During Campus Equity Week, the PSC asked CUNY adjuncts to describe how they’ve been personally affected by the lack of job security for part-time faculty Given the topic, it is perhaps no surprise that nearly all who responded asked to remain anonymous. Some of the responses are excerpted below; full statements and more stories are online at the PSC website.
It's a Horrible Feeling
I think the better question is how hasn’t job insecurity affected me as an adjunct? Working semester-to-semester, praying that I can pull together enough classes to support myself and keep my health insurance....
Recently, a friend and I figured out how much I, as an adjunct, would make if everything I do at my rate of pay translated into a 40-hour workweek. It was less than minimum wage....
More and more, classes are being canceled or taken away at the very last minute, one to two days before a course is supposed to begin. In those cases, it leaves the adjunct with zero options to find replacement work on other campuses. Before a new semester, I check enrollments on CUNYfirst religiously and wait it out. It’s a horrible feeling. And the worst part is there is nothing I can do to circumvent losing work this way except quit and find a job outside of academia. An employee at Starbucks has more job security.
This summer, I was assigned to teach a class that was cancelled. I was notified after business hours on the Friday of the Memorial Day holiday weekend. The class was supposed to start the following Tuesday. What do I do with that?
With no income, I went on food stamps. The way I was treated by the Department of Social Services [was humiliating, dehumanizing]. My case was badly mishandled. Every day for a week in July, I received a call from someone demanding a new document. I’d hang up and cry. I spent money on faxes that I could have been using to buy food. When I was told that I needed to go to my local social services office to sort things out, I waited for two hours to talk to someone only to have that woman roll her eyes at me and tell me to leave. The situation was only rectified once I involved my local councilmember’s office. It took six weeks. I don’t know, but I think at least some of the problem was because the people I dealt with didn’t believe that a college instructor would need food stamps. I can’t believe a college instructor would need food stamps. I only told the closest people in my life. Regardless of the circumstances, shame is shame when you’re paying for your groceries with an EBT card.
I’ve always been a hard worker, but since this happened, I feel myself withdrawing.... After my experience this summer, I feel like something broke in me.
At the 11th Hour
I have been an adjunct in the City University system for 12 years…. I never know until a few weeks before school begins if I have classes or not. It doesn’t give me enough time to try to locate another class elsewhere. I depend on my income from these classes and it is terribly stressful to try to cobble together work at the “11th hour.”…I have a good relationship with my department chair and colleagues, but when given a class I have never taught before, it makes it difficult to prepare my syllabus quickly and feel comfortable teaching new material.
Taken Advantage Of
My evaluations are always high. I have been told that prospective graduate students say they want to go on because of my course. I’ve attended department meetings, helped out on all sorts of things, never complained about weird schedules, and this is how I’m treated...exploited.
[One] Fall semester, I was asked in late September to teach two courses in the Spring and I agreed. After Thanksgiving, one was taken away. No other course was available for me. This meant that I had to pay my own health insurance - nearly $750 per month that I hadn’t budgeted for, from February through August. I was also told there was only one course for me in that coming fall semester. So, in August, I sent emails to every branch of CUNY asking for another course and I was very fortunate to find one. I spent that Fall semester rushing between two campuses for the health insurance....
I have worked very hard to separate my feelings toward the situation from my classroom work. I’ve coped as best as I can, but it makes life very difficult....
Your survey couldn’t have come at a more significant time. I have stayed and worked so many weird schedules for the health insurance, but I have hit a major milestone – I have Medicare now and can afford to be a little bit more independent.
I have never felt this way until this semester. But the aggregate of being so taken advantage of has really gotten to me. It will be a loss to my students who keep in touch for years and who said I’ve made a major impact on their lives. That and the health insurance made the whole thing worth it for several years. But enough is enough. I think this will be my last semester at CUNY. I am sorry about this whole thing. I enjoy teaching and I enjoy my students, but I don’t enjoy the way I’m being treated.
Academia Has Become Corporate America
Living paycheck to paycheck is taking its toll. I love my students, respect my colleagues and believe in teaching, but I’m being driven out of the profession by a system that divides faculty into princes and paupers.
The University professes its appreciation, yet every action conveys the contempt they hold for adjuncts. The regular pay raises of chancellors and college presidents are especially insulting when courses essential to majors are being cut for “lack of funding.” Academia has become corporate America.