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2015 April 30 - 09:27 am

Spring in the Air, Adjuncts on the Street

You know it's spring when.... New baby birds, flower buds, shoots of plants and fresh creepy-crawlies proliferate. Flowering plants replace dead-heads by live ones. The sunshine is gentle and the breeze wafts soft. Butterflies and snails manifest themselves above and below, respectively. Students awaken, and assignments are submitted for last-minute marking and recording? Not so long ago, community colleges followed the schedules, if not the lead, of the surrounding high schools that both "fed" them new young students and offered them the older learners who were the parents of those high-schoolers. So-called "spring" semesters began in January or early February and extended into mid-June. But it is now the case that the Christmas-New Year break is also a semester separator, and the "fall" semester ends in December, with "spring" beginning along with the new calendar year. As an instructor at more than one community college and university, I now find myself completing final grade reports for students in April and May. Is this new "sign of spring" having any effect upon us, our institutions, or upon student learning? Let's think about it. And then, let's look around. An early end to the spring semester can help us to keep students' concentration up, of course. After all, the buzzing bees and the singing birds, the fresh perfume of new flowers and the biological re-awakening of the natural world can certainly distract, and so a semester that ends just as these phenomena break out will keep students' minds on their subject matter, it might be supposed. Moreover, if our community college students can finish their work during spring and have a full summer away from us, they might be able to use an entire fiscal quarter for their own remunerative work, either exploiting some of the knowledge they may have attained with us or finding a summer job that will help to pay the next year's academic fees. And community college students who have children in those public schools that still extend their own spring semesters into June will be able to help those children to finish strongly, to do well on their own final exams or projects, to graduate. And the darker, more jaundiced view will point out that the institution that kicks its students off its rolls before summer can save money by staffing fewer workers during a longer period of time than it once had to do; we part-timers are typically not paid unless we have been "assigned" a course to teach; we do not have year-round contracts, and we do not enjoy 12-month benefits of any kind. And so, we might be wont to look around. Indeed, in the interest of broadening and deepening the thoughts, minds and mindsets of my own students of French language and culture, I have noticed something in my boundary-less world that I'd like to submit as a probably not-unremarkable shift in schedules in fields and places beyond our US borders, to wit: A "rapid press release" posted this week at the European Union's "europa.eu" Website points out that "country-specific recommendations" contributing to an "annual growth survey" among the 27 nations of the European Union are henceforth to be published in May rather than during the summer months. And this change in date, state European Commissioners in Belgium, will lead to felicitous results, it is hoped, starting in 2015. That is, just as we in the community college are seeing our spring semester end earlier than it used to do, so are European Commissioners doing, and they are doing so for a reason that we might do well to examine, if not emulate: Euro Union organizers are hoping/planning that the earlier end-date to the formerly 20-week "European Semester" will allow Union members "more time to scrutinize (their) analysis" of member states' progress; too, it is hoped/planned that the month of May that will now separate spring from summer can be devoted to "a commitment to structural reform..., fiscal responsibility,... and growth objectives." And I would like to suggest that we at the community college might do well to take the Euro lead: Instead of letting loose a raft of part-timers to fend for ourselves in a sea of unemployment, perhaps our administrators—most of whom are guaranteed full-year contracts with benefits and vacations—might keep us on during the interregnum of May to discuss the spoils of the spring semester and make plans for the new year. Perhaps we can be retained for an analysis of what we have taught, for what our students may or may not have learned, and for an in-the-trenches look at how best we might go forward through a burgeoning spring into summer and then fall? Perhaps, like the Euro Union, our institutions might consider structural reform, growth objectives, and all sorts of responsibility?
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