A place to file your complaints. Submissions welcome.
By Kareme D’Wheat
When I read Jay Atkinson’s account in the Boston Globe of the forgotten and overlooked adjunct who died without so much as a consolatory flower arrangement, I could easily see this happening to me.
While discussing it with a fellow educator, what struck us as especially tragic is the fact that major life events—events that mark and enrich our lives—are completely ignored by our employers and colleagues when we live an adjunct lifestyle.
As far as major life events go, I’ve had no less than 3 babies during my work as an adjunct. Most of my colleagues did not acknowledge it. Worse yet, those that did marked my motherhood as a possible conflict of interests when considering my availability to teach.
I had my last baby one month before a fellow pregnant teacher, a tenured faculty member, had hers. I sent an email to my boss announcing my son’s birth and that’s the last I heard of it. While my peer enjoyed her maternity leave and was celebrated upon her return, I started working at one of my many schools just 3 weeks after my son’s birth without so much as a “congratulations.” I did this because I could not afford to lose my classes to another adjunct, and politically I could not appear to be unavailable. Part of me accepts and expects this treatment as the cost of doing business.
When my grandmother died, I had to conduct a class before driving to her visitation. I gave the eulogy, then drove back and had another class. While standing in the classroom, bereft and disoriented, I knew that because I was teaching art no one would think twice about the fact that I was in all black. Why would an instructor attend her classes and a funeral in the same day? Because the institution that employed me had a policy of non-cancellation of classes.
I wish that when I had first started teaching in higher education, I had been more aware of the dynamic of “being invisible.” I really believed the carrot and stick tale of getting your foot in the door. I have seen the loudest faculty rewarded for availability, not acumen. I have seen those who complain disappear in the night like a mafia hit. I have seen the most mediocre of tenured faculty treat their work like it was golden and ignore the accomplishments of the adjuncts around them. It’s demoralizing.
There’s a real zeitgeist right now in higher education, due in no small part to the high profile death of Margaret Mary Vojtko. She is one reason why we are even being heard. However, she is another example of our importance being only acknowledged by death via media epitaph. My greatest hope is that there will be wide recognition of the poor working conditions of adjunct teachers, and that either through public awareness or legislation, adjuncts will receive the same protections and compassion offered to their full-time counterparts.
Atkinson, Jay. “The Invisible Professor On Most Campuses, Adjuncts Are an Undervalued, Invisible Population.” BostonGlobe.com. Web. 02 Feb. 2014.
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