I have all but decided to stop teaching at the end of this academic year. In fact, I've even told a few adjunct colleagues, and one full-timer, that I might not be working with them this fall.
If I don't teach, I have absolutely no idea of what I'll do to make up for the lost income--which, at this point, is all of my income. I have practically no savings and no spouse or other "significant other" to support me financially.
So why am I contemplating the proverbial leap into the dark? Ironically, being at two schools in which I'm treated better than I was at York (even when I was a full-timer there) has made me think even more about quitting.
Now, I'm not one of those narcissistic characters in a Woody Allen movie who thrives on some fashionable parody (however unintentional) of despair. Had I started my life as a college instructor at one of the schools (especially one in particular) in which I now work, I might feel differently about the work I do and the academic world than I do now. Indeed, I just might have gone for a PhD or gotten more of my stuff published, and gotten tenure someplace.
At that school, most of the full-timers began teaching immediately, or within a year or two, after finishing graduate school. As it is a community college--one I believe to be more focused on teaching than others I've seen--one doesn't see the preciousness, intellectual pretentiousness and sheer pettiness one finds in other schools in which I've taught. As an aside, I'll mention that I've noticed these things most at lower-ranked four-year colleges in which people have degrees from respectable institutions and want to become one of the major authorities in their field, but know they're not going to be taken as seriously as those who teach at more "prestigious" colleges and universities.
Most of the adjuncts are young. Those who aren't as young have been there for some time. There is generally mutual support among the adjuncts and between the adjuncts and full-timers. Much of that, it seems, had to do with the leadership of a long-serving chair who retired the semester after I started. The long-timers still talk about her in reverential tones.
Plus, I must say that they all have been pleasant toward me. I am the first member of one particular minority group to teach in that department, and that fact really doesn't seem to color my relationships with other faculty members and administrators as it did at York College.
So why do I feel less like teaching and being in academia than I did before I started teaching at that school? Well, it has much to do with the experiences I had at York and other colleges. In particular, I think of the dealings I had with other full-time faculty members when I was a full-timer at York.
Whatever full-timers might say about their respect for the work adjuncts do, and whatever pity they might express for our working conditions and low pay, they look down on us and express our disdain for us to each other. I witnessed such things at departmental meetings and other functions. The funny thing is that they'd talk disparagingly about adjuncts right in front of me, forgetting that not much earlier, I had been one. Or, perhaps, they were trying to remind me of that fact.
One York full-timer in particular was an insufferable snob and had one of the worst cases of class psychosis I have ever seen. She missed no opportunity to show her disdain for people whom she deemed to be lower on the socio-economic ladder than herself. Of course, she never brought race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression into her remarks--at least, not directly, anyway. She was just smart enough to realize that doing so would probably get her in trouble.
I recall one meeting in particular in which she lamented the fact that full-timers like herself had to share office space with adjuncts. Worst of all, she said, they were using her computer--and "bringing viruses." Another time, the department tried to come up with ways to get more adjuncts to come to workshops and such. "Well, you know those adjuncts," she sneered. "They won't do anything unless you pay them."
She also took every opportunity she could to emphasize that she had once been an adjunct. Of course, the part she didn't tell people was that her husband had a well-paying job and her kids were grown when she started graduate school.
She's not the only one who flashed the "I was an adjunct, too!" credential. In fact, the more power and privilege a faculty members brought to, and gained from, the academic world, the more they are likely to remind you that, like you, they toiled away in large sections of introductory and remedial courses for a risible pittance. Such faculty members never tell you is that their "adjunct" experiences consisted of moonlighting while they were graduate or teaching assistants. Or, like the prof I mentioned, their spouses, partners, family members or friends housed and fed them while they were working in the academic sweatshops. They may also have had family money in their pockets and purses, or waiting for them in trusts.
These days, it's a joke to say, "Some of my best friends are..." The academic world hasn't caught up. Some profs still say things like that. Or, if you're on the LGBT spectrum, they simply must let you now that they have brothers or sisters who are, too. What that means, of course, is that they will use it against you.
But back to their former status as adjuncts: When they become chairs and coordinators, they carry on the dirty work of their administrations by employing adjuncts. In other words, they are participating in an exploitative system. Nearly all chairs and coordinators have tenure. So why don't they speak up against the way this system wastes the talent and lives of so many people?
Really, I get tired of hearing them express faux sympathy for adjuncts. I also get sick of them talking about their support for Occupy Wall Street or a student uprising in Myanamar or some such place when they refuse to acknowledge their own complicity in maintaining,and profiting from, an underclass they have helped to create.
That is what adjuncts are: the underclass of education. You can't improve your lot in life by remaining in an underclass; the only hope you have is to get out of, and away from, it. That, I believe, is what I will do at the end of this academic year. It may well mean, at least for a time, more hardship than I have now. But, as best as I can tell, there simply is, if you'll indulge me a cliche, no light at the end of this tunnel.
One of the adjunct colleagues with whom I shared my thoughts about quitting had a temporary (for two years) full-time position much like the one I had at York. She says things like, "You shouldn't give up!" and "You never know what will happen." What she doesn't understand is that she is an a much better position than I am to continue in academia: She is much younger and her mother recently retired as a professor at the college. As for the full-timer, she is on tenure track, has never worked as an adjunct, and therefore simply does not understand my situation. I hope she never has to be in anything like it.