Thursday, April 23, 2015

On life at the academy...

Four years ago, I became what's known in academia as the "trailing spouse." My husband had decided to enter academia; he was hired for a tenure-track position at a public university; we packed our bags and moved into a whole new universe. He moved onto the tenure track; I became a contingent laborer - a lecturer teaching a 4/4 load.

We are not from academia. We both have terminal degrees for our areas (though mine is not recognized as a terminal degree in my department - it considers only the Ph.D. to be terminal - though my degree is recognized as terminal in similar departments in other universities, including the flagship university.) We have spent our professional lives engaged in the work our students wish to pursue. As a freelancer, I've worked with numerous clients, including Fortune 500 companies, tech firms, lawyers and more.

Thus,  I have been more than a bit surprised to learn that my professional experience, my degree and my enthusiasm for teaching are essentially worthless in the eyes of academia. It's taken me a while to figure this out - but I've finally realized the truth - contingent faculty have no future in academia.

I've had one tenured professor wonder why I was not aware that people like me (contingent faculty) were not supposed to speak in meetings. (I spoke in a meeting - apparently, contingent faculty are supposed to attend, but remain silent.) I've had other tenured professors sit in my office and tell me that I needed to know that lecturers (such as myself) were unimportant, temporary and that those without the Ph.D. (such as myself) REALLY needed to understand their lack of value and future in the department. I've had an assistant chair inform me that those on the tenure-track are in a "career" - contingent faculty, on the other hand, have "jobs." And I've dealt with other tenured professors who pretend I do not even exist - not even worth the breath needed for a greeting.

I have worked with difficult people in my career, but I've never worked with people with such a monumental sense of entitlement and privilege as those who are tenured. Certainly, not all on the tenure-track are like this - but even one is too many.

In academia, contingent faculty such as myself have no prospects for career advancement - which is a remarkable thing to realize - all the work I'm doing is essentially wasted effort, if I'm interested in a "career" and not just a "job." Working as contingent labor within a university has been unpredictable in ways that are more nerve-wracking than working as a freelancer - with freelance, the goal is to spread the work among a variety of clients; with contingent faculty work, a 4/4 load does not allow time for other clients. I do not know my work load for next year - I will not know if I'm 3/4, 4/4 or adjunct until mid-summer. I've done eight new course preps in eight semesters. I've been placed into a course the week before the semester started. I've gotten textbooks (ordered weeks prior to the start of the semester) a week after the semester began. I never really get to engage in a course long enough to get a groove going - after a couple of semesters, I find myself placed into new courses, with no regard for my own wishes. I am, I now realize, a hole-filler. 

According to AAUP, more than half of the teachers in higher ed are part-time - and "non-tenure-track positions of all types now account for 76 percent of all instructional staff appointments in American higher education."

This means that most - if not all - students at the university will be taught by someone who is provided with few resources for professional development, dealing with erratic schedules that can leave little time for curriculum development and employed by an institution that refuses to commit to them in any way. (Just prior to my arrival on campus, our tenured and tenure-track faculty in the faculty senate voted to abolish multi-year contracts for contingent labor. Every lecturer and adjunct gets the privilege of a two-semester contract. I am fascinated that tenured professors used the arguments against tenure to argue against multi-year contracts for contingent faculty; they wanted it to be easier to fire their contingent pool of teachers.)

As a contingent laborer at the academy, I am frustrated with the situation. As a parent saving money to send my children to college, I am outraged. I had no idea how absurd the situation was until I became part of the vast pool of contingent intelligentsia. I will be asking a great many questions of colleges prior to sending my children to them.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

I cannot believe this man was elected NC senator

Freshman Senator Thom Tillis, straight off of the most expensive senate race in US history, is in the news. Sadly, he's in the news as an advocate of deregulating hand-washing in restaurants.

I guess we all now know, thanks to the brilliance of Tillis, that hand-washing regulations are crippling the restaurant business (and FYI, low-wage restaurant jobs are growing in NC - as are other low-wage jobs. Jobs that provide middle-class incomes are harder to find in this "right-to-work" state.)

Here's the quote:
“I was having a discussion with someone, and we were at a Starbucks in my district, and we were talking about certain regulations where I felt like ‘maybe you should allow businesses to opt out,’” he said, “as long as they indicate through proper disclosure, through advertising, through employment literature, or whatever else.” Tillis was, at the time, the minority whip of the North Carolina House of Representatives.

“She said, ‘I can’t believe that,’” he continued in retelling the story. “And at that time we were sitting back at a table that was near the restrooms and one of the employees just came out. She said: ‘For example, don’t you believe that this regulation that requires this gentleman to wash his hands before he serves your food is important and should be on the books?’”

“I said: ‘As a matter of fact, I think it’s one that I can [use to] illustrate the point,’” he remarked. “I said: ‘I don’t have any problem with Starbucks if they choose to opt out of this policy as long as they post a sign that says “We don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restroom,”’” he recalled, as the audience chuckled. “The market will take care of that.’”

“That’s the sort of mentality that we need to have to reduce the regulatory burden on this country,” he added. “We’re one of the most regulated nations in the history of the planet.” 
Who knew hand-washing rules were such a regulatory burden? I guess that's why Starbucks is struggling?

I have to think that posting a sign that says "we do not require employees to wash their hands" would induce customers to head elsewhere. Or perhaps all food businesses would gleefully abandon hand-washing rules, if allowed. Or perhaps we could wait until an outbreak of hepatitis or e. coli or salmonella infects the paying customers of a food business and let the market determine whether or not the business remains open. Sounds like a plan adored by NCGOP officials!

The deregulatory stance Tillis advocates is dangerous to consumers, but so what? The reliance on "the market" is the sort of mentality that allows highly profitable Fortune 500 businesses to pollute the Dan River (major source of water for NC residents.) That's the kind of mentality that allows frackers to claim mineral rights over property owners. That's the kind of mentality that makes it illegal to disclose the chemicals used in fracking (thank you NCGOP!)

As NC's freshman senator, Tillis represents the will of the NC voters. In November, he beat Kay Hagan - it wasn't even close - he was the clear choice of NC voters. I don't even know what to say about that. I still can't believe he's now in DC, bringing the NCGOP madness to the nation's capital. Salmonella for everyone! It's the NCGOP way....