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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.

44 comments:

Michala Foster said...

I had never thought about the wages of my professors before. Thanks for opening my eyes. It had never occured to me before that the wages my teachers are making would not be enough to live on. Thanks for being a great teacher and sticking with us even though the pay sucks.

Dana Biscotti Myskowski said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Michala. I'm not meaning to sound whiny, but am attempting to open eyes to the adjunct professor pay practices of universities and colleges. At UNHM about 75% of the faculty is adjunct, which means 75% of faculty are not making a fair and living wage, nor receiving benefits. This practice needs to change.

Amanda Cote said...

Dana, I also had never known much about the wages of professors, especially adjunct. I really liked this post, especially the beginning when you spoke of your changing emotions and moping at the thought of leaving your students, despite the fact that it is something you need to do for yourself. I think you are an amazing teacher, very thoughtful, each to reach and very understanding. I also have noticed that you are a great writer and are very enthusiastic about your field. Although you feel your future is uncertain, have some confidence that you will find a new, better path in your life!

Dana Biscotti Myskowski said...

Thank you, Amanda. I appreciate your words of support and your compliments. I am trying to look at my uncertain future as an opportunity awaiting me, much as I did when I graduated from college some years ago....

Andrew Bretz said...

Thank you for this. I too am an adjunct and face the question of if I should stay or go every semester. It is nice to know that I'm not the only one on the horns of this dilemma. I wish I could say I think it is going to get better, but I honestly don't believe that anymore.
...again, thank you for sharing this.

Dana Biscotti Myskowski said...

Thank you for your note, Andrew. So sorry to hear you face the same dilemma. There are many of us. Too many of us. I wish we knew how to fix this broken system. All the best to you.

Jack Connolly said...

I was not aware of how of how significantly underpaid adjunct teacgers are, I'm glad you brought it to light with this post. UNH Manchester will be sad to see you go - you have been an amazing teacher, one of the best I've ever had, but you are completely justified in wanting to leave. The work you put in is worth significantly more than the rates UNHM is paying you, and I really hope you can find a new position where they value your talents. I wish you luck in finding enjoyable work that you are actually paid fairly for!

Randy said...

I'm leaving after this semester too. I could have written this myself.

Dana Biscotti Myskowski said...

Sorry to hear, Randy. Hope your future is bright.

Dana Biscotti Myskowski said...

Thank you, Jack. Appreciate your support, and your good wishes for my future!

Maureen Asten said...

I left 4 years ago after 10 years of being an adjunct and so glad to have that off my back. This is a huge problem in academia and I blame the whole higher education system for exploiting both students and adjuncts. Hopefully awareness will make a difference.

Dana Biscotti Myskowski said...

Thanks for your note, Maureen. Am glad that four years later you are still glad to be out from adjunct teaching. I agree that this is a systemic problem within higher ed. And I hope, like you, that awareness will make a difference for the better.

Unknown said...

I finally left in 2012, after almost 12 years of adjunct teaching and being exploited by a corrupt system that looks the other way and takes no blame. Under "normal" curcumstances I would probably like and respect most of the administrators and tenured faculty that I worked with. But they knew very well the situation and did nothing but look after their own necks. Many of them got their job as we all know by being the lowest common yes man denominator, and kept it by doing the minimum. Some of the adjuncts I knew were not only far better teachers but better human beings as well, in my opinion. That is one reason our education system and our culture has been so deminished. While I miss teaching and the positive interaction with young people who really enjoyed learning, I am so much happier now, having started an import business with my wife.
Good luck to you!

Dana Biscotti Myskowski said...

I am so pleased to read that you started a business with your wife. How fortunate you both are. Am trying to focus on the positive outcome since I am still struggling with my decision, and wondering what I will do next. However, you are correct in your assessment of the corrupt system that has allowed this situation to fester. I am hoping we are closing in on the tipping point, which will result in a better environment for students and for all professors; I'm not counting on it though, which is why I am leaving.

Thank you for your thoughtful comment!

Savannahlevasseur019@gmail.com said...

So happy for you that you are following your dreams. I have read some of your blogs about adjunct teaching and was surprised. I had always thought all teachers were members of the union. It's too bad that happens because I would think it would be a huge deterrent to students who are looking to embark on a teaching career. Good luck in all your future projects and enjoy the changes you have made!

