Tag Archives: current events

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:

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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.

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Filed under Community College, Developmental Education, Higher Ed

I’m Not a Black Man

I’m not a black man. Never have been. Never will be. I have never grown up black in America. I’ve never been raised by a father who lived through the 1960s Civil Rights movement.  I have never  sat on the knee of a grandfather who stood thirsty before a Whites Only water fountain or who had to give up his seat on the bus to a white man.  I have never been followed through a department store because I look like a possible thief.  No one has ever crossed the street to avoid me because I had a hood drawn up over my head. People don’t hit the lock on the car door when I walk by. Because I’ve never been a Black American.

President Obama, yesterday, in the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict commented that “it’s important to recognize that the African- American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that that doesn’t go away.” He explained, “those sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida.”

I have my own set of experiences that have shaped my world view, made me who I am. Those experiences color my responses, reactions, and feelings to and about certain events and situations. I can’t know how I would’ve reacted to the Zimmerman verdict as a young black man or as the mother of a young black man. But I can imagine that my feelings would’ve been different because they would’ve been colored by my experiences as an African-American. And I know those experiences are different than mine as a white woman.

People all over social media and IRL are fired up. The “conversation” about this verdict is heated–and divisive. I see African-Americans declare justice hasn’t been served–and never will be for Blacks in America.  I see them expressing fear for the young black men in their lives. I see white people, in turn, defensively claiming that these fears are unjustified–an overreaction because this isn’t about race. “Why is it always about race with these people?” they ask each other, annoyed. Our justice system worked exactly as it should, they say. Black people, incredulous, respond: “How can you say this isn’t about race?! The justice system failed us.”

These responses illustrate very clearly the president’s point. They reflect the experiences of the people who make them. The president reminds us to take that into account. And we would do well to do just that. Instead of responding angrily or defensively when we don’t understand–instead of just arguing about it, we would do well to have a civilized conversation about it: “Why do you think the system failed? Why don’t you? Why do you think it’s about race? Why don’t you?”

We would do well to listen to one another, really listen. To try to understand, to empathize with one another, put ourselves in each others’ shoes.  To try to understand, accept, and respect that people have different ways of knowing, doing, and being. 

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Encouraging Creativity

The other day, I came across this article, which claims that “study results show there is a serious lack of creative stimuli in the American education system.”

I’d have to say I agree.  Our focus on assessment–on standardized testing in particular–kills rather than fosters creativity.

Every semester in my Freshman Seminar class I give my students some containers of Play-Doh and some “creativity kits,” containers with everyday objects like thumbtacks, paper clips, buttons, toothpicks, pennies, and random tidbits I’ve picked up at the craft store.  Their assignment is to create something that represents how they best learn.

We do this assignment after talking about the differences between high school and college learning and how students need to relearn how to think creatively–think outside the box.  Children do this SO well. It’s why a toddler will play inside a cardboard box for hours or why kids have imaginary friends who visit for tea.

And then, somewhere along the line, we kill that creativity. And by the time students arrive as freshmen in college, they just want to know how to pass the test.  They don’t really want to think outside the box–they just want the right answer.

Inevitably, the majority of my students, when given that Play-Doh, will struggle for the first 20 minutes.  They’ll say, “I don’t know what to do!” And they’ll try to quit or take the easy way out: “I made a hand because I’m a hands-on learner,” and I have to push them to try harder.

Once they get past the initial hurdle, they come up with some really clever ideas.  And they enjoy the activity (click here for more details and pictures!).  They enjoy learning that’s fun.  They enjoy flexing their creative brain muscles. And that’s important.

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Filed under Higher Ed, Ripped from the Headlines, Teaching & Learning

FYI: A Rape kit is not an abortion procedure

When I saw the news reporting that a Texas state representative had said in “the emergency rooms they have what’s called rape kits, that the woman can get cleaned out…” and compared said rape kits to an abortion procedure, I thought that surely it was a misquote (I also felt sick to my stomach—seriously: “cleaned out?”). Surely, someone did not say that. But apparently someone did: Jodie Laubenberg.

I don’t know if this woman is confused or just stupid (she claims her thoughts came out “muddled” because she was trying to get them out as fast as she could), but I do know this: her words are dangerous.

Likening a sexual assault forensic evidence kit (aka rape kit) to abortion is just downright irresponsible. Not only is it just not true, but also it could potentially deter rape survivors from consenting to a rape kit when they visit the hospital after an attack. And why is that a problem? I’m glad you asked. It’s a problem because rape kits are a key tool in prosecuting rapists successfully.  The evidence culled from rape kits (i.e. DNA) puts criminals behind bars—stops rapists from being able to rape again—gets predators off the streets.  If a woman (particularly a pro-life woman) mistakenly thinks that a rape kit is a type of abortion, she’s more likely to opt out, which means her rapist is likely going to escape justice—and he’ll be back out there, trolling for his next victim.

