Calling All Adjunct Faculty

The very aptly named New Faculty Majority blog is requesting links to other academic bloggers who are contingent (part time, adjunct, temporary–there’s a slew of terms being bandied about these days, but all mean no job security, little pay, etc etc). Please drop them a note about your own blog.

AdjunctNation is another blog with links to resources for contingent faculty. They’ve already started a blogroll of other adjunct bloggers it seems, though it’s obviously incomplete.

And, since I’ve got your attention, adjuncts, could I ask your advice?

I’m part of a small crew of full time (mostly already tenured) faculty who are working to offer some practical workshops for those who are newly part time at our college (we hired at least 3 dozen this year alone, and we have under 100 full time faculty).  [Note: our faculty union is working on salaries and better health insurance; and our administrators are working on training and paying senior part timers to be mentors, so the workshops are the third leg of the stool, so to speak.]

We recently offered a workshop in Understanding Student Evaluations, which was only mildly successful at addressing the very real fear that bad evaluations.  I think it would have gone much better facilitated by a fellow part timer.  As a result, when we asked attendees (all volunteers who were not paid for attending the workshop, but who will get a letter in their file) to identify other topics of interest, almost all asked for basic instructional tidbits: how to lecture, how to best use Power point, how to do small group work, etc etc.  All excellent ideas, and all relevant to ALL faculty, certainly, not just adjuncts.

But is there some other topic we are missing that didn’t come up in our very small sample survey? Should we offer workshops in negotiating academia? (So many of our new part timers truly believe that they have a shot at a full time position “someday” despite not having a graduate degree at all in the field–we are a community college, but one that requires a minimum of an MA in the field, and for transfer programs, the Ph.D. is preferred).

Be brutally honest, please: what workshops do you think would attract more than a dozen of the over 100 part timers (half of them recently hired)?

Office Suite

My still new-smelling office (I’ve been here since September) is in a suite of offices: we five share a vestibule.  In the past, I’ve been in offices along long hallways, so unless the walls were thin (and yes, they sometimes were) I didn’t hear my colleagues’ conversations with students.

But  now I hear them all, especially when their doors are open. And it’s been enlightening, I tell you.

Some colleagues are abrupt and direct, especially when students arrive one minute before a class with a long, tedious excuse story. Of these colleagues, some are better at cutting off long stories than others (and yes, we’ve discussed “rescue” situations but haven’t put them into play yet). Some are fabulously blunt (“you should drop the course”) while others beat around the bush more (“you’ve missed 5 weeks of classes; what do you think you would need to do to catch up?”).

Other colleagues hold long seminars with students who may have just come by to pick up the homework assignment. The student is half way out the door, yet the professor has much more to say about whatever topic they were discussing in the last class…

Others, sit down and have lengthy conversations filled with popular culture references, jokes, the occasional reference to the student’s paper, and ample compliments (to and fro). One might even think they were at a dinner party, and on their second drinks. And there is a line of students waiting to chat with this particular professor, all seeming to take it in stride.  [It is this particular one that led me to blog right now.  The student is quite striking….]

And finally, there are those who are incredibly efficient with students who visit their office, working several of them at the same time.  I’ve done this: once about 7 students lined up to chat with me about their outlines, and now that my office is big enough, I had them all make themselves comfy on the floor (these were all flexible students, promise), I passed around a box of pop tarts, and we had a group discussion about the outlines before pairing up to chat, while I met with one at a time. Seven student conferences in less than one hour: check!

I’ve been nearly everyone of these “types” at one time or another.  But, I just can’t imagine having the leisurely, cocktail party type-conversation with a student: we hold 5 office hours a week and I’m busy every minute of them, if not with live students than with e-mails or Blackboard discussion postings.  I wonder how he does it?

The Long Weekend

It’s nearly the end of week 2 of the term, what promises to be an excellent term.  A 43-student literature class (better than 50) that I’m looking forward to tonight;  2-composition II classes with many students I’ve worked with before;  and the one composition III class where students get to spend the entire term focusing on one major research project.  So far, the topics are fascinating (from miracles to lesbian artists).

So what am I doing? Packing up articles to read, papers to grade, finding a cat sitter, calling hubby to dig out my suitcase from the garage–because I have to pack when I get home later tonight.  Yes, I’m taking a vacation–a long weekend–with about 15 friends. We are convoying to the coast: yes, it’s winter, and it will be cool and rainy at the coast, but I look forward to running on the beach, drinking scotch by the fireplace, playing board games, and eating lots of seafood chowder.

Oh, and yes, I’ll grade those papers, too.

