Adjuncts: Adrift, Isolated and Unappreciated
A recent cover story in Community College Week cited the rebirth under new management of the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development, NISOD, originally the brainchild of John Roueche and company, in Austin, Texas. The CCWeek publication appeared just before NISOD began its latest annual conference in the Texas capital.
Like many—if not most—part-timers at our nation's community colleges, I must pay my own way to attend academic conferences, even though, as has been the case for me during the past numerous years, I have been invited as a “Master Presenter" to edify the masses about my latest research, findings, and ideas in "breakout" or "seminar" or even "roundtable" sessions. I do this each year in a bittersweet way, feeling on the one hand pleased and privileged to have been asked to share my ideas as a "presenter," and on the other hand frustrated and dismayed that I must once again suck from my meager financial resources to pay my own way to travel, stay and scrounge for food in a faraway place.
And also as a part-timer, I must be certain that the teaching schedule that I maintain at half a dozen institutions is not jeopardized by my absence from class or my irregular electronic access; like most part-timers, I am paid only when I am present, either really or virtually, and no remuneration happens if I miss a face-to-face session with students. Thus, this year, as I have done in the past, I was sure to have two "community education" courses at two different schools end their terms just before NISOD. I advised students at another college that they would have a pre-finals week off for independent study and review, I retained email-only contact with writing students at another institution, and I remained in as close contact as I could from hotel and conference computers with my online classes, while I was away from my home base in California.
Of course, during my absence, I received queries from curiously irritated administrators that I seemed to be insufficiently responsive to end-of-term student worries. And, to add to my less-than-proximate frustrations with California-based cyberspace, I found that Texas hotel computers did not have adequately updated software to accommodate at least one of my college's Learning Management System’s scores and grades insertions.
And so, although NISOD was a joy to me, and I was able to "network" with faculty and administrators, technological gurus and even gadget-hawkers, and even though my presentations seemed to bear some fruit, as well as good discussions, I found that, when I returned to California, I was to be met with "Where were you?" and "You haven't done X, Y, or Z properly...why?" -types of questions.
Interestingly, these last included my so-called non-responses to questions from my deans and department head about whether or not I had participated in any "professional development" activities to speak of during the past five years.
As I considered this, I thought once again about the isolation of us part-timers. In many institutions of higher education these days, the topic of "silo thinking" has been in vogue, the notion that many academics tend to isolate themselves in their own specialized disciplines, failing to communicate with or to connect their research with thinkers from other fields. I would like to submit that this sort of "silo thinking" describes the impenetrable parallel verticality of the full-time v. the part-time in our colleges, too.
While part-timers are expected to understand the world of, the rules of, the expectations of the full-time staff that make their institutions run, full-timers are typically not asked to have any sympathy—much less comprehension—as regards their part-time colleagues. The full-timers' silo is a shiny and clean one, a hard-shell cylinder in which its inhabitants may slide and flow, accepting one another's fallibilities and allowing one another slack; everyone has insurance, a schedule, a life, a future. The part-timers' silo is frangible; its finish is unfinished, permeable, tenuously held; its inhabitants grasp desperately at any semblance of permanence, knowing that seeming is definitely not being.
In a New Zealand "Focus on the Future" publication analyzing the attitudes of that nation's pharmacists toward the country's ten-year economic plan, writers Scahill, Harrison, and Sheridan (2010) note that "lack of appreciation" and "irregular remuneration" are two primary causes for economic silos to have developed that separate the professionally well-developed, long-term, full-time workers of that country from the "casually employed" part-timers. Here in California, full-time professors and administrators are paid six to twelve times what part-timers are allotted, no matter the academic degrees or backgrounds of each silo member.
How to solve this problem?
Communication and inclusion can be starters, I suggest, and remuneration, acceptance, reward, and appreciation might do much to help, too. Being paid more than a "living wage" might do much to augment at least part of one's self-worth, and humane treatment and inclusion will surely assist. It is not the case that we part-timers are "part-time people," as we are frequently called; everyone is a human all of the time.