Sunday, March 1, 2015

Adjunct Says He’s Treated Badly, Is Treated Badly In Response

By Professor Doom

     I’ve written before of the meagre fate of most educators in higher education today: life as minimally paid (10k a year, maybe), no security, no benefits, high workload adjunct.

     What’s happening to adjuncts is merely a horrible symptom of what’s going on higher education, which is controlled by a grotesquely bloated and overpaid administrative caste that cares nothing for higher education.

      Now, I say “today”, but this has been going on for quite a while, with the corruption of higher education clearly visible for at least a decade (further back, if you’re willing to squint a little). Adjuncts in particular have known for quite some time that things have gone horribly wrong in higher education, and sometimes one of the poor fools complains.

      One adjunct went a little over the top, perhaps, in his complaint, and please stop reading if you’re easily offended, as I feel compelled to quote how the adjunct represented his status to his students:

      Now, yes, that’s some harsh language there…but this guy is an art professor. While one might think a mathematician would have no respect for art, I promise you such thoughts are wrong. I totally respect the value of art, both as a representation of beauty, and as a means to challenge beliefs in society, as well as a way to provoke responses in a fascinating manner.

     While I generally don’t approve of “unprofessional language” (whatever that is), if there’s any discipline that should be allowed to freely express itself, it would have to be art, and I believe it’s safe to say that any educated person would agree.  “Artistic expression” is a phrase for a reason, after all.

     A student naturally reported the art professor to admin (whose role of “protector of institutional integrity in the pursuit of education” has long been abandoned in favor of “protector of student happiness in the name of growth”). How did admin respond to this comment by this adjunct, this “temporary worker” that had been working at the institution for TWELVE YEARS?  I can’t emphasize how wrong it is to employ a “temporary” worker for this long, and, again, I feel anyone would agree.

“…he deeply regretted using the phrase as soon as he had uttered it, and had apologized to his students when their class met last Wednesday…”
--student reported him on Monday, he apologizes on Wednesday, is fired on Thursday. And yet it took 18 years for UNC to do something about their fraud, and a comparable amount for Penn State. Anyone think maybe the priorities in higher education are a little screwy?

     They fired him immediately. Well, three days after the student reported the adjunct.

     To put this in perspective: I’ve seen faculty hauled away in handcuffs for illicit behavior in public restrooms, not be fired. I’ve seen faculty literally cancel more than half their classes in a semester, not be fired. I’ve repeatedly seen faculty submit completely fraudulent syllabi and present bogus courses year in and year out, not be fired.

       But one questionable phrase in class, by an Art professor, and that’s an immediate firing.
“…he also said the university's decision to dismiss him without a formal hearing illustrated the broader point he was trying to make, about his status as someone who has few workplace rights and can easily be fired…”
     Now, it’s really worth pointing out here: what the adjunct said was primarily true. He has no rights, no respect in any form, and much like if a slave on a plantation started to act uppity could find himself beaten to death despite years of service, so too can an adjunct be flushed away after 12 years over a single comment.

--this is how administrators in higher education view faculty. 

     So keep this in mind: the adjunct wasn’t fired for being wrong, he was fired for telling the truth in a way administration didn’t like. After all, administrators are pretty open about their views of faculty as being nothing more than chattel…they just don’t like it when “their property” complains, is all.

"I just finished talking to a lawyer," he said. "I have no ability to appeal anything."

     Freedom of speech? Due process? Har, not a chance.

      As is often the case, the comments on the article merit comment:

From reading the article it seems Allen Zaruba's only crime was that he "used the racially charged term to describe" something. I guess it defaults Mark Twain and other writers off Towson U campus as well. What a disgrace.

     I too understand “the n word” freaks people out, and there are those that want to bury it, to let it never be heard again, to burn every book that uses it (including some rather famous works). I’m sorry the world is a bad place, and I respect the strong de-humanizing element of that word. But if we strike it from the record, we will lose the ability to recognize when we’re de-humanizing people again.

     I’m far more willing to risk “offending” people than I am willing to risk atrocities being repeated. Too bad the rulers of higher education don’t see it that way.

But the word 'slave' and the word 'nigger' are by no means synonymous, either in denotation or connotation.

     “By no means”? Really? I grant the words aren’t completely interchangeable, but in the context of “plantation”, I certainly see a means of synonymity there.

Nothing justifies that kind of language in the classroom or any public forum. I just wonder what he says in his family gathering when he felt so comfortable to utter those words in public. America will never be a post-racial society, so we shoud not fool ourselves thinking that we can "all just get along" and say things that offend the sensibilities of any group. This country has a sad history of racial intolerace nad bigorty; this should never be forgotten.

      This is the knee-jerk response we’re trained to give in school, and it’s completely wrong. If we’re no longer to talk about it in honest terms, or to read about it, or to discuss it, then, yes, OF COURSE it will be forgotten.

      And if we forget it…we’ll repeat it.

      All this concern over the word distracts from the real issue, so let’s go to comments on the real issue now:

Shades of the 3/5ths compromise - or Sharia law concerning womens' ability to testify - In Faculty World, adjuncts are less than a person, and TU promptly and completely demonstrated this.

     This is the real point. Adjuncts do the exact same job as faculty, and yet count for less, in much the same way that a slave is considered sub-human. These people really need to be treated with some measure of respect and decency, especially as regards to education.

      If administration can control an Art professor’s behavior to the point that a single word is in their power, what can they NOT do?

       Many of the comments are very good, but one hits everything right on:
Certainly has a chilling effect on using historical literature that uses politically incorrect, currently frowned on language.

     This is critical: before administration got to the point that they were able to control every word spoken in a classroom, they first got control of everything else. Honest, the reason why so many college classes have no requirements (no tests, assignments, papers, or whatever) is BECAUSE administration wants it that way. Whole books have “discovered” the first half of the previous sentence, but nobody besides me has dared to provide the “because”…maybe because it’s obvious? I don’t know.

The chill is greater for the more marginally employed, i.e., adjuncts. So if a large percentage of students are taught by faculty who are self-censoring and gagged, not just with the n-word but probably with other words as well, then the "free" marketplace of ideas is the worse for it. 

     And, again, the reason why adjuncts now teach the majority of college courses is BECAUSE they have no rights, BECAUSE administration can completely control them, BECAUSE they’re in no position to complain when admin tells them “pass 100% of your students, or be fired.”

What's sadder is that students are part of the gag-squad. If they don't like what they hear, then they'll tattle. How could an adjunct have any authority to teach, and hold students to standards, in such an environment? 

      It is sad, but predictable, that students have formed part of the gag squad. In much the same way that administrators allow students that are caught cheating to punish their teachers, admin just think it’s best to have the students report on what goes on in the classroom.

What next? Some words are verboten, and then thoughts, attitudes, reading lists, ideas, criticisms? Without a strong culture of academic freedom (there was a legitimate context and point for Zaruba's use of the hated word; he was self-describing, not abusing others) there is the real danger that those charged with teaching others--often young adult others--can only engage them in what these students deem safe, happy, appropriate talk.

     Absolutely, part of what is going on here is the “student as customer” insanity that has consumed a big part of higher education. Much like an unhappy McDonald’s customer can get the cashier fired, so too can an unhappy student get a teacher fired.

      But the fact still remains: an adjunct accurately described his position at the institution, and was fired for it. A number of commenters said they wouldn’t be sending their kids to this institution, but the gentle reader needs to understand: most college courses are taught by adjuncts, what happened to this particular adjunct at this particular school is representative of what is happening at most every institution of higher education in this country.


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