The Letter That Will Probably Get Me Fired

The Letter That Will Probably Get Me Fired April 23, 2013

With his gracious permission, below I have reposted in full Monte Abbott’s blog post “The Letter That Will Probably Get Me Fired” which originally appeared on his blog Gay Pentecostal Atheist.

I teach part time at a community college where my division (anthropology) is combined with the psychology and sociology divisions. The rivalries between members of the departments are at times divisive and fierce. The rivalries are mostly over meaningless bullshit. This morning I received an email from a colleague that said “YAY”. The email was in response to an earlier email from the department chair stating that anthropology would be moving to the history department. Said faculty member has a long list of historic gripes with the other members of our present department. Having just arisen and still waiting on the coffeemaker to belch forth my morning sanity I hit ‘reply all’ and said “I wonder if the adjuncts will be treated like janitors there too?”

Well, the shock and awe that followed was monumental. You would think that we adjuncts had been hidden in a closet all these years. Various full timers upbraided me for “attacking” and “causing pain” (Boo-fucking-hoo). Others showed me various levels of support in person and (in one case) by email (brave since that is admissible in court and there is no more reticent sub-species of Homo sapiens than your run-of-the-mill college professor).

Further background:
I have in the past received special dispensation to attend departmental meetings, participate in specialized faculty training and development (you know, the basics of professional life) – but only because I made a fuss. Adjuncts are normally excluded from these things.

Below is the letter I wrote this afternoon after thinking more on the topic. I am surprised at the depth of emotion I am still feeling.While I live this on a daily basis, this email was my first time discussing it in a public forum. I do not broach all the issues faced by the adjunct work force but I think I hit the high lights. If you teach full time at an institution of higher learning in the US your department is likely functioning exactly as I describe below. Please think about it.

Some days I feel like an animal with his leg in a trap.

I should explain my outburst. I was in a good mood this morning so when I read ___’s email I was a little off guard. I have always kept my thoughts to myself because if I speak my mind I risk losing my job. Unfortunately, I failed to guard my thoughts this morning. Since I have opened this can of worms in public it is only fair that I clarify my thoughts in public and leave no doubt about where this is coming from. After all, the inequality I am speaking of is being acted out publicly every day, by each one of us.

I have been teaching anthropology classes at _______ for seven years. I have been unable to find a full time job. It is also clear to me that there is no chance of a full time position being created for me at _____. At the same time, the longer I spend in this menial job, the less suited I am for any good job outside of academia. What has changed for me during the past year is my realization that the _____ job position descriptions are highly inaccurate. The adjuncts are not filling temporary positions. The positions are full time. It is the humans filling the jobs who are temporary. It really, really sucks being a permanently part time human.

We all know about the low pay and no benefits when we accept these jobs. Maybe a lot of adjuncts think there is a full-time job just over the horizon. I thought I would find one. I have seen just enough adjuncts getting hired into full time jobs to keep my hopes up. As I have sought jobs and watched the teaching labor market it has become apparent that colleges all over the country are trimming their course offerings and replacing retirees with the permanent part-time positions. At the same time, graduate schools are pumping qualified applicants into the teaching market like a 24-hour sausage factory.

I know that none of this is your fault. I also can’t forget that your office, your computer, your vacation leave, your sick leave, your maternity leave, your sabbaticals, your expense accounts, your salary, your professional support, etc., are all paid for with funds that are generated by the work of my large underclass. I learned all about inequitable economic systems as a college student. Is it any surprise that I would experience existential angst once I realize that I’m mired neck deep in one without an apparent resolution or even an apparent avenue of escape?

What am I looking for? When I ask myself that question I go through that sociological checklist of things that people get from their work: money, status, sense of belonging, a mission. I know there is no money or status associated with being an adjunct. What’s left? I love to teach so I have a mission that has sustained me this long. The sense of belonging is largely absent. A number of people have voiced their support to me today and I really appreciate that. Of course everyone has always been very nice to me and I find that invaluable. The problem is that I have no role other than providing low cost labor to a faceless, dehumanizing system.

I’m not one to complain without offering solutions. In my neighborhood organization there are no temporaries or full-timers. We all play a role based on our interests and abilities. I help manage an annual budget of about $2 million and organize a number of public events, direct actions, and community building activities every year. No one “invites” me to a board meeting because I AM a board member. I have a specific role in the organization.

I appreciate being “invited” to _____ faculty meetings but it also underscores the fact that I don’t really belong there. I have no role. Who decided that the people who teach 75% of the classes here, who generate the lion’s share of the revenue, have no role? Who decided that we aren’t interested, aren’t able, aren’t qualified to share in the governance of the organization? When I’m feeling trapped I don’t chew on my leg like an animal. Instead I look for meaning and meaning is the thing I’m lacking in this job.

I apologize for getting all political and making everyone uncomfortable. I didn’t intend to storm the Bastille when I got up this morning. I don’t envy any of you full-timers. You have those positions because you are highly qualified. I don’t feel especially singled out for marginalization. I am a part of an enormous group of people in exactly the same position. Many of us are also highly qualified but we are never going to find full time teaching jobs because the numbers just aren’t in our favor.

I do think you full timers, especially in the social sciences, have a moral duty to be aware of the political and economic landscapes of our discipline. I know you teach Weber and de Tocqueville but how much consideration have you given to how that applies to our own field? Even more importantly, please consider how our jobs (and lives) can be made a little bit more meaningful as our slice of academia (and apparently all post-secondary academia) continues to adopt the corporate model. We’re all a bunch of smart people. Why are we so behind on this? I love to teach and I want to continue teaching at _______. The crappy pay would be more bearable if I was more of a colleague and less of a servant.

For many of my own ruminations on my own situation as an adjunct professor, read my post from the beginning of this school year “The Underemployment Crisis and Me”.

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