Thursday, February 6, 2014

Why I Will No Longer Work as an Adjunct – Effective Immediately by S.

"A Commentary on the Demoralizing, Soul Crushing Existence of an Adjunct Instructor Thanks to the Absence of Job Security, Being Expendable, Being Under-appreciated, Feeling like a Fraud, and Having a Master’s Degree but Collecting Food Stamps Because of Sub-Poverty Wages*

"For those of you who don’t know who I am, allow me to introduce myself. I’m a single mom of two teens. Ten years ago I was working for a company making less than $25,000 a year. Despite having a strong work history, I was unable to find a job that would sufficiently support myself and my two children. Every job I interviewed for that paid a decent salary required a college degree, which I didn’t have, so I didn’t get the job. I believed that having a degree would open career doors for me, so I decided to go to college and earn a degree.

"I had to balance the following: Two elementary school-aged children to care for alone, a house to take care of, an old car I prayed wouldn’t break down, my full-time studies, and a myriad of low-paying part-time jobs. It wasn’t easy; my kids and I sacrificed a lot of creature comforts and even did without necessities at times. I worked hard in and out of class, and I went on to earn three college degrees, including my M.A., in 2012. I thought that once I earned my master’s degree I would finally be in a position to support my kids. I was wrong.

"Until the writing of this letter, I was an adjunct instructor at Lackawanna College starting August of last year. It has always been a dream of mine to teach at the college level, but working as an adjunct has effectively killed that dream.

"Why? For a number of reasons, including the absence of job security, being perceived as expendable, not being appreciated, feeling like a fraud, and being paid wages that are so ridiculously below the federal poverty level that many adjuncts (including myself), are eligible for food stamps, despite talented and advanced degrees.

"In all fairness to Lackawanna College, yours is not the only institution that engages in the draconian, exploitative practice of woefully underpaying adjuncts; any post-secondary institution that relies on adjunct labor is culpable; those of us who choose to work as adjuncts have to shoulder the blame for our predicament; if we weren’t so eager to work for our survival, for teaching experience, and for the slim chance of attaining a tenure-track position, colleges and universities could not rely on inexpensive adjunct labor.

"By virtue of the position, adjuncts have zero job security. Classes can be cancelled with little to no notice (this has happened to me multiple times this month alone; just yesterday I was checking my schedule online and noticed that my College 101 class had been cancelled), and adjuncts are limited in how many classes they’re allowed to teach.

"For a full-time instructor or an administrator, this is of no consequence, as those position offer a guaranteed salary. For an adjunct, this is financially devastating. As a single parent, I don’t have the luxury of having a working spouse. My only source of income is the money I earn teaching. I rely on that income to pay the basic living expenses for my family.

"Lackawanna College pays an adjunct with a master’s degree $1050 for a credit course (REALLY?), teaching a maximum of 4 courses. When was the last time you lived on that kind of money? I also have grave concerns regarding the perception that adjuncts are expendable. Again, those of us who accept adjunct teaching positions are mainly responsible for propagating that perception as we’re TOO eager to settle for less.

"Adjuncts are generally under-appreciated; colleges and universities expect us to perform the same duties as full-time, tenured instructors for a fraction of the pay and no benefits. Colleges only seem to value adjuncts when they need them to teach courses that tenured faculty turn up their collective noses at.

"One of the reasons why I’m quitting adjunct instruction is I hate feeling like a fraud in front of my students. People generally enroll in college because they want to improve their station in life; that was certainly my motivation to attend school. These students look up to their instructors as role models, as examples of what can be accomplished by working hard in college. By earning wages that could generously be called a pittance, I feel like a fraud and a hypocrite in front of those students. How can I make them believe that education is the key to a better life when I, along with thousands of adjuncts around the country, are unable to make ends meet, despite having graduate and/or terminal degrees? Those students deserve better, and so do adjuncts.

"My primary reason for quitting the adjunct teaching racket is the abominably low wages adjuncts are subjected to. Without even comparing adjunct wages to the salaries of full-time instructors, adjuncts earn LESS THAN MINIMUM WAGE. I have a 17 year old son who’s a high school senior with a part-time job at McDonald’s. He actually earns more than I do. Adjunct pay, especially at Lackawanna College, is so meager adjuncts are eligible to collect food stamps. That’s disgraceful.

"The message that is being imparted by colleges and universities that hire adjuncts and woefully underpay them is that a living wage is a luxury to be endowed on full-time instructors and administrators.

"Do you have any idea how demoralizing and humiliating it is to have an advanced degree in your field and having to collect food stamps just to feed your family? How about telling your kids that you can’t afford to buy them new clothes, shoes, winter coats, and boots, or trying to decide if you’re going to pay your rent or pay the utilities to keep them turned on?

"On the upside, at least Lackawanna College pays adjuncts biweekly; Keystone College pays their full-time faculty and staff biweekly but only pay their adjuncts once a month.

"This is by far the most difficult resignation letter I’ve ever had to write. I’ve enjoyed teaching at LC, the students, faculty, and staff are great people. Unfortunately, the ubiquitous systematic abuse of adjunct labor is offensive and I refuse to contribute my efforts to institutions that impoverish adjuncts. College students, adjuncts, and their families deserve better.

"I know my stance is of no consequence to you as there’s an abundance of adjuncts willing to work for a fraction of their worth; however, it’s important for me to stand up for what I believe in. For the first time in months, I can look at myself in the mirror and not feel as if I’m perpetrating a fraud on unsuspecting students.

"Earlier this week, Dr. Javier Cevallos, the president of Kutztown University (my undergraduate alma mater), announced that he had accepted the position of president of Framingham State University in Massachusetts. He described one of his major accomplishments at Kutztown University was in significantly reducing the number of adjunct instructors in favor of hiring full-time instructors, as he believes that instructors are more invested and dedicated to their careers when they have job security, competitive wages, and benefits.

"Dr. Cevallos comprehends what many college administrators fail to recognize: As long as adjuncts continue to be exploited, post-secondary institutions will continue to struggle with a revolving door of talented individuals leaving the field to pursue private sector careers with tangible benefits that pay a living wage, which is what I intend to do.

"I sincerely thank you for allowing me the chance to teach, and I’m sorry for letting the students down, but the sacrifices involved with being an adjunct are too high. I didn’t put myself through nearly 8 years of undergraduate and graduate study to earn less than minimum wage and live on food stamps. My kids and I deserve better.

"I hope someday the administrators of colleges and universities around the country will recognize that adjuncts are more than just names on a schedule; we’re human beings with real lives and families to take care of. Walk a mile in our shoes to experience how hard our lives are, then ask yourselves if your conscience will allow you to continue to misuse adjunct labor simply because you can."

*View the "original copy" of this resignation letter. Click on "original copy."

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