Why Do I Do It? Good Question!

by Susan Mazur-Stommen, Ph.D.

I HAVE A DEEP-SEATED prejudice against people from certain states, those that tend to vaunt creationism over evolution, for instance. I have a solid suspicion that the legislatures and governors of those states just aren’t as invested in education as they should be, and therefore, their citizen-students pay the penalty. Suffice it to say, if I am ever offered the opportunity to provide employment to one of those unlucky possessors of a worthless public education, I shall decline to do so.

Fair? No, but whoever said the hiring process was fair?

There appears to be a similar bias against those academics (like myself) who have worked as adjuncts during the perilous years between filing one’s dissertation and getting (hosanna!) a full-time, tenure-track job. At least rumors persist of snobby, elitist, and worst of all, employed members of the professoriate who dismiss the applications of their unfortunate brethren in favor of applicants less tainted by experience.

Read further at your peril!

For this is a jeremiad in favor of the adjunct, we lowly, underpaid, workhorses of a system that is sinking as rapidly as Venice, those of us who make up some 40 percent of the higher education teaching profession (and up to 70 percent at one of my community college employers).

Why on earth would someone not want to hire an adjunct like myself?

The easy canard is that we don’t publish or remain active in the profession. To which I counter that not only have I published articles, a book review or two, and notes in our national professional newsletter; but I have a book coming out, sit on the executive board of one of our national association sections, and I am the editor of a forthcoming series of books. All in the last two years, while teaching a class load that would make your average tenured professor’s head spin (as many as seven in a semester). Did I mention that I am also married and have a preschooler at home?

You won’t find my office knee-deep in drifts of ungraded papers, no sir. One does not survive the freeway flyer life-style, without organizational skills. I get my students’ exams (including essays, thank you very much) back within a week. I assign papers, and they are graded within a week of the semester ending, as well. Obviously, you won’t catch me playing solitaire on my office computer, either, unlike a few tenureds I could mention.

I treat the colleges and universities I work for as valued clients. This cuts both ways. I extend them every courtesy one would expect if you were seeking a customer’s repeat business. This means I am pleasant, prompt, and professional in all of my dealings.

I reward loyalty on the part of colleges by taking those god-awful classes taught at midnight on satellite campuses out in the boonies or on military bases. I don’t leave my clients in the lurch at the last minute, and further, if I cannot teach a class, I generally offer to recommend someone who can. Still, it is a business, and I have no compunction about dropping a client for low pay or poor working conditions.

“Ah,” sez the wise old professor, “she can be this cocky since she hasn’t tasted the fruits of administration and service. Once she has, she will change her tune. In fact, she doesn’t realize how lucky she is!”

Um, did I mention that, unlike some of your star graduate students who entered the program on a full ride two years before me, and who are still there, helplessly enmeshed, two years after my departure, I paid my way through my undergraduate degree by working full-time as the assistant to a general manager of a major corporation? I have forgotten more about bureaucracy, time management, human resources issues, filing travel expenses, fudging the quarterly budget, and diplomacy than your average dean ever learned in the first place.

Ok, so she is organized, she can manage paperwork, they grudgingly admit, but what about the heart and soul of the profession? Can she teach?
Don’t make me laugh.

I have calculated that in this year alone, I have taught almost 500 students. I learn almost all of their names. I write them recommendations when you aren’t looking. I am the one who advises them to get practical and go to law school, learn turf management, become computer literate, anything anything anything but going on to graduate school in my discipline!

I get high marks on my student evaluations, and it isn’t for giving out easy A’s and candy, either. My students rate me consistently as “hard but fair.”

Even though I am not paid for office hours (with rare exceptions), or prep time (a measly three hours per semester), or given benefits like access to group health insurance rates, I still care for my students and make myself available to them as best I can, after class, or via e-mail (using my personal account). I use my own laser printer, and paper, to print handouts that would otherwise be lost by the half-wits in the lithography department. I even bring my own white board markers, as there is no horror greater than standing in a chilly classroom at 7:30 a.m. on the first day of the semester with no writing implements.

So, after all this complaining, why do I do it?
Good question.

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