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Monday, November 23, 2015

A letter to my students as I leave adjunct teaching

I’ll miss you. If you don’t believe me, ask any of my former students. Or ask my husband who has had to put up with my moping and my bouts of tears these past few weeks as the semester winds down to an end.

It’s not you; it’s me. I can’t teach for poverty wages and zero benefits any longer. The university administrators have taken advantage of my need to mentor long enough. Knowing that teaching is a calling, administrators have carved out a fiefdom in which they exploit this need of ours to teach, while paying themselves fabulous salaries and bonuses (see "UNH justifies bonuses for administrators" HERE).

I have taught scriptwriting, media writing, and Image & Sound
since January 2004 (with a year off for health reasons). 
After ten years of teaching for the university, I am paid $1000 per credit—a sum I’ve reached after having to ask for my raise every other year.  The last time I asked for a raise, I was told via email that this was “the upper limit of the UNHM adjunct pay scale.” A few weeks later I learned of a colleague who was offered almost double that amount—$1950 a credit—to teach his first class.

When I began, I didn’t even make minimum wage for all the hours I worked. About four years ago I finally climbed past that lofty ambition, and now make about $14 to $17 an hour each week, depending on how much grading I have, how many extra emails I need to respond to, and how many times I need to meet with students.

I thought my time here would eventually be rewarded with an offer of full-time employment. I was wrong, and should have known better. Why would the university administrators offer me benefits and a livable wage if I’m obviously willing to work for almost nothing? Why buy the tree if you can get the apples for free?

I’m uncertain of my future since I thought I was working toward it this past decade. But I am certain of my advice to you: Do not pursue advanced degrees with the thought that you will teach at a college or university one day. If the university’s administrators have made anything clear, it is this: Faculty members are not valued; they can be bought for a couple thousand dollars and zero benefits. It’s an unlivable wage. To administrators, it’s an unspeakable wage, for you won’t hear it from them.

Therefore, your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is this: Ask your professor if she or he is an adjunct. If so, ask if they make a livable wage. When they’ve stopped laughing or crying or both, ask what you can do to help in the struggle to pay adjunct faculty a fair and livable wage with benefits. Then do it, whether it takes the form of a picket line, a letter to the editor, a petition to administration, an email to your legislator, sharing a handout I've prepared (available HERE), or what have you. It won’t be easy, but it will be much appreciated.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

On set for the noon newscast

Enjoyed yesterday's visit to WMUR with my students of the discovery course Image and Sound. While the class is comprised of students from across many majors at UNH Manchester, everyone enjoyed the tour--even those who aren't currently studying video production. Led by Production Manager Peter McKay, who is also a director at the station, we were shown the room where the reporters and producers work, the editing and sound booths, the production booth, and the studios. We were even permitted to stand inside the studio during the live broadcast, which means we'll never see the news in the same way again. Thanks to everyone at WMUR for making us feel welcome! 


News Anchor Sean McDonald and Meteorologist Kevin Skarupa
discuss the upcoming holiday weekend forecast. 
Every production begins with lights. These
are energy-efficient LEDs.

Meteorologist Kevin Skarupa motions to
the weather pattern that is crossing
New England. How does he do it?
A touch of magic may be involved! 

News Anchor Sean McDonald learns how to make brandy apple and
peppered-peach-filled pound cake from chefs Jillian Lemay and Pat Brideau
of Kingswood Regional High School during Cook's Corner.
You can watch the clip via WMUR's website HERE.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

Some stories need prompting

Looking forward to traveling to UMASS Amherst tomorrow night to see the debut of "Prompt," a short film based on the screenplay I wrote earlier this year.

The script was selected as one of five shorts filmed as part of the Women Only Project sponsored by Counterfeit Cow Productions. The parameters of the original call for screenplays was one location, two to four women characters, and five pages max. Scripts also had to be penned by women.

Because the project was women-centered, I felt it was a safe place to share my story of when I was raped as an undergrad, became pregnant, and had to make a difficult choice that was right for me at the time.

When the call for entries landed in my inbox, this type of story had made the news once more. Frustrated as I listened to the call for restrictions on women's choices and freedoms yet again, I decided it was the perfect time to dramatize some of what had happened to me. It is my hope that in sharing my story I may help someone get the mental help they need in a timely manner, instead of suffering in silence for years.