Her thoughts may have been “muddled” in the process of becoming actual words, but the fact remains: her words were inaccurate and irresponsible…even dangerous.  I only hope that the words spoken to sexual assault victims by doctors, nurses, and advocates outweigh the comments made by Ms. Laubenberg yesterday. It also wouldn’t hurt if she made a public statement admitting and correcting her error…but I won’t hold my breath for that.

Hey! You’ve read my disclaimer, right?

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Filed under My Opinion, Ripped from the Headlines

We Are South Carolina; These Are Our Children

When an 11-year-old boy attempts to slit his wrists with a razor blade plucked from a pencil sharpener, it is a cry for help–a very loud, very important cry for help. And for one such boy, it was a cry no one really responded to–his cry was silenced, his pain ignored.

And it happened right here in the great state of South Carolina–at the Boys Home of the South in Belton. The state failed him. The Department of Social Services failed him. The adults at the group home charged with his care failed him, leaving him vulnerable to abuse by putting him what they knew was a potentially dangerous situation.

But finally something is being done about it–because, of course, of a lawsuit and not because someone accepted responsibility for this epic failure and decided to make changes to protect the children of SC because it’s the right thing to do (The Boys Home of the South maintains their internal investigations show no wrong on their part).

That little boy is not alone. There are reports of children in state care who were starved to death, were not getting proper medical care or, in at least one case, were placed back into a home where the child suffered more sexual abuse.

SC leads the country in institutionalizing children. About 24 percent of children in state care remain in group homes or institutions–and the regulations by which they operate are outdated and ineffective (which is how 11-year-old boys get raped in state care). We do not have nearly enough foster parents in this state.

There are children who did not celebrate Father’s Day today because they have no father to honor. South Carolina is their legal guardian. And we, who live here, are South Carolina.

These are our children. And they deserve better than we’ve been giving. These are our children. They are our responsibility. And we need to do better.

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Filed under Child Abuse, Foster Care, My Opinion, Ripped from the Headlines, Social Problems

The Smarter Move

Somebody sent me this post this morning: it explains how Florida has passed legislation making developmental education in college voluntary (where previously it was mandatory).

I worry for Florida. But more than that, I worry for us–and hope that we (South Carolina) are not heading in this direction.

Here’s (part of the reason) why:

ACT’s most recently published (2010) What Works in Student Retention (WWISR) data for community colleges rates the following as the top three practices making the greatest contribution to retention:

  1. Mandated placement of students in courses based on test courses
  2. Tutoring
  3. Remedial/developmental coursework (required).

Other research supports this, finding developmental education to be a significant predictor of retention. For example, Highbee, Arendale, and Lundell (2005) point to estimates that two million students would drop out of college every year without the benefit of developmental education.

Still other research tells us this:

  1. Passing developmental writing is a predictor of fall-to-fall retention.
  2. Passing a developmental reading class has been shown to be the greatest predictor of retention.
  3. Passing developmental mathematics courses is an indicator of both fall-to-spring and fall-to-fall retention.

When student retention and student success are our goals, it makes you wonder, doesn’t it, whether moving from mandatory to voluntary placement in developmental coursework like Florida is really in students’ best interests…or if revamping developmental education to increase its effectiveness, as we are doing, is really the smarter move.

I’m sure you can guess where I stand on the issue.

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Filed under Community College, Developmental Education, Higher Ed, My Opinion, Ripped from the Headlines

Let Common Sense Have Fair Play

Thomas Jefferson once said, “I can never fear that things will go far wrong where common sense has fair play.”

Sadly, in the case of Kiera Wilmot, common sense has yet been given fair play; and as a result, things are going very, very wrong.

Look, I get that we’re all freaked out by the increasing violence in our society at large and particularly within our schools. We want to protect our children. And so we’ve stepped-up security at schools, tightened the rules, and increased the consequences. We are resolute in our quest for safety.

But clearly, we’ve also become inflexible. And maybe, just maybe, our reactions have grown a little teeny, tiny bit exaggerated. After all, here is a young woman, a budding scientist, an exemplary student by all reports, who was cuffed, arrested, and expelled from school for what, by all accounts, appears to be an experiment gone wrong. She’s been charged with two felonies. Felonies. Her life will forever be changed unless we give common sense fair play here.

It’s as if down in Polk County, critical thinking has evaporated. And common sense has been shoved in a corner.

Still it’s not too late. And that’s why I’ve just signed this petition. I invite you to join me and the 66,000+ (at time of this writing) people who are asking Florida State Attorney General Jerry Hill to let common sense have fair play before things go too far wrong.

Remember: This is just my opinion as pointed out in the disclaimer for this site.

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Filed under My Opinion, Ripped from the Headlines, Social Problems

Dear SC,

Let me get this straight: You’re going to ban laser pointers–make them illegal for young people to purchase or have in their possession, but you’re simultaneously considering legislation that would allow South Carolina gun owners to openly carry their weapons in public without a permit or prior training.

