by Terri Hughes-Lazzell
Being an adjunct college instructor has its own unique set of hurdles and road blocks—many times including living in limbo between the college campus where you teach and the office you call your own. Many adjuncts aren’t given any office space or use common office space, can’t find a place to meet with students outside of the classroom, or find it tough to balance the part-time teaching position with other jobs. All of this leaves little opportunity to network. So, it’s the few who extend the hand of camaraderie to others—even if that hand is thousands of miles away and via the Internet—who interest us. One way to extend a hand is to create and write a weblog (blog).
Two blogs produced by adjunct college professors stand out as leading in the efforts to reach out to others with helpful information, either for adjuncts in general or for specific groups of instructors with specific teaching issues and related subjects. These two adjunct professor bloggers also go the extra mile to reach students through their Internet blogs. And if all else fails, they at the very least leave an impression of life from their perspective.
Mitchell H. Rubinstein, an adjunct law professor who is editor of “Adjunct Law Prof Blog” uses his space as an educational tool, as well as for research. In addition, he strives to reach out to other adjuncts. And all this because he wasn’t finding what he needed elsewhere.
It all began a few years ago for the graduate of Hofstra University School of Law and Cornell University School of Industrial Labor Relations, as a result of the beginning of his adjunct teaching career. Most of the classes he teaches focus on employment and educational law, since in his other world he is a labor and education attorney working as senior counsel with the New York State United Teachers, representing individuals and the organization. The need for a centralized point for his research for class became apparent almost from the beginning, when he started as an adjunct professor at St. Johns Law School in 2004, and became more necessary after he began his second adjunct professorship at the New York Law School the following year. It was during research for his class that Rubinstein discovered there was no central source for information, and one was definitely needed. So, he took it upon himself to create that source.
Putting information on current legal issues into one location for his students, as well as other researchers, was his first motivation. However, once he got started, he found more than just legal citations and current news on legal issues were needed in his life as an adjunct. He also wanted to help others with issues he had experienced as a part-time professor, and wanted to get information back from them.
He tried to dedicate a blog entirely to adjuncts in general, but he discovered that there wasn’t enough contact to only do this. So, he tried to focus on law school adjuncts and their issues—low pay as compensation for the time consuming work. But again he found that most of the law school adjuncts weren’t as interested as he expected.
“I found that most of them were really not doing their adjunct positions as stepping stones to a full-time professor position, but were doing it because it was good for business and was a good selling point for their practice,” Rubinstein said. “I speculate the reason I didn’t get more comments is that they are busy, successful lawyers with no time.”
However, that doesn’t stop his site from getting visitors. In the six months he’s been active, he’s had 32,000 hits, he said. “I love to try to be the resource for all their needs.”
And while he may not be meeting all needs, at least his subject matter is making the news. In a recent blog, the professor talked about requiring students to post comments on a blog and whether it should be done.
"Simple Justice," a criminal defense blog, criticizing him for raising the questions, accused Rubinstein of “misblawgary.” He was also criticized on the web sites; Build a Solo Practice and Legal Satyricon.
Rubinstein replied on his blog, “I do not mind being criticized. In fact, I think a healthy debate in blogosphere is a good thing. However, I would wish that people would read what I wrote before they criticize. I meant what I said. Requiring a student to post comments on a blog raises issues. Is the Prof doing this to get more hits? Many Prof bloggers get paid from advertising. What about students who cannot afford Internet access, do not have computers or have difficulty reading on line. I have had students who fall into each of these categories.”
While the issues are still being debated, Rubinstein continues to update his blog and hopes for a full-time professor position in the future. While he said many lawyers teach on an adjunct basis to help their law practice, he indeed wants to become a full-time professor at either of the two universities at which he currently teaches. However, like many colleges and universities the full-time professor positions don’t open often.
That’s the same reality that Gregory Zobel lives with. The adjunct professor, who writes "Adjunct Advice," a blog by Gregory Zobel that is hosted on the Bedford/St. Martins AdjunctCentral site, would love to be a full-time professor. However, in his current part-time teaching role, he said he is adjunct by both circumstance and by choice.
An English composition adjunct professor at the College of the Redwoods, Zobel earned his BA in English in 1995 and went to work in the business world. He later returned to grad school and earned his MA from Humboldt State University. He “tested out teaching” and found that he loved it.
“It was an adrenaline rush,” he said.
The next step was to find a teaching position. That was easier said than done—at least on a full-time basis. So, he discovered the world of adjunct teaching. However, he said, he has had positive experiences during his adjunct tenure, even economically. As an English major in the business world, his compensation was never earth shattering.
In fact, he earns about 30 percent more as an adjunct professor than any other job he’s ever had. So, adjuncting makes sense to him to fill his need to teach and his economic needs. And, because he doesn’t want to relocate from the northwest Pacific region, he said he’s an adjunct by both choice and circumstance.
As a northern California native who lives in Humboldt County, there are only two higher education opportunities—Humboldt University and the College of the Redwoods, so his dreams of a full-time professor position may be a long time coming.
“I do want a full-time gig,” he said. “But being an adjunct serves as a bridge to that. I enjoy teaching and I love living here, so I’m an adjunct by choice.”
And his blogging is another outlet for his professional and personal needs. Zobel’s blog is 100 percent focused on issues affecting adjunct teachers, but like Rubinstein, he’s found that few other adjuncts comment on the issues, even if his site is getting many hits. In fact, he’s had 37,000 hits in the last six months, but few comments.
“I haven’t figured out the way to get them to comment,” he said.
One way he does try to get other adjuncts to get involved is using his blog to directly ask other adjuncts to do something more than just read his comments and information. In a blog posted Jan. 25, he asked adjuncts who teach at a community college, like himself, to consider participating in a survey being conducted by Jeffrey Klausman at Whatcom Community College.
“This is your chance to speak up and have your opinion influence research and findings,” he wrote on his blog. “Unfortunately, many adjuncts do not take their opinion or their voices seriously. Or, they think that their opinion does not matter. Here is an opportunity to participate. Only if we participate can we generate change.”
That is the key for "Adjunct Advice" and Zobel’s outreach to other adjuncts. He uses his blog as a way to help others find answers to questions they either can’t ask or are afraid to ask. He also can offer advice to his peers who may not know that certain topics could be political land mines for their future at a college, he said.
“If I can help prevent damage or save one career by someone not making a stupid decision, then my blog is doing it’s job,” he said.
He also said that adjuncts need to be more assertive and protect their own interests. He hopes that his blog helps them feel like they have power and aren’t alone. Part of that community means just extending the hand of friendship. In his Dec. 27 blog, Zobel discussed socializing.
“As adjuncts, we often have little time or contact with other folks in our department. While it is more likely that we will see our tenured colleagues – after all, they are paid to be there most of the time – some of the most useful and meaningful relationships we can cultivate are with other adjuncts.”
However, because adjuncts are there part time and their schedules vary, it isn’t likely you’ll get to know many of them. He suggests finding ways to create situations in which to socialize. However, he does give the word of caution.
“As adjuncts, we have no job security and that means we work at the whim of the department,” he wrote. “Letting our lips flap a bit too much runs us the risk of losing work. As such, socializing with adjunct colleagues is a great way to learn who is and who is not discreet.
“Socializing with part-time peers is a great way to get a sense of the lay of the departmental land and who the personalities are in the department. This is a job, after all, and these are our co-workers."
And in the effort to eventually gain a full-time professor position, understanding your colleagues, peers, and the college or university’s political layout could assist in that pursuit. During that quest, bloggers like Rubinstein and Zobel also can offer assistance along the way.
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