Why is this blog-worthy news? Because in my 20 years of teaching, I have NEVER gone away for a long weekend that was not a conference or a meeting.  I’m usually at work on a Sunday afternoon, catching up or prepping or grading.  So this feels so fabulously decadent.

Rejection, Failure, and Self Reflection

My first panic attack happened during the summer before my second year (not my first, interestingly) of graduate school and adjunct teaching.  I was walking along 5th Avenue in NY and suddenly stopped breathing: there’s no other way of explaining it.  I responded with the usual Prozac and Psychotherapy, stopping the latter soon after realizing that the Psych Ph.D. was no smarter than I was (intelligence being a key factor in how I chose men, no matter what their relationship, at the time), and stopping the drugs as soon as I discovered that alcohol was cheaper, and quicker.

That was many, oh so many, summers ago, but ever since then I’ve gone through the depths of despair, so to speak, every single summer. Sometimes it happens in August, as it did way back when, but more often it happens in July, and now, it seems, it’s front loading to late June.   

I know other academics go through this, too (see PhD Me, for example): we are so focused on others and ideas (our own and others) for 60+ hours a week, 7 days a week, 10 or so months, that it’s not until the academic year ends that we have the time to breathe.  And while we are breathing we see the now pages long, 10 point font, to-do list we’ve been saving for just this summer, (everything from finishing the painting of the damned hallway, finally, to reading the dozens of books and articles we’ve saved for course prepping for fall term, to the reviews we promised to write, to the dinner invitations we still need to return, to writing up our own half-baked ideas we’ve been jotting down or blogging about informally all year), and naturally panic occurs.

It’s not necessarily rational: I do have more time now that I’m not teaching 15 hours a week, holding office hours 5 hours a week, grading and prepping 20-30 hours a week, and doing committee work several hours a week.  I’m teaching online, which requires only 5-10 hours a week, depending on the week.  I know the problem:  all the free time,  too much time to think, to dwell, to obsess. I must spend so much time working or just DOING STUFF during those 10 months of the year that I am successfully postponing any self reflection, any time for just thinking. 

Clearly, not a healthy way to live.

Thus the panic is happening earlier this summer than ever before, but at least this summer, I can attribute it to two specific events (or, more precisely, non-events).

The first: the rejection I received from NPR. Though they wrote to ME, asking ME to submit a revised “Three Books” essay. They have now rejected the revised essay with this pithy note:

“Thanks so much for your submission.  The essay isn’t really working for us, so we’re going to pass.”

To be honest, I really don’t love what I sent them: I struggled with turning something I originally threw together in 200 words into a 500 word essay. (Here I am writing a 1000+ word blog posting for god’s sake—I simply can’t write 500 words!) In the process, the heart and soul was whittled out of the piece.  But, despite actually agreeing with their pithy assessment, rejection is rejection, right?

And today, I’ve decided NOT to continue reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest even though I wasn’t so sure I’d go through with the whole Infinite Summer thing to begin with. I did read the first 63 pages (as per our assigned reading).  However, Dave Eggers’ 2006 foreword was perhaps not the best way to start the book: in it, he practically begs the reader to give the novel a chance. He starts well, noting that most readers of “literary fiction” like to read both easy to read fiction as well as challenging fiction, rather than either-or:

“These readers might actually read both kinds of fiction themselves, sometimes in the same week.”

Yes, that’s certainly true. I’ve just finished Kathryn Stockett’s The Help (definitely in the “easy to read” category—fast read, stock characters, happy ending) while also reading Infinite Jest and Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth (the latter two in different subcategories of “challenging fiction”).

But then Eggers compares Infinite Jest to a

 “spaceship with no recognizable components…very shiny, and it has no discernible flaws…It simply is. Page by page, line by line, it is probably the strangest, most distinctive, and most involved work of fiction by an American in the last twenty years. At no time while reading Infinite Jest are you unaware that this is a work of complete obsession, of a stretching of the mind of a young writer to the point of, we assume, near madness.”

At this point, I’m thinking: oh great, one of those cult-followed novels that only those who wear black, black framed glasses, and carry their smugness like Linus’ blanket everywhere they go will appreciate this novel.   Then Eggers says that the expected age of a new reader of this novel that captures “the consciousness of an age” is 25.  Oh, he concedes that some more ancient readers, 30 or even 50 year olds, might be condescendingly reading the book for the first time, but basically, he assumes that like he was the first time he read the book,  the reader is a 25 year old English major, and, I assume, male.

So I go into this book knowing that I am not at all the target audience. Not a good way to begin a novel when I have dozens of other novels,  novels that are practically begging a middle aged woman English professor to read them, waiting for me by my bed. 

