Unhired: National Adjunct Walkout Day

My last job ended the same way my first job did. I wasn’t fired. I didn’t quit. I was unhired, you could say.

That first job? At 15, I got a job at a grocery store. Not a chain, but a family-owned single location grocers. My job was to clean the meat department, mop floors, vacuum, take out the garbage, and on really special days bag or deliver groceries. I had the job for nearly a summer. Then one day I wasn’t on the schedule for the week. Then only a half shift. Then another blank week. Another. When I asked when I would be getting hours next, I was told that they didn’t know & I should just keep checking.

My last job? I was 37 and teaching as an adjunct English instructor at a for-profit university. It wasn’t my first gig. I had been teaching in one form or another since 2000. I’ve taught private one-on-one, public secondary, community college, for-profit technical college and for-profit university, and for a pleasant but brief period of time at a proper four-year state university. At more than a few times, I’ve taught for two or more institutions at a time. I’ve taught in Minnesota, Virginia, Connecticut, and Kansas. Always as an adjunct.

This last time I was sent a very polite letter ahead of what should have been my second quarter at a new campus for a for-profit university. The letter took its time explaining itself. It was only by the final third of the first page that its purpose was made clear.

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…we are finding that at certain campuses demand for convenience and efficiency of online study is outstripping demand for on-ground courses.

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Such a sentiment seems to naturally imply what came next. My employer decided to close the campus where I taught.

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But, even though, the campus was shutting down, I could re-apply to the company that already employed me for a job I was already doing. It wasn’t a lay-off or a furlough or a firing. It, much like that first job, was an abatement.

That was a year and a half ago. Here I am, still unhired.

I don’t know what I should have expected. There has never been a time when any of my labor was valued by the institutions where I taught. Pay was always insultingly low, the work expected copious, the time commitment excessive, and the professional regard meagre. Meat-grinding contract work. I’d gotten an advanced degree to be a wage slave.

Even though I’m unemployed and now probably too old and too long out of the field, I stand with those adjuncts who will walkout. I hope when an adjunct walksout, s/he will look tenured professors who failed to show solidarity in the eye with the contempt that a scab has earned. I hope when an adjunct walksout, students will realize that administrators have robbed them of the right to know.  

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Thousands of adjuncts have decided to step away, to protest, for at least one day. It’s finally reached a tipping point. How did this happen? There a myriad of reasons. The National Adjunct Walkout and Awareness Day has come about for two reasons, one cynical and the other structural.

The cynical & the structural: Earning a PhD is no small feat. It takes patience, intelligence, a kind of masochism, and for the vast majority a willingness to be economically abused with the promise of security (tenure) as a reward. That hasn’t been happening. Not tenure, not even full-time work. National Adjunct Walkout Day has come about because enough PhDs have had enough. Of course, they fail to realize that folks like myself have been enduring this for decades or more.

There’s more to it than this. A lot of it comes down to the fact that very few outside of academia have any understanding of what it entails.

Hopefully, more people will come to have an understanding of just how broken higher education has become due to the general public’s ignorance and anti-intellectualism.

So keep an eye on Boston, Austin, Cleveland, Syracuse, Philadelphia, Tucson, and Sacramento. Listen to see if your partisan radio covers the story. Maybe you’ll get an email or a text from your son or daughter. You might even catch wind of solidarity overseas.

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