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.