Really? Laser pointers are more of a threat than irresponsible and uneducated gun owners walking around with their guns in public? This is the message you’re sending–despite the fact that instances like this keep happening all over the state. Y’all: we rank 18th in the nation in child deaths by gun, and a recent study found that “South Carolinians rank poorly in gun security…ranked in the top 10 nationally for households reporting loaded and unlocked firearms.” No worries–encouraging responsible gun ownership is probably not nearly as important as ensuring dangerous laser pointers stay out of the hands of minors–who, thanks to a revision suggested by Brian White of Anderson, can still legally buy laser scopes for guns–just not those little pointers people use to play with their cats. 

Seriously. The mind boggles. Meanwhile, there’s a good chance we’re going to send to Washington a man who, as our governor, abandoned our state, disappearing for 6 days to rendezvous with his mistress in Argentina, turning off his state and personal phones and telling no one where he was going–leaving no one in charge of the affairs of this state. He’s totally trustworthy.

You are my home. I love you, but sometimes you just make me want to scream. Seriously.

Love,

Me

PS: Have you read my disclaimer?

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(Not) Waiting on the World to Change

I’m not really a big John Mayer fan, but when this song came on my radio on the way home from work tonight, the lyrics caught my attention.  In particular, these lines:

When you trust your television
What you get is what you got
Cause when they own the information, oh
They can bend it all they want.

This stood out to me because I’ve recently been verbally sparring with our local television station over their irresponsible and unethical reporting. It would seem they really don’t care. They are the purveyors of information–they own it essentially–and can bend it all they want–and they do. Which is disgusting.

On Facebook, someone commented that he hadn’t seen responsible journalism in years. True enough: the media seems to get increasingly irresponsible each year.  We really can’t trust what we’re getting–particularly if we’re only relying on one or two sources. As Lauren recently pointed out, if we want to have a more accurate understanding of current events, it’s up to us; we really have to be willing to do our research by seeking information from a variety of sources.

I get that. And I do read a variety of news sources every day. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to let our community news outlet off the hook on this. As I recently wrote to their Digital Media Manager and their Managing Editor, ” I expect better–both in the accuracy and the ethics–of my media outlets.” They don’t meet my expectations. And I’m letting them know that. Because even though it may not  probably won’t change the way they report the news, I’m not willing to sit idly by while they distort it.

John Mayer and his friends (whoever they are) may just be “waiting for the world to change,” but I’m not. He’s right: “the fight ain’t fair,” but it’s worth fighting. I’m not waiting on the world to change. I’m trying to change it whenever I can–because if we all just keep waiting, nothing will ever change. And I’m not ok with that.

PS: Have you read my disclaimer?

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Filed under My Life, My Opinion, Social Problems

My Students & Korea

A majority of my traditional students (those who are 18 and have come straight into college from high school) have no idea what’s happening with North Korea or why they should care. They seem oblivious to the threat—unable to understand why we would even consider this small country half a world away a threat.

I have listened to my students—even when they think I can’t hear (which is surprisingly quite often as they seem to assume there’s an invisible wall between them and me), and I have struggled to understand their seeming complacency or apathy or ignorance as regards North Korea.

As I thought about it some more, it occurred to me that in their lifetimes, America has always been the one and only superpower. The USSR dissolved before they were born—I don’t think they’ve ever seen a map or globe with a picture of it as it was. I imagine that it is difficult for them to grasp the idea of a country equally or perhaps more powerful than our own, for them to conceive of a world in which WWIII could break out at any moment—and the United States of America would be annihilated. Sure, they’ve had history classes. But for them, we’ve only ever been at war in the Middle east; it’s always been about the “war on terror” and never about competing political and/or economic ideologies. They were born after the Cold War ended. And while they seem to possess some knowledge of WWII, the term “Korean War” gets blank stares.

I wondered aloud to my husband if this might be in part because they are so generationally removed from it. My grandfather fought in the Korean War. Their grandparents were too young for that. My husband pointed out that he had no grandparents discussing their time in the Korean War with him and he still knows about it (Notably, my husband is now an amateur expert on North Korea, having watched every available documentary on the subject).

I also hear them throw around the words communist and socialist in ways that clearly show they have no concept of what those terms really mean. I’ll hear them repeat things they’ve heard from others, suggesting America is becoming a Socialist state. And I want to blame their education. After all, if I ask them to differentiate between those two terms, I get incomplete, confused, or inaccurate answers. If I ask them if they mean Marxist-Leninism, I get more blank stares. But I also recognize that again they have no context.

These young people may not be familiar with the tensions felt during the Cold War. But they should note the tensions increasing between North and South Korea. We all should. Because North Korea is our problem, too. The relations between North and South Korea are our problem, too. You may argue that we should stay out of the affairs of other countries, but we entered into a military alliance with South Korea in 1953. South Korea honored that alliance by helping us (quite substantially) during the Vietnam War. And we renewed our pledge to that alliance in 2009. That’s why North Korea is our problem. That’s why we should care.

 

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Filed under Community College, Higher Ed, Ripped from the Headlines, Social Problems, Teaching & Learning