And now I look forward to seeing the screen story unfold in which a radio interview with the imagined me plays in the background, giving a young co-ed the strength to confide in someone. No one should have to go through this sort of thing alone, which is why I am also pleased to attend the screening with my BFF. Films are better with friends. Especially debut screenings of your own short stories.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

New England Contingents United Plans First Unconference to Bring Adjunct Faculty Together

Contingent, also known as adjunct, faculty from New England are invited to join in the first unconference sponsored by the newly formed New England Contingents United—or NECUnited—Saturday, October 17, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Holiday Inn on North Main Street in Concord, NH. Though the event is free, attendees are asked to RSVP so an accurate headcount will assist with set-up and coffee orders; to RSVP please visit www.GreenChairPictures.com/nh-adjunct.html.

The organizers of the NECUnited Unconference hope to bring together adjunct faculty from around New England with the theme “Connections,” which emphasizes that adjuncts are not alone. Far from it, since most colleges and universities now fill 70 percent or more of their teaching positions with adjunct instructors. Adjunct faculty are contract workers paid low wages for their services with no benefits and no guarantee of work semester to semester. The national average compensation is just $2,700 per three-credit course—a rate so low that it means about a quarter of adjunct faculty must rely upon public assistance to survive.

The unconference offers an open meeting where people interested in higher education and contingent/adjunct workforce issues can come together in sessions proposed on the spot. An unconference is to a conference what a seminar is to a lecture, what a house party is to a church wedding, or what a pick-up game is to a varsity game: it’s more informal and participatory.

The organizers decided to host an unconference rather than a traditional conference for many reasons, including that the agenda is decided the morning of the unconference, rather than being set beforehand by a committee. This means that the issues that are most important to attendees can be addressed and discussed during participatory breakout sessions. By leaning on the knowledge base of those in attendance rather than hiring speakers, an unconference also keeps costs low.

Organizers anticipate some discussions to revolve around union forming and ongoing negotiation strategies, which has led to the invitation of union organizers, including representatives from SEA/SEIU and from AAUP, as well as faculty members who serve as union representatives. The documentary “Con Job: Stories of Adjunct and Contingent Faculty” will also be screened, should enough participants wish to view it.


NECUnited organizers include adjunct faculty from NHTI and the state’s Community College System of NH, Keene State, UNH, UNH-Manchester, and PSU, as well as lecturers from UNH. More information about the Saturday, Oct. 17th NECUnited Unconference at the Concord, NH, Holiday Inn, is available at www.GreenChairPictures.com/nh-adjunct.html.  

Monday, September 14, 2015

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

The Servant Class of Adjunct Professors Reveals the Shame of American Universities and Colleges One Article and Blog Post at a Time

Thanks to Amy Rebecca Williams of the Facebook group Con Job: Stories of Adjunct and Contingent Faculty for finding this June 16, 2014 gem of an article: "The Teaching Class" by Rachel Reiderer, published in Guernica, a magazine of art and politics.
 
Why it matters still: More than ever adjuncts are relied upon to teach a majority of classes at universities and colleges across the country. These folks, most of whom have studied and earned advanced degrees in their fields, are paid a per-class rate that is at or below minimum wage, and does not usually include pay for class preps pre-term, which--when a class is canceled due to low enrollment--means that they receive zero pay for having ordered books, written a syllabus, and prepared the first couple weeks of classes. I have been not paid for my work on several occasions and now limit myself to ten hours of work pre-term, which means that I scramble to recover the first couple weeks of classes, as I am doing now.

Adjuncts also do not receive benefits. Health? No. College reimbursement for self, spouse/partner, child? No. Matching retirement contributions? No.

When students require after-hours assistance, adjuncts are not compensated for their time. Yet, most willingly give it. When we are asked to write recommendations, most of us eagerly accept, though again there is no compensation. When we are required to attend training sessions, many colleges do not pay for our time; when I ask about it, as I do every time I am faced with this demand, I am threatened with the pulling of my class assignment from one of the universities where I teach.

I am lucky. I have a husband who supports my choice to leave adjunct teaching at the end of 2015--to take my life back from the disheartening higher ed system that has created a servant class of teachers. I will miss the students, and a couple of my colleagues, but not the abuse. Never the abuse.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Upstairs, Downstairs: Colleges & Universities Create a Servant Class of Part-Time Professors

This weekend I enjoyed a lively discussion with folks at the World Fellowship Center where I presented on the state of adjunct abuse by colleges and universities in this country and in our state. Until I can flesh out my bullet points into a cohesive blog post--or several posts--I invite you to enjoy some of my slides (which I didn't share with my audience since we sat in adirondack chairs on the lawn that looked out over Mount Chocorua). 







