by Professor Beth (Collin College)
I joined Collin College in Texas as an adjunct in 2006, leaving behind a successful career in advertising. I was looking for a more rewarding profession and when I started teaching I felt like I had found heaven. I LOVE my students. I LOVE to teach. I love strategizing the perfect syllabus, explaining the complex; guiding, mentoring and watching students have “light bulb moments.” It is the reason why I wake up in the morning.
Quickly the demands of the classroom and of the school grew. I was asked to sit on textbook selection committees, to organize guest lecturers to come to campus, and to test out new books. I was told that doing these things would build my CV and provide me with an edge when applying for a full time teaching position. Every demand was couched under the advice that this would position me better for a full time position. I was teaching three courses – sometimes four – and said, “yes” to every demand.
“Can you take over this full-time faculty’s class mid-semester who went on maternity leave? And start tomorrow?” – Yes
“Can you teach dual-credit English, off –campus at a high school at 7AM?” – Yes
“Can you accept a temporary full-time position for one semester with no contract?”—Yes
My student evaluations were stellar. My classes filled quickly and I often had requests to over enroll. I even answered student emails while in labor in the hospital. All of this and getting paid $2,000, per class, per semester.
I applied for a permanent full-time position four separate times and never once was even invited to interview.
My mother was then taken ill and I had to miss ONE class. The school docked my pay at $43.44 an hour. When I sat down and did the math, I realized that I was only allotted 10 hours outside of the classroom, per class, per semester, to grade, prep, meet with students, attend department meetings, and mandatory training. I was horrified.
When I pointed this ridiculous equation out to HR I was met with silence. As a matter of fact, the more I asked questions about compensation and the demands placed on my time the less information I was given. I quickly realized that the college hides behind a vaguely worded contract that states that the $2,000 “salary” is to cover all required activities outside of the classroom.
After six years of working at the college I have witnessed treatment that at a minimum is unprofessional and at its worst is abusive. I have seen adjunct professors pay for their own substitutes, have class schedules pulled at the last minute or doubled at the last minute. During this time, I can count on one hand how many times the Dean has even spoken to me. When we pass in the hall or even when I’m standing in her office she never makes eye contact and I am ignored. The message clearly sent that adjuncts are “invisible.”
But this isn’t the tragic part of the story. The sad part to this story is the students. The students are losing the best adjunct faculty to better jobs and to other schools. The students have teachers who are spending less time on their classes and in student meetings because they aren’t being treated fairly. The students who feel the poison of bitterness and disrespect leak into their classrooms.
The feeling of helplessness is palpable. How do I bring about change? How do I draw attention to the injustice? How do I make people realize the unfairness of the situation without losing my job? Where are the unions? Where is the Department of Labor? Who will come to help?