As a result, she said, she has had to ask her father money. That's led to friction because "he thinks I'm spending it all on shoes." And, in the meanwhile, "I'm fighting with my landlord," she related.
On top of all of that, she spent the weekend "huddled in hallway" at a friend's house, waiting out a tornado warning a couple of hours south of where we teach. That, while this part of the country got lashed with the wind and rain from Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene.
But all of that pales in comparison to a piece of news we received: We could lose our health insurance. Yes, you read that right. Adjuncts in the City University of New York (CUNY) system are eligible for basic health insurance if we teach two courses totaling six credit hours in a semester. However, Barbara Bowen, the union representative, says that the adjuncts' health insurance plan has been underfunded and will, in essence, go broke by the end of this academic year.
Leeanne's life literally depends on some medications she takes. I am in a similar situation: I don't know how I am going to afford my prescriptions without some sort of plan. I'm sure that plenty of other adjuncts could say the same thing.
Leeanne very astutely pointed out that the loss of health insurance benefits will have other "domino" effects. Very often, department chairs who develop working relationships with adjuncts like me and Leeanne will give us two courses rather than to hire another adjunct so that we can have the health benefits--not to mention that doing so probably makes staffing and other logistical decisions easier for those chairs, who are not part of the union.
So, we could not only lose our benefits, we will have less income to pay for our own insurance--if we can find plans we can afford--or whatever medical expenses come our way. And more of us will be competing for whatever courses are available in other colleges outside the CUNY system. Many of those schools are also cutting back on the number courses they offer and, consequently, the number of adjuncts they hire.
To my knowledge, Leeanne hasn't been reading the scamblogs. (I pointed some of them out to her, but I didn't tell her that I'm writing this one!) However, she wondered, "Does any other country have an indentured servant class that includes its most educated people?"
Few people fit the definition of that class better than adjuncts. Nearly all of us are in debt from the degrees we pursued in the hope of getting one of those full-time faculty jobs that becomes more and more elusive with each semester that we spend as an adjunct. Many of us are also what are often called "sensitive types" and have some of the health problems--physical as well as psychological--that go along with being who we are and experiencing the stresses of increasing workloads (Oh, did I mention that our class sizes were increased by 25 percent this year?) and other protracted demands.
For their part, Barbara Bowen and the rest of the union "leadership," being the products of the higher education system that they are, act more and more like the overlords of a caste system. So, this is not the first time they've thrown adjuncts under the bus: Neither she nor any of her tenured colleagues will take a pay cut or pay more into the health care plans because, they point out, they make twenty percent less than their counterparts in comparable university systems. Last year, their "concession" in salary negotiations was to eliminate "overloads," in which department chairs claim that they need particular instructors to teach courses and give, with the university's permission, one more class to an adjunct than he or she is allowed. Bowen claimed that chairs were "exploiting" adjuncts; the reality is that the full-timers in the union were afraid that the university was using "overloads" instead of hiring new full-time faculty members. However, some of the chairs said that the very reason they needed the "overloads" was that their colleges weren't allowed to hire new full-timers.
Longtime adjuncts who depended on those "overloads" were suddenly scrambling for additional work in other institutions. I can only imagine how much worse the situation will be if we lose our health benefits. Therefore, while I am writing letters to legislators, the university and college administration and the union leadership, I am also making plans to get out of the system altogether. So is Leeanne. So, I am sure, are others. And, as carefully thought-out as our plans may be, they still include crossed fingers, rosary beads and the like.
We have Bowen as well as those other renowned scholars and avatars of progressive, enlightened social thought to thank for our predicament.