Dana Biscotti Myskowski said...

Thank you, Savannah!

Kiley Graham said...

Dana,
Thank you for shedding some light on a situation I never knew existed until now. I think it's appalling that UNH charges the admission price it does and yet cannot find the money to pay teachers, who are undeniably the foundation of the school, the pay they deserve. Thank you for opening my eyes to at least where a small fraction of my tuition fees are going. I know this was a similar issue when the Durham campus decided to rebuild a football stadium while tuition price rose for students there. Disappointing. Thank you for teaching our class, it has been a wonderful semester with you!

Prophetess Kathleen said...

As an adjunct I got paid less than you for 15 years and had to bounce from teaching many classes at the same time at different colleges in order to make a living. The final insult was when the main college went bankrupt and just closed. The others unraveled too. No more GI bill suporting the colleges with the war over. Had to leave my apt and take my travel trailer to live on the gulf coast on the beach. So much for Ph.d's at a top university.

Dana Biscotti Myskowski said...

Thank you for the kind words, Kiley. It has been a great semester for me getting to work with you and your classmates! The football stadium rebuild is an excellent example of misappropriations of funds; many point to such projects--and mall-like common areas, cafeterias, climbing walls, luxury dormitories, etc.--as the physical evidence that too much money is being spent outside the classroom. One of the things I like best about Manchester's commuter campus is that the only physical building exists for classrooms, offices, library, and a sensibly-sized dining and common area.

Dana Biscotti Myskowski said...

I am sad to read your comments, Prophetess Kathleen. You were abused by this system that pretends to honor those who study and work hard to achieve their advanced degrees so we can mentor students. My heart ached as I read your story; thank you for sharing it with us.

Michael Lang said...

I'm happy to have had the chance to take TWO classes with you over my time at UNHM - they've easily been among my favorite that I've taken. It'll suck that future SW and MW students (if the classes are continued) won't get the chance to take them with you as their professor. I had no idea how little Universities valued their adjunct faculty (especially those that have been around as long as you have) - thank you for opening my eyes to this issue.

Dana Biscotti Myskowski said...

Thank you, Michael! Appreciate the compliment. Am glad to have helped remove the veil surrounding how adjunct professors are mistreated.

Kyli Van Curen said...

Dana, Out of all my professors, I have always thought you were the one most involved in wanting to see your students succeed. To know that all of the time and effort you put into your classes is not being fairly compensated (and is grossly undercompensated in my opinion) makes me appreciate the classes I was able to take with you even more. After reading your blog posts, I'll never complain about one of my adjuncts professors taking to long to respond to my emails again. Good luck with all of the wonderful things you will have coming your way!

Dana Biscotti Myskowski said...

Kyli, Your comments touch my heart. Thank you. And good luck to you in your Disney internship. I would love to hear all about it upon your return. Best, Dana

Amanda Cozzens said...

Thank you for posting this because I had no idea this was even an issue. It definitely opens my eyes as to where my tuition is going. It is not fair the tuition is not going to those who actually give the education. Thank you for always being caring and understanding to every one of your students. You always made class fun and interesting and I am glad I was able to take the class while you were still at UNHM. I wish you the best with everything! Thank you!

Dana Biscotti Myskowski said...

Amanda, Thank you for your post, and for your kind comments. I am glad you enjoyed our class; I did too! I'm also pleased to have opened your eyes to this issue. I think you may be surprised to learn how many of your professors are adjunct.

Eddie Duval said...

Being in your image and sound class this semester was a fantastic opportunity that really deepened my understanding of film and production. Definitely a class that was both enjoyable and informative. As for the situation mentioned, it is a shame that the school board can get away with underpaying their staff. It also makes a lot of sense to me now how a lot of my professors work two jobs to make ends meet. I was always under the impression they made a decent wage. Thanks for shedding some light on the issue, and good luck with the rest of your career.

Dana Biscotti Myskowski said...

Glad to hear you've enjoyed our image and sound class, Eddie. Great presentation the other day too--especially given the internet crash midstream. Yes, many of the adjunct professors must work other jobs to make a living. It's too bad because most of us would rather be on campus more often, meeting and working with students, and teaching another class at UNHM. I've taught at four colleges or universities; I would much rather just teach at UNHM full time. Thank you for your note and good wishes!