So even though the novel is fairly easy to read (despite the endnotes, which do seem to be increasing with each chapter, unfortunately), and with characters who (sorry Eggers) DO resemble other characters in fiction, from Holden Caulfield way back to Tom Sawyer—and all those adolescent boys/men in between—and there does seem to be an actual plot focusing on different addictions, I just don’t want to keep reading. I have too much else to read. 

So, rejection and failure in one day.

But it has led to self-reflection. It’s summer. I do have a long to-do list, but hell will not freeze over if I ignore half of it. And while neither my rejection nor my failure will impact my career or my life in any negative way—no job or income depended on either—they have led me to reflect on what I really want to accomplish this summer.  And I’m happy with that.   I’ll let you know if I figure what that actually IS before August.

Summertime Blogging

The Academic Blogosphere (the blogging world in which I live) seems to go on semi-hiatus once classes end—or at least once they end for you semester system schools. We on the quarter system are still plugging away for 2 more weeks. Interestingly, I’ve found few community college instructors who are bloggers (as is also true with the academic novel—there are few that focus on community college faculty and students—another interesting gap to explore).

But I’m finding that the relatively light blog-reading the last few days has allowed me to get more done. I’m also less writerly these days myself: I have a list of blog ideas, but little time or inclination to pursue them right now. Instead I’m doing the usual end of term/start of summer chores:

  • Reading research paper drafts—in fact, this activity should take every waking moment of the next week despite the high attrition in those classes. Most intriguing fact from this term’s papers: I have THREE papers on “evil” and one intriguing paper on women who choose to be exotic dancers.
  • Reading my online literature class’s weekly postings—this week, they are on Flannery O’Connor and Raymond Carver, two of my favorite writers, so I’m looking forward to reading their postings. Yet, unlike the research paper classes, this class has no attrition, so I have 40 postings and responses to look forward to….so far, they seem to be getting O’Connor’s wicked sense of humor (and, as always, critiquing the hapless grandmother in “A Good Man is Hard to Find”). So far, no one has taken me up on my prompt asking for an analysis of why “Everything That Rises Must Converge” appeared in the season finale of “Lost”.
  • Fine tuning the big speech I’m giving this weekend. I have the meat and bones nicely organized, but now I need to work on wording and delivery, and I should time myself, I suppose. Anyone know how long 1700 words should take to read in a New York-velocity accent?
  • Choosing textbooks for fall—yes, it’s ridiculously early to even think of such a thing, but I’m already a month late on my fall book orders.
  • Planning the summer vacation—this summer, it’s hubby’s turn to plan our vacation in August (itinerary, hotels, etc etc), but I suspect he’ll need a little pushing. Yes, I’m obviously the pushy one in this relationship….
  • Gearing up to teach two back to back online classes this summer—luckily, both are graduate level, small classes, focused on researched writing.
  • Training for two half ½ marathons in June
  • Assorted social gatherings every weekend for the next few weeks (funny how mostly introverted faculty start becoming social and extroverted as the term winds down). One gathering is a “Pure Romance” event: think Tupperware-type party with dildos and edible panties.
  • Still reading “light and uplifting” fiction each week in the endless task of finding a community read book. Has anyone read The Help by Kathryn Stockett? That was has been added to the list. Right now I’m reading Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout: a beautiful novel, not unlike Jewett’s The Country of Pointed Firs in terms of structure (each chapter focuses on a different character in this small Maine town), but so far, I wouldn’t call it “light” fiction.

I suspect in a few weeks, once the grades are submitted, the speech is done, and the gatherings are over that I will be able to do a few meaty blog postings. Till then, I’ll probably just do hit or miss links to interesting stories and sites, which I hope are at least mildly amusing (well, they are amusing to me, and perhaps that’s all that counts in the Daily Me world?).

Instant Response

Mark Taylor’s op-ed piece in The New York Times yesterday, “End the University As We Know It,” was so infuriating, that bloggers dropped everything to respond to it.  My hard copy (yes, I’m old fashioned that way) is riddled with my notes mostly blasting the little bugger (though with a few concessions: can’t argue with cross disciplinary teaching and scholarship), but so many others beat me to the punch that I’ll simply link to their responses (note that these were the ones published within one day of Taylor’s essay—undoubtedly more will follow over the next few weeks):


·         Taylor’s essay

·         Marc Bousquet’s immediate, ranting, response

·         Michael Bérubé’s popular blog publicizes both of the above and responds in more detail the next day(update)

·         Cranky’s response to both Taylor and Erin O’Connor’s praise

·         Dean Dad’s witty administrator’s response


 UPDATE Wed, April 29th:  Even more on Taylor’s essay, including others who are doing what I’m doing (listing links):