Working the Phones

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Listen to my blog entry here.

I have this disconcerting habit of answering the phone in a way that makes people think they have reached an answering machine. It’s somewhat embarrassing. “Good afternoon, this is the Adjunct Advocate and Part-Time Press.” Invariably, there is a pause on the other end of the line. After a moment, I say something like, “Hello.” Then, the caller laughs and says something like, “Oh, you’re not an answering machine.” Well, no, I’m not. Despite this, I enjoy answering the phone. I never know who’ll turn up on the other end of the line.

Today, it was a Dean from a college in Virginia. She was trying to convert her subscription to a digital one and having some trouble with what I like to believe is a fail safe system devised by our Web Programmer. As much as I’d like to think we’ve worked all the kinks, it’s just never the case. She needed help, and so had phoned us. I helped her out. She was pleased by the excellent customer service. She had a problem, and I fixed it immediately. She asked my name, and when I told her who I was she asked me how I had decided to publish Adjunct Advocate, and then to take the publication digital.

I have written about how I left teaching to publish a magazine for part-time faculty. I was in the mail room of the department in which I taught and noticed that the part-time faculty had, well, an entire wall of mailboxes, while the full-time faculty had significantly fewer. I did a bit of poking around and discovered there was no magazine for part-time college faculty, but that there were 325,000 adjuncts. That was 1992. I was 31 and without children, and had just met my partner. I actually had money saved up. I took that money and started the magazine.

The Dean represented to me something very symbolic. I never expected anyone except part-time faculty to subscribe to the magazine. That was just one of the many mistakes I made along the way. She had subscribed to the print edition for many years, she told me, and wanted to check out the electronic version and, perhaps, take advantage of the institutional subscription we now offer that allows everyone on a campus to access the contents of the magazine. As it turns out, she also uses our books in her faculty development program. We chatted about how very important it is for temporary faculty to be supported professionally.

She called just as I was writing a letter to editor of The Atlantic Monthly in response to a piece titled “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower,” written by an adjunct faculty member. In my letter, I wrote that, yes, Professor X’s student has failed the research paper assignment, but more importantly, Professor X had failed the student. Further, Professor X’s college employer had failed their adjunct faculty by the obvious lack of supervision and mentoring as described in Professor X’s essay. I hope you’ll read the piece and let me know what you think. I believe the student could have been taught what she needed to know to succeed. Let me know what you think!

The Dean told me her supervisor had charged her with creating a model mentoring program for the adjunct faculty she hires and supervises. I assured her that she was not alone in her task. At the American Association of Community College Conference, I met many administrators who were finally getting funding to develop similar programs for adjunct faculty.

I know I may get blasted for saying this, but as long as adjuncts are hired at the last moment, not required to perform service, don’t get professional recognition for their scholarly work, or conduct research, and are not fully integrated into the departments in which they teach, they will continue to be poorly paid and unsupported. On this the Dean and I agreed. I just wish I could get more part-timers to see the logic of tying pro-rata pay and benefits to greater responsibility and professionalism.

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