Monday, August 03, 2015

No More Free Parking for Adjunct Faculty

Our one and only benefit has been taken away. Because when you're paying us two, three or four thousand per course, we should be fine with giving $50 back to the university. Next, the administration will be charging us rent to teach in an on-campus room.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Adjunct Professors: How Many Hours are You Committing to Fall Class Preparations?

Are you prepping for autumn classes? Do you already have your contract, or are you anticipating teaching this fall based on earlier conversations and/or emails?
 
Pre-term preps. THEN vacation.
I'm heading on vacation with my family the week before classes start, so I will take some time over these next couple weeks of adjunct summer to prep for the two classes I've been asked to teach. I haven't yet received my contracts, nor do I expect them until the week I'm gone. However, I checked the university’s registration page and have confirmed that my classes have each reached the magical minimum enrollment number. Thus, I feel reasonably certain that—unlike past semesters in courses that have been cancelled at the last moment—my class preps will not be in vain.
 
Still, over the years I've learned to limit my losses by prepping no more than ten hours per class before my contract is in hand. It doesn't really matter since I’m paid for exactly zero of my pre-term prep hours. But that's focusing on the negative. The positive is this: I love to teach. And because my enrollments are high so far, it looks like I'll have one more semester to do just that.
 
How about you? How many hours will you/have you put in for class preparations? Average it for one class, and complete the simple poll in the right-hand margin. Then, if you're game, let us know how much you're paid on average per hour of class preps in the second poll. Polls close on Labor Day.


Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Free parking should not be a pass to pay adjuncts ridiculously low wages

I’m an adjunct faculty member at the University of New Hampshire at Manchester. Because there are so many adjuncts, I am a member of one of the majority populations on our campus. As such, I enjoy the following benefits:
  • Free Parking
While I enjoy my benefit of free parking, it is

not the only reason I teach. As an instructor here since January 2004, I teach because:
  • I enjoy working with the curious, creative, and dedicated UNH students
  • I appreciate watching as my students grasp what I am sharing with them
  • I treasure the many opportunities to celebrate the successes of my students
But I am exhausted by years of neglect from a system that does not value my service. Therefore, in addition to the free parking--or in exchange for that golden ticket--I would like to see:
  • Equal pay for my work, acknowledging my experience, education, and dedication to the same degree as my tenured associates
  • Health benefits
  • Education benefits
  • Retirement benefits
  • Multi-semester contracts
  • An office, even if shared, with privacy and storage space
  • A way to easily communicate with my adjunct colleagues
I know it’s a shock that I would give up my free parking for all of the benefits that usually accompany a profession, but that’s the sacrifice I’m willing to make.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Should we organize the adjunct faculty at UNH Manchester?

Working with the students for more than a decade at the University of New Hampshire at Manchester has been an amazing experience. Not only are the students dedicated to their education, but many of them hold down a job and are involved with their families. 

However, working for extremely low wages, without benefits or an office, and asked to commit to a semester's schedule when the class might not even run due to low enrollment, has become burdensome. There are a couple of us who have been talking about organizing over the past year. With National Adjunct Walkout Day (or Teach-In Day, which is how I plan to use it) scheduled for this week, now is a good time to talk about our options.


I created a flyer that I asked to be emailed to the adjunct professors; however, I was informed this morning that it was not going to be forwarded. Therefore, I am trying to reach my colleagues through various social media outlets. Please help me spread the word; feel free to send this information to any professors you know.

If you're an adjunct professor at UNH Manchester--and you're interested in possibly organizing--please contact me through the comments section, via Twitter @biscottidana, or drop me a note in my on-campus mailbox (listed under "Myskowski"). I will be happy to share with you the link to the password-protected on-line survey for UNH Manchester adjuncts.

Thank you. And happy #NAWD!

