Letter from the Editor
I have been thinking about what it means to be a college faculty member. What does it mean to accept the responsibility of educating young people (not to mention returning students)? It is an awesome responsibility. Hundreds of thousands of part-time faculty accept that responsibility gladly and with every intention of doing the best job they possibly can in the classroom. That is all a university can ask, I think of a part-timer. On the other hand, what does a part-timer have the right to expect from her/his employer?
Every week, I field emails from part-time faculty who are, quite simply, puzzled as to what they may expect in terms of institutional support. In some instances, the emails are easy to answer. “Ask,” I always counsel, “your department chair.” That is the point person for the average part-timer. (Sometimes, part-timers are hired by deans or VPs of faculty, but for the most part, department chairs do the hiring and firing of their own adjuncts.) “Ask.” Don’t be shy; don’t be afraid. Make an ap- pointment with the department chair and have a sit down. Figure out exactly what you need and “ASK!”
Related to those emails, though slightly different, are those I field from part-timers who are convinced that nothing they can do will ever impact the quality of their work environment. These people are, to put it bluntly, bitter and resentful. One could argue that they have every right to be. They’re earning low salaries and sick days mean paying to go to the doctor and losing money as a result of missing a day of teaching. They’re teaching without access to the college library or an office with a phone.
“I am being exploited,” the emails plead, “what can I do?” My response is frank. People who are angry and bitter have no place in the college classroom. Does that mean that I counsel them to give up? Absolutely not. I counsel them to be proactive and ask for what they need. If a department chair is, genuinely, unable to give more money, that doesn’t mean a part-timer couldn’t ask for other things.
What I am trying to stress, of course, is the need for communication between part-time faculty and their employers. If the employer doesn’t do a great job of communicating with the employee, then the onus rests on the part-time faculty member. In the end, I truly believe, only good can come of speaking up for what one wants and needs. And, in the unlikely case that an employer is absolutely unwilling to participate in the effort to keep the lines of communication open, then the part-timer can make a decision about whether or not to teach at that particular institution.
In this issue of the magazine, we have several excellent feature pieces. I want to point out Marjorie Lynn’s profile of University of Michigan union president Bonnie Halloran. Marjorie and I have known each other for many, many years, and this is her second profile for the Adjunct Advocate. She has, I believe, captured the essence of Bonnie Halloran as a faculty member and union activist.
When I assigned Marjorie to do this piece, we talked about the fact that within higher education, there are not very many women who head unified union locals. In that respect, Bonnie Halloran is very unique. Another aspect that intriqued me about LEO’s leader was that she heads a union at one of the few major 4-year research institutions led by a female president, Dr. Mary Sue Coleman. Somehow, there seemed, to me, to be a connecting thread between the women.
I also want to talk for a moment about Kristen Kennedy’s piece in this issue of the magazine. It’s easy to forget that there are part-time faculty who, for whatever reason, want to work as adjuncts. In fact, figures put their numbers at about 40 percent of the total number of adjuncts in higher education. I asked Kristen to look at the question of what it means to teach part-time because one wants to. The adjuncts whom she interviewed had some predictable, as well as some very surprising reasons for choosing to teach part-time.
Finally, I want to draw your attention to Oronte Churm’s excellent piece on the Wal-Martization of higher education. Whether you read the piece and agree or disagree, one thing is certain, Oronte has a unique perspective and does an excellent job of sharing it with our readers. On October 16th, Oronte began a blog for our website. Next time you’re online, check it out.
In the meantime, as always, I hope you enjoy this issue of the Adjunct Advocate, and will share your copy with a colleague. If you do that already, thank you. —P.D. Lesko
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