Anonymous said...

Your blog entry was linked on Inside Higher Education today, so your readership is about to increase substantially. I am just a sympathetic stranger, and one of the lucky few who ended up in tenured positions. Most of my bretheren give not a single thought to the plight of adjunct faculty. I cannot fix what is happening to higher education, I cannot redirect the gaze of my administrators away from plans for "increasing the university's profile" and back toward teaching, and I cannot fill the void that you are bound to feel for a while.

But, I wish that I could tell this to every adjunct and term professor I have met, and I am telling you: I see you. I see what you did for students. I thank you, and I honor you. Even though your university did not show any appreciation for your contribution, you did make one. For ten years, you worked with students, some of whom may otherwise have fallen through the cracks. Unlike many highly paid professionals in other fields, you can say that you changed some people's lives for the better, and with no financial incentives to do so. While I hope that you can find better compensated employment elsewhere, I also hope that you can eventually look back at teaching as ten of the most meaningful years of your life.

Strength, patience, and success to you.

Dana Biscotti Myskowski said...

Thank you for your note, anonymous tenured professor. I appreciate knowing that some people value what my colleagues and I do for students and for the colleges and universities where we teach. I already do treasure these past ten years. I am fortunate to have worked with wonderful students, and am blessed to keep in touch with many who have graduated. My tears are not for my time already spent in the classroom, but for the years ahead since I cannot afford to continue in an adjunct position.

Mark Jackson said...

I don't grasp this whole "calling" thing. I've been an academic for two decades and I've never thought of it as anything more than a fun way to earn a living. I sure wouldn't do it if it didn't come with a living wage (unless, of course, I had no other options).

Dana Biscotti Myskowski said...

Thank you for your comment, Mark. I agree that it is a fun way of earning a living, if you're fortunate to find a full-time position. As for the calling part, I can't describe it any other way; in my life I've mentored writers as an AmeriCorps volunteer (just last year) and have volunteered to work with local youth who are writing. I've always felt a need to help, but have found that I can no longer justify doing so for universities and colleges that should be paying livable wages to every employee.

Joe Baugher said...

Dana, your description of getting out of academe and giving up on the adjunct game touched me deeply. Sooner or later, a lot of people who are adjunct part-timers in academe have to finally face up to the fact that they have made a bad career choice. They finally come to the realization that they are never going to be research superstars with a whole bunch of peer-reviewed papers and perhaps some trend-setting books to their credit. They will be competing against superstars for the few full-time gigs that are available, and their chances of landing one aren’t going to be much better than the odds of winning the PowerBall lottery. Part-timers are often treated with disrespect by administrators and by the full-time faculty, reasoning that they are inferior scholars that are there simply to free up the “real” faculty to do more research and to seek more external grant funding. Time to give up and consider doing something else. Good luck in whatever you ultimately decide to do.

Dana Biscotti Myskowski said...

Thank you for your note, Joe. I agree completely, and appreciate the good wishes for my future.

Unknown said...

Wow, I can't believe that. It's absolutely horrible that's how much they value teachers, especially at this level. They've definitely been taking advantage for far too long and then to justify giving themselves bonuses? That's just so wrong. UNHM is losing a great teacher that's for sure. Good luck to you in your next endeavor!

Sincerely,
Joe Parzych

Dana Biscotti Myskowski said...

Thank you, Joe! Appreciate your words of support.

Anonymous said...

Hello, Dana

I am a long-time adjunct, 15 years with an 11 year stint at one institution. We appear to have been living parallel lives on the forest floor of the Groves of Academe, including the tears, long suffering husbands, extra hours, love of teaching/mentoring, lack of collegial respect from full time faculty, and less than Wal-Mart/Mickey D wages for burning the midnight oil at preparation. teaching, correcting, mentoring, conferencing, and keeping current in my field.

At my long time gig which must remain nameless, a very dear, super highly placed,former adjunct often told me that she was thought of as "pond scum", when she was an adjunct so she has moved on to a Doctorate and a significant six figure administrative salary. A department chair at the same school was quoted as saying that "adjunct work was a short time employment for people who REALLY loved to teach". I do believe that could be filed under "damning with faint praise."