Friday, January 23, 2015

From the Shore Scripts Website: On the screenplay "Niki Sweet Talk Moves"

Note: This is an old post from The Shore Scripts Competition website, which accepts new entries on March 1st; if you have a screenplay to submit, I recommend you check out the website.  
What first got you interested in screenwriting?
I wrote an unpublished YA novel that I saw cinematically unfold in my head. I researched how to write a screenplay, and I adapted the story; it was my first unskilled attempt at screenwriting. About a year after that, I took classes via UCLA’s Professional Programs in Screenwriting Online.
How long have you been writing for?
Since I was four; my mother still has my first poem–something about a cat, I think, for Halloween, though I recall more of the snowmen poem I wrote for Christmas that year.
Do you keep to a routine?
I used to, especially in grad school a few years ago. I’d wake at 4:00 a.m. and write for two hours daily; then I’d take care of getting my kids off to school or ready for homeschool lessons, and finally I’d tackle my other homework and try to weave in a bit more writing time. I’ve been out of my writing routine for the past two years due to a prolonged illness; now I write whenever I can.
How do you find time to write?
I schedule it into my to-do list, or else snatch the time when I can. When my kids were young, it was the wee hours of the night. My daughter awoke at 3 a.m. for years; I’d get us each a snack and we’d head to my office where she “worked” on her coloring and I wrote. She’d fall asleep on the cot I kept there, and I’d get a couple great quiet hours to write.
How many screenplays have you written?
I’ve written almost 20 feature scripts, teleplays for a couple dramas, a handful of sitcoms, and more than 20 short screenplays. I’ve also written numerous industrials for companies and nonprofit organizations.
What gave you the inspiration for this screenplay?
I’d been hired by our local planetarium, which is now known as the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center, to write a 45-minute screenplay about global climate change for a junior high audience. I interviewed numerous scientists and ended up with heaps of notes. Some of my extra notes have seeped into two different screenplays, including this one.
How long did it take to write?
As my thesis project for my MFA in Creative Writing/Screenwriting at Goddard College, I wrote the first two drafts over the course of a semester, staged a reading and critique at residency, and revised the drafts, ultimately turning in about the fifth to seventh draft of the screenplay to graduate a semester later. That draft was stage read before an audience at the University of New Hampshire, where I am an adjunct professor. Afterward, the script went through a few more revisions before I submitted the current version to Shoreline Scripts.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
Meeting new characters and inventing new worlds, then getting to know my characters on a deeply personal level as their stories unfold. I’m never lonely when I’m alone writing.
What do you struggle with the most?
Currently, due to my long illness, I cannot concentrate as long as I used to, though with therapy, holistic treatments, prescriptions, and a new diet and daily regimen that includes yoga and now Qigong, I am regaining my strength and cognition skills. I’ve actually recently written another BBC-style sit com episode for a series I developed with a team, and am ready to dive into a feature project that a friend and colleague has asked me to consider co-writing with him.
Do you feel that the film industry embraces new writing talent?
The film industry is in a state of flux. If you’re referring to the old Hollywood system, I’d say no way, or at least on a very limited basis. However, with new technologies for both creation and distribution, there are a wealth of opportunities for new writers in the growing indy market. The one obstacle though is funding. Not everyone can find the necessary funding through traditional channels. Supportive audience members can help fund many projects via the crowd-funding sites, but not all of the projects that are out there will find the necessary funds.
Have you found it difficult to get your work out there and read?
Yes and no. I’ve found different outlets that have been helpful, and I’ve run into obstacles such as friends of friends who are too polite to tell me they don’t care for my writing…and then a couple years later I find out from their former assistant who becomes an agent. In that instance she loved my writing and eagerly repped me, though we had little success as a team. I had one big-budget script optioned, only to see it fall apart when the financiers backed out. That was a sad day for all of us; even the costumer had begun designing the pirate costumes.
How did it feel when your script was shortlisted, then becoming a finalist, and then one of the winners?
It felt good. It’s always nice to be validated. I like my writing, but I’m too close to it to be objective, so it was thrilling when my screenplay made it all the way to the Top Five. The experience has actually opened up a new screenplay that I am beginning to outline; I hope to submit it to next year’s Shoreline Scripts competition.
How did you hear about Shore Scripts?
Probably on Withoutabox, though I’m not certain where I first heard of it two years ago. Last year another script I wrote, “My Father’s Dairy,” made it to the next-to-last round. I was determined to make it to the Top Five this year.
What goals do you have for this script and your future career?
I’d love to see this script filmed, but realistically, I’m not sure it will happen since it’s a bigger budget, especially if it’s filmed in Nunavut, Canada, where the majority of it is set. Otherwise, I hope that this level of success will help me in chatting with producers who may like my writing style and want me to pen something in collaboration with them, or want to see something else I’ve written. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing and working with my university students and with the teens I mentor; one of my teens and I wrote a historical comedy stage play that we’re hoping to see produced locally next February on the 100th anniversary of the historical figure’s death. Eventually, if I get well enough, I’d like to produce my own feature film; I’ve produced short films, and that would be the logical next step in my career.
Thank you!