Part 3): Can You Hear Me Now?

  1. Bill Lipkin

    It is indicative of the current administrations that they expect us to respond to students almost immediately, and I do that as soon as I get the message, but yet when we email the administration about an issue either they ignore it or it takes them a long time to reply. I emailed the HR director 4 weeks ago, followed up on it 3 times, and still have not gotten a response. If I did that to a student I would not be brought back.
    I give my cell phone to my students, but I turn it off at 10 PM every night so I will not be bothered during the night. I do respond in the morning, usually having to leave a voice message. Somehow most students seem to do their work at night when the rest of us are trying to sleep.
    I agree with you on the NYT articles. We are not the cause, we need the institutions to realize we can be the solution if they give us the support we need to help our students succeed.

  2. Reblogged this on As the Adjunctiverse Turns and commented:
    Another installment from @JHulehan—communication (or lacks, gaps & workarounds) follows media & space

  3. Pingback: CASA weekly news 08/14 | CASA

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