I heard most of your interview this morning on NHPR and wrote to Rick Ganley to get your contact information.

I thought that I had stopped adjuncting in May, but I will be teaching at one full semester course at a new school in January and an 8 week course there in March. I have also been prevailed upon by a friend to pick up an 8 week course at another division of my 11 year gig in March. I'm cobbling these jobs together with selling vintage/antique stuff in a Group Shop. For this I sailed though a great undergrad program and got an MA with distinction in English literature. This is not where I expected to be too many years ago.

I read the responses to your blog and they make me sad and demoralized. I love teaching but adjuncting...not so much.

I hope that you get out there and do something wonderful, fulfilling, and appreciated. The saddest thing is that our students end up losing.

Your words truly touched a nerve this morning. I wish things were different and as you can probably tell by this disjointed whine/rant, the adjunct system leaves me blithering and feeling diminished.

Find and "follow your bliss" Professor.

Enjoy the holidays and revel in your demonstrated success at engaging your students. They will prove to you, as mine still prove to me, that caring teaching changes lives. That's a very good thing.

PS. I am addicted to cookies, I must research Polish pastry to see if there is a Polish equivalent of biscotti.

giovanna

Dana Biscotti Myskowski said...

Giovanna,

Thank you for your heartfelt comments, and for your commitment to your students! The adjunct system is broken. It is not right that so many should be made to feel inferior. We are being hired to teach; that alone should command respect. But it doesn't. And I just couldn't take it anymore. For too long I let the low wages and zero benefits define how I felt about myself; I didn't like who I was becoming, and wasn't sure I could survive my depression much longer. With each passing day I feel more liberated to be free.

I appreciate your note, because I realize that you and others understand what it's like, and know that the system needs to change.

All the best,
Dana

PS Would love to know if you find a recipe for a Polish version of biscotti. Happy holidays!

Cole said...

Dana, thank you for bringing the issue of adjuncts to the table. Before you brought it up in class, I had no idea that it was even a thing. I would bet most students are not aware of the issue either. As it appears to students, all who teach college classes are professors. And I'm sure the university system is damn happy with it appearing that way. You took a leap in bringing up the topic, and it is a shame that the system continues to vilify your cause rather than rectify the situation. There is plenty of room for universities to give, rather they continue to take from professionals performing a job that is essential in education. Staff at UNHM is sad to see you go, and the students are unhappy as well. Cannot thank you enough for nudging me onto the path am I on now. Unless someone sat in one of your classes, I do not think they could ever understand just how good you are at what you do. Care, craft, integrity, and passion all come to mind when reflecting on your style. Everyone involved with Commuters knows just how freggin' awesome of a person you are to work with. Best of luck Dana. This is far from the end of the journey on many fronts.

Dana Biscotti Myskowski said...

Thank you, Cole,

I so appreciate your kind words, and your thoughts regarding how the universities treat adjunct professors. Keep up the great work; can't wait to see your next films! Hope your holidays are lovely.

All the best,
Dana

MARK W. SCHAEFER said...

I feel your pain Dana. Thanks for fighting the good fight and shame on the university for paying so little.

Dana Biscotti Myskowski said...

Thank you, Mark! Appreciate your note of support. Easier to fight this issue now that I've left; I no longer have to worry about being rehired, so I can speak out. Have heard from many adjunct professors who are afraid to raise these issues, but are glad I did.

Hope your holidays are happy!

Best,
Dana

Ian said...

Hello Dana,

I just read this post tonight and wanted to offer my condolences. I am saddened that you are no longer teaching at UNHM, and disgusted at the UNHM management for effectively driving you out. I would think that the relationship you have with your students, and the impact you've had on their lives would be reason enough to entitle you to a far greater wage. Your class was one of my favorites, and I am grateful to you for introducing blogging to me. My blog is still going strong with over 1100 views so far. I use it as a key way to market myself to potential employers. I wish you the best for whatever lies ahead.

Sincerely,

Ian

Dana Biscotti Myskowski said...

Thank you, Ian. I appreciate your note and am happy to hear from you. I'm pleased to learn that you're still blogging, and enjoyed perusing your posts. Especially love your thoughts on Calvin and Hobbes. Thanks again for reaching out. Keep up the great blogging. Best, Dana