POV: Embracing New STATS Enriches The Adjunct Experience
The year 2012 has been a big one for adjunct awareness.In January, Michael Bérubé, newly elected president of the Modern Language Association, went before the New Faculty Majority to recommend that minimum compensation for teaching a standard, three-hour course be $6,800. This figure was astounding, given, as the Coalition on the Academic Workforce would later report, median pay actually hovers around $2,700.One adjunct from the University of Georgia, Josh Boldt, reacted to the disparity by creating “The Adjunct Project,” a crowd-sourced Google spreadsheet that has collected data from more than 1,500 adjuncts across the country, not just on compensation, but also on working conditions and number of classes taught. Some bloggers, in light of both the Occupy Movement and the revolutionary wave of demonstrations in Arab countries, even began calling for “The Adjunct Spring.”
To discuss the adjunct experience, it is imperative to recognize these data and applaud these efforts; after all, without alarming statistics, there wouldn’t be a discussion in the first place. However, our current economic environment holds that, for example, 250 percent raises are flatly impossible. Clearly, all of us are still invested in quality education, and at community colleges like mine, two-thirds of those providing that education are indeed adjunct instructors.What A-B Tech has done, to strike a balance, is recognize that a new kind of STATS — Space, Time, Appreciation, Training and Support — costs little but provides much.
In early January, the Adjunct Faculty Center opened its doors on the campus of A-B Tech. The space, which used to be an advising office, is divided into two parts: a front desk and public area makes up the first half, and the back portion contains five private offices. Eight computers flank the walls out front, and there is also a small table and four chairs, and two couches. Adjuncts sign up for the back offices when they want to meet with students, or simply need some quiet to concentrate and work. All 13 of the computers are wired to a central printer, which also functions as a copier and scanner.
Obviously, a center like this can’t run itself, and as they say, time is money.Still, the modest investment pays rich dividends. A-B Tech committed to the salaries for me and the adjunct faculty center assistant, but we are both in the Department of Faculty Development & Assessment, which means our time is also spent helping with the organization and delivery of workshops, the collection of data, and the communication of initiatives.Additionally, part of the job requires that I teach as an adjunct — a role I know well, having been one for the six years previous to this position.
What I remember most about being an adjunct was feeling invisible, so showing renewed and unfailing appreciation for adjuncts is central to our mission.So far, we have managed to do so at minimal cost. At our grand opening, we raffled off small treasures from people’s basements and attics: things like vases, bowls, jewelry, and art that fell into that “new-to-you” category. On the first day of fall semester, we had an open house, where department chairs contributed a potluck that fed folks for two days.Then, in early October, we had our first Adjunct Appreciation Day. A local Italian restaurant donated hot hors d’oeuvres, which were served from 12 noon to 2 p.m., and we screened a short video we’d compiled that showcases adjuncts’ teaching in action. We also invited all adjuncts to contribute a photograph and blurb on why they teach, so when one entered the center, the walls were plastered with success stories.
Some of those showcased faces would not have been so confident were it not for the orientation training we provide. At this point it is mandatory for all entering adjuncts to complete an online, interactive, two-hour training that includes information on policies and procedures, syllabus creation, assessment principles, Moodle and also faculty perks, such as the campus health clinic, the gym, Microsoft home access, and making use of the offerings from our therapeutic massage, cosmetology, and culinary programs. For veteran adjuncts, the Adjunct Faculty Center partners with instructional designers to provide technology training, and we were recently awarded a grant to train some adjuncts to be future facilitators for adjunct-centered professional development.
In addition to providing structured training, the Adjunct Faculty Center also offers support in the forms of both advocacy and personal attention.Twice a semester I meet with the vice president of instructional services to communicate adjuncts’ suggestions.I also serve as a representative to adjuncts’ interests on committees, and when, such as recently, an opportunity arises to campaign for compensation adjustments, I do so before the college president.(Adjuncts were recently awarded a small hourly raise.)This institutional advocacy probably pales in comparison, however, to the just-in-time attention that occurs when an adjunct calls to find out what a default password is, or where to get a parking pass. Even more than that, though, is the organic support that occurs between adjuncts themselves.It’s that offhand mentoring, that seasoned advice, that is most valuable and liberally given.
Since the 1960s, organizational psychologists like Frederick Herzberg and Douglas McGregor have argued that appreciation motivates employees to perform — that is, engage — as opposed to concentrating on dissatisfying contextual elements of the job. Having lived myself on $23,000 a year with no health insurance, I’ll be the first to insist that we as an educational community need to address those contextual elements. However, in the interim of this economic climate, it is, in fact, possible to provide our fellow educators with the enthusiasm and support they deserve. We should do so before it’s too late, and new statistics demand it.
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