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Adjunct rights at TTU

Letter to the Editor

By Kevin Burmeister, M.A., Adjunct Instructor of English
On February 27, 2015

Dear Editor,

Not all teachers at Tech are equal. Whether you realize it or not, many classes are taught by adjunct instructors, which is code for part-time contract labor. Adjuncts are hired on a per-semester basis, and typically teach two or three general education courses but never the standard full-load of four. The courses themselves are, in terms of credit and content, identical to those taught by full-time and tenure-track faculty, but adjuncts receive no benefits, have no permanent office space, and, most importantly, are paid precious little: around $1,400 per month for a three-course load, depending on experience. Adjuncts here at Tech last received a raise 17 years ago, over which time the cost of living has increased over 40 percent.

That’s right: adjuncts haven’t gotten a raise since most of their students wore diapers.

Our demands for increased wages have been falling on deaf ears for a long time. When I spoke with President Oldham at his Q&A Tuesday, though, he did present an alternative ‘workaround’ to the adjunct problem that I hadn’t heard before: a new budget model that TBR is piloting. Part of the new model would give individual departments more control over their finances, including money used for hiring. So if, for example, the English Department decides it needs more full-time instructors – a salaried position, something an adjunct like me has never even sniffed at – it would have the freedom to do so.

One possible consequence of this, of course, could be reducing the number of adjunct faculty. So while Dr. Oldham’s solution might help restore balance to adjunct-heavy departments like English and Math, it could throw current adjuncts, who probably wouldn’t get those new jobs, out the door. The search for full-timers would likely be, as it’s always been, wide open, which would put me in the ring with Ph.D.s from out of state, loyalty-be-damned.

That’s my market disadvantage as a master’s degree-holder, according to Dr. Oldham. Tech yeah.

But he’s right: Tech is, after all, an education market. As the president told me himself, adjunct labor has been turned into a commodity.

“You guys are getting a hell of a deal,” I replied.

He agreed.

I have no ax to grind with his administration in particular because this whole problem follows the national narrative: a large corporation taking full advantage of an abundant, contingent workforce. And with an ocean of increasingly overqualified laborers at their doorstep, it’s naive to think that universities could somehow resist such a good deal. Just ask the custodian in the hallway, the person making your food, the guy with the leaf blower. Or your teachers. TBR has been building their house on cheap contract labor for decades. My only hope is that it comes out in the wash somehow or other.

As for me, I walked out.

Wednesday was National Adjunct Walkout Day, an attempt to draw attention to the plight of adjuncts across the country. Nothing will probably happen as a result, but I don’t mind.

It makes me feel a little better that, on Wednesday at least, TBR got what